Academic Joins Discussion of Ground-breaking Programme on its 30th Anniversary

Lucy Arnold
Dr Lucy Arnold

Dr Lucy Arnold, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, appears live on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking programme, at 10pm on October 27, to reflect on Ghostwatch, which centred on a fake ‘investigation’ of poltergeist activity.

Dr Arnold, who is an expert on contemporary ghost stories and their impact on contemporary culture, said: “In the past I have written on haunted houses, ghostly children and spectral seals, but all within the context of literature so I’m excited to have the opportunity to discuss how these ideas work within a broadcast media context, particularly in conversation with the programme’s original writer and director.”

Featuring the likes of presenters Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene and filmed in a news-like style on Halloween night, in 1992, Ghostwatch proved controversial at the time, with some viewers unsure whether the drama was fact or fiction.

The BBC discussion will explore Ghostwatch’s depiction of poltergeist activity and its legacy in terms of its impact on visual media, the found footage genre (where part of the drama is presented as film footage that has been discovered) and the pseudo-documentary as well as re-visiting what made the programme so deeply impactful and memorable.

“When Ghostwatch was first broadcast, the technologies involved – live phone-ins, the outside broadcast, the factual programme featuring ‘dramatic reconstructions’ – were all very new and television audiences were learning how to relate to them,” said Dr Arnold. “Part of the controversy that arose around Ghostwatch was to do with how it played with these technologies to blur the lines between factual programming and drama for an audience who might not have been as sceptical in their reactions to the show. I think it’s exciting to return to Ghostwatch in 2022 to think about how our viewing habits and relationship with broadcast media has changed, particularly in an age of ‘fake news’.

Ghostwatch also opens up conversations around the home: how safe are we in our domestic spaces? When and how do they become strange to us? The programme offers us an opportunity to think through what that space means to us now post Covid and how that has changed since the early 1990s.”

With her research centred on narratives of haunting of all kinds, Dr Arnold says Ghostwatch, is part of that genre, not only as a haunted house narrative, but as a programme which is self-consciously referencing other ghost stories in popular culture. “Recently, my work has been focussing on the figure of the ghostly or haunted child,” she said. “One of the central threads which runs through the Ghostwatch - two of whose central protagonists are young children - is a fear for and a fear of children, both as vulnerable to adult violence and abuse, and as conduits for unknowable and frightening forces, so I’ve returned to thinking about it with those themes in mind.”

For more information on the programme, visit the BBC website.