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Recap / Screen One S 4 E 9 Ghostwatch
aka: Ghostwatch

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"We don't want to give anybody sleepless nights."
Michael Parkinson

Ghostwatch is a Halloween Mockumentary aired on October 31st, 1992 telling the story of the fictional haunting of a house in Foxhill Drive, London. It was staged as a live recording of an attempt to experience the supernatural events in the house, hosted by Michael Parkinson and psychologist Dr. Pascoe. Pamela Early and her daughters Suzanne and Kim are tormented by the ghost "Mr. Pipes", who bangs on the house's pipes, and has done just about every entry in the Haunted Index. Other celebrities co-hosting the show are Sarah Greene who is to venture into the house, her husband Mike Smith who is handling the studio phones, and comedian Craig Charles is on the ground interviewing Foxhill Drive's locals. Parkinson encourages viewers to call in and share their own ghost stories.

An early incident occurs in the show when viewers point out that Pipes can be viewed in the girls' bedroom during pre-recorded footage, but the hosts can't see him. The studio also receives increasing phone calls claiming weird things are going on across the country. Sarah ventures into the Earlys' house with her cameraman Chris Miller and sound operator Mike Aiton. Kim explains Pipes lives in the Glory Hole, which Pamela has kept locked for good reasons. Dr. Pascoe shows Parkinson that Suzanne has showed signs of Demonic Possession, has bent spoons, and made clocks stop. Parkinson interviews American physicist Emilio Sylvestri, who dismisses the haunting, angering Pascoe.


Craig Charles speaks with the neighbours, learning many freaky things have been occurring for years, including missing children and a mutilated pregnant dog was found. He also speaks with the man who tried to exorcise the house, but failed. Weird things begin happening in the house including a wet spot without a source, banging on the pipes, and a Cat Scare. The whole thing appears to be exposed as fake when Suzanne is spotted making noises. Later, Suzanne falls into a comatose state, develops scratches all over her body, and speaks with a deep voice. Sarah's crew investigate the bathroom, thinking they saw someone behind the door.

The studio begins to learn about Pipes' backstory through anonymous calls. A woman recalls the legend of Mother Seddons, a Victorian baby farmer who often abused and murdered those in her care. Pipes' probation officer identifies him as Raymond Turnstall, a disturbed pedophile who lived with his aunt and uncle in the house, and believed he was possessed by Seddons, wearing women's clothing. He hung himself in the basement, and his body was devoured by the family cats. Suzanne continues to act possessed, and Kim hides in the kitchen, claiming that Pipes "wants to see everyone". Suzanne then vanishes, and can be heard from within the Glory Hole. The crew open the door, only for a mirror to collapse and injures Aiton. The footage suddenly changes, showing the house has returned to normal.


Pascoe later realises something is not right, and the footage is from earlier in the night. She realises Pipes planned this, creating a nationwide seance circle which will allow him to infect the viewers at home. The live feed returns, showing Pamela, Kim, and the injured Aiton being evacuated. Inside, Sarah goes to rescue Suzanne from the Glory Hole, but the door slams behind her. In the studio, all hell breaks loose as Pipes appears, knocking out the lights. Pascoe and the rest of the show's crew flees the studio in fear, while Parkinson wanders about trying to remain calm, but is slowly possessed by Pipes and the cats.

Comparable to the US The 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 brief anxiety reaction in at least two children, the symptoms of which were compared to those associated with posttraumatic stress disorder. A major factor in this response was the verisimilitude of the show's presentation; despite taking place during a drama slot, much of the cast was made up of well-known TV personalities playing themselves. 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 successfully filed for judicial review of then Media Watchdog the Broadcasting Standards Commission, after the latter refused to hear their complaint (along with several others) alleging a link between the show and the suicide of their teenage son. The BSC in turn reversed its position and ruled that the broadcast was "a deliberate attempt to cultivate a sense of menace" and that more active efforts should have been made to clarify that it was not a genuine live show.

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.

Only people who knew their parapsychology recognised that the idea of a ghost terrorising two girls in an ordinary British semi-detached house was based on the "real" life case of the Enfield Poltergeist, in which it turned out that the girls were making it all up to get media attention. note 

(Years later, New Line Cinema would end up adapting a fictionalized version of these same events in The Conjuring franchise.)

"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 host Michael Parkinson and Dr Emilio Sylvestri, the American skeptic, second guess Dr. Pascoe at every turn. Then, even as the studio is being actively destroyed by "Pipes" (or Raymond Turnstall), the host still cannot believe what's happening.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Parkinson declaring that the sudden deluge of panicked phone calls are all pranks, despite the fact that by this point something seriously spooky - supernatural or otherwise - has clearly hijacked the entire broadcast.
  • 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 soundman are also played by a real-life BBC camera team and use their real names.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Dr. Emilio Sylvestri sounds more like the name of a Bond villain than a scientist in a straight-faced mockumentary trying to sell its realism.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Pipes succeeds in taking over the broadcast and spreading all over the houses in the UK who tuned into Ghostwatch and is implied to have taken Sarah Greene and Suzanne Early by the end of it. In 31-10, he possesses protagonist Stephen Volk so violently that Volk is forcibly turned into the new Pipes, complete with missing eye.
  • Bald of Evil: Kim describes Pipes as bald.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: A portrait of one hangs in the main studio.
  • 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 / Ghostly Gape: Viewers who phone in describe Pipes this way.
  • Blow You Away: Used when Pipes gets really riled up.
  • Brown Note: The whole show becomes one of these in-universe, as Pipes uses it to possess people up and down the country.
  • Camera Abuse: Interference with the sound and visuals increase proportionally with the level of paranormal activity, to the point that nothing is what it seems by an hour into the film.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • The Earlys themselves repeatedly try to warn everyone how dangerous Pipes is or can be. Nobody except Lin Pascoe believes them, which is apparently why the BBC thought it was a good idea to have a whole camera crew there on Halloween.
    • A Welshman calls in towards the end of the second act to report a plate leaping off the arm of his chair and smashing, however his delivery is so comical that Parkinson dismisses it as a prank and even Lin Pascoe doesn't appear to take it all that seriously. It turns out to be the first warning sign that the broadcast is allowing Pipes to invade the homes of viewers.
  • Cat Scare: Played straight, but keep your eye on the reflection in the glass door.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several through the broadcast
    • The night vision on the camera.
    • During Craig's interview with two locals from Foxhill, they mention a dead pregnant dog and a missing girl that was never found. Early hints that whatever the haunting may be is darker than what the BBC expected.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: The Earlys.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The house is fitted with timecoded CCTV cameras that can be remotely operated as well as devices for outside monitoring of atmospheric conditions and light frequency. The cameraman's kit is also capable of thermal imaging.
    • The only times we see anything about the outside broadcasting, it's from much earlier than we think, and they're clearly having problems with it. Also, those timecoded CCTV cameras are all pretty much the eyes and ears of Pipes from very early in the show...
  • Creator Cameo: Director Leslie Manning makes a vocal cameo as Mary Christopher, one of the callers that talks with Michael and Dr. Pascoe.
  • Creepy Basement: The "Glory Hole", which is never actually seen, but the fact that Pamela Early boarded up the door proves how scary it is. Sarah Greene and Suzanne disappear through the door and are never seen again.
  • Creepy Child: As the film progresses, both Suzanne and Kim have moments of this.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Raymond Turnstall.
  • Creepy Monotone: The woman who calls in about her kids refusing to leave the television set speaks in this way, before Suddenly Shouting at Michael Parkinson and Dr. Pascoe to stop the broadcast.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: And how!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr Emilio Sylvestri.
  • Demonic Possession: Pipes takes over Susie, and later posses Michael as well, and if Dr. Pascoe is believed, maybe happening to others all over the country.
  • Downer Ending: The crew went out to prove the Earlys right, Pipes is real. Doing so ends with Sarah and Susie being dragged off to their deaths, Michael being possessed after Pipes invades the now empty BBC, which just seconds before had been bustling in crisis, and may possibly be doing so to everyone watching the program. Effectively, as Dr. Pascoe puts it, the program ended up being a massive national seance, giving the malevolent specter even more power, who now has the power to haunt every home he chooses to in Great Britain, and possibly the world.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch Abomination: As more insight to Pipes' true nature comes to light, the theory is suggested that whatever it is may have started out as a spiritual entity that even predates humanity. A Greater-Scope Villain that wishes to spread its evil, using the live broadcast to create a nationwide séance circle. This entity has terrorised the area around Foxhill Drive for potentially centuries.
    • Mother Seddons is the second layer to this evil, controlling Mr. Pipes, implied to be behind the murder of a five-year old, the mutilation of a pregnant dog, and the disappearance of a young girl.
  • Eldritch Location: It is implied throughout that Foxhall Drive is one.
  • Empathic Environment: As the broadcast cuts back to outside Foxhill Drive after Mother Seddons takes control, a sudden storm has appeared.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Mike Smith reports that one viewer called in to say that her dog won't stop barking and that several others are describing instances of their pets becoming very agitated.
  • Evil Smells Bad: When detailing an incident where 'Pipes' attacked her directly, Pam Early mentions there was a thick, rotten-cabbage smell.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Pipes gives Mercedes McCambridge a run for her money.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In-universe, viewers call in to report bizarre things happening in their homes since tuning in. At the end, when Pipes possesses Parkinson, he directly addresses the viewer, saying "You didn't believe the story about Mother Seddons, did you?"
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Mr Pipes appears in the background of (or otherwise hidden in) several shots, including inside the house, in the crowd of people being interviewed by Craig Charles, and even in the BBC studio.
  • Ghostly Chill: Sarah constantly mentions how freezing the home is every time something terrifying is just about to happen.
  • Gone Horribly Right: A live investigation into the paranormal using flashy technology. Should be fun, right?
  • Haunted House: You have no idea!
  • Haunted House Historian: Two of them call in to expose morbid details from the history of the house on Foxhill Drive.
  • Haunted Technology: Trope codifier.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Justified, as the TV cameras are in there for Halloween night.
  • I See Dead People: Kim has a few of these moments.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Round and round the a teddy step...two step...
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: The abrupt restoration of peace in the house during the final act arouses Lin Pascoe's suspicions and leads to the Wham Line given below.
  • Jerkass: Dr. Emilio Sylvestri comes off this way, very smug and entitlement over the paranormal. Not helped he actively attacks Lin Pascoe's assurance that the hauntings are real.
  • Jump Scare: Played straight. Craig Charles jumps out of a closet in a mask.
  • Made-for-TV Movie: A one-off drama that several people, at the time of broadcast, believed to be real.
  • Meaningful Background Event: If viewers are alert, they may spot Pipes' ghost standing in the background of several scenes during the programme. People ring in and are ignored/dismissed with apparently exaggerated or dramatic stories, and characters can be seen to suddenly disappear.
  • Mockumentary: Without much "mocking".
  • Muggles Do It Better: With a part-time exorcist having already failed to root out the spirit, this is the rationale that Michael Parkinson gives for the project in-universe, stating that the myriad technology at their disposal will allow them to go "ghost-hunting on an unprecedented scale". Subverted, as the ghost commandeers all of it.
  • 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 realizes, the broadcast becomes a 'massive seance', unleashing the evil spirit on potentially every household that tuned in.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Kim drew the graphically disfigured Pipes after seeing him under the stairs, and Susie, under Pipes' influence, scribbled a bunch of gibberish accompanied by a bloody drawing in her school notebook.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Used deliberately to add plausibility to the situation. Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Mike Smith were all familiar faces from British television, but as presenters, not actors.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Arguably what made the entire airing so intense and terrifying: It acted very realistically and didn't immediate throw in spooks or jump scares, playing off as an "actual" live broadcast. Even when shit does hit the fan, it still retains this.
  • Obligatory Earpiece Touch: Michael, Sarah and Craig continuously touch their earpieces to emphasise they are in constant communication during this live event.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: The camera starts glitching out towards the programme's climax.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted as a side effect of having real BBC personalities playing themselves, meaning there are two Mike's and a Michael.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Our ghosts can form onion layers, take control of the BBC and kill people with freakin' cats!
  • Phony Newscast: A Trope Codifier in the spirit of War of the Worlds.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Craig Charles' role in the Ghostwatch team.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Pipes is visible several times in the background of shots.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: Subverted. Pipes is present when we first see the videotape from the girls' bedroom, but when it's played a second time, he's not there anymore.
  • Sanity Slippage: The Early children begin to showcase this as the special progresses and by the end of it. Lin Pascoe herself as well, but it's more subtle in regards to not being able to know what to do despite being an expert in the paranormal.
  • Science Hero: Dr Lin Pascoe is styled this way. She took on the Early family's case as part of her own ongoing research into the paranormal and regards her work as legitimate, if non-traditional, empirical inquiry.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Lin Pascoe and the rest of the in-studio cast when Pipes begins wrecking the joint. Only Parkinson remains behind.
  • The Show Must Go On: Even after Pipes has attacked the studio and everyone else has abandoned it, Parkinson stays put and continues to commentate on the action, or lack thereof...right down to reciting the nursery rhyme Pipes is associated with...
  • Shown Their Work: Writer Steve Volk and producer Ruth Baumgarten consulted with representatives of a number of psychical societies as well as members of the public professing to experiences with the paranormal, with the result that the programme gives a veritable checklist of phenomena associated with the ghosts. Inversely, next to no research was done on the possible adverse reactions a suggestible viewer might have to the show (see Didn't Think This Through note above).
  • Skeptic No Longer:
    • Surprisingly averted with Michael Parkinson who is calm to the point of delirium right up to the point he is possessed, which is the last we see of him. According to the short story sequel, Emilio Sylvestri was unmoved by the entire incident, calling it delusion on a mass scale.
    • Averted then Played Straight with Dr Emilio in the short story sequel. Who is at first unmoved by the events of the TV show, declaring it all to be mass hysteria on a grand scale, but then is attacked by Mr Pipes and has his face horribly gashed open, and then witnesses Mr Pipes becoming the apparition of Sarah Greene and possessing the protagonist.
  • Stopped Clock: The cameraman observes that his watch stopped at 9:30 pm, just as they went on air. Several viewers call in to note the same thing has happened with their household clocks.
  • Stylistic Suck: The entire faux-authenticity of the thing is compounded, rather than diluted, by the very cheap production values, which are incredibly close to Crimewatch episodes of the era, and abundant use of practical effects. A modern equivalent would likely use a lot of Jitter Cam footage and CGI, which would only cheapen the experience.
  • 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.
  • Title-Only Opening: It begins with a simple title sequence, with a generic font. The actual title sequence is a few minutes later, and at least has some Stock Footage in it. This is intended to act as Suspension of Disbelief, due to its nature as a drama.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Parkinson gradually grows more and more curt and dismissive as the film goes on. Justified as he was slowly getting possessed the entire time.
  • Watershed: Invoked in-universe by Michael Parkinson, who urges a distressed caller to tear her children away from post-watershed TV and send them to bed.
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: A test card reading "NORMAL TRANSMISSION WILL BE RESUMED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE" appears onscreen when the feed from the house is cut.
  • 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."
    • "We've been conducting a seance, a massive nationwide seance!"
    • "Didn't believe the story of Mother Seddons, did you...? Fee, fi, fo, fum..." [transmission cuts out]
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fates of both Craig Charles and the camera crew who accompanied Sarah into the house are not revealed either in the ending or the short story sequel, however, the fact they were effectively fleeing for their lives from the compromised outside broadcast unit...
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: "31-10" gives one to some of the main cast:
    • Michael Parkinson fully recovered from getting possessed by Mr. Pipes, though the memory of Ghostwatch had been completely seared from his mind. He refuses to watch the program again and people are forbidden from bringing it up in his presence.
    • Pamela and Kim Early moved to the United States in an attempt to put that traumatic night behind them. Pam remarried and, after getting looked at by various psychotherapists, became one herself, specifically one that would help others in a similar position to hers. She sadly passed away in 1995 in a house fire. Kim would adapt a Midwestern accent and new name while studying to become a biologist.
    • Sarah Greene and Suzanne were never seen again. Even after local police stormed the house in an attempt to locate them, the Glory Hole was completely empty. The BBC attempted to do damage control by hiring a look-alike to take Sarah's place on Children's BBC to explain to the younger viewers that she was perfectly fine, though apparently everyone saw through the ruse.
  • You Are What You Hate: An ideological example. Lin Pascoe berates Emilio Sylvestri for his smug faith in conventional scientific methods, arguing that such approaches have left us in the dark when it comes to explaining large swathes of human experience, preventing mankind from understanding potentially harmful phenomena. She spends much of the the first couple of acts using knowledge gained from her own particular methods of study and investigation to confidently explain and analyse the history of incidents in the house right up to the present day. However, as the ghostly activity in the house begins to escalate, she realizes that utter complacency in her own methods have led to a very dangerous situation indeed and left her as clueless as the next person in trying to account for what is happening. When Parkinson calls her on this, she timidly concedes the point.

What big ears you have... what big eyes you have... fee, fi, fo fum... fee, fi, fo fum...

Alternative Title(s): Ghostwatch