It may be hard to believe nowadays with how street-smart we all think we are, but back in 1992 Ghostwatch scared a lot of people. These days the internet would have burst the bubble of doubt long before the show even made it into our living rooms and the broadcast would have lost any ability it had to shock, but back then we were a little more naive and (apparently) a lot more gullible.
Ghostwatch was listed as a drama and had been pre-taped, but it was presented as if it was real and live on Halloween night. I think the primary reason a lot of people fell for the ruse was that it was hosted by Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, and Mike Smith. We trusted those guys, and there was no expectation of them being involved with something that was… well, kind of tacky.
The ‘script’ moved between studio analysis of the eerie happenings, and what can probably be described as an early form of ‘found footage’ long before The Blair Witch Project kickstarted the cinema sub-genre, as the cameras followed a team of investigators around an English family home which was alleged to be haunted by a poltergeist. It wasn’t long before things started to go bump in the night.
I was sixteen at the time, and the day after it aired I was on my paper round. The headlines were all about how irresponsible the BBC was. Thousands of viewers had called in to voice their disgust and (in some cases) outright fear at what they had witnessed the night before. In some ways it was a modern day representation of that infamous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds all over again. And no, I’m not overstating it.
Yeah, Ghostwatch was fake. It’s easy to see that now, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been repeated on UK television in the twenty-five years since. Trust me: watching it ‘live’ back then, it felt real.