GHOSTWATCH was a Screen One [S04.E09] production broadcast on BBC One, October 31st, 1992 at 21:25. It was written by Stephen Volk, directed by Lesley Manning and produced by Ruth Baumgarten and Richard Broke, and starred Sir Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Craig Charles, and Gillian Bevan.
The one-off 'special drama' purported to be a live broadcast from a haunted council house located in the fictitious suburb of Foxhill Drive, Northolt. Shortly after its first and, to date, only UK television broadcast, a considerable amount of discussion was raised concerning the show's impact, as many viewers nationwide believed what they were seeing was actually happening.
For an independent overview of the show, the GHOSTWATCH Wikipedia page is a great resource.
The BFI released a single-disc edition back in 2002 to mark the tenth anniversary, which for a time was quite rare to find, and depending on condition, had been known to go for around £20-£50 on auction sites and online stores such as eBay and Amazon. A VHS edition was also released the same year. The DVD features an audio commentary with Stephen Volk, Lesley Manning and Ruth Baumgarten, a mini documentary entitled, Shooting Reality, and other downloadable DVD content. The VHS includes the mini documentary after the main credits.
In October 2011, 101 Films released a vanilla-disc edition of Ghostwatch on DVD (R0).
In March 2013, lawmanproductions.co.uk released the documentary, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains on DVD - currently sold out. There is also a companion book of the same name, with extra/unseen content, currently available over at Lulu.com, and a full, uncut transcript created in mind for students, and the hard of hearing.
In October 2016, BBC Store released downloadable versions of both the drama and doc, through their Frightmares collection.
In October 2022, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains was made available on BFI Player for the In Dreams are Monsters festival. Also that month, 101 Films released a limited edition Ghostwatch Blu-ray, and in December 2022, a standard edition Blu-ray.
To date, GHOSTWATCH has not yet been broadcast again in full in the UK, although over the years, clips have been shown on BBC One, BBC Four, CBBC, ITV, Channel Four and E4 [see our YouTube page for a number of clips]. Overseas, GHOSTWATCH has been shown on the channels, Scream in Canada, and Canvas in Belgium. In October 2011, the show was briefly available to download on the now-offline BBC Global iPlayer app, and later, the aforementioned BBC Store platform.
Strictly speaking, no. For something to be banned outright, the BBFC must refuse to classify it for sale within the UK [the programme, uncut, was granted a 12 Certificate]. Over the years, it has been argued that GHOSTWATCH was suppressed which is a slightly more accurate description when you consider it has yet to be shown again, in full, on any television channel in the UK.
The ten year 'ban' theory possibly stems from the fact, the first time the show was released on home media [DVD/VHS] was in 2002 - ten years since it was first broadcast.
Actually, none of them! GHOSTWATCH may have been set at what was BBC Television Centre, White City, but in reality, the show was filmed at Studio D, BBC Elstree Studios, Clarendon Road - the old ATV studios - incidentally, where they also filmed The Muppet Show.
Going by experience, it can be very easy to confuse BBC Elstree with Elstree Studios where the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films were filmed, among many others. In fact, there have been a few different Elstrees dotted across the UK.
According to the Radio Times, GHOSTWATCH attracted an audience of 11.07 million viewers. The full BBC1 rankings for the week of 26 October - 1 November 1992 are as follows:
1. EastEnders(Tue/Sun) (21.34)
2. Neighbours(Mon) (17.97)
3. Casualty (14.74)
4. Noel's House Party (13.39)
5. Birds of a Feather (12.41)
6. Last of the Summer Wine (11.32)
7. Waiting for God (11.20)
8. Ghostwatch (11.07)
9. Big Break (10.95)
10. A Question of Sport (10.92)
Consequently, three decades on, GHOSTWATCH remains one of the highest rated single dramas of all time.
With thanks to Stephen Freestone for the above!
According to various sources, including the BFI DVD Audio Commentary, the BBC received anywhere in the region of 20,000-500,000 phone calls to the main switchboard - comprising a mixture of complaints, praise and enquiries as to whether the show was real or not. During an interview with Samhain Magazine in 1996, utilising a breakdown from British Telecom, producer, Ruth Baumgarten also estimated 100,000 calls during the peak five minutes of telephone activity, and as many as 1,000,000 calls from viewers in total, throughout the evening.
However, in 1992, Anne Robinson stated on Points of View that there had been 835 calls to the Duty Office in which 382 people said the show had been an "insult to their intelligence," 275 found it to be in "poor taste," 62 just had a "general moan," and 116 "thoroughly enjoyed it." During the edition of Biteback that discussed the show, host Sue Lawley claimed there had been 20,000 calls made to the BBC Switchboard following transmission.
According to the E4 clip show X Rated: Top 20 Controversial TV Moments, GHOSTWATCH garnered 2215 official complaints following transmission.
WHERE CAN I FIND THE DELETED SCENES THAT AREN'T PRESENT ON THE DVD RELEASE?
In terms of deleted content, the BFI DVD is only missing the BBC continuity announcement and Screen One ident which you can watch below - nothing else. You'd be amazed at just how often we get asked this, but both DVD versions are virtually identical to what was broadcast in 1992 - which too featured the end credits. The newer 101 Films release also reinstates the classic pre-titles Screen One 'Boulder-hurtling-through-the-TV' sequence.
An interesting theory that might help explain this strange effect concerns the so-called 'banning' of GHOSTWATCH, and how viewers naturally resorted to using their imaginations to help fill in the uncertain gaps in their memory. So, just to reiterate - the ghost never dances on the lawn, the camera didn't follow Sarah as she descended into The Glory Hole and no, we never did see the exploded glass table described by the frightened telephone caller..!
... ANY MORE TRIVIA?
- The on-screen ‘map’ graphic used to show where phone-in guests are calling from was actually a printed artwork, filmed on set using a locked-off camera, vision mixed, and fed into the video-wall for the actors to respond to, ‘live’.
- Phone-in caller, Mary Christopher is actually GHOSTWATCH director, Lesley Manning, as the original actress hired for the role couldn’t deliver the lines as intended. Likewise, the voice artist brought in to voice Pipes the Ghost was also substituted for Manning’s own un-credited performance.
- The grey BBC trucks as seen in the opening title sequence are 1988 British Leyland Freighters. Due to strict demarcation rules within the BBC, director, Lesley Manning had to choose whether to make GHOSTWATCH either with a dedicated Studio crew or Outside Broadcast staff. This resulted in the show’s 'hero' scanner truck effectively arriving on set as a prop, even though a manned O.B. Unit would have been perfectly outfitted for such an event.
- The ‘Ghost in a Sheet’ painting hanging over the studio fireplace is actually a print of an existing piece by Austrian-Irish artist, Gottfried Helnwein, which Stephen Volk first saw at an exhibition in Vienna.
- The strip of technical information displayed on-screen by Chris Miller’s thermal vision scope is time-stamped whilst the camera is in operation, and had to be augmented in post-production to accurately read “1992-OCT-31”.
- Actively seeking out the latest on-screen graphics throughout the shoot, Lesley Manning utilised the now common Page Turn effect before it was due to premiere on popular music show, Top of the Pops.
- The smeared-looking black and white graphics that adorn the BBC studio set were made by dragging a Gothic door knocker across a photocopier during a scan cycle.
- The Earlys’ home computer as seen in their living room is from the Commodore CBM-II range. The model shown in GHOSTWATCH resembles a CBM-610, the European version of a B-128. The call-sheet lists "Dizzy" as the game to be played by Suzanne.
- The rumour that the show’s makers had wanted to add a high-pitched tone which would agitate viewers’ pets during the broadcast is mostly true. Stephen Volk suggested it, but as soundtracks are ‘capped’ for transmission [meaning, limited in pitch, volume, etc], even if permission had been secured to go ahead with the idea, technically-speaking, it would not have been possible.
- The distinctive sound of Tunstall’s disembodied wailing cats can also be heard in 1987 comedy-drama, Withnail & I — specifically, the first scene to feature Richard Griffith’s cat-loathing character, “Uncle Monty”.
- Moments after the Police arrive at 41 Foxhill Drive, if you look carefully at the WPC exiting the passenger side door — amidst the chaos, she accidentally knocks off her hat, and laughs whilst putting it back on.
- When Craig Charles jogs over to the nearby playing field to interview Yvonne Etherly, screenwriter, Stephen Volk can barely be seen on the right-hand-side of the crowd.
- Keep an eye on the staircase when the camera pans from Sarah, making coffee for the crew, across to Mike Aiton, and you’ll see Suzanne Early hiding on the stairwell, listening in on the conversation. Also, a bit later on, the same rack of six mugs which Sarah uses in this scene inexplicably becomes shattered after Pam declares, “...We’re all telling the truth!”
- The board-game that Kim and Suzanne are playing whilst Sarah relays her true-life ghost story to camera is the Disney edition of Sorry! released by Waddingtons in 1991. Additionally, the bowl of crisps on the same table are Golden Wonder Cheese & Onion flavor, don'tcha'know.
- The sequel story 31/10 by Stephen Volk also gives the name of the sequel-within-the-sequel, as "Ghostwatch 2: Return to Studio One".
- As astutely noted by Ghostwatcher, Tim Shaw, on Twitter, GHOSTWATCH opens with a light-bulb exploding [the bedside lamp in Kim & Suzanne's bedroom], and ends with a light-bulb exploding [on the gantry at Television Centre]. Pipes is also present on both occasions.
- If you listen carefully, when Sarah & Mike are searching for Suzanne using the infra-red camera, you can just hear a similar-sounding ghostly exhalation to when Sarah attempts to retrieve a flannel from the Earlys' bathroom.
- Keep an eye on Kim, when transmission starts breaking down from within the house; it is only when she walks behind Sarah, and ultimately past the wall to the right, that the picture frame leaps off it, and onto the floor.
- The time between the most recently-discovered Pipes sightings is 16 years, 5 months, and 26 days. "Pipes in the Crowd" was officially posted by Stephen Freestone's ghostwatch.info fan-site on June 11, 2000. "Pipes in the patio window" was posted here on ghostwatchbtc.com on December 6, 2016.
- In a rare plot hole, when Dr. Pascoe claims there could not have been a link between the phone-in callers, and her undisclosed research into Pipes' appearance, she seems to be forgetting both Kim's pencil drawing, as shown earlier, and caller, Emma Stableford from Slough, who also describes a potentially-androgynous figure wearing a black dress, near the start of the programme.
- There's actually a third bedroom at the house in Foxhill Drive, though in reality, it was used to store production equipment, so was never shown on camera.
- Spiritualist, Arthur Lacey, was played by late actor, Derek Smee, who would go on to appear in the Bill Murray comedy, The Man Who Knew Too Little; also featuring Linda Broughton, Sarah Greene, and Mike Smith.
- Sarah states that the night of the first haunting was December 28th 1991, also a Saturday, and that Pam and her eldest daughter had argued, as "Suzanne had wanted to stay up and watch some film". Among her choices that night, on BBC1 alone, were Empire of the Sun, and Hallowe'en III: Season of the Witch.
- Craig's appearance in GHOSTWATCH was filmed between Series IV and V of Red Dwarf.
- Cameraman, Chris Miller's wristwatch is shown to have stopped at approximately 21:01, "Just before we went on air". Though, it was not a given the programme would be broadcast on either Hallowe'en Night, or at 21:25.
- The scenes in Foxhill Drive were shot in July 1992, and the studio scenes were shot in August, so the pre-recorded material could be fed into the sixteen-screen video wall.
- The screenplay makes specific mention to, "The remnants of Pam's hairdressing business" in her bedroom, hence the large salon hair dryer, and wig stands.
- Mike Aiton's character's name in the script was 'Ben "Brock" Brocklesby'.
- The shooting script for GHOSTWATCH has a different locale for Foxhill Drive, with the haunting often referred to as, the "Manchester Poltergeist".