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BBC TV Documentary (1992)

Banned for a decade, GHOSTWATCH was a BBC ghost mockumentary which aired ‘live’ on the 31st of October 1992 as part of BBC Drama’s Screen One series, but presented itself as a blend of Crimewatch and the movie Poltergeist.

Sarah Greene and Craig Charles report from a reputedly haunted North London council house on Foxhill Drive for the outside broadcast, whilst Michael Parkinson and Mike Smith stay in the warmth and safety of a BBC studio. The Early family are allegedly being harrassed by the ghost Pipes – so named as his banging and crashing were initially attributed to bad plumbing. Throughout the programme, the in-house activity is monitored by the studio and analysed by a para-psychologist, Dr Lin Pascoe (played to perfection by Gillian Bevan).

With the presence of Michael Parkinson, many of the viewers believed what they were seeing on screen was real, which caused a massive uproar in the British press. The addition of phone-ins from the ‘public’also made a very realistic live programme, despite it being neither live nor real.

20 years on and I’m afraid the mockumentary has aged considerably. Having missed this first time round and knowning it’s faux style, I watched with an open mind to see how believable it actually was.

When creating a mockumentary, a natural performance is essential and kudos to Craig Charles, Sarah Greene, Gillian Bevan and for the most part, Michael Parkinson, along with the technical crew, for creating an authentic atmosphere to the proceedings. The biggest problem that Ghostwatch has is the haunted family themselves. Ms Early and her two daughters are too scripted and rigid in their performance, especially with the way in which they react and talk about their paranormal experiences. Normal people in a situation like that wouldn’t have a narrative voice which Ms Early adopts, a tone and pace of voice which sounds as though she’s telling a story to a class of youngsters. That unbelievable tone is also adopted by the callers who “phone in” to the studio, as well as phone-in presenter Mike Smith.

The paranormal activity itself centres around the ghost Pipes. Throughout the programme, residents tell and callers ring in with stories relating to murders that took place at the haunted location on Foxhill Drive. Viewers of Ghostwatch have spotted the spectre of Pipes, a bald-headed man wearing a buttoned up dress, in a pre-recorded video in the children’s bedroom, standing in the crowd on the street and also in the reflection of the patio doors. I myself spotted a couple but clearly I need to rewatch the programme to spot all of these spooky glimpses.

Though there are no in-your-face apparitions of Pipes, he clearly makes himself known by banging and scratching on the walls, emitting cat cries and even the odd possession. There’s no floating bodies but Pipes does seem to enjoy throwing things around, mainly children’s drawings and photo frames. The production keep Pipes’ activity simple and although it’s not in any way scary, it sure makes interesting, if not humourous, viewing.

The funniest section of Ghostwatch is how ghost Pipes is meant to live in the cupboard under the stairs, referred to by Ms Early as the ‘glory-hole’. Back in the early 90’s, a glory hole would be known as a small cupboard, though my townsfolk call that a cubbyhole. Nowadays, glory-hole is a name for a hole drilled in adjacent toilet cubicles for sexual encounters. With glory-hole referred to several times within the programme, I was left rather tickled by each and every mention.

The production team use some clever tactics to give the impression of a live recording, one of which is by having Michael Parkinson interrupt guests in the studio. Michael presents and orchestrates the programme and sometimes cuts conversations short as he links to Sarah Greene or Craig Charles live at Foxhill Drive with important updates. Other realistic techniques involve the inclusion of visible camera crews, presenters looking at the wrong cameras and the in-house camera going off air. Things like these would be a nightmare to any normal programme, which will have been edited out. In a live programme, however, these are mistakes that could very well happen and when you include an opinionated person such as Parkie, well, that just seals the deal and explains why a lot of people were fooled.

This may not hold up after 20 years as well as it did since it’s first and only airing but it’s still an enjoyable, if slightly cheesey, ghost programme, which was one of the first of its kind and harks back to when Orson Welles fooled many with his War of the World’s radio drama. Definitely worth a re-watch, just to catch these sightings of Pipes.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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About Bat 4442 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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