Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 Halloween 1992. BBC 1 are hosting a brave live television investigation into the supernatural, a studio phone-in hosted by Michael Parkinson (Parky) and Mike Smith (Smithy) with Sarah Greene (er?reeny?) spending the night into a haunted terraced house in Foxhall Drive where some very strange things have been going on. Meanwhile Craig Charles is interviewing scary locals and generally being waggish about all things supernatural. Things take a turn for the worse when some of the phone callers reveal some of the interesting background to the house on Foxhall Drive and all Hell breaks loose in the house itself and, eventually, in the TV studio. Except, of course, it doesn’t. Because GHOSTWATCH isn’t a live TV presentation at all ?it’s actually a drama. And a big ‘thank you’ to the British Film Institute for exhuming this lost and controversial bit of classic TV from the BBC archives.
Now this was only broadcast ten years ago but I can’t remember a thing about it. I clearly didn’t see it at the time and the furore following its transmission entirely passed me by. Viewed now, ten years later, and with the benefit of the knowledge that it’s all a work of fiction, it’s hard to imagine the hair-raising effect this must have had on the unsuspecting public who tuned in and watched it live. GHOSTWATCH is gripping from start to finish. Its pretence at live television is totally convincing (except towards the end when even the most gullible of viewers must have started to twig that it was all going a bit too far) and the appearance of the respectable Michael Parkinson and the far-less- irritating-than-I-remembered Mike Smith and Sarah Greene adds the show a veneer of respectability which must have wrong-footed many viewers. It’s all here; the clumsy banter between the presenters, the gurning by-standers in the street, BBC bods running around the studio and the outside broadcast location, oddbod boffins pontificating on the supernatural. Utterly captivating and even now, incredibly easy to be taken in by. But the clues are there for the more discerning viewer; the whole production descends into a sort of Dennis Wheatley chaos as the studio lights explode, ghostly winds whistle around the studio and the location, unearthly wailing noises fill the air, Sarah Greene is locked in a cupboard (and didn’t we all want to do that back in 1992?) apparently with a malevolent child-murdering ghost for company and good ol’ Parky is possessed and starts muttering mumbo jumbo. Roll the credits and, one would expect, there drops the penny. But apparently the British public were scared witless and GHOSTWATCH itself was consigned to the Archives with a big fat ‘Not to be retransmitted’ sticker plastered across the tape.
GHOSTWATCH is an important piece of British TV and one which is oddly only half-remembered, even though it’s of fairly recent vintage. Despite its entertainment value it serves to remind us of several important facts; firstly, the BBC were once able to commission and produce innovative dramas of this quality and secondly that presenters like Mike Smith and Sarah Greene, vilified as they were at the time, were Gods of broadcasting compared to the shambling amateurs who shuffle across our TV screens in the early twenty-first century. How far we’ve come without making any progress at all. GHOSTWATCH, a low-key release from the BFI, may be difficult to track down but it’s worth the effort. BBC television wouldn’t be this terrifying again until the arrival of David Dickinson and BARGAIN HUNT. But that’s another horror story altogether.
THE DISC: Broadcast standard quality, sound mix unexceptional which is a shame because there are lots of spooky sound effects which get a bit lost. There are even some extras; a dry commentary and some script exposition. Quality stuff.