For those that tuned into BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 31st October 1992 things would never be the same, especially for those of a nervous disposition. The events that took place that evening caused such panic and fear that they have never been repeated again…ever, anywhere…but those who watched it have never forgotten.
Early 90s Saturday night TV could normally be counted on to be a jolly diet of Noel doing his usual from Crinkly Bottom, Cilla playing cupid and people falling off ladders in Casualty, but Halloween 17 years ago was to prove to be a very different affair.
Ghostwatch was an ambitious BBC project that pre-dated Most Haunted by years and saw some of the most respected TV people, okay so maybe not Mike Smith and Craig Charles, but we all liked Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson lent the whole proceedings some gravitas, investigate Foxhill Drive, one of the most haunted houses in Britain and have it beamed live into our homes.
That was the premise, I say premise as despite the presence of Parkinson it was all a fake, a rouse, something to give the audience a fright and boy did it work in that department. Witten by Stephen Volk, who also latterly penned the also suitably creepy Afterlife, the drama took its central idea from an actual documented Poltergeist case, The Enfield Poltergeist.
Looking back at the BFI special edition DVD, its first appearance on any media, thus showing it to be a seminal piece of British television the like we will probably never see the like of again, some of the acting is a tad ropey but despite this it still drags you in and still unnerves as it did all those years ago.
Certainly for inducing panic and fear, it caused numerous complaints regarding sleepless nights and even allegedly caused a number of women to go into labour and even unconfirmed reports of the suicide of a young man, it deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds 1938, also broadcast on Halloween. And with that in mind you can certainly understand why it has never been repeated, something which almost makes it The Exorcist of the TV world.
We are of course back in traditional haunted house territory here but there are enough efficient twists and moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, and if you are watching it on DVD, reach for your remote control in disbelief. Ghostwatch still has the ability to provoke significant chills with scratches appearing on a young girls face, tales of mutilated dogs and the building’s disturbing history and fleeting glimpses of ‘Pipes’, the evil spirit haunting the house. The climax still has the power to shock too with Sarah Greene being dragged into the cellar and the door slamming shut just as we lose contact with the house…
Modern audiences may scoff at it all and wonder what all the fuss is about but you can be sure that there are still those who still cower and freeze at the very mention of ‘Pipes’ in what is one of the most-fascinating pieces of British television history and its viewing is a firmly established Halloween ritual in my house…never too far from the light switch.