Ghostwatch, the greatest TV Halloween hoax of all time


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/10/19/ghostwatch-the-greatest-tv-ha.html


#2

Although, I’m sure it was a lot more impressive on the original airing, this one is still a lot of fun.


#3

That last little bit about the tabloids, gives me a hint that perhaps tabloids exist for that very reason. It would be like having a loud, nonsensical bullhorn at the ready to drown out your critics any time they seemed in danger of winning an argument.


#4

Added to my Shudder watchlist. Thanks for the heads-up! (For those who like this kind of thing, similar fun can be had with the WNUF Halloween Special.)


#5

I’m pretty sure that at the time I saw this in the TV listings (which probably presented it as a straight show), I just rolled my skeptical eyes and watched something else. I kind of regret missing out on the national trauma now.


#6

The thing that always puzzled me was that this programme was trailed in the week before it aired. There were shots shown that would later purport to be live, yet still people were carried along. Even knowing it was pure fiction, I was utterly captivated watching this as a teenager at a friend’s house. His parents were out for the evening and his younger sister was so terrified of us going to the bus stop for me to travel home that she managed to phone her parents (pre mobile) and demand they let me stay over.

I’ve never wanted to see it again. It needs to stay as one of the most perfectly executed bits of TV I’ve ever witnessed. It was so acutely aware of its cultural context.


#7

Radio Times had it down as an episode of BBC1’s Screen One season and the writer’s name appeared at the front alongside the Screen One titles. Also, if anyone called the number shown throughout the programme (and everyone of a certain age will know it off by heart) 01 811 8055, they should have received a prerecorded message telling them the programme was fictional. Except the switchboard crashed under the volume of the calls.

IIRC a lot of people changed channels from ITV a bit into the programme and missed all the set-up that would have warned them it was drama.

I still remember it and its amazing ability to persuade you it was real because it was BBC1 and Michael freaking Parkinson telling you it was real. But it couldn’t work today, too much cynicism of television in general and social media would kill it stone dead before the opening credits finished.

Suck it millenials, we had better television.

And Spangles.


#8

Boy, we sure could use some “innoculating reverse outrage” right about now.


#9

And obviously it must be a false memory of mine, but I’m pretty sure I remember that even whilst it was on, they were saying it was a spoof.


#10

The infamous Mercury theater broadcast of War of the Worlds was regularly punctuated by the announcer stating that it was a reading of HG Wells’ classic. It didn’t stop people from panicking, anyhow (though I have read that the “nationwide panic” was quite overblown).


#11

One thing which really kind of undercut the “realistic” nature of the program was that one of the on-screen reporters was played by the guy who was “Lister” in Red Dwarf for about 5 years before the broadcast of Ghostwatch.


#12

He was playing himself though, as a celebrity host on the street. He started out as a street poet and was part of the youth TV thing that BBC did in a very interesting way back then. That’s kind of what I meant by the cultural context.


#13

Point well taken


#14

What if you are a millennial who watched it, like me?


#15

It was in October 92, not in 93, and no, i didn’t watch it. I watched about five minutes, decided it was not for me (I was 13 at the time), and put something else on until Match of the Day. Given that I now want to watch it, and it’s never been repeated on the BBC, I’ll probably need to find some other way to watch it. Just not during the day :slight_smile:


#16

Like a certain Twitter account? :wink:


#17

Ghostwatch is still enjoyable, though it probably requires first-hand experience of British TV of the time to fully appreciate - I expect many entirely serious and earnest programmes would seem similarly unconvincing nowadays. The only real weak spot in Ghostwatch is the parapsychologist, who’s astoundingly unconvincing. But there are some great conceptual moments in there, in the tradition of Nigel Kneale, and some classic low-budget BBC scare tactics.


#18

I was 14 at the time, and we watched it during a sleepover at a friend’s house. We were all completely suckered by it, and I was terrified. I remember it being the main point of conversation at school for about a week afterwards, with several kids swearing blind that it was all true, despite the obvious facts of the matter.

It really was excellent.


#19

Ghostwatch was brilliant. I seem to remember not watching it to the end and therefore (being young and gullible) believing it to be real at the time.

I’m kind of torn as to whether to watch it again now or not.


#20

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