GhostWatch: A TV Horror Classic

In 1992 audiences were a lot different. With minimal exceptions (Cannibal Holocaust) the idea of a documentary/found footage style horror film was a far off notion till we were introduced to The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. As such people watched with a certain earnestness and gullibility, which was critical for both the success and tragedy of the broadcast of GhostWatch.

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On Halloween night, 1992 I and many others across the UK and Ireland found ourselves watching GhostWatch, which seemed to be a live TV show on BBC1 presented by Michael Parkinson, a well respected British chat show host, a serious interviewer, from a time before only stand-up comedians hosted chat shows. Michael explained to us tonight they where investigating a haunting in a family home in Northolt, Greater London, where poltergeist activity was believed to be taking place…. Michael Parkinson was not a known for being a prankster.

Now let’s be clear on this. The last thing the BBC wanted to do was fool people into thinking GhostWatch was real, they placed it in their drama slot Screen One, complete with Screen One title before the show, they also insisted on writer’s credits at the start. However these details went unnoticed by many. Wall Street was on ITV that night (good choice for Halloween ITV!) and it’s ending slightly overlapped with the introduction to GhostWatch. Remember, this was before DVRs.

Michael was based in a studio which linked up to the rest of the cast based in the supposedly haunted house. These included Craig Charles (Lister from Red Dwarf) and Sarah Greene, who was best known for children’s TV. Both playing themselves acting as co-hosts. Craig cracking jokes and being playful and Sarah being serious and sensitive about the whole thing.

Sarah then talks to the family about their ghost problem who the children have named Pipes, because of his habit of knocking on the house’s plumbing… Yeesh.

As more of the story of Pipes in revealed, the more he starts appearing in brief flashes, we get glimpses of a bald man with a bloodied face. One compelling sequence involves CCTV footage of a poltergeist attack in the children’s bedroom. The video is shown at the start of the show and later a lady calls in to say she saw a figure in the corner of the room in the video. Both Michael and paranormal expert Dr. Lin Pascoe are skeptical yet still later look at the tape again, they play it and there is a clear figure in the corner by the curtains…
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But Michael doesn’t see it! They rewind and watch again and the figure is gone! Terrifying.
Pipes pops up several more times, some kind Youtuber has put them all together here, but don’t watch if you’ve never seen GhostWatch, they’re fun to spot yourself.

These mind-raping blips of a malicious spirit really got into some people’s’ head. People who had just enjoyed Wall Street started thinking they were seeing real spirits and worse the presenters weren’t acknowledging them. Combining this with the realistically dull gruelling build up before pipes really went nuts and you scare the pants off people.

There was a number on screen for people to share their ghost stories, if rang you should hear a recording reassuring you that it was all fake, sorry about that… Happy Halloween!
But so many people rang the lines got jammed and only a handful of people heard that message.
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After the broadcast the BBC were flooded with complaints from irate and frightened viewers, and British newspapers criticised the BBC the next day for the disturbing nature of some scenes, such as a cast member’s abduction and the several “possession” scenes. Tragically the broadcast was also linked to the suicide of a mentally disabled 18 year old factory worker, Martin Denham, who was tormented by the dodgy central heating in his home, Martin blamed the noise on Pipes. His suicide note read “if there are ghosts I will be … with you always as a ghost”.

GhostWatch was never broadcast by the BBC again and such a show was never attempted again, unless you count the “real” ghost hunting shows, which are more laughable than scary.

It’s available to watch in parts on Youtube but you could get the DVD here and turn off your smartphone, close the laptop, hide the remote and watch it as you would in 1992 and imagine how the line between reality and fiction got blurred.

BREN

Creator Stephen Volk
Starring Michael Parkinson
Sarah Greene
Mike Smith
Craig Charles
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Original channel BBC1
Release date 31 October 1992
Running time 91 minutes

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