Monday, September 10, 2012

Hardcore Halloween: Ghost Watch

On Halloween 1992, the BBC aired a programme called 'Ghost-watch', and it's place in television folklore is unsurpassed. Any child who stayed at home that fateful night may have given up the ghost on having a scary night, but unbeknown to everyone, this stay-at-home Halloween turned into an almighty shit-storm.

The show was years before 'The Blair Witch Project', a feature film which based its terror on creating a web-site documenting the discovery of film footage in woodland. The answer to the problem of making a horror film without any budget? - pretend the film is true camcorder footage. Can't afford decent actors? - film amateur actors without telling them what the plot is, thereby having their panic real and believable.

'Ghost watch' was so daring and controversial that the only possible explanation for this being shown on prime-time television was that they were completely oblivious as to how many people would take this show at face value. This show was billed in every TV magazine and newspaper as being in the vein of a lighthearted Halloween themed ghost investigation. One glance at the roster of presenters and guest appearances which included Michael Parkinson, Mike Smith, kids TV presenter Sarah Greene and cheeky chappy Craig Charles, suggested that this was suitable for children and teenagers, with a touch of spooky 'bed-sheet-over-a-person-with-eyeholes' fun.

Instead, many of the general public tuned in that night and all hell broke loose.

The first trick to be pulled on the unsuspecting family viewers was that this show was going out 'live', when it was in fact pre-recorded weeks in advance. Sarah Greene in particular was known for her handling of live television, as the mock documentary focused on a family who were claiming to be terrorized by a poltergeist. Strange noises are caught on film, yet each time this happens the young girls are upstairs in their bedroom, and so the viewer begins to deduce that the family are being hoaxed by the mischievous children.

The presenters soon suspect that they are being tricked, and so they decide to position camera's in the girls bedroom. The programme cuts back to the studio, and they discuss the footage and take emails and calls from viewers. Many ask to see the bedroom scene again as they all swear a figure of a man can be seen next to the curtain in the children's room. The footage is re-played and sure enough, a silhouette of a man can be seen for a split second standing behind the curtain, silently watching the children.

If this was a horror movie shown on Halloween it would not have raised an eyebrow, but given the set-up for this show this sent a shiver down the spine to all those watching, and so began the panic and bedlam that followed. Several scenes were played back in the studio, each revealing a previously unseen horrific image, the only people who were spared were deaf or hard of hearing viewers as a spoil-sport at the BBC had the ceefax subtitles ruin the illusion by showing it was far from live.

The last section of the show began to get silly, VERY silly, with Michael Parkinson being thrown from his chair by a poltergeist, and this is maybe one of the reasons that it was allowed to be broadcast. The prime-time schedulers may have realized this was edgy but then imagined the silly ending would make everyone lighten-up and laugh at themselves for being caught up in their trick or treat.

30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard later, and even Anne Robinson was shocked at the response in her 'Points of View' show.

The show was never repeated, and I highly doubt the BBC will have the testicular fortitude to try anything this brave again, but we can live in hope.

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