On this date, twenty-seven years ago, children across the UK were scarred for life.
It was on Halloween night that the BBC aired a live call-in discussion show called Ghostwatch. Recognizable BBC reporters like Craig Charles and Sarah Greene were seen investigating a reputedly haunted house and playing Halloween pranks on each other. In the studio, host Michael Parkinson interviewed an expert on the paranormal and invited viewers to call in tell their own stories of the supernatural. Many people called throughout the show, telling stories about how they had been haunted by a malevolent spirit called Pipes. Even as Parkinson laughed off the stories, strange things started to happen in the house and the studio. A mirror fell off the wall and landed on a member of the crew. The calls into the show started to get increasingly desperate as the callers said that they were being attacked by Pipes at that very moment! The show’s paranormal expert said that the show was acting as a “national seance” and soon poltergeists would be attacking ever home in the UK! Suddenly, viewers saw something inside the haunted house grab Sarah Greene and drag her off camera! Inside the studio, the lights exploded and everyone fled, except for Michael Parkinson. After saying he wasn’t sure if anyone was still out there who could hear him, Parkinson suddenly started to recite a nonsense rhyme. But his voice was different and viewers realized that Parkinson had been possessed by Pipes! “Fee fi fo fum!” Parkinson threateningly intoned before the picture finally went dead.
Ghostwatch, of course, was an enormous prank. Though it was presented as being a live broadcast, the whole thing had actually been filmed a few weeks before. Even though Michael Parkinson gave out the BBC’s actual number when he asked viewers to call in with their ghost stories, viewers who called during the airing of Ghostwatch heard a message telling them that the show was fictional. (Unfortunately, so many people tried to call during the show that most callers got a busy signal instead.) Michael Parkinson, Craig Charles, and Sarah Greene were all recognizable, real-life BBC news personalities but none of them were actually attacked by ghosts or possessed on Halloween night.
Just try telling that to the children who watched Ghostwatch. Some were reportedly so traumatized by the show that they were still having nightmares weeks after it aired. Despite the fact that Ghostwatch had aired as a part of Screen One, many were convinced that they had just seen Sarah Greene killed by a ghost and Michael Parkinson possessed by Pipes. Even though Sarah Greene made an appearance on Children’s BBC to assure young viewers that she had not been killed (despite that ghost dragging her under the cupboard while the entire nation watched), many were not convinced. What if Sarah Green had become possessed just like Michael Parkinson?
Always eager for a chance to condemn the BBC, the British press had a field day condemning Ghostwatch. The BBC responded by placing a 10-year ban on the show. Ghostwatch would not be released on video until 2002 and it has never again aired on the BBC. You can watch it on Shudder, though … if you dare!