MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA. All week I’ve had a little chill left over from Halloween and it’s all thanks to West Hampstead blogger Blake Connolly. I don’t really buy into the night: I think once you are in your 30s, dressing up with fake fangs and skeleton suits should hold only limited entertainment. You shouldn’t really like it in your 20s.
Call me a grouch but I think it’s become just another excuse for bars to sell more beer, all they have to do is put some fake cobwebs around the pub and get the staff to dress up like The White Stripes for the night.
But, this year, Blake’s new Egospace blog gave me flashbacks to a younger age by posting up the full version of Ghostwatch, the notorious BBC mockumentary screened on Halloween in 1992. Notorious because it was one of the most frightening things ever put on television. Watching it again on Blake’s blog, it’s the first time I’ve seen it since freaking out as kid and seeing glimpses of Mr Pipes the Poltergeist (he’s scarier than he sounds) hiding in the curtains of a kid’s bedroom still made me jump.
If you don’t know what I’m banging on about, Ghostwatch fooled half the country into thinking a special broadcast from a house in north London – a kind of Most Haunted Live at a time when Yvette Fielding was still a teenage actor in Seaview and there was no Most Haunted Live – was a real ghost search. An experiment which most people thought: They won’t find anything but could be a laugh.
Michael Parkinson chaired a discussion with a ghost expert in the studio, while Mike Smith took calls next to a telethon bank of operators and inside the house his wife Sarah Greene was a roving reporter spending a night in the haunted house. For good measure, Craig Charles was out in the streets talking to the crowds. It starts off all jovial but gets darker and darker and darker as Pipes makes fleeting visits. There must have been thousands of families shrieking at each other ‘did you see that’. Crucially, this was before Sky Plus, so you couldn’t rewind and to check whether you really had seen Pipes in the reflection of the French windows. Also creepy is the fact a soppy Going Live presenter like Sarah Greene and somebody as earnest as Michael Parkinson could be so convincing. They are more persuasive than the real actors.
And Ghostwatch, despite saying ‘written by Stephen Volk’ at the beginning, was persuasive. There was a claim afterwards that the programme led one man to commit suicide, while two children, whose parents had been disarmed by seeing that nice Sarah Greene doing a programme for evening telly, were said to be left with post traumatic disorder. After a review and questions in Parliament, the BBC promised not to show it again for ten years.
That self-imposed ban is over but the Beeb hasn’t revisted Ghostwatch since. If you want to, head to Blake’s place here and scroll down.