Sunday, 12 November 2017

#Ghostwatch25

Greetings, Ghostwatchers!

As we all well know, a Twenty-fifth Anniversary only comes around four times in a century. It can be truly remarkable to consider just how much has transpired in what simultaneously feels like both an incomparably short and lengthy period of time.

And boy, did this year's annual celebration of Ghostwatch take some unexpected twists and turns.

The story begins, a very short while ago, when one or two Ghostwatchers kindly pointed me in the direction of an upcoming event at Edgbaston Stadium (née Cricket Ground) by the name of Birmingham Horror Con. Having never attended the event before, I reached out to the organisers, least of all as I heard it was to be attended by the two stars from my favourite Nightmare on Elm Street sequel (whom, ironically I am still yet to say, 'Hi' to). When I heard back, I was informed that all of the author table slots had sadly already been filled.

Then, a day or two later. I received another message asking if I might be available to take part in a slightly different capacity...

It turned out, the event would be encompassing a number of different areas of the stadium other than the main hall, including the Banqueting Suite and Room 1882, just across the way from the lifts and restaurant.

Consequently, there would be space for Behind the Curtains after all, but alongside some other local talent, as opposed to the usual trade stalls - including this fascinating scale miniature of the Nostromo set from A L I E N, painstakingly realised by Weyland-Yutani supporting, and Central Legion costuming group member, USCM Andy Rowlands. Who incidentally, also very kindly allowed me to fulfil a lifelong dream and feel the weight of a personal friend of his, then-resting on a nearby table - this authentically-weighty, airsoft M41-A pulse rifle, 10mm with over-and-under 30mm pump-action grenade launcher. Schweet.






Taking place over the weekend of 28-29th October, Saturday's stall-to-stall traffic built in momentum fairly quickly. With our table being the absolute closest to the restaurant, readily churning out countless pots of fragrant chicken curry, we were rarely short of visitors.

Many attendees arrived dressed in marvellous/hideous costumes, from various TV, film and game series. There were copious Kruegers, nefarious nurses, and even the occasional prodigious Predator to be found, most replete with weeping wounds and all manner of realistically gory effects on display.

Just before one o'clock, I was summoned from my table to one of the nearby ginormous screening rooms, and promptly ushered onto the stage. The original plan was to play clips on the projector behind me, but sadly, only one laptop was available to the tech team, and was in use next door for a dedicated screening.

When the talk started, and being my first solo one at that, I had to improvise, so resorted to playing the audio from the doc's teaser trailer hosted on YouTube through my phone down into the mic, which thankfully seemed to work just as well, if not enigmatically more so.

After explaining much of the history surrounding Ghostwatch, and my involvement as documentarian thereof as I could mentally muster, at about the thirty minute mark, I opened the floor to questions from the audience, and was only two queries in before we were already given the dreaded one-minute warning by the otherwise patient and helpful events team. In fact, I must be honest and say that without exception, the Front of House staff at the Stadium, particularly the cleaners, and those at the gate were superb, and a real pleasure to talk to and work alongside.

The first question asked why the doc has not yet appeared in a twin-set DVD with the original film, and the second from BtC supporters, Paul and Cathy enquired as to why none of the Early Family were interviewed in the doc. To quickly summarise my answers to both...

  1. This is actually something that has been under discussion and consideration for a while, but being two separate productions, has taken a little longer than first thought to hopefully bring everything together. It is also important to note that such a release most certainly should not be rushed, and at least be worthy of the original 2002 BFI release, which remains so highly regarded.
  2. Despite repeated attempts, I've never successfully been able to get a message through to Bríd, Michelle or Cherise, though would love if it could happen, someday. Particularly, as I think their contributions and presences in Ghostwatch were tremendous and invaluable to its lasting success.

We were only booked to appear at Birmingham Horror Con for one day, but things went so well on the Saturday, and also having already caught up with fellow followers, Jon and Graham among others, that we took up the organisers' kind offer to make use of the same table on the Sunday, too.

Regrettably, as late as the previous Friday afternoon (our table set-up night), I was sitting in what felt like a centrifugal doctor's office waiting to be seen about a recent perforated eardrum twixt viral infection, and was feeling about as ill as I can remember for a good while. It was sod's law that this all developed in such close proximity to the event, but even so, I was absolutely, positively determined to attend.

That said, bearing in mind just how much traveling was around the corner, and with the recurrent sight of my brains occasionally melting out of my head without the use of make-up, we made the decision to pack up and head back a little earlier on the second day, just to get everything ready for the next leg of the adventure, tomorrow...


www.twitter.com/PLTVFest
So, to explain, way back when, in fact in November of last year, I was contacted by a fellow by the name of Greg Walker, Director of Manchester-based Pilot Light Festival, a professional line-up of TV screenings and Q&As that have now deservedly begun to tour across the country.

Greg explained how he was interested in putting together something tentatively titled, "Ghostwatch: 25 Years Later..." involving a showing of the programme in time for Hallowe'en of this year, with an accompanying panel of contributors, including myself.

"That's nice." I delicately pondered, whilst nonchalantly uppercutting the innocent waft of air unsuspectingly floating above my head, in supreme victory.

Truth be told, Greg's was a fantastic idea, and not just because of the fact that 2017 marks both the Silver Jubilee for Ghostwatch, and Diamond Anniversary for Behind the Curtains, but also as, for whatever reason, despite having being made for TV, the original show has a habit of working implausibly well on the big screen.

Case in point, I recently caught a very special rare showing of Sir Ridley's portentous masterpiece, Blade Runner at a local picture house, which despite having taken place only a matter of weeks ago, quite honestly ranks among the most compelling cinematic experiences of my entire life, and one that I cannot recommend highly enough to consider yourself, if you ever get the chance.

Yet, despite my wildly flowing emotions during those precious closing scenes, IN WHICH HE OBVIOUSLY IS, there wasn't much of an audible reaction from the crowd, even by the time Vangelis' soul-affirming end credits score had silkily synthed into life. Nevertheless, I along with several others, made a point of remaining in our seats until the very last credit has scrolled up, purely to savour the entire experience, because I'm so hard and straight and cool, like that.

Conversely, in my considerable experience, Ghostwatch has always - always - generated a noteworthy vocal response at the many public viewings I have attended. Taking into account the extraordinary span of reactions from the BFI's unforgettable 20th Anniversary screening five years ago, I was fully aware just how expertly lulled even the most confident crowd can be into a false sense of security by its unique blend of tone and presentation...

Both then and most recently, despite some initial enthusiastic chortling, directed largely towards both Parkinson's and Emilio Silvestri's characters' fourth-wall glibness, and apparent disinterest in even appearing in the programme, the crowd became quieter and quieter as the screening progressed.

The arguable narrative turning point of Suzanne Early 'faking' a ghostly encounter seemed to absolutely suck the air out of the room, and during the final five minutes or so, as Parky aimlessly wanders about the swiftly-evacuated Studio 1, you could hear the hum of the venue's air conditioner.

The range of reactions is always wonderfully varied, and seems to stem from the individual's perceived focus, ahead of time - be it, Horror, Satire, or Historical Curiosity, to name but a few. However people respond to the show seems to be a good indicator of it holding their attention twenty-five years on, which can only be a good thing.

And so, after conveying my sincere thanks over email to Greg for his kind offer, I followed the development of his proposal with great interest. Soon, we learned that the event would incorporate two dates. One at Gorilla in Manchester on the 30th of October, and the second, just a day later at Genesis Cinema, Bethnal Green, on the 31st, Hallowe'en Night.

Stephen Volk, Lesley Manning and I would attend both screenings, with Gillian Bevan joining us for London to mark the big anniversary down to the very second.

Not taking into consideration my adoration of Craig Charles' 'Lister Jacket' of which some of my considerable research can be found within the digital pages of the Official Red Dwarf Fan Club's Back To Reality magazine, National Séance is probably as close as I'll get to a Punk response to anything in my life.

I can understand certain of the undoubted obstacles in the BBC even contemplating a repeat of Ghostwatch, least of all the pervasive controversy that followed in the wake of its first broadcast. Nevertheless, such was mine and others' frustration seven years ago that this had not yet transpired, that I decided to try and orchestrate a unique live gathering using social media, on our own terms, via the then-burgeoning platform of Twitter.

Suffice it to say, as news of each year's special evening continued to spread, so did the global reach of responses from like-minded individuals who also volunteered their own time, energy and patience into keeping the Foxhillian flame alive. Whenever I hear the annual event as an 'Annual Tradition', I cannot tell you how gratifying that makes me feel. And you know what I always say, #TeamEffort.

As I continued to wait patiently for the 30th of October to finally roll around, a further intriguing email dropped in my inbox, this time from BBC's The One Show, asking if I would like to take part in one of a few planned interviews, in which I would personally discuss my experiences with Ghostwatch. With the format for the channel's flagship magazine show typically being light and accessible, in addition to already having discussed the programme before, this seemed a particularly nice way of celebrating the double anniversary in some way.

Sadly, just a few days later, as reported by Kate Mossman in her highly-popular article for The New Statesman, the interviews were unexpectedly shelved by another department.

It's all water under the bridge for me now, but what was rather disheartening when the news came through is that I firmly believed all of us connected to the project had by now made a tangible difference as far as the general perception of Ghostwatch was concerned. This decision seemed more like a step back, and gave only further credence to the late, great Mike Smith's wonderful description during the doc, of "Little Kingdoms" not always being certain of the best, or conducive way forward.

If I wasn't such of a fan of the Beeb, and all that its countless artists and artistes have achieved in general, I doubt I'd have been quite as jazzed to be taking part. Fortunately, the super-cool dudes @SuperNerds_UK also kindly reached out, asking if I would like to be interviewed, and released their podcast just before I set off, allowing me to share and retweet.

Very soon thereafter, a raft of new articles reared their head in time for the fast-upcoming anniversary, as usually happens each year, but in relatively smaller doses. Some pieces even went so far as to considerately name-check the project, which is always greatly appreciated...


And notably, for a plethora of reasons, was this piece by Rebecca Woods for BBC News, entitled Ghostwatch: The BBC Spoof That Duped A Nation.

Around the time we all arrived in Manchester, Lesley, Stephen, producer Ruth Baumgarten, and myself were next invited to be interviewed by Adrian Chiles for BBC Radio 5 Live. You may note that only three of those invitations were honoured. Have a guess whose wasn't, while I continue to wonder, myself.

I hear, the BBC's Afternoon Edition also mentioned the show very briefly, describing it as "Still as good as it was then." which is nice to hear. There were also other interviews with various members of the cast and crew, many of which can be found on writer, Stephen Volk's website here.

Credit: Jack Kirwin Photography
So, just to paint a mental picture for you, at this point, just moments before I go on stage in front of 250 bona fide Ghostwatchers, measured by a show of hands before the screening as to who watched it on the night of transmission, and at least 4/5 admitting that they had, I am suddenly cognisant of the fact that I have now had no less than two BBC interviews inexplicably shit-canned in a matter of days. This inexorably has the habit of taking the wind out of your sails (and sales) just a tad.

But despite this relentlessly enforced sense of uncertainty, I reason it's now too late to back out. And on that topic, I delicately ponder... why the fuck should I, anyway?

Taking a deep breath, I carefully make my way down the moodily-lit stairwell to one of the most warmly personable screening areas I have ever visited. Initially, we each are introduced before the crowd, and in response, generously applauded upon mere approach of the three or four steps leading up to the stage. Lesley and Steve briefly introduce themselves before handing me the mic...

"Oh, hi. I'm Rich Lawden, you probably don't know me, but I directed a retrospective documentary called, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains, a few years back..."

A "Whooh..!" kindly escapes somebody in what feels like a North-Easterly direction, which in turn leads to a smattering of genuine applause.

Credit: Jack Kirwin Photography
The unstoppable elation on my face is enough to precipitate a hearty burst of laughter ahead of me which seems to virally transmit itself from gallery to stalls. As I wait for the intoxicating resonance to diminish, I recall a recent gag left on the blog, and first retweeted by long-supporting Ghostwatcher, Shane Poole...

"So, tonight it's hashtag, 'Rich Lawden For Bafta Fellowship..." which thankfully leads to another nice reaction from the well-tuned crowd. I go for broke and mention how Ghostwatch often garners a big live response, before simply leaving them with the reliably Ooh/Ahh-inducing, "Try not to have sleepless nights..." and exiting the stage as a threesome.

Waiting in the gods, and tallying the helpless reactions Every Single Time a character utters that old chestnut which rhymes with, 'Door he stole', the three of us are again ushered downstairs by Greg, and we each take a seat besides the evening's genial and assured host, Andy Murray.

Credit: Jack Kirwin Photography
Despite a frenetic, and excitedly boisterous screening, the Q&A was conversely gentle and laid back. Almost everyone who approached the mic seemed to preface their question with, "Thanks for scaring the hell out of me, twenty-five years ago..." to Steve and Lesley, or "I couldn't go to the toilet for weeks after Ghostwatch." There were a good handful of fear/lavatorial-related anecdotes, in fact.

After all was said and done, it was remarked to me how not one single attendee had been seen nuzzled into the glow of their mobile phone as we talked. The screening was totally sold-out, and the 250-strong crowd ranked amongst the best I've ever seen turn out for the show. The guttural noises heard during the Pipes Sightings (well, those caught by the crowd, at least) were palpable, and genuinely hair-raising. It was just wicked.

After the final resounding round of applause relaxed into hubbub, the crowd filed out, mostly with huge grins on their faces. It really seemed as though all of us were aware of just how special and rare an event this truly was.

Instinctively, I negotiated my way through the crowd back up to the upper balcony to collect my bag and stick, and by the time I began making my way back, had already noticed a small group of fans, about a dozen or so, now excitedly gathered around Steve and Lesley. This was great to see, and something I had forgotten often takes place when all is wrapping up for the night. It is how Stephen and I first met, a decade ago, after all...

As I held back, waiting to join them, someone approached me from the side, and almost whispered, "You don't know me..." causing me to turn. "... but we've spoken a lot on Twitter. I'm Jenny." In the run-up to the events, I had heard from a few followers of the project who were either contemplating dropping by, or most certainly attending, but for the most part, I didn't really know who to look out for, as many of us have only ever conversed, online.

After catching up with the one and only @GameplayJenny, I then caught up with the one and only @the_magicbus, too, and soon found myself scribbling autographs onto copies of the doc, and also Companion, and Transcript Books. It was nothing less than a pleasure to catch up with everybody, and hear some wonderful new stories from people I had even yet to meet.

Heading back to my glorious hotel room, which seemed to bear more than a passing resemblance to Deckard's impossibly groovy bachelor pad from 2019 Los Angeles, I poured myself a well-deserved G&T, partook in the four complimentary black and white truffle chocolates on the nearby coffee table, and briefly wondered, as I stared up at the ceiling, of several potential choice spots at home where I might proudly display the now fast-approaching, shoe-in BAFTA award, or slightly more likely, airsoft M41-A pulse rifle...

The next day, we all headed back together to Manchester Piccadilly for the altogether brisk trip back down south to London. Between wi-fi hot-spots, my phone began to pick up snippets of images and mini reviews of the previous evening's festivities. Meeting up with Dr. Pascoe herself, Gillian Bevan in the hotel (something I doubt I'll ever get used to), we all headed out for a quick prawn fried rice and pomegranate soda before heading for the next venue, just up the road, where there was also time to catch up with old pal, and supporter, Stephen Freestone.

Overall, Genesis seemed to be a completely different animal to Gorilla. It was almost the difference between a rock concert, and art-house revue. The Q&A this time around was hosted by a familiar face to fans of Breakfast TV, the sparklingly upbeat Emma Bullimore, who commanded the stage with a unique mix of grace, authority, and enthusiasm. Talk inevitably leaned more so in the direction of National Séance, given that it was only a matter of minutes away. It's ironic that despite the show 'touring' in the words of my compatriots, I had so little time to develop much in the way of additional content, as is often the case, to work with on the night. Due to my aforementioned indisposition, there are still one or two things simmering on the back burner that I'm sure shall find a place in some future event.

The second, and more succinct reason for which, was suitably hinted at by Emma's cryptic announcement of something 'special' being revealed at some point during the evening, and sledgehammered home just as we stood up, care of Greg the organiser, who urgently bellowed into his mic, "Don't forget to mention your book, Rich!" much to the glee of the grinning attendees.

"The book that I was saving to announce until the very end?" I dryly responded, knowing full-well this was the perfect time to go public. "Yes." Greg simply beamed back, almost with a knowing wink.

"... I've written a third book." I then announce in burgundy tones worthy of Steven Wright, whilst sauntering off, evoking a warm cheer from the crowd. "And it's in full colour!" I add, before checking my watch for the time.

By this point, I had mentioned once or twice how a countdown might be a fun way to lead into the screening, and also crucial in order to synchronise with Ghostwatchers taking part, across the country and beyond.

Closely monitoring the time himself, Greg expertly kicked things off, and the audience excitedly followed his lead. After “... Three... Two... One!”, there was just a slight delay as the big screen readied itself, and following a brief ident for Genesis itself, we were away.

Handing back the mic, I made my way to the back of the auditorium to find an empty seat, turned down my phone's screen brightness to minimum, and proceeded to virtually jump-start our annual Tweetathon. Except this time, with no notes at my side.

Throughout the screening, there were a few more occasional giggles at that plot-progressing line of dialogue which rhymes with 'Poorly Bowl', but the 200-strong audience were, for the most part, a little quieter than in Manchester, given the previous event's inescapable, party-like atmosphere, but even so, still undeniably keen to be part of the proceedings. Something else that carried over was the unique air of congregation, almost like you might find at a one-night-only theatre production. That sense of uniqueness, or rarity gave each evening a special tone that we could all share.

Whilst the sound, particularly at low frequency, was astonishing at Gorilla, the picture quality at Genesis was crystal clear, bearing in mind the age and technical limitations of the print. Both venues seemed to have tremendous draws, each to their own strengths in presentation.

It was quite a different experience than usual, as I not only had to contend with an ever-decreasing battery (my spare, steadfastly refusing to work), but also not much in the way of new discoveries to reveal. Well, none that I could on the night, anyway.

This was mostly due to the fact that despite the past year having been somewhat hectic in the article gathering sense, this considerable research has not been intended for the blog. One small new factoid that I could share however, is that, if you look closely, while Kim Early 'speaks' to Pipes just before the house is evacuated at the request of an ever-concerned Parky, she is very clearly playing with her toy, Bubby's eyes, in a devilishly... devilish piece of character-based foreshadowing.

Thanks again to the keen eye of Greg the organiser, we discovered that the hashtag #Ghostwatch25 had been trending Number 3 on the leader-boards, which is our highest ranking ever, for Hallowe'en Night. I'm sure if I'd have been able to more effectively retweet and engage with tweets throughout the day, we almost certainly would have placed higher, but even so, that's Pretty Good Going, I‘m sure you'll agree.


By the end of the viewing, I was exclusively able to reveal, by way of a small snapshot of the publication's corner cover, the brand-new Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains 10th Anniversary Special, celebrating a full decade of the project's existence.

Now, I don't want to give too much away about its content, but believe me when I say, this serious labour of love has taken... ooh, bloody ages to compile. There are a number of new interviews, including with Lesley, Steve and Ruth, the lovely family of Richard Broke, and the equally-affable, Production Designer, Richard Drew, who personally helped divine and design the show's sets alongside Ken Starkey back in 1992, Lowestoft's Autumn organisers, Emma Bunn & Henry Baker, and professional post-producer and fan, Steve Doran.

More news on this exciting new release to hopefully follow, very shortly...


Savouring the final round of applause, I headed back upstairs to catch up with fans, Belinda & Thomas, and long-time follower, Tim.

And then, just like that, it was over.

Twenty-five years, done and dusted. Achievement unlocked. 92 XP - "Round and round the garden..." - Completed on Hardest Difficulty.

To say it was an honour to be part of #Ghostwatch25 is a faintly glimmering understatement. In many respects, this particular chapter of the programme's legacy feels so cumulative, I find it hard to predict much topping it as an experience, overall. But then, I thought much the same thing after the release of the doc. And the BFI 20th Anniversary screening. And the countless other times this project has either achieved or been part of something so genuine or worthwhile.

Once again, I cannot say enough for our evenings' wonderful organisers, Greg, Daniel, and Ade. Not only were the guys courteous, affable, invested, and fun to be around, they also ensured both events went ahead without one single hitch. Our accommodation was top rate, if not luxurious, our travel was smooth and efficient, our dinners were enjoyable and nourishing. If you ever get a call from Pilot Light, my advice would be to pick up that phone without hesitation.

If anything can be taken away from this entire experience, it is that we may have seen the first shimmering glimpse of the BBC at long last readdressing its stance on the programme. Who knows where it all may lead. But in some respects, the horizon over Foxhill has never looked so propitious.

No wonder until now, it has occasionally been painful. Twenty-five years is a long time to peel off a plaster.

Steve mentioned at one point, that he'll be in his eighties around the time of the Fiftieth Anniversary, and that I'll be in my fifties. It's not too early to start planning, is it?

Until then, Ghostwatchers... Try not to have sleepless nights.

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