UK 1992, 91 mins
Director: Lesley Manning

Content warning: this is a live immersive event and may contain loud and sudden sounds, strobe lighting, smoke, and jump scares throughout.

On Halloween night, 1992, 11 million viewers tuned into the BBC to watch what they believed to be a live broadcast from a haunted house in Northolt, London. The rest, as they say, is history. Audiences were terrified, switchboards were inundated with complaints, and the BBC disowned the show. But underneath the mania and controversy lies a fascinating and often deeply disturbing exploration of how trauma and abuse can haunt both the mind and the body. Ghostwatch superfans Celluloid Screams and immersive cinema pioneers Live Cinema UK present a one night only 30th anniversary live cinema experience, resurrecting the original spirit of the broadcast for a hauntingly-good immersive celebration of the paranormal, Parky and Pipes. With a Q&A with director Lesley Manning and writer Stephen Volk, peek behind the curtains, and re-enter the glory hole…
Michael Blyth,

‘It’s Pipes, Mum… Pipes is here.’ To British TV viewers of a certain vintage, this innocuous line is enough to send an icy volt of fear down the spine. Broadcast by the BBC on Halloween night 1992, Ghostwatch purported to be a live broadcast from a Northolt council house haunted by a malevolent spirit, nicknamed ‘Pipes’ by the unfortunate Early family – single mother Pam and daughters Kim and Suzanne.

Ghostwatch was in fact a scripted drama by Stephen Volk, fronted by familiar personalities playing themselves (Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles) and filmed some months before for the Screen One slot. Many viewers failed to notice the cast list printed in the Radio Times or the Screen One logo and Volk’s writing credit as the programme started (late additions insisted upon by nervous BBC executives). Many were terrified long after realising that this was an elaborate fiction.

Spurred on by a minority of angry viewers, the press whipped itself into such frenzy at the supposed psychological trauma inflicted by the BBC’s ‘deception’ that comparisons were drawn with Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast. As a result, the programme has yet to receive a repeat broadcast, and in the decade between the original transmission and the BFI’s DVD release in 2002 a veritable Ghostwatch cult sprang up.

Ghostwatch really gets its claws into you by playing the long game, lulling the viewer into a false sense of security by drawing on the mundane tropes of live TV. Here we have awkward repartee between studio and outside broadcast; prank phone calls from the public; a satellite link-up with an American sceptic. The first fleeting appearance of Pipes by the curtains in the girls’ bedroom some 20 minutes in provides the first shock. But parapsychologist Dr Pascoe (played by Gillian Bevan) swears she can see nothing on the playback. What’s going on?

The jovial atmosphere gives way to a drip feed of increasingly sinister information: mysterious disappearances; a pregnant dog butchered in the nearby playground; a kindly spiritualist medium whose hands were permeated with the stench of blood after failing to ‘lay the ghost’. The climactic revelations about Foxhill Drive, delivered in two chilling calls to the studio, reveal the secret of the boarded-up ‘glory hole’ under the stairs – one focus of the phenomena now plaguing the Earlys. Hoax or no hoax, as the end credits rolled, and ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ and co were scribbling their missives to the Daily Mail, I felt exhilarated.

British TV has an illustrious history of putting the frighteners on us going back to the 1950s and Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series, into the 1970s with the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas strand and Kneale’s ingenious updating of the period ghost story, The Stone Tape. Ghostwatch can sit proudly alongside such classics.

Watching it again now, what’s striking is how ingeniously plotted, designed and edited it is (can you spot all of Pipes’ subliminal appearances?). It’s a testament to the programme’s legacy that all the key players contributed to the documentary Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains [available to watch for free at the BFI Mediateque]; director Lesley Manning even came on board as co-producer. For Ghostwatch Manning dispensed with Screen One’s traditional 16mm film format, shooting on videotape and using the latest technology, including infrared cameras. The language of television has rarely been so effectively deployed.

Beyond its impact on a generation of writers, filmmakers and kids with overactive imaginations, Ghostwatch offers a reminder that the BBC can take risks, even if the organisation has been prone to reactionary panic at executive level. Volk’s ‘massive séance’ is the perfect metaphor for the shared experience of television at its most powerful.
Simon McCallum,, 4 December 2013

Director: Lesley Manning
©: BBC
Production Company: BBC Films
Executive Producer: Richard Broke
Producer: Ruth Baumgarten
Associate Producer: Derek Nelson
Production Manager: Jacmel Dent
Location Manager: Kate Power
Assistant Floor Managers: Theresa MacInnes, Adam Richards
Resource Co-ordinator: Michael Chislett
Continuity: Charlotte Blair
Casting Adviser: Michelle Guish
Written by: Stephen Volk
Lighting: Clive Thomas
Camera Operator (2nd Unit): Dave Hill
Lighting Gaffer: Brian Johns
Video Effects: Dave Jervis
Visual Effects: Steve Bowman
Graphic Design: Iain Macdonald
Editor: Chris Swanton
Designer: Ken Starkey
Location Operative Supervisor: Dave Rogers
Construction Manager: Mark Collisson
Costume Designer: Jackie Vernon
Make-up Design: Caroline Noble
Music: Philip Appleby
Sound Design: Winston Ryder
Sound Supervisor: Alan Machin
Sound Assistants: Paul Ostwind, Phil Gibbins
Psychic Consultant: Guy Lyon Playfair

Michael Parkinson (presenter)
Sarah Greene (reporter)
Mike Smith (phone-in presenter)
Craig Charles (interviewer)
Gillian Bevan (Dr Lin Pascoe)
Bríd Brennan (Pamela Early)
Michelle Wesson (Suzanne Early)
Cherise Wesson (Kim Early)
Chris Miller (cameraman)
Mike Aiton (sound recordist)
Mark Lewis (Alan Demescu)
Linda Broughton (Yvonne Etherly)
Katherine Stark (Wendy Stott)
Derek Smee (Arthur Lacey)
Roger Tebb (local TV presenter)
Colin Stinton (Dr Emilio Sylvestri)
Keith Ferrari (ghost)
Ruth Sheen (Emma Stableford)
Diana Blackburn (Sandra Hughes)
Brendan O’Hea (Kevin Tripp)
Mark Drewry (anonymous man)

BBC1 tx 31.10.1992
UK 1992©
91 mins

Produced by Live Cinema UK and Celluloid Screams – Sheffield Horror Festival. Supported by National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network.

Discover more ghostly delights including feature documentary Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains in our free Mediatheque.

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