In 1992, Ghostwatch premiered on the BBC. It fooled an entire nation.

It might be over 30 years ago, but I still remember Halloween in 1992. 

I was 13 years old and dressed as a devil in a skater dress and bomber jacket (hello, 90s) and a few of my closest friends came over for some spooky fun. 

In an era before social media, we were excited to watch Ghostwatch - a highly anticipated BBC production hosted by respected broadcaster Michael Parkinson with kids' TV favourites Sarah Greene and Mike Smith.

Watch: A 'ghost swing' in Rhode Island gives this family a fright. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Ghostwatch was promoted as a live paranormal investigative show to help find some answers for a UK family's troubles with poltergeist activity. 

Parkinson, Smith, and a 'parapsychologist', Dr Lin Pascoe, were in the BBC studios, while Greene was on location with fellow TV presenter Craig Charles at the family's home in Northolt, Greater London. 

After playing some Halloween party games with my primary school-aged mates, we got some snacks and settled down with over 11 million other Brits to enjoy some early 90s Saturday night viewing.

Apart from a 'Written By' credit in the opening sequence, Ghostwatch started out as any live show might. 


We meet the well-known hosts, the supposed paranormal expert, and get introduced to single mum Pamela Early and her two terrified (and later terrifying) daughters Kim and Suzanne. The Early women have been subject to 10 months of ghostly activity by a poltergeist they refer to as 'Pipes'. 

Over the next 90 minutes, tension builds as the crew capture increasingly weird moments in the suburban home. A shadowy figure briefly appears in the curtains while a cameraman pans across the girls' bedroom, but is gone when he brings the camera back into focus.

I remember thinking, 'Wait, what did we just see? Is this real?'

Image: BBC Archives.


In the meantime, roving reporter Craig Charles is out chatting to neighbours who reveal multiple unsettling stories about that area of Northolt including animal mutilation and a female Victorian child murderer called 'Mother Seddons'. 

Someone 'calls in' to tell Parkinson the gruesome tale of how a disturbed local paedophile, Raymond Tunstall, believed he was possessed by Mother Seddons and took his own life in the Early house in the 1960s. Hungry feral cats partially ate him before they found the body weeks later.

With this new rather horrific local knowledge, the tension in the studio escalates as Dr Pascoe confirms Pipes is a mix of all this negative murderous energy. 

It is at this point that daughter Suzanne receives unexplained scratches on her arms and face and begins talking in a demonic voice - apparently possessed by Pipes. This moment is still seared into my brain as one of the scariest things I have ever seen.

Before the show wraps up, Suzanne and presenter Sarah Greene get trapped in the small cupboard under the stairs and everyone other than Parkinson, who starts reciting a nursery rhyme seemingly under Pipes' demonic spell, abandons the BBC studios. 

As the credits rolled, I remember us all nervously laughing before one friend commented she would never sleep again. We were all sufficiently spooked but my mum reassured us it was just a hoax.

And what a hoax it was. 

The Early family and Dr Lin Pascoe were all actors. The show was not live, but pre-recorded with trusted BBC presenters playing themselves. They even used a real BBC phone number that people could call to report ghostly sightings. 


The recorded message at the end of the line told callers that Ghostwatch was a hoax, but as telephone lines were inundated, the people dialling in just heard an engaged tone which added to the 'realness'.

In a time before Google, there was no way of finding out what was really going on. We took it at face value until morning radio and TV breakfast show hosts told us the truth the following day. 

Film reviewer Lee Adams wrote in October 2022 about why, like me, he found it so scary back in 1992.

"I'm always struck by the mundane setting's claustrophobic effect. When we're watching Sarah Greene running around the house on CCTV, we see how small the space is. There is nowhere to go, which also has a scarier connotation. She is never far away from where the ghost could appear next."

This was a regular British suburban home; not a dusty old castle or abandoned hospital. The relatability of their seemingly ordinary lives, mixed with the horrific backstory of Pipes presented by the BBC's finest, made it so unnerving and frankly genius TV. 

But sadly for the writers and producers of this piece of early reality-style television, it became a disaster for the BBC when 30,000 people called to complain.

There were stories of women going into early labour and freaked out kids unable to sleep. Tragically, Ghostwatch was also blamed for the death of a teenager with learning difficulties who died by suicide after his parents said he was "hypnotised and obsessed" by it.


Ghostwatch was banned from being shown on television for 10 years.

Listen to Mamamia's True Crime Conversations podcast. Post continues below.

But in 2002, the British Film Institute released a DVD version. The writer behind Ghostwatch, Stephen Volk, says he realised in retrospect how many people actually loved it.

"Suddenly, after a complete desert of disinterest for a decade, the director, producer and I started to find people on the internet wanted to screen it and discuss it ," Volks told The Daily Record in 2020.

He says that he thinks the main reasons viewers were so upset was not due the spookiness of the show, but the fact they were fooled by the BBC.  

"I don't think we thought it would upset people in the way that it did. They took umbrage because they believed the BBC didn't warn them.

"They thought the BBC should have been trustworthy, but of course the whole piece was about the fact that you shouldn't really trust anything."

Now, 30 years on, Ghostwatch has finally achieved the cult status it deserves. 

A collector's edition DVD, released in late 2022, means that a whole new legion of fans can enjoy being freaked out by Pipes - although not in the same way we innocent kids of the 1990s were. 

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: BBC Archives.