Thursday, 19 March 2020
Ghost Watch. When TV goes too far
I know a few of you guys are real fans of the paranormal and I found an interesting story that some may remember. An event which, like the time over 80 years ago now caused mass panic.
I am of course Talking about that time Orson Welles and his troupe of radio actors interrupted the Columbia Broadcasting System's programming to "report" that our planet had been invaded.
The reenactment of the war of the worlds saw people grabbing shotguns and heading for the hills!
As the old saying goes “fool me once shame on you, for me twice shame on me “
People were fooled again this time by a program named Ghost watch
So let’s take a look.
This show was promoted as a drama, but many of those whom watched Ghost watch were fooled. Over 11 million people believed the paranormal investigation to be real, this tragically leading to the death of a teenager.
Let’s take a look at the show and why it was convincing and the problems that this caused, going back to Halloween night in 1992, British viewers gathered around their Television to watch this event unfold.
Aired on a Saturday night a time when TV was at its peak viewership BBC's heavily-promoted Ghostwatch, went to what it claimed as a "live" broadcast and investigation into paranormal activity which was captured at a family home in north-west London. The family claimed that they were troubled by a malevolent presence that manifested itself by banging on the water pipes.
Back In the studio was the trusted TV presenter and thought to be sceptic Michael Parkinson, he was accompanied by claimed experts on the paranormal. They watched camera set up in the house, follow a mother and two young girls, the family were accompanied by Sarah Greene, Sarah being a much loved and trusted children TV personality.
Her husband, Mike Smith, another UK celebrity manned a bank of phones a number flashed at the bottom of the screen. This was a number to call if while watching you spotted something otherworldly thousands of people did, hoping to talk with the real parapsychologists.
The show was the brainchild of the horror writer Stephen Volk, he had originally come up with the idea as a six-part horror drama, but was instead asked by producer Ruth Baumgarten to change the format to a 90-minute ghost story for the BBC to show on all Hallows Eve.
Some may say Volk's idea was visionary, years ahead of today's scripted reality TV shows, programs which blur fact and fiction. I think he was just running with the idea that was first introduced by Wells and his War of the Worlds broadcast, now using the new medium of television and looking at ghosts and spirits instead of alien invaders.
The shows concept and scripting t went through several rewrites, it seemed that TV executives were confused by the concept of a fake documentary.
Eventually the show was green lit and Ghostwatch aired at 21:25 GMT, resulting in consequences the corporation had not foreseen.
45 minutes in and the show seemed to be rather sedate but Then things supposedly began to go wrong In "the most haunted house in Britain" according to the BBC show.
Sarah Greene moved around the house following the paranormal activity, the tension in the air began to rise, the family were increasingly finding themselves in terrifying situations, the spirit of a dead man even entering the children.
“Pipes” as the spirit was named was not an adult’s idea of a ghost. Described as stranger: a bald man wearing a long black dress buttoned up to the neck. The spirt had an obsession with the little girl (a girl played by a child actor which at the time viewers did not know) and at one point grabbed Greene pulling her into the cupboard under the stairs to show the presenter where he “lived”.
The show rolled on and this is when that hotline I mentioned earlier comes into play, fake phone-ins started to flesh out the story of the house: one of these phony callers revealed that a child molester had lodged there in the 1960s; and that he had hanged himself under the stairs and his face had been eaten by the man’s cats.
This is when the show got the first inklings of the panic the show would cause as members of the “public” began to call in and contribute to the story, the presenters began to flounder as the show began to veer off script.
It was chaotic, the presenters didn’t know what was going on, and this just added to the realism that frightened so many.
Then the end of Ghostwatch, the technology failed as presenters began to realize that they had unwittingly invoked a kind of “national séance”. The written conclusion to the show being that the ghost had "seized control" of the TV cameras.
At the Early's house, paramedics and police were seen arriving, and Greene, who was trying to locate one of the possessed girls, disappeared into the blackness.
The broadcast closing with Parkinson muttering to himself in the dark as the credits rolled, before fading to silence.
Behind the scenes, the Ghostwatch production team were jumping with joy celebrating with drinks the Programme was a success and aired to millions.
Over 20,000 people had attempted to reach Parkinson at one point during the shows running.
Many of these scared viewers being terrified children, traumatized by what they thought they had witnessed.
It was even claimed that three pregnant women went into labor that evening as a result of the scare they received from the drama.
A concerned priest called in to complain that even though he realized it wasn't real he thought the BBC had unintentionally raised demonic forces.
The many calls came from scared people, but a lot of the complaints were actually more about the fact that the BBC had made them feel like fools. This after all was a time when the BBC was a trusted media provider.
In November of 1993, a year after the program’s one-off airing, two doctors from a child psychiatry unit in Coventry, Dawn Simons and Walter Silveira, submitted an article to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) recording the first cases of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by a television show.
The experts highlighted how Two ten-year-old boys had been so scared that one of them was admitted to an inpatients unit for eight weeks; he had been banging his head against a wall in an attempt to free himself from thoughts of Ghostwatch’s evil spirit, “Pipes”.
The BBC’s answer to this was that the children shouldn’t have been up and should not have been allowed to watch as it was broadcast after the 9pm watershed.
This watershed being a time that marks the shift to more adult themed content on television in the UK.
Today Ghostwatch lingers in the memory like an urban legend, along with playground rumors of a suicide, which most think could not be true.
So we can be fooled, and with today’s technology it’s something that is even easier, we must look at events and evidence through a skeptical lens but also keep an open mind.
This Television event and the radio broadcast by Wells that proceeded it show that people will always be looking to take advantage of those that have alternative beliefs, these could be the belief in the paranormal or extraterrestrials.
Most are looking to make a quick bit of cash, but others could be more malevolent trying to shape public opinion on an idea and a topic. In an age when we have access to so much information we must be ever vigilant not to be fooled like the viewers of Ghostwatch.
Had you heard of this TV show, did you watch it, what other famous mass media hoaxes do you know about?
Let me know in the comments below
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