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01st Nov 2023

BBC series left viewers so terrified that it has never been aired again

Charlie Herbert

Ghostwatch left viewers so terrified that it has never been aired again

The show received more than 30,000 complaints

A TV series aired by the BBC more than 30 years ago was so scary and shocking that the broadcaster decided to never show it again.

Ghostwatch was a one-off mockumentary style show hosted by children’s TV host Sarah Greene and chat show legend Michael Parkinson.

The show aired on Halloween night in 1992 on BBC1 at 9:25pm, and followed an investigation into reports of a poltergeist in the ‘most haunted house in Britain.’

This was the only time it would ever be shown though, with terrified viewers phoning up to complain and the broadcast regulator later slamming the BBC for airing the show. The Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) said that Ghostwatch intentionally created “a sense of menace”, adding that it was too distressing and graphic and had aired too soon after the 9pm watershed. 

Ghostwatch was presented by TV hosts Mike Smith, Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene who all played themselves in the show

The show’s plot was inspired by the Enfield Poltergeist, a spirit which is said to have haunted a council house in Enfield, London, between 1977 and 1979, the Mirror reports.

Ghostwatch, although a drama, was presented as if it were a live BBC documentary, with the four presenters – Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles – were all playing themselves.

The focus was on two young girls in a West London home who were haunted by a ghost called Pipes, named that because their mum said the noises the girls heard were “just the pipes.”

You can watch a clip of the show below:

Throughout the show, viewers were encouraged to call in with their own ghoulish sightings. When they did they were met by a message saying the show was fictional, but it’s estimated around a million people phoned up, meaning the line was almost constantly engaged.

The episode eventually revealed that Pipes was the ghost of a child molester. Despite being initially sceptical of the haunting, the show’s presenters begin to suspect it could be real – as did viewers at home.

 Ghostwatch’s writer, Stephen Volk, told the Daily Record: “You couldn’t do what we did nowadays and get away with it.

“People would know in 30 seconds what was going on really.”

Scratch marks began to appear on the girls’ faces as the strange noises continue and objects move on their own.

Two young girls were haunted by a ghost called ‘Pipes’

At the end of the show, one of the girls is dragged into a cupboard under the stairs, and the studio lights go out, prompting panic.

Creepily, Parkinson starts to sing a nursery rhyme and is then possessed by Pipes, with the show ending in scenes of panic.

The BBC received 30,000 complaints about Ghostwatch after it aired, including one from a vicar who believed the broadcaster had “raised demonic forces.”

Ghostwatch caused panic as people believed it was real, despite being listed as a drama in TV guides and a writer’s credit featuring at the start.

Speaking about the reaction, Volk told the BBC in 2017: “It was partly that it scared people, but the complaints were actually more that the BBC had made them feel like mugs. People felt the BBC was something they could trust, and the programme had destroyed that trust.” 

Having been intended as a six-part drama series, another episode was never aired and the show was banned for 10 years. It has still never been shown in full on British TV since, but is available on DVD.

Ghostwatch’s director Lesley Manning told the Guardian in 2020 that she had no intention of causing hysteria.

She told the publication: “I definitely didn’t set out to cause mass hysteria. But I wasn’t trying to make it look like a conventional BBC movie, either. I thought the fact that it was a drama was obvious: it was trailed as such by the continuity announcer, and it opened with a ‘written by’ credit.”

Since Parkinson’s death, there have been calls for the BBC to air the show again or at least put it on iPlayer, but so far the show remains banished from the airwaves.

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