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Unmissable: This Halloween classic still haunts me to this day

04 November, 2014 - 12:59
Sarah Greene, Michael Parkinson and Mike Smith, the

Sarah Greene, Michael Parkinson and Mike Smith, the 'presenting' team from 1992's Ghostwatch (Pic: BBC)

BBC

Not being the bravest of children, there were plenty of TV programmes that left me chilled to the bone as a youngster.

From the classic Look and Read educational series Dark Towers (only now have I learned that the terrifying Tall Knight was played by none other than Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew – how could I have let that hero scare me so much?) to an irrational fear of the jolty vintage picture montage of Clive Dunn at the start of Grandad, I was afraid of pretty much everything.

And it seems that from a quick straw poll around the EADT offices, everybody has been affected by something they watched as a child – be it Rod Hull and Emu’s green-hued nemesis Grotbags haunting some, to spooky recollections of episodes of Dr Who, The Thunderbirds and Round the Twist.

But one programme from more than 20 years ago still haunts me to this day. And I’m not alone.

You may recall the broadcast, and the furore that followed it.

Ghostwatch. Even searching for it on the internet and reading back over the synopsis set my heart pounding.

Think that the modern nightmare of losing a child while on holiday, as depicted in new series The missing, is a horrifying prospect? How about Sarah Greene and Craig Charles investigating paranormal activities at a North London home, screened “as live” on Halloween in 1992 to millions of frightened families including this 12-year-old.

Not so long ago my brother leant me a DVD of Ghostwatch (released after the Beeb’s self-imposed 10-year repeat ban was lifted) but I still couldn’t bring myself to watch it. When it was screened for the one and only time 22 years ago it triggered 30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard following its original broadcast.

I never made it to the end – meaning I missed the moment when spooky spectre “Pipes” took over the whole programme and possessed Michael Parkinson.

I think had I made it to the end I may have realised it was actually a ground-breaking mockumentary filmed well in advance and featuring an ending that was simply to odd to be real.

However, for many years it haunted me, having convinced myself it was 100% real.

Ghostwatch was actually a film, produced as part of BBC1’s Screen One series and starring Greene, Charles, Parkinson and Mike Smith, playing themselves. They were looking into reports of a violent poltergeist who was plaguing the lives of a family. The children had dubbed the ghost “Pipes” and the show revealed he was the spirit of a child molester who had taken his own life. Seems odd that a TV show would even come up with such an idea for a Halloween broadcast, let alone actually make and screen it.

It’s the sort of thing that in more recent years shows such as Ghost Hunting with... and Most Haunted have tried to recapture but they are really just too silly to be scary.

Ghostwatch was genuinely unnerving and featuring well-known children’s TV stars Greene and Smith leant it an air of authenticity that fooled many and led to uproar in the tabloids the following day.

Until I can confront my demons and sit down for 90 minutes and endure Ghostwatch to the end, I think it will haunt me forever.

Maybe it’s time for the BBC to give Ghostwatch its first ever repeat – it would be a nice reminder of the talents of Mike Smith, who died earlier this year, and a chance for people like me to finally exorcise their demons.

Were you spooked by Ghostwatch or is there something else on the box that scared you? Let me know by emailling me at elliot.furniss@archant.co.uk or follow me on Twitter @Elliot_Furniss

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