Thursday, 31 October 2019

NS19 Interview - Iain Macdonald, Graphic Designer

Greetings, Ghostwatchers!

To mark this year's 27th Anniversary for Ghostwatch, and Behind the Curtains' 9th National Séance, I was very fortunate to speak with yet another extremely-talented contributor to the production; Dr. Iain Macdonald, who as you can see by this handy screen-grab, was listed as 'Graphic Designer' during the programme's eerie end-credit scroll.

It was great speaking with Iain, and learning more on how his work influenced the show in 1992, including, its very special teaser trailer...


If I may, let's start at the very beginning; how did you get into the world of TV & Film?

Oh, well, that was always the dream, actually. When I was looking to go to art college, I had a specific job I had wanted to do, which was to work in television, as a television graphic designer. It seemed to be a lot more exciting than just working in print.

I'd done some work experience in a printing firm, and that was all very nice, but the idea of working in animation, and live action, and with broadcast just seemed all the more glamorous. When I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art, I had, in my final year, showed my show-reel to various companies in London, as well as Channel 4, and LWT, and talked my way into a job with Ex-BBC designers called, English Markell Pockett; and won a pitch for them, and I spent three months working there, over the Summer.

Through that experience, I was introduced to the Head of Graphic Design at BBC Television Centre, and because I'd had experience I think, working on a Quantel Paintbox at art college; which was the first broadcast quality digital painting system; and BBC was just transitioning from cardboard graphics to electronic ones, I was at the right place at the right time, with the right skills. It was my dream job. I couldn't believe it, that I'd actually hit the jackpot, within three months of graduating.

Also, to be 22 when I started in September 1987, and see people who had been working at the corporation, in the design department, for longer than I'd been alive... That sent a shiver down my spine in a funny way, and I thought, 'God, this could be it forever, and that's definitely not what I want. I want to do a lot of exciting things. So, I might use this as a learning experience, and maybe break out on my own. Direct films, or direct commercials.'

Anyway, I was there for 10 years, or thereabouts. When I left, I had been a senior designer for two years, and quit because of the managerial encumbrance that was being laid, upon me. I could see that the budgets were reducing. The opportunities for innovative, exciting new design were becoming smaller, and smaller. I got offered a job to direct commercials at the Moving Picture Company, so it seemed like a really great thing to do.

But, I had a fantastic 9-10 years at the BBC, working across all sorts of different genres. I worked with, just amazing talent, Clive James, Michael Palin on Around the World in 80 Days... Learned a lot very, very quickly. And, it was a space where you can make mistakes, without... being sacked, I suppose! It was a sort-of, safe, creative space, but also quite a dysfunctional space. Because, the BBC, in the nineties, was going through a really challenging culture change, through Producer Choice.

So, I guess, as a youngster, I didn't really know any better, or any different, but for those who'd been there, ten, twenty, thirty years before me, it was a horrible experience for them, I think. 

When you say it was an exciting prospect to work in Television, was that down to any particular programme or genre? I know, my impetus for breaking into the Industry was very much down to personal favourites such as Ghostwatch, and Red Dwarf, and very much wanting to be part of future productions of that calibre. 

Well, Top of The Pops, Doctor Who... There were some amazing title sequences. You know, the brand launch for Channel 4 in 1982 made a big impact. There were certain drama serials that were coming out, that were really exciting. That thirty-second, or sometimes forty-seconds slot, to summarise a programme, in a sort-of poetic way, to prime the audience for what was about to happen was really exciting. It was more than just a logo with a few photographs of artists. You could get an idea, and you had to sell that to the producer, and the director, and convince them to spend the money, to do it. It was a terribly exciting thing to do.

And, were you often based in just one location at the BBC, or did you get to experience lots of different departments, or locations, working there?

I was in the main block of BBC Graphic Design Department. You had two long corridors, four large studio, communal working areas, and two areas where there were rows of Quantel Paintboxes; one for BBC Presentation, and one for the rest of us.

We were all part of the same department, but you might be seconded to Presentation, or... I mean, I literally worked from magazine programmes, The Holiday Programme, Crimewatch for a little while, the Film Programme with Barry Norman, and then you had some documentary serials. As an Assistant Designer, to begin with, I worked with Liz Friedman for the first few years, and Charles McGhie. That's where I really learned my craft.

There were four studios in the BBC Graphic Design block; Charles McGhie's team, Presentation, Sport, and latterly, The Late Show. One of the great TV graphic designers I had the pleasure of working with was Alan Jeapes on the titles for People's Century, for which we were nominated for a BAFTA for Best TV Graphic Design in 1997, but lost to Channel 4! He was a legend, and his timeless work lives on, in EastEnders. Meticulous craft, an influential screen typographer, and a great storyteller, to match.

And yeah, I might have started off helping design a logo, and then attend shoots, and learn how to direct talent, and do special effects stuff. On my desk at any one time, I have might have had six projects that might be across six different genre. So, you would never bored.

Now, there were other departments within the BBC. So you had, separate to Main Block, you had BBC News, BBC Current Affairs, and BBC Sport was slightly different, as well. Some people were very, very good at those niches, and made a great deal of success out of it, and won awards. But, I certainly enjoyed being in the main block, surrounded by the bigger names, and having a rich diet of work. I loved the fact that I could work on a drama, or a children's programme, or a religious programme, or Features Magazine programme, like The Holiday Programme. There was lots of variety. 

Was there any kind of standardised remit to BBC graphic design, at that time? Going by past research, it seems that sometimes the Beeb prefers things to be very specific, and then, other times, they like taking risks.

Well, "They" covers a great, big thing. Within the department, those who had come through the 60s and 70s were passionate about Public Broadcasting, and there was a sense of, when Producer Choice came in, and we had to, as it were 'break even', or have every hour accounted for, that this was a rather smutty commercialisation of what we were doing. And, 'Wasn't it all public money, anyway?' and, 'We're doing our best to deliver to the nation...'

The producers, depending on the department, and whether or not they were working independently, and coming into the BBC, had very different attitudes. Some were incredibly frustrated by the bureaucracy, and the lack of choice perhaps, of being forced to work within the BBC, because they had their favourite person that they worked with in Channel 4, or elsewhere.

Others were committed, die-hard, public broadcasters that supported the department, and established long, long relationships with key people within departments, and you would find that it was a very personal relationship that you would sustain. And, you'd have repeat business, if you were good at it. If someone was pleased with what you did, it was a pleasant experience, there were no surprises. You might have even won an award. Then, you got more work. Your positive reputation would spread around the different programme-making departments. That's how you became successful, I think.

So, from that point, what was the bridge between getting the call to work on Screen One, and Screen Two?

I wouldn't know. I don't even think I would really have made any delineation. It would have been "a Drama". Sometimes, most of the dramas, of course, were still made on film. And, you'd have designed an opening title. It might have been a simple, super caption over the live action, the director had shot. You would go to Ealing Film Studios, to go to the cutting room, and see the film, on a Steinbeck. It'd be marked-up where the opening title would be, by the editor, and you'd have a chat with the producer, a chat with the director. You might witness a verbal/figurative punch-up between the producer, and the director, perhaps, at times..!

Sometimes, you were asked to sit in, and watch a large part of the first cut of the film, just to get a sense of, 'Well, what do you think?' you know, 'Does it work, do you understand what's going on?' My preparation for any of the films would have been to read the script. Sometimes, if it was early on, I would have gone on to set, to meet the director and producer, depending on when I was actually engaged into the process.

Now, with Ghostwatch, I came in quite late, because there had been a previous Graphic Designer. And, I had worked with Ruth Baumgarten, the producer, on another film, a couple years earlier, I think. I can't remember which one it was, now, but that had gone really well. So, I was asked to come in. I shot some extra sequences. I had some pretty clear ideas about how to get some ghosting effects, some interference, and distortion that would make it feel, a bit spooky.

As I recall, it was quite a simple and fun thing to do. Then, Ruth, and the director asked me to do the trailer. That was great fun, because it was a little video shoot, in a small studio in Television Centre, called "Presentation B", where Film 92 and Barry Norman would do his usual studio piece. So, it was a very small studio. Made a little set.

And, Sarah Greene was great fun to work with, she was really super. Got a few friends to cast, and then got some big lights, and I think, a big fan to blow air into people's faces, and yeah, we just had a bit of a ball, really. The man in the red jacket is Steve Bonnett, a BBC graphic designer who worked on The Late Show for many years, and other Music & Arts programmes.


I understand, the two ladies and young lad beside him, are the editor's family! That's really interesting to hear that you arrived fairly late-on to the project, as some of that footage ended up being showcased in the main title sequence, too. There are eleven shots in total in the teaser trailer, five are in the titles for Ghostwatch [the medium shot of the family, albeit being an alternate take], with the rest being either Sarah, or props.



I came in, just as the edit was underway, so the title sequence was in-process. I think, we were all very excited about the specialness of the show, because it was a bit in the, sort-of, Orson Welles, kind-of vein.

On the night of the broadcast, we were very, very pessimistic, I remember, because Presentation, or the controller of BBC1, had basically run scared, and they said, 'Oh, we're going to have to have some caveats, before the show starts, so the presentation will have to say that, this is a drama, and people might find this disturbing', and you know, 'It's not real', sort of style.

And, we just thought, 'You've just ruined the whole effect!' But, nevertheless, who could have thought what stirring drama it actually created, because people were completely suckered-into it! It got this great degree of infamy, which was remarkable, considering all the care that the BBC did to try and protect people from believing it was a real thing.

So, there was a kind-of buzz surrounding the project, even by the time you came on-board? Specifically, despite very much being a conventional drama in structure, its presentation would hopefully effect a unique type of viewing experience for the audience?

Oh, I think so, because you've got Parkinson, you've got Sarah Greene, you've got all these people who are trusted broadcasters, who typically, you've never seen in an acting role before, really. It just made the illusion all the more believable.

But, when you're working on it, it was jolly fun; I thought, as a concept. You just really hoped that it would be pulled-off. And, I think, it did. It pulled it off, remarkably. And, you want to be scared. There was a sense of, 'Oh, my God! Look at all those bangs and pops that are going on, and all these terrible noises in the house, under the stairs...' And, the break in transmission; that was all good fun to actually design, and work on. Getting those effects for the ghostly bits, in the middle.

I recall, Lesley Manning, the director, and Chris Swanton, the film's editor, describing just how cumbersome, and often untested the linear techniques of physically editing Ghostwatch could be, at times, even with then-state-of-the-art graphics engines and edit bays, to hand.

Again, being a big Red Dwarf fan, I fondly recall a gag in which the mechanoid Kryten's bionic eyes are described as having a range of optical effects such as, "Split-screen, slow-motion, Quantel..." - evidently inspired by the Beeb's own era-specific Special FX fire-power.

I understand, that some shots of Pipes the Ghost were augmented using the Harry graphics machine, is that right?

Yeah, we had a Quantel Harry in the graphics department. It was brought in, because we were all going outside to Soho, to the West End, to use all their high-end Quantel visual effects equipment, which were normally being used for commercials. They would usually give the BBC a special rate, because it was usually interesting work. It was good for their show-reels, and their kudos. So much of our money and time was going out to Soho, that The Powers That Be realised, 'Do you know what? We should really have one, ourselves, in the department, and stop all this money going straight out of the door, to the West End.'

So, we got some guys trained up, and we used it to work on the special effects bits, there. It was ideal for it, really, because you had the opportunity to take a flat, video image, and warp it in a synthetic, three-dimensional way. You could lift different keys, you could offset images, and overlay them. The beauty of the Quantel, Harry, and the Paintbox, which was the still image processor, is that because it was digital, you didn't lose any quality, whereas if you'd previously been doing that in the video effects workshop, working with one-inch videotape, overlaying and overlaying, in an analogue way, it would have gradually degraded, and got noisier and noisier, and you just get this very different... You get these lines that go around images. If you think back to the early Pop promo, and keying effects, in the late 70s and early 80s, that's analogue video. It's got a certain look, it sort of sets its time, now.

But, we were wanting to really have more sophisticated imagery. That had smoother edges, that didn't degrade, every time you layered something up; and you could change it, as many times as you like, without degrading the image. That's what we did. They would use all the effects, under the sun. You'd try your best to create something that's got some taste, and is truthful to the script, that's pushing the narrative along, and visually, just seems interesting, I think.

I recall, Lesley also speaking previously regarding incorporating the latest cutting-edge transition effects of the day; specifically the 'page-peel' wipe that was due to premiere on, Top of the Pops, around that time. The opening title sequence does have those kind of wavy, shimmering effects, including a face that zips from the top right corner to the bottom left hand, as the logo slowly materialises into view.

I naturally assumed because you're listed as 'Graphic Designer' in the credits, that you'd had some input into the logo; I know that Richard Drew and Ken Starkey drew up some prospective designs, but it seems that the identity of the final logo designer remains a mystery. With you coming on-board a bit later on, in production, by then, it was already being used on set, of course.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm trying to think back, but that was definitely the bit that I seem to remember adding into it, the face. The typeface was pretty, sort-of... I think, Zosia Rooney, who'd worked on it before, had come up with that, earlier. So, that was pretty-standard, genre, Watch-programme/Programme-Watch. But, that extra eeriness with the face, and re-cutting some of that footage with the trucks arriving, and everything else, that was all part of my role.

The scanners were shot at Kendal Avenue OB Unit, I believe..?

Yeah, that's right.

And, there's another quick shot in your show-reel, which looks like it could be an out-take, of sorts from the trailer, perhaps? I just wanted to double-check that, as the truck resembles one of the show's British Leyland freighters..?

No, it was for a different thing, altogether. That was a title sequence for, basically, the BBC's annual report, which was called, See For Yourself. That producer, I had worked with before, on another show; it was more of a News & Current Affairs programme, with John Humphries presenting, called, Family Matters.

That producer, about six months later said, 'Look, I've got this huge show to do, need a graphic designer, and a title sequence for it, and it's a big studio programme set in Birmingham, with lots of question/answers from the public about how their license payers' money is being spent'.

So, I came up with several concepts, and she went for the most extraordinary one, which was, there's a big truck being chased by a helicopter, there's all sorts of drama going on, and the truck finally arrives through the countryside, in Birmingham, and these guys come out, and they roll out this big banner, and it unfurls in front of the Concert Hall, or some-place. So, we had a two-three day shoot in the Welsh mountains, with one of the Kendal Avenue trucks, and a helicopter, which was very exciting.

Speaking of movie magic, and returning briefly to the trailer for Ghostwatch, I must admit to being far more surprised than I really should be, to learn that it was all shot in one tiny studio space, because it very much appears to be a 'night-shoot', with Sarah approaching what looks to be a conventional-looking, 'haunted house'/stately home, perched on top of a hill. So, I can only assume, this was in fact shot in front of a backdrop, or that the exteriors were possibly composited in, later?

I can't remember, to be honest with you. I'd have to see it, again.

As I recall, the current best-quality copy of the trailer was finally tracked down by a wonderful site called VHiStory, which I also happened to discover through a Red Dwarf connection. Jim, who runs that blog, catalogues his many VHS cassette recordings that have accumulated over the years, and he had discovered some very rare continuity for the series. On perusing the rest of his site, I noticed he had a tape labelled, "Ghostwatch" which had yet to be covered, but years later, when it finally reached the right place in his ongoing list of cassettes, he very kindly got in touch to share his findings.

Increasingly so when looking back, the reaction to Ghostwatch seems far more varied than was initially reported by the Press. I can't recall, much outside a few praiseworthy quotes on Points of View and BiteBack, actually heralding the programme, for its own merits and virtues. Why do you think that was?

There are always going to be some corners of the Press and public that are always gonna kick the BBC, for whatever it does. So, set them aside, and you just can't believe how gullible the public can be. That's just staggering. I think, that the tragedy for Ruth, as the producer, and maybe for Lesley, as well, I don't know, but I think they got a lot of aggravation, and they were blamed for disturbing [viewers] so badly, and you know, Christ, that's the last thing that anybody on the production team would have wanted to have happened. You just can't account for all that stuff. I know we didn't have the Internet, then, but there are certainly far more aggressively-scary things that you could watch on a videotape from your local video store, for goodness sake.

I know what you mean, because I've always found the certification for Ghostwatch to be a profoundly interesting aspect of its legacy. I vividly recall, when the show finally came out on BFI DVD for the Tenth Anniversary, despite having been 'banned', in so many words, I was expecting it to be an 18, or 15, at best. But, it's actually a 12. I understand that the BBC now insists on a 15 for public screenings, with an added warning, ahead of time.

There are other examples, like
Special Report: Journey To Mars, which is a live news report of a ill-fated mission to the Red Planet. And, it's very kind-of, light and airy for the most part, very dramatic, and wonderfully camp. But, the way it wraps up, I have always found to be very sinister and strange.


Basically, after all the trials & tribulations that have befallen this crew of astronauts, their spaceship finally lands safely, and everybody's happy. Then, the very first person sets foot on Mars, and she sees something, and the camera just cuts to static. Boom, that's the end of the piece. It's chilling! And, that was assigned a Universal rating. It was actually given that little green triangle, as being suitable for all ages, and I find it rather disturbing.

So, for me, the criteria often seems to be separated from reaction, or at least, perceived or presumed reaction. The albeit
fictitious proceedings may very well be tonally sinister, but as this response is subjective, and as nothing visibly or audibly is shown to occur, it gets a pass. I guess, by the check-list, not much scary happens in Ghostwatch, either! Fascinating.

Yeah, it is, isn't it? And, then of course, following, you had The Blair Witch Project, and that hand-held video, documentary/mockumentary-thing, as well. That's part of the inspiration I had, in making my short-film, Exposure, which Ruth produced, actually, with me, and she was absolutely invaluable in the script development. I made that in 2000, just after the first Big Brother, and it was a time when you thought, 'Hang on, people are faking it!' There was the whole kind-of, live-thing, and Nasty-Nick Bateman. There was another documentary, that was clearly not a documentary, it was all dramatised, and yet it was presented as a documentary. There were other people who were lying to get on television. So, there was the whole kind-of, fakery developing.

So, the story was all about a guy who wanted to commit suicide on television, and the producer and director, she's got other ideas, and you think this guy's gonna end it in the oven, and there's a cough from a soundman, and the director says, 'Cut, cut, cut! Take him out, take him out...' and he's ready to go, he's thinking he's drawing his last breath. 'No, no, come on...' says the director. 'We're gonna do this again, from different angles. But, this time, just do as you did, great, carry on.' It becomes surreal, in that battle between who's got control of this man's destiny — himself, or the producer? So, it was a satirical, black comedy, actually. It's on my Vimeo page.

Weirdly enough, there's a fifteen-second clip of it, where Leonard the character, looks at his watch, which became part of Christian Marclay's big, twenty-four hour art film, called, The Clock. Where, no matter where you see it, you might walk into the projection room at four o'clock in the afternoon, you'll see at that point, four o'clock in the afternoon, on screen, because he's found a clip from a movie, giving that time.

And, you've got Tarantino, you've got Spielberg, you've got Kurosawa. All the greats. And, at a few minutes past eleven, is my film. I happened to be in Tate Modern, at that point, and I was going, 'That looks familiar... That's my film! That's my film, everybody!' So, that was my fifteen seconds of fame, in an art piece that has been at the Met, in New York, the Tate Modern. Amazing.

With regards to your becoming a director, can you describe the shift from graphic design into... well, ostensibly, there's not a great deal of difference in terms of either role; both enable the crafting of something that only the artist can be truly happy with, ultimately. But obviously, the position changes. So, was that transition a steady process, or did it all come together relatively quickly?

Well, I had the aspiration to direct commercials, probably as long as I had been at art college; to be a commercials film director, or television graphic designer. It was actually great to be able to do both, in the end. But, by the last two years at the BBC, I got roundly fed up with the politics, and managerial responsibilities that were really, pretty nasty. I thought, 'Sod it. I'd rather be doing the glamorous work of directing commercials, if I can get representation.'

Now, I tailored all my ideas, laterally, I think, as a graphic designer to live-action, with special effects, with visual effects. So, I was used to directing talent, I was used to working with motion control rigs, green screen, CGI combinations. I felt that was my calling card.

I went to the Moving Picture Company, which were a big, facilities house, with a studio, and a small production company of directors. At 30-31, it was like, 'Great, you know, you're just the sort-of character that we would like. Still young enough to be a new kid on the block. You understand our kit, you understand green screen. I'm sure, we can get you commercials that require that kind of directing experience.'

Sure enough, I ended up doing a combination of live action, visual effects, CGI stuff. I was at Moving Pictures for five years, then they closed the production wing, and I went to another production company, and I migrated from doing combinations with animation, and live-action, to baby commercials with Johnson & Johnson, which was rather odd, but there you are. You find a niche, that you follow into.

I was directing my own little pieces. I didn't have a great deal of choice with commercials because, some people said, you know, 'You've gotta turn everything down, and wait for the right one, and show that you're a really choosy person.' you know... 'You're an artist.'

You know, what? If it looks good, paying me money, I'm bloody doing it.

So, I was driven. It was incredibly competitive to get the gigs. You'd be desperate to get a meeting, desperate to get a script, to try and get a treatment on. You'd hope that the budget would work, and they'd like your show-reel, and the chemistry was right between you, the creative team, and the ad agency. And, you know, it was... for every one you got, there would have been ten, you lost!

So, it was pretty... pretty competitive. But, when you got them, you were rewarded handsomely. You had a huge budget compared to the BBC, and you had all the esteem of being a director in Soho, and you had people running around, at your beck and call. You know, it was grown-up stuff. So, it was great, while it lasted, really.

And, now it's Doctor Iain Macdonald...

Yeah, PhD, back in 2013. I went from commercials, back to university, and did a Masters in Art & Design Education. I did a little bit of teaching at Ravensbourne, one day a week, for maybe, the space of two months. Really enjoyed it. When the commercials were drying up, in the recession of 2008, and it was time to retrain to find another way of making a living, I found that I really enjoyed teaching.

I went back up to Edinburgh, to Edinburgh Napier, as a teacher, lecturing in Motion Graphics, and my Masters then lead on to the PhD, and one thing followed on, to another. I was the Head of the Masters in Creative Advertising, and then Head of Department, and you know, you find yourself in management again, really. But, I couldn't have been a lecturer, doing what I do, without having had all the experience in television and commercials, to get there.

Given your extensive list of credits, I'm curious as to where Ghostwatch fits in to your pantheon of work. Also, do you have a favourite production to have had the chance to work on?

It was one of many dramas. I always enjoy working with the dramas. The one I always held up as being the most impactful, probably, was working on Truly, Madly, Deeply, with Anthony Minghella, on his first feature film. That guy had such an aura, even then. The whole production team was just, so sold on this beautiful ghost story; there you are, another ghost story! It was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I remember sitting on the set, first day, in Ealing Film Studios, and we were shooting the opening titles, with a stand-in cello player to do all that fingering work. And, Alan Rickman with the cello, he'd not practiced enough, and he was pretty pissed off about that. I'm there saying, 'Okay, so we need to do these shots, at this point, and at this key point, we're going to do a tracking shot, up here, with the stills photographer, then the same viewpoint, that way...'

Then, about a month later, we were in the studios in Bristol, where the interiors were shot, of Nina's home.

By that point, I had put together a portrait, framed now, compositing both a stills shot, and a clip from the film, shot on 35mm in Ealing, of a portrait of Alan Rickman with the cello.

The concept was, that you see Alan Rickman, in black & white, playing the cello, and then it freezes at that point, and the camera seamlessly keeps pulling back, up from the photograph... it's on a wall... in a bedroom... and through the bedroom, we go through a hallway... into the living room... and there is Nina playing the piano; the same line that he had been playing on the cello, in that space.

So, it was a visual and an acoustic segue through, in a sort of seamless fashion, and because we were shooting on film, it was bloody hard, with the opticals. It wouldn't nearly be so hard now, with shooting on digital cameras. It'd be easy-peasy, really, in comparison. But then, it was very technically difficult.

I remember sitting in that set, in Bristol, and there was Alan Rickman, just hanging out, on a sofa. And, I thought, 'Oh, my God.' you know, 'Alan Rickman... what am I going to do?' He asked who I was, and I said, 'Hi, I'm Iain. I'm the graphic designer.' He says, 'Oh, right. Yeah. I used to be a graphic designer. Used to work on a magazine, called Oz. Yeah... Oh, good.' And, I said to him, 'So, are you just... you're obviously...'

He said, 'Oh, yeah. I just like to feel the space... You know, feel my character develop, in location.' I was like, 'Wow. Okay. Don't want to disturb you, mate..!'

For me, that experience is probably the biggest one I have. But, you know, I worked with Ken Trodd, Tony Garnett, you know, gods of British film. Great, great memories. So, Ghostwatch is... well, I kind-of forget about it, and then it sort of, bubbles up, and you think, 'Oh my God, yes! It's still got legs, that show. Amazing, isn't it?' It still surprises me, like that.

When I was researching this interview, a thought occurred to me that perhaps I hadn't considered before, which is, the teaser you put together for Ghostwatch, knowingly or otherwise in the planning stages, is now very much part of the great pantheon of advance trailers for big productions, that use very little, if any footage from the film they're actually promoting. I can't help but think back to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Back To The Future, Psycho, and Jurassic Park for comparisons.

Yeah! I brought a lighting cameraman in, of my own choice. We used the lighting crew at the BBC, to do that. Got the script from Pres, or the trailer people. And, I storyboarded that, so I knew exactly what shots, and angles, I wanted to do. I was really excited by that, because it was like a mini commercial. I was just thrilled with the excitement of working with Sarah, and she was great fun.

Also, I think, it's interesting that you worked on other 'watch' programmes, prior to Ghostwatch, such as Crimewatch. Surely, that must have been considered in your hiring?

Well, I worked on Watchdog. I did the titles for that. That was good fun, with Lynn Faulds Wood, and John Stapleton, and all that crowd. Crimewatch, I think I was only on it, for maybe two or three months, if that. As soon as I could get off it, I got off it.

I wonder, if your being brought onto Ghostwatch, is in any way analogous to The Day Today and Brass Eye, in that, I understand that the-then actual designers for News & Current Affairs programmes were brought on to those shows, in order to evoke a heightened sense of realism, and to play with the preconceived notions of how titles should behave; mixed with the absurdity of, for instance, unfolding an otherwise everyday-looking logo, what seemed like ten or twenty times, therein poking holes in those conventional expectations.

Out of interest, was it solely Ruth who brought you on-board, or do you recall Richard Broke being involved in your hiring, too?

Ruth, it was Ruth.

It was just that I saw you'd worked with Richard, before, on a Screen One, called, The Police, I believe?

Oh, my God, yes! That was a good show. That was a nice little drama, actually. Enjoyed that. The director wanted the title to be written, in a sort-of child's hand. I can't remember the reason behind that, but those sort of jobs were quite small really, because basically, it was a logo that would be super-imposed over the live action. You had to design the typography for the credits, and put together a postcard for them, for publicity. And, that was it. Ha, fancy that!

So, tonight marks the ninth National Séance, where we as fans, look back on the show, and try to fathom why it has yet to be repeated. To close, I'd be very interested to hear your take on why the programme has endured, as of this evening, for twenty-seven years.

God, I mean, I am surprised that it has had the legs that it's had, and it's had the longevity. But, perhaps it's a quintessentially British story. And, it taps into all sorts of contradictions that we have with the authority of the BBC, and how we trust it, so. So, when we are teased, or fooled by it, there's a real shake in our belief system, I think. There's something in us that's shaken to the core, by that. And, that tremor, if you like, reverberates, still through the years. New audiences come to it, through this subterranean, cultish level, and it gains another kind of amplification of resonance, and a new audience, and resonates further.

Because it's not been broadcast on the BBC, terrestrial channels, since then, it has even more cache. I think, there's a real tradition of British ghost-story writing. You can take that line, all the way back. Those amazing ghost stories, of the 30s and 40s. We've always had a fascination with ghost stories, and we do them with real class, in a British tradition, as opposed to the American tradition, which is far more gory.

I don't have the rushes in front of me, but I seem to recall an out-take from the doc in which one of our speakers spoke about how the ancient age of things can play a big part in the perception of ghost stories.

I think that with antiquity, you get inbuilt credibility. That, somehow you're aware on some tacit level, that any carefully-preserved building, or artefact, has by definition endured for so long, that its existence must have intersected the lives of a great many people, during its time; and all of those individuals must have their own history, too.

Steve, the writer, I think, tapped into that, with the show. It's even part of Pipes' back-story, in that the Ghost is not just the troubled guy who lived in the house before the Early Family, it also incorporates the murderous Victorian baby farmer beforehand, eventually back to Prehistory, with everything that has accumulated and seemingly
coalesced at that one point on the map.

It reminds me of visiting Edinburgh, a while back, and seeing Castle Rock for the first time; which is just so glorious and intimidating, I don't think I could fully take it all in, in one sitting. Britain is so old, compared to say, the US, which is fairly young, in comparison. I think Oxford University is older than the States, funnily enough..!

Oh, my God, yeah. And Edinburgh University. Well, you must get back to Edinburgh, and do some of the ghost tours. There is the Gothic, black, double-decker bus that is the ghost tour that drives around, and you know, all these actors get out and about in the dark streets, and take you to the catacombs, and it's bloody brilliant. Edinburgh prides on its Gothic heritage.

The next time I'm around, I'll give you a call!

Rich, it's been a pleasure, I've really enjoyed it. And, I like your little icon of yourself, without your face, because it reminds me of Rail from Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I don't know if you know that album cover, but check that out.

Oh wow, I did that years ago, just as a quick stencil, but it kind of stuck, so thank you!

Fantastic, well, best of luck with it all, and thank you very much, it's been a pleasure.

Likewise, thank-you so much for your time, Iain. Brilliant.


With huge thanks again to Iain, for such a fascinating interview.

And don't forget, National Seance 2019 takes place, this very evening. Here's the original continuity announcement provided by BtC buddy, Stephen Freestone, for added authenticity! Just play at 21:24, followed by the main feature at 21:25 sharp. Hash-tag #ghostwatch helps keep everything in one piece, and look forward as always to seeing you, there.


Until next time, Ghostwatchers... try not to have sleepless nights. And do have a safe, and happy Hallowe'en!

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