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Ghostwatch: 25 Years On

Article in the New Statesman (October 2017)

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RA
radiolistener
Ghostwatch wasn't a hoax, it was a piece of drama.

It was billed as drama.

Yep, in that way it's the same as Orsen Welles' infamous radio adaptation of War of The Worlds, broadcast in 1938. That too fooled many because they started listening after it had started
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_%28radio_drama%29


You can't blame the artist if the consumer is stupid.
RO
robertclark125
But Paul Daniels did return after the next programme, which in Scotland was Sportscene, to reveal that he did escape, and all was ok. Still leaves you wondering how he done it!

However, the BBC switchboard was jammed with calls from worried viewers, who thought the trick had gone wrong. I'm sure Paul would've came back after the next programme, even if they hadn't received all those calls.

Going back to Ghostwatch, I think the fact that they used very famous presenters, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Michael Parkinson, was perhaps one major issue. If it had perhaps used unknowns to do their roles, things might have been different. Likewise, if they had perhaps showed footage in the gallery, and made it look a little like a "behind the scenes" type show, with cameras sitting elsewhere, looking in on the programme being recorded, again, things might have been different.

But also remember the climate the BBC was in at the time. It was facing an uncertain future, with the possibility of privatisation, abolition of the licence fee. It had to work to justify the licence fee, get programmes that folk talk about. It also had to try and be original, get new programmes, new writers etc. The Screen One strand was good for that, one off dramas, which would be a good breeding ground for new talent. Ghostwatch would've been a trial for new talent, in this case writers. Now, it did cause uproar, but they also say "bad publicity is better than no publicity". The BBC is still with us today.

One last point. Look nowadays, on Really, and you have Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted. Ghost Watch was a drama, but nowadays, you have real life versions. Was perhaps Ghostwatch a product ahead of its time, and/or an inspiration to the likes of Yvette Fielding and Karl Beattie, to make their own shows, albeit real as opposed to scripted drama?
LL
Larry the Loafer
But Paul Daniels did return after the next programme, which in Scotland was Sportscene, to reveal that he did escape, and all was ok. Still leaves you wondering how he done it!

However, the BBC switchboard was jammed with calls from worried viewers, who thought the trick had gone wrong. I'm sure Paul would've came back after the next programme, even if they hadn't received all those calls.


Whenever it's discussed on clip shows it's usually stated that Paul was told to reveal he was alive during a junction later that night. If that's true I don't know how quickly they would've got the set ready for him to record a piece to camera. But IIRC the show finished with a pre-rec of him alluring to the idea that what just happened was staged.
VM
VMPhil
Here is Paul Daniels' response to complaints about his 1987 stunt:

*

In text if the image is hard to read:

Paul Daniels explains

From Mr Paul Daniels

Sir, The live transmission of my show on Hallowe’en achieved exactly the result I set out to obtain. In television we are, for the most part, in a no-win situation. If we continue to turn out the same format, week in, week out, we are heavily criticised along the lines of “same old faces, same old scripts”, “very boring” etc, and yet when someone decides to change the format and step outside the “norm” the criticisms still come.

I think that my show on Saturday night has to be put into perspective and not distorted by a sensationalist Press.

I would like to deal with the several points that have been raised in order to express my own feelings about them. In doing this I am not trying to force you to accept them, merely to understand the reasoning.

1. Because there was an accident at the BBC some time ago where a member of the public, Michael Lush, died, the Press resurrect the story whenever possible. This has made the BBC hypersensitive to the Lush story and safety officers crawl over every piece of equipment to an amazingly over-the-top degree. As a professional involved occasionally in dangerous stunts, I personally would not rely on anyone else checking my equipment. I check it, and in most cases design it, and I am paid to take such risks. We were all shocked by Michael’s death, but one accident must not stop an industry which has to offer spectacle and thrills as part of its entertainment or become very bland, plastic and boring.

2. The last trick on the Hallowe’en show has received a general criticism from the Press of being in bad taste but, of course, good or bad taste is a very subjective area. After all, good taste is only the material or opinion that agrees with your own. It was Hallowe'en and I decided to present a piece of black theatre to create suspense and horror for the viewers, much in the style of Orson Welles when in the 1930s, he activated the nation with his radio version of War of the Worlds . Putting bad taste into my magical work would, I suppose, be doing a crucifix escape on the Easter show, but something macabre on Hallowe’en I think fitted the bill perfectly.

3. The third criticism I feel I have already answered - in that the effect shocked and horrified many people. Well, if I had been allowed to have had my way and create the total black theatre I wanted, it would have been a lot worse, and I had to come back a long way to satisfy the requirements of the BBC.

Please remember the following facts. You were warned in the final announcement before the show started that all is not as it seems. You received definite instructions to switch off before the final trick happened if you were of a nervous disposition (If you ignored that warning that is your fault, not mine). Didn’t you think it amazing that, within two or three seconds of the trick ending, the BBC had on standby all the credits on a black background instead of our normal credit sequence, and within five seconds of the end of the credits a very pleasant young lady announced that she was delighted to see I had made it out of the Iron Maiden and was OK?

Finally I would like to say that on that night we had literally millions and millions of viewers, and only hundreds of telephone calls, which I believe proves that most people accepted the show for its original intention. Even of the hundreds of viewers that telephoned the vast majority were not complaining but expressing concern over my welfare. To those people I send my grateful thanks for the concern shown.

All the views expressed in this letter are my own and not those of the BBC.

Yours sincerely,
PAUL DANIELS,
140 Beckett Road,
Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
November 2.
IS
Inspector Sands

Going back to Ghostwatch, I think the fact that they used very famous presenters, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Michael Parkinson, was perhaps one major issue. If it had perhaps used unknowns to do their roles, things might have been different.

And Mike Smith had done several '... watch' programmes in the years before including Rail watch, Airport Watch and Hospital Watch.


Quote:
However, the BBC switchboard was jammed with calls from worried viewers, who thought the trick had gone wrong. I'm sure Paul would've came back after the next programme, even if they hadn't received all those calls.

I'm fairly sure that it would have been planned beforehand, after all you wouldn't expect them to call back Paul and the crew sometime after the broadcast to record it. If it was live they'd have been well into derigging before the decision to broadcast the message would have been made
SP
Steve in Pudsey
Here is Paul Daniels' response to complaints about his 1987 stunt:

Thanks - I know I've posted this previously but I couldn't find it on this occasion!
NJ
Neil Jones Founding member

One last point. Look nowadays, on Really, and you have Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted. Ghost Watch was a drama, but nowadays, you have real life versions. Was perhaps Ghostwatch a product ahead of its time, and/or an inspiration to the likes of Yvette Fielding and Karl Beattie, to make their own shows, albeit real as opposed to scripted drama?


Well Derek Acorah was caught making things up on Most Haunted, having been fed names prior to visiting somewhere and using them later. Anyway it cost him his place on the show and I suppose it put the integrity of the genre into question, though didn't stop MH running with other mediums, though whether they were any better than Acorah at the lark is up for debate.

Anyway Acorah shot himself in the foot when he later waded into the Madeline McCann mystery and I suppose its safe to say he didn't see that coming. Wink
VM
VMPhil
Most Haunted Live became something of a Halloween tradition for a time. Telewest used to promote it back when they sent out monthly TV guides.

In fact I think one year it warranted a TV Forum thread because right at a pivotal moment the feed cut to BBC Parliament - though thankfully Living TV had a live announcer on the night to apologise.

EDIT: Here it is, though it turns out this was from a January broadcast, not Halloween - https://tvforum.uk/tvhome/living-tvs-haunted-live-switchs-30590/
GE
thegeek Founding member
In fact I think one year it warranted a TV Forum thread because right at a pivotal moment the feed cut to BBC Parliament - though thankfully Living TV had a live announcer on the night to apologise.

EDIT: Here it is, though it turns out this was from a January broadcast, not Halloween - https://tvforum.uk/tvhome/living-tvs-haunted-live-switchs-30590/

Ah, yes, that one. Switching error in CCA - I think there was a nightly booking for BBC Parliament to go to Red Bee (probably to get The Record onto iPlayer or something), but someone either routed to the wrong OS line or failed to notice that there were moving pictures from an OB on there.
TI
TIGHazard


EDIT: Here it is, though it turns out this was from a January broadcast, not Halloween - https://tvforum.uk/tvhome/living-tvs-haunted-live-switchs-30590/


Might as well ask. Anyone got the footage of that? The YouTube link in that thread is dead.
RO
robertclark125
One thought about Ghostwatch; if it had been broadcast on Channel 4, would there have been as much adverse reaction to it?
JA
james-2001
Mike Smith... as someone who's an avid watcher of the BBC4 TOTP repeats, I'm not his biggest fan, for fairly obvious reasons.

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