Some Random Thoughts About “Ghostwatch”

Last night was the 21st Halloween since Ghostwatch was first broadcast. It’s still brilliant television – the lead ‘actors’ especially Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene take it absolutely seriously, and are perfectly cast for their fluency in the “language” of television. At the birth of reality television, it is satirical horror and a success on both counts.

In many ways it hasn’t dated because it predicted so well the broadcasting style of the next 20 years (it was preceded by ‘Hospital Watch‘ but pre-empted Everything-Else Watch) although one thing that is conspicuous watching it now is the absence of a #hashtag. The once familiar phone number 081 811 8181 was regularly flashed up on screen, but despite the fact that the phones were never active that night, each year at 9.25 live tweeting on the tag #ghostwatch links up all those joining the annual viewing.

The one criticism I’ve heard from the dedicated fans is of the ending; and I’d be disposed to be sympathetic because I’m familiar with the frequent disappointment of a brilliant piece of drama which doesn’t know how to end – but in this case, I think the ending is wonderful. Perfect. It’s so funny, and surely leaves no excuse for those who claim they thought it was a real broadcast?

Ghostwatch was notorious for the furore that was caused when gullible viewers believed they were seeing a real live tranmission – it is often compared to War of the Worlds. But how real was that fuss? I’ve been prompted this week to think about the source for that outrage – did the tabloid media, rarely friendly to the BBC, fuel a backlash against the show? What could possibly be their motive for attacking a show successfully lampooning the tabloid values of reality television and ridiculing the uncritical reporting of pseudoscientific nonsense?


About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

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