Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Box of Delights, Part 1 : Pipes, Parky and Possessions in GHOSTWATCH (1992)

NAME : Ghostwatch.

WHAT IS THIS? : It's a TV show that ' contains material that some viewers may find disturbing'. Jonathan Rigby in English Gothic says that it's " the only TV programme, according to the British Medical Journal, to have induced post-traumatic stress disorder (see the Bite Back clip at the end of the post). Yes, it's the scariest TV show ever. Even scarier than Killer Bob yelling at you in TWIN PEAKS, Pennywise hiding down the drain in IT, and the Munchkins at the end of your bed in DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. It's ninety minutes scared the shit out of its 11.5 million viewers, caused the BBC to receive 30,000 phone calls and 35 complaints, and outraged the tabloids. GHOSTWATCH was originally transmitted on Saturday the 31st of October 1992 at 9pm (post watershed so no kids will be watching then) as part of the BBC's 'Screen One' series. It was set up as one of those Crimewatch or Hospital Watch style reality shows which involved participation from the public, phone calls to a live studio and a live outside broadcast filmed in Britain's most haunted house. It was in fact a one off drama written by Stephen Volk, involving television personalities as themselves and various actors as psychologists, traumatised family members and nosey neighbours. It has never been shown in the UK again, was never released on video and was only finally released on DVD by the British Film Institute in 2002.

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT? : Ever since the divorce Mrs Pamela Early and her daughters Suzanne and Kim have being terrorized by an unfriendly ghost. There have been thick smells coming from taps, peculiar stains appearing on carpets, dinner plates suddenly breaking, a loud persistent banging coming from the walls and, worst of all, physical attacks on the older daughter Suzanne. Initially, Mrs Early explained it away as being just the central heating or the 'pipes' - a name that stuck for the kids - but the problems continued to escalate. After sceptical reports from local newspapers, the family's experiences catch the attention of foxy psychologist Dr Lin Pascoe, and the BBC who decide to set up a live TV broadcast from the Early's home. Dr Pascoe sits in the studio offering advice to viewers and taking phone calls with presenter Michael Parkinson, and Sarah Greene reports from 41 Foxhill Drive (the haunted house) alongside the Early family and various strategically positioned cameras. Oh, and Craig Charles tries to lighten the mood by jumping out of kitchen cupboards and saying that he hates kids who dress up as the devil. Will they find evidence of the existence of the supernatural? Will Pipes come out to play?

AFRAID OF THE DARK? : So who or what is Pipes? Several viewers phone in to say that in the opening video recording of the girls bedroom a mysterious dark figure is seen stood next to the curtains. The younger daughter Kim says Pipes hides in the corner of their bedroom and wants to do 'nasty things', but that he lives in the cupboard under the stairs called the 'glory hole'. She even says if you look through the crack in the now boarded off door to the 'hole', you can sometimes see him staring at you. At another time Pam was stuck in the 'hole', once used as a dark room by her ex husband, and felt a man breathing against her face. In a university research video, Suzanne is recorded speaking in a scary fucking Exorcist style voice. Luckily, Parky gives a warning to any viewers of a nervous disposition and then comments on its 'bizarre and chilling' content (thanks might be a bit late for that). More phone calls describe the apparition as an old man or woman with a bald skull like head, wearing a robe or black dress and with holes for eyes. Dr Pascoe plays a video recording from July of Kim's description of ole Pipey. She describes him as being really old with scratches and blood all over his face, and also wearing a black dress. Another viewer calls in to tell them of the story of Mother Seddons, a child murderer, who parents used to say would get their kids if they didn't behave themselves (good old fashioned parenting that). Trouble is she may have lived in that road, maybe even in that house. Then another member of the public, a former social worker, calls about Raymond Tunstall who used to live at No. 41 during the 1960s. Raymond had convictions for molestation, and suffered from paranoid fantasies about a 'woman who lived in the inside of his body who controlled his actions'. He killed himself (you can guess where), and wasn't discovered for 12 days during which his face was half eaten by cats. He also wore dresses which were black but probably very nice. So is Pipes a disturbed man who was possessed by the evil Mother Seddons or did the evil of the house possess her as well? And is Suzanne or Sarah Greene next?

BOX CLEVER : Mr Pipes is said to appear on eight separate occasions (you can see where and judge for yourself on the programme's Wikipedia entry). A few of his/her appearances are blink and you'll miss 'em moments that sink into your subconscious with the cat screams, sudden camera movements and teenage girls talking like the Devil about teddy bears and gardens. In first viewing though you should pick up on one or two and the wonders of modern technology (slowing down the DVD or watching youtube) will help you pick up the others. You may even think you've seen Pipes at other times (you did, he's waiting for you in your bedroom cupboard).

BOX OF DELIGHT : Apart from playing 'Spot the Scary Bald Bastard in a Dress', one of my favourite moments is when Craig Charles interviews a couple of neighbours. So what's it like living in England's answer to Amityville? A thrill a minute Craig. Weird things happened. Apart from the loud banging and windows smashing over at No. 41 there was also a little girl who went missing, and then last summer (July again) the corpse of a mutilated black dog was discovered in the local playground. I wont go into details but obviously this is not a good thing.

BEHIND THE SOFA : In the last 20 minutes all hell breaks loose. 70 minutes of dread, sudden shocks, creepy anecdotes and a slow but overwhelming sense of impending doom have all led to this. No more spoilers here. It makes the ending of [REC] look like a walk in the park. Needless to say you wont look at Michael Parkinson in quite the same way again.

WHAT ELSE? : Ten years after GHOSTWATCH, Stephen Volk wrote a sequel called 31/10 as part of his Dark Corners anthology. In the story, he and several others who were involved in the project return to the BBC studio where the filming took place. Bad stuff happens. You can also read it over at the GHOSTWATCH blog Ghostwatch - Behind the Curtains which you can find here. It's also worth checking out Afterlife, his excellent TV series from 2005-06, which was kind of like The Ghost Whisperer except without Jennifer Love Hewitt. Finally here's GHOSTWATCH on youtube (be prepared), and some stupid people being stupid on the BBC programme 'Bite Back' (with lovely Sue Lawley).


  1. This is a great, great Halloween viewing. I am from the US, and saw it when the dvd came out a few years back for the first time, so I was not familiar with all the presenters, nor was I under the illusion that it was "really happening"--however, it STILL managed to scare the crap out of me! Just a fantastic story, well and believably presented, really pulls you in and twists the screws. I watch a lot of scary movies, but this is the only one I can remember where I came close to actually pausing the DVD b/c it was getting to me too much! (It was during the "cats howling" scene...*shudder*!)

    Anybody looking for something different and extremely creepy should check this out!

  2. Fantastic blogpost! I remember when this was on tv and a bunch of friends were round at my house watching it. I really must watch this again! Fangs for the memories!


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