The BBC gives over a whole evening to an ‘investigation into the supernatural’. Four respected presenters and a camera crew attempt to discover the truth behind ‘The most haunted house in Britain’, expecting a light-hearted scare or two and probably the uncovering of a hoax. They think they are in control of the situation. They think they are safe. Finally, the viewers settle down and decide to watch ‘for a laugh’.
For anyone in the UK, Ghostwatch is one of those television events that you will either have watched live or heard about and wondered incessantly about. For me, I learned about it in a Media Studies class and blimey did it mesmerise me. How exactly was this done and pulled off in such a way that people everywhere believed it? It was the 90s version of Orson Welles talking to us through the radio, informing us about an alien invasion in 1938.
For those who do not know, you must have questions. You may ask what made people 1992 fall for this obvious work of fiction? Well, director Lesley Manning and writer Stephen Volk went as authentic as possible. Not only did they make sure that everything in the viewer’s eyes looked like a typical television report, but those on screen were known names to audiences. Of course, part of the believability of Ghostwatch has to be credited to Michael Parkinson, the veteran broadcaster who had never played an acting role before, so to see him in a studio running the show switches off the fiction button we would have had about what we were seeing.
Also, what helped in making the show work so well and be so expertly executed, is that it all seemed possible. There are no big unrealistic moments; the build is exquisite for what we get. A slow opening allows us to fall victim to something not really noteworthy; what happens is akin to that of shows like Most Haunted. Just little oddities that have you entertained but not concerned. We get ghost stories from the “public”, and the show ticks along nicely.
Then Manning ups the tension of her show when Pipes makes his presence known. It really cannot be overstated how perfect this switch is, helped by the fact that the “cast” were given bullet points to hit rather than full paragraphs of dialogue; the authenticity of it all just skyrockets, as does your fear for those involved. God only knows what it was like for those who watched it live…
Well, we know that the BBC was besieged with tens of thousands of complaints from frightened viewers. Even the number that was used for the audience to “call” was overwhelmed with callers. A once-in-a-lifetime event happened 30 years ago, and its work spawned so much. Without Ghostwatch, there would be no Blair Witch Project or Host, and probably none of the endless paranormal shows we see on TV.
The one main question I have about Ghostwatch is how and why the BBC has not decided to air it this Halloween and every single one after it. For it is an incredible watch and one thanks to this Blu-Ray that treats you with love thanks to the fantastic extras on offer.
– ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’, a brand new 30th anniversary documentary on the Ghostwatch phenomenon
– Commentary with film historians Shellie McMurdo and Stella Gaynor
– Commentary with writer Stephen Volk, producer Ruth Baumgarten and director Lesley Manning
– Shooting Reality by Lesley Manning
– Limited Edition Booklet: Includes ‘Extra Sensory Perception Management’ by Sarah Appleton, ‘Ghostwatch – As it Happened’ by Tim Murray and the short story ’31/10′ by Ghostwatch writer Stephen Volk
– Reproduced script, annotated by director Lesley Manning
– Set of six art cards
The 30th-anniversary documentary is everything you want it to be, giving us a long breakdown from the pre-production of Ghostwatch to the reception and influence it has had on media since. The shooting Reality extra is a lovely touch that allows us to see far more into the processes of the shoot, which isn’t something that you see that often. Sadly it is under 10 minutes, but well worth the watch for Manning’s commentary of it all alone.
Of the two tracks, the Manning, Volk and Baumgarten one is the one to go for if you want information about how the TV film was made. We get a wonderful rundown of the filming process with some great behind-the-scenes stories. This is compared to the McMurdo and Gaynor track, which gives us a sprinkling of info but is more of a fun listen-through.
Having previously read Stephen Volk’s 31/10 short story sequel to Ghostwatch, readers are in for a great read of an idea of Stephen Volk himself and a team going back to the decade-long abandoned Ghostwatch studio.
You can’t really ask for much else when it comes to this Ghostwatch set, an absolute must-buy for those who have never experienced it live and a welcome return to those that did.
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