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The BBC Halloween Hoax That Traumatized Viewers

We’ve been exposed to the old bait-and-switch on TV a few times now, particularly in the genre of reality TV, so that many viewers don’t believe a thing they see. TV audiences as a whole were more trusting 24 years ago. On Halloween night in 1992, the BBC aired an early version of what we’ve now come to know as the “mockumentary.” Ghostwatch was billed as a drama in the TV listings, but it came across more as a live news report, particularly due to the presence of popular BBC presenters Sarah Greene and Craig Charles right on the scene as a poltergeist tormented the Early family. But Ghostwatch had been completely recorded earlier, using actors.

The finale laid it on a little thick, but not everyone made it that far in. By the time Ghostwatch signed off, a not-insignificant portion of the show’s 11 million viewers were either convinced ghosts were real, extremely upset at the BBC for traumatizing their children, or both.  

The broadcaster had just five operators standing by its phones [PDF] once the show went off air, a number that was quickly overcome by the thousands of calls that flooded in. One woman reportedly went into labor due to the stress caused by watching the program; another reported her husband had soiled himself. Within hours, the BBC aired a brief segment that reminded viewers the show was fictional. It was a little too late.

Those who watched were either terrified or else angry at the BBC for causing such terror. Ghostwatch was blamed for several cases of PTSD and at least one suicide. Read the story of Ghostwatch and its fallout at mental_floss.

(Image credit: BFI)

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