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Series / Ghosts

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Ghosts is a 2019 BBC One comedy horror sitcom written by and starring the original cast of Horrible Histories (Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond). This marks their fourth project together, after sketch show Horrible Histories, fantasy comedy Yonderland and feature-film Bill.

The premise revolves around a young couple, Alison and Mike (Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who inherit the derelict Button House with plans to turn it into a hotel. Little do they know, Button House is home to numerous restless spirits who have died there over the centuries, unable to leave the grounds, and resigned to squabbling with each other for eternity. When the ghosts learn of the plans, they conspire to scare the couple away through a series of hauntings. Things don’t quite go as they expect, as the ghosts prove themselves to be pretty ineffectual in their attempts. However, thanks to one of the ghosts, a near-death experience leaves Alison with the ability to see and hear them.


This show provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: The Captain. Becoming less ambiguous by the episode, it's now verging on Transparent Closet.
  • Artistic License – Astronomy: A lunar eclipse is shown as the moon being covered up, like a solar eclipse.
  • Artistic License – History: Mary was burned at the stake after being accused of witchcraft, when in real life she would have been hanged rather than burned.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Some people who die, such as Alison's distant relative the last Lady Button, do this, while others become ghosts. The ghosts talk about the hope that they will eventually ascend to a higher plane themselves, but nobody knows why (or how) it happens.
  • Bad Omen Anecdote: As Mike tries to reassure Alison that the ghosts are all in her head:
    Mike: My uncle Graham, he thought he could smell toast but you know what? There was no toast.
    Alison: He was having a stroke! He died, Mike.
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  • Barred from the Afterlife: This has effectively happened to the ghosts, though nobody knows why.
  • Bland-Name Product: The group of which Pat was a leader isn't a branch of the official Boy Scout's Association but a generic activity-based youth group with similar uniforms.
  • Blatant Lies: When Robin gets caught interfering with the lights on the set he claims “bigger boy made me do it.”
  • Big Fancy House: Button House was once this, though it's in a state of disrepair by the time Alison inherits it.
  • Big "YES!": Thomas when he learns the period drama to be filmed at Button House is set during the Regency. He’s so caught up in his joy that he drop-punts Humphrey’s head out of the room.
  • Burn the Witch!: How Mary died.
  • Character Tics: Mary's ghost emits a small cloud of ash whenever she's stressed or if her death is mentioned.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mary.
  • Comically Small Demand: After weeks of trying to scare Alison away she tells the ghosts she can’t leave and asks them what they want from her. The answers? Tank documentaries, a portrait taken down and to simply say hello.
  • Cranium Chase: Humphrey’s series-long quest to be reunited with his body that keeps walking past him because it can’t hear him call.
  • Creepy Child: Jemima, the plague girl. Even the other ghosts are scared of her. She honestly doesn't understand why people find her recital of 'Ring a Ring a Roses' so unsettling...
  • Crowded Cast Shot: Happens a few times as there are ten permanent cast members.
  • Death-Activated Superpower: Thanks to her brief brush with death (courtesy of Julian pushing her out of a window), when Alison returns to Button House, she can now see the ghosts.
  • Death as Comedy: Naturally. Julian’s sex scandal death has left him to spend eternity without any trousers on. Even the quite horrific deaths of Lady Button (pushed out of a window by her husband) and Pat (shot through the neck with an arrow by one of the children in his youth group) count.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: The Captain with Mike, Kevin the builder and Adam the 1st AD. The latter makes him lose his train of thought twice.
  • Doom It Yourself: Mike's attempts at D.I.Y.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Fanny's gay husband murdered her in cold blood to ensure her silence after she caught him in a threesome with the groundskeeper and the butler. This is unusual for the troupe, whose works usually portray LGBT characters in a positive light.
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Everybody Knew Already: Having led everyone believe she jumped out of the window, Lady Button finally reveals to the other ghosts that she was in fact pushed by her husband after she caught him with the groundskeeper and the butler. The older ghosts then admit that they already knew because they watched the whole event.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Captain
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Pat’s realization that his wife was having an affair:
    Pat: He was always such a support to her even before I died [...] I remember one Sunday I came back from camp and I found all his clothes in the hallway. Everything. His socks, his knickers, they were all strewn up the stairs. (beat) Oh no.
  • Extended Greetings: Pat’s attempts to greet Alison and give her a house tour in Gorilla War.
  • Failed Dramatic Exit: Julian’s attempt in Gorilla War. As he’s a ghost, his hand goes straight through the door. the others stand around staring and he has to come back in.
    Julian: Imagine that slammed!
  • Fluffy the Terrible: A building version, Button House is the most harmless sounding name possible but it's haunted and falling apart enough to be hazardous.
  • Funny Foreigner: Not from another country but another time period. They might pick up the occasional modern word or manner but their references and behaviors are very much of their time.
  • The Future Is Shocking: Lady Button's reaction to Alison.
  • Good News, Bad News: Mike to Alison. Just as she’s about to ask for the good news, he reveals the bad news is the extent of the repairs they’d need to make on the house would require a substantial amount of money that they don’t have. The good news? He took out a massive loan.
  • Got Me Doing It: In Moonah Ston, Thomas picks up on Robin's poor grammar, saying "me" when he should say "I" and vice versa as Robin does.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "A lady wouldn't tell me to do that to myself!"
    • Though on the whole, subverted. It's a post watershed show so there is far less of a radar to get past this time and there's not nearly as many adult jokes as in the team's previous series.
  • Grande Dame: Lady Fanny Button.
  • Grammar Nazi: The upper class captain is not impressed with Mary's country way of speaking which turns words into plurals.
  • Happily Married: Mike and Alison.
  • Haunted House: The whole point of the show.
  • "Home Alone" Antics: Or at least that’s what the ghosts think they’re doing.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Julian boasts about getting a luxurious house using parliamentary expenses note , then immediately asserts that builders are all thieves. He later becomes frustrated when he can't catch them out.
    • Lady Button calls Alison an "ill-bred hen" for shrieking, then sees her husband's portait and shrieks.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One!: Inverted in Moonah Ston. Barclay knows about Lady Button's death but he gets all the details wrong, like which side of the house she died in and what color dress she was wearing. The ghost of Lady Button constantly corrects him—up until his last point about her being a twenty-something beauty, which is something she doesn't bother to correct.
  • Ignoring by Singing: Alison tries this with the Captain. It backfires when he realizes two can play at that game.
  • Inheritance Backlash: Alison inherits the house, unfortunately it's not only only haunted but needs so much work done that she and Mike lose money in the process.
  • Invisible to Normals: The ghosts are invisible to humans by default. Alison only gains the ability to see them because she was clinicly dead herself for a brief time until revived by paramedics.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Kitty for Alison and Mike.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: The ghosts are stuck wearing what they died in, complete with clothing damage inflicted by the accidents that killed them. Though oddly, the beheaded Tudor nobleman is wearing all his finery, complete with ruff, when execution victims were actually beheaded wearing only an undershirt and trousers. The writers are well aware of this fact so presumably, it's Artistic Licence.
  • Karma Houdini: Fanny's husband got away with her murder as everyone believed his claim that she fell out the window by accident.
    • Julian attempts to do the same to Alison. Although she survives, he didn't really intend her to and he gets nothing worse for it than a bit of a dressing down from the other ghosts.
  • Lightmare Fuel: It's a horror comedy. Some of the attempts to haunt Alison count as does Pat's death scene which, while funny, is genuinely unsettling.
  • Long Speech Tea Time: The ghosts whenever Thomas launches into his poetry.
  • Loon with a Heart of Gold: Robin.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Pat when he's shot with the arrow. This is mainly because he doesn't want to frighten his youth group.
  • Manly Gay: The Captain, stoic, disiplined, loves war, an admirer of handsome young men.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Julian's "extraordinary skill" is the ability to push cups over. When he's tasked with pushing a vase off the table to scare Alison, the frantic cutting between Julian's struggle, the ghosts cheering him on and the dead silence of what Alison can see make it brilliant. The fact that he fails makes it even better.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Seems to be a theme for Simon Farnaby. Here he spends the entire show sans trousers.
  • No Name Given: Played straight with the plague victims up to Getting Out, when one of the victim reveals he's called Nigel. Also played straight with the Captain, whose real name (as of season 1) is never given.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Mike gives up on trying to figure out the boiler and just whacks it with a hammer. The basement ghosts are not impressed.
  • Plumber's Crack: Lady Button finds herself surrounded by these when the builders are in.
  • Proper Lady: Lady Fanny Button is very much this (of the Edwardian era). Much to her chagrin, Alison is not.
  • Put Off Their Food: Mary comments that Alison’s Rice Krispies sound like tiny people calling out for help as they drown in the milk. When Alison comes back into the room Mary remarks that, “they have stopped calling out, they are dead!” Suddenly Alison doesn’t look like she wants to eat it anymore.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy
  • Right Behind Me: Alison’s “God, I hate estate agents!” before remembering one is standing right behind her.
  • Running Gag: Alison and Mike have a continuous problem with pigeons invading Button Hall. This gets taken Up to Eleven in Getting Out, when the pigeon is killed by a dog and comes back as a ghost.
  • Severed Head Sports: Thomas drop-kicks Humphrey's head in a fit of excitement, then realises and apologises.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Alison and Mike first arrive Pat exclaims "it's Kim Wilde!" due to the song (Kids in America) playing on their car's radio. Robin calls Alison Kim Wilde repeatedly after this.
    • When Alison is talking to the ghosts, Mike thinks he should call someone. Alison's response? "Who you gonna call?"
    • Alison refers to Robin as "budget Tarzan".
    • The name of the period drama being filmed in the house: The Life of Byron.
    • When Mike is doing DIY, he does an impression of Robocop stomping around with his drill/gun.
  • Silly Spook: A house full of them.
  • Smash Cut: In the first episode. The ghosts learn the Alison and Mike plan to turn the house into a hotel, thereby overrunning the place with strangers.
    Robin: What is hotel?
    Pat: Well, Robin, a hotel is-
    [smash cut]
    Robin: Kill them.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Thomas for Alison. Before she can see him he watches her in the shower. After she can see him he follows her around, attempts to write her poetry and tells her to kill herself so they can be together.
  • Team Dad: The Captain, who is the de facto leader of the ghosts and is usually the orchestrator of their plans (often involving some military strategy).
  • Team Mom: Pat, who is kind and friendly to all the other ghosts and also served this role in life to his scouting troop.
  • Together in Death: Something Thomas is hoping for. Alison being alive is an obstacle but if she commits suicide, they can be together. Alison is not impressed.
    • Pat also suggests this by asking Alison to murder his widow but immediately realises what an immoral idea it is.
  • Technologically Blind Elders: Although the house has been occupied, the last owner was a long-lived recluse with no time for technology, so most of the ghosts have never seen television or the internet until Alison and Mike show up.
  • Visual Pun: Julian is an MP who died in a sex scandal; he's literally 'caught with his trousers down' for all eternity.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: They avoid mentioning Google by name by having Julian mispronounce it as 'Goggle' whilst whatever search engine actually appears on Mike's laptop screen is clearly not Google. (On the other hand, Youtube does get namedropped.)
  • Your Cheating Heart: Fanny's husband was cheating on her with at least two men.
    • Pat's wife and best friend were having an affair, this realisation slowly dawns on him as he talks to Alison about them.

Example of: