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We don't want to give anybody sleepless nights—Michael Parkinson
In 1992, BBC made a Halloween Mockumentary broadcast of a supposedly haunted house inhabited by a woman and her daughters, with many known BBC news hosts taking part. At first, the broadcast starts off with the cast and crew going over what the night will consist of, and going over the way to call in the viewers own experiences with the supernatural, as well as giving name to the supposed entity, "Pipes". After that, you have to see it to believe it.
Comparable to the US War of the Worlds broadcast, Ghostwatch led to its own series of rash sightings and slight panics in England -- the British Medical Journal reported that it had actually induced symptoms of brief anxiety reaction in at least two children. This can be chalked up to the fact that, despite taking place during a drama slot, the cast was made up of well-known TV personalities. Consequently, the show was subject to varying levels of censure, both internally and externally; it was attacked by the print media, who accused the BBC of irresponsible hoaxing. A married couple filed for judicial review of then Media Watchdog the British Standards Commission, after alleging a link between the show and the suicide of their teenage son, one of many complaints that the regulator initially refused. The BSC in turn reversed its position and ruled that the broadcast "was a deliberate attempt to cultivate a sense of menace".
Meanwhile, flustered parents piled onto BBC's Bite Back to voice their anger, while the BBC itself never made a repeat broadcast despite the obvious mileage available in terms of ratings, and supposedly withdrew its BAFTA nomination. In response, the creators pointed out that the broadcast had never been billed as anything other than fiction, that writing credits given both at the beginning and end of the show made this all the more clear and that they couldn't fairly be expected to flash regular disclaimers throughout the film for the same reason any other mockumentary writer wouldn't do so -- that is, it would ruin the flow of the story.
The fact that the show contained some admittedly ropey acting and content warranting only a '12' certificate rating speaks volumes to the effective use of build-up and the power of suggestion employed by the writing.
"31-10", a short-story sequel to Ghostwatch by the show's writer, Stephen Volk, can be downloaded from his home page.
This broadcast contains examples of:
- Agent Mulder: Dr Lin Pascoe, as well as the part-time exorcist.
- Agent Scully: At first, both the host and the American skeptic second guess the female parapsychologist at every turn. Then, even as the studio is being actively destroyed by "Pipes", the host still cannot believe what's happening.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Parkinson declaring that the sudden deluge of panicked phone calls are all pranks.
- As Himself: Mike Smith, Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Craig Charles. This was a principal factor in the confusion over whether the show was real or not. That all were associated with light entertainment and/or children's television made it an especially effective use of the trope, as there is a near-constant Mood Dissonance from the start between the cheery Beeb personalities and the spooky backdrop. The cameraman and sound man are also played by a real-life BBC camera team, and credited under their real names.
- The Bad Guy Wins
- Bald of Evil: Pipes
- Big Bad: as the show progresses, we eventually learn that Pipes is the ghostly progeny of Mother Seddons, the evil spirit of an infanticidal 'baby farmer' who has been making the estate 'England's answer to Amityville' for centuries.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: How the Earlys have unfairly come to be regarded due to unsympathetic media portrayal.
- Black Eyes of Evil / Eyeless Face: Viewers who phone in describe Pipes this way.
- Blow You Away: Used when Pipes gets really riled up.
- Cat Scare: Played straight, but keep your eye on the reflection in the glass door.
- Creepy Child: As the film progresses, both Suzanne and Kim have moments of this.
- Curiosity Killed the Cast: And how!
- Deadpan Snarker: Dr Emilio Sylvestri.
- Demonic Possession
- Driven to Suicide: Raymond Turnstall.
- Drone of Dread: In the final scene, the ghostly wind and the cat yowling well up to create this effect just before the cut to black.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Pipes gives Mercedes McCambridge a run for her money.
- Executive Meddling: The writing credit at the opening was a last minute addition insisted on by the BBC, who had very nearly pulled the entire broadcast.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: Several very spooky ones involving Pipes.
- Ghostly Chill
- Gone Horribly Wrong: A live investigation into the paranormal using flashy technology. Should be fun, right?
- Haunted House: You have no idea!
- Haunted Technology
- Hey, It's That Guy!: A number of BBC presenters from the time, but particularly Craig Charles of Red Dwarf and Robot Wars fame.
- I See Dead People: Kim has a few of these moments.
- Ironic Nursery Rhyme: Round and round the garden...like a teddy bear...one step...two step...
- Jerkass: Craig Charles does this quite well.
- Mockumentary: Without much "mocking".
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dr Lin Pascoe wants to help vindicate the Earlys by exposing their ghostly tormentor to the entire nation. As she herself realises, the broadcast becomes a 'massive seance', unleashing the evil spirit on potentially every household that tuned in.
- The Nineties: Ghostwatch has aged well but has a distinct Nineties feel, aping then-emerging docudramas like Crimewatch and making use of technology that was in vogue at the time, such as the light pen and the infrared vision (the latter commonly used on Gulf War reports).
- Nothing Is Scarier
- One-off Drama
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Our ghosts can form onion layers, take control of the BBC and kill people with freakin' cats!
- Plucky Comic Relief: Craig Charles' role in the Ghostwatch team.
- Tabloid Melodrama: The Earlys are victims of this, with the local media having made them out to be deranged kooks.
- Talking Heads: In the form of members of the public contributing their own experiences with the paranormal.
- Villainous Crossdresser: Raymond Turnstall.
- We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties
- Wham! Line: "This picture we're seeing now isn't live. This is some earlier footage, from earlier in the evening. This is just a cover, it's a dupe. This isn't happening now."
- You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost
What big ears you have... what big eyes you have... fee, fi, fo fum... fee, fi, fo fum...