Ghosts is a new sitcom, and the team behind it include some of the writers and cast of the CBBC TV sketch show version of Horrible Histories.
While the premise is a little different as sitcoms go, it’s also a fairly common plot. A young couple Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) are house hunting, but don’t have much money. However, they inherit a grand house from a recently deceased distant relative – but it turns out the house is haunted! Not just by a ghost either, a whole community of them!
The house is called Button House. While it is certainly quite stately, it is also falling apart, but Alison and Mike intend to refurbish it and turn it into a trendy modern hotel. The ghosts that live there are not best pleased with that news!
They try various ways to get rid of Alison and Mike, until one ghost, Julian, pushes Alison out of the window! She lives, though technically she “died” briefly and ended up in a coma. When she comes out of the coma, because of her near death experience, she has the ability to see ghosts! With the ghosts unable to leave the house and the grounds, and the contract Alison and Mike signed meaning they’ll be bankrupt if they try to sell the house now – well, the upshot of it is they’re all stuck there so they’ll have to learn to get along! Groups of people with contrasting personalities being in a situation where they are confined together and have to get along with each other is one of the classic traits of sitcom, but here it is done in a novel way.
The ghosts from different historical periods include:
Lady Fanny Button (Martha Howe-Douglas), an ancestor of Alison’s from Edwardian times. Lady Button’s family have owned the house for centuries, and with Alison and
Mike being the new owners, Lady Button is quite happy with it being kept in the family, but she doesn’t approve of… well, there’s quite a lot she doesn’t approve of! She once
says “A lady pinches, whores use rouge”. A similar thing was once said by Jacqueline Bouvier. By which I mean Marge Simpson’s mother, not Jackie Kennedy, as far as I
know Jackie Kennedy never said anything of the sort.
Robin the Cave Man (Lawrence Rickard), who has been around for a long time, being literally prehistoric! He was here before the house itself was built! He has a deep
attachment to the Moon (or “Moonah” as he calls it), as it is something that has been constant in his (after)life unlike, well, almost everything else. He also has the ability to manipulate electric lights, though it’s mostly just some generic haunted house light flickering.
Humphrey, A Tudor ghost who had been beheaded and now keeps literally losing his head. His head is played by Lawrence Rickard, and his body is played by Yani Alexansandrov.
Julian Fawcett (Simon Farnaby), an MP who isn’t wearing any trousers! Unlike the other ghosts, he has the limited ability to touch objects. And it really is limited, after some struggling he can press a single key on a computer or knock a glass of water over. He’s mortified to discover via the internet that his legacy is not anything in his political career, but the sex scandal which led to his embarrasing death in the early 1990s. And it looks like it’s the only thing he’s remembered for, not even his name or what he looked like, as Alison’s reaction when Julian mentions the scandal is “That was you?!”.
Pat (Jim Howick), a Scoutmaster whose death in the 1980s was a freak accident with an arrow ending up through his neck! He somehow managed to get into a bus and drive it into a tree just before he died! Pat’s widow later married Pat’s best friend… and thinking back, the penny drops for Pat that his wife and his best friend had been having an affair while Pat was still alive!
Mary (Katy Wix), a peasant woman who was burned after a witch trial at some point in the Stuart era, and can still give off the smell of burning.
Kitty (Lolly Adefope) who is from the Georgian era, and likes romance stories and talking about going to the ball. She is sweet but naieve. She doesn’t know how babies are made, for example!
Thomas Thorne (Mathew Baynton), a mopey, melodrammatic Regency era poet, who at one time hears ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ by Kylie Minogue on the radio, and ends up reciting the lyrics as a romantic poem. (Interestingly, Kylie Minogue herself did this once!)
The Captain (Ben Willbond), an army captain from the Second World War. He’s probably gay… he certainly comments on how hunky and handsome other men are a lot! He’s also keen to carry on his military role in the afterlife, seeing the other ghosts as his soldiers.
There are also some basement dwelling ghosts – they literally live in the basement. The reason for this is they all died in a plague in the Medieval era, and the site where the cellar is was at one time the plague pit they were all thrown into. They know very little of the world outside the four walls of the cellar, and like the fish in the fishtank at the dentists in Finding Nemo have become enthusiastic experts with some technical issues, in this case the plumbing and electrical equipment which is in the cellar. These ghosts prove very useful when Alison and Mike need to fix the boiler, and they also stop a potentially lethal gas leak!
A final resident is a pigeon – well, until episode five anyway, when it comes off worse in a bonecrunching encounter with a dog! However…its ghost starts haunting the room it stayed in, so Alison can still see it! I liked this, as I did not see that twist coming!
There are elements of drama in the series. In the second episode ‘Gorilla War’, Alison is still not sure what is happening to her with the fact she can see the ghosts and nobody
else can, and she and Mike wonder if it’s a concussion or mental health related issue. Alison feels overwhelmed with all the ghosts talking at once. Then she goes to the doctors, and he tells her what’s going on – and he knows for sure, because he is a ghost himself! All this isn’t really played darkly, but it’s not completely played for laughs either. Though the payoff is pretty funny, with Alison deciding that as she owns the house, the ghosts are effectively her tennants, so she initiates a discussion on household complaints and requests, such as removing portraits and the Captain being able to watch the TV when the army history programmes are on.
Pat celebrates his “death day” in ‘Happy Death Day’, a ghost equivalent of a birthday. He gets to see his family this time every year, as they come to pay their respects. But he can’t communicate with them, he can only see them. It gets even sadder when he talks to some of the other ghosts about it. Pat has only been dead a few decades, the ghosts who have been dead for centuries or more tell him that “Eventually, no-one will come”.
Knowing that Alison can communicate with both the living and the dead, Pat considers asking her to pass on a message to his loved ones, but he can’t think of what he could possibly say. Instead, Alison goes to talk to Pat’s family, and comes back and tells Pat about them and how they are getting on. He now has a grandson who they’ve named Pat after him. So there was a lot of poignancy in this episode.
It reminded me that Rimmer in Red Dwarf also celebrated his “death day” a few times. I suppose if there is an afterlife, I can sort of understand why your “death day” would be something that you might want to commemorate. Thinking about it, the holograms in Red Dwarf were basically sci-fi ghosts, with technology able to keep a person’s brain pattern going after their death and projecting an image of them made of light. Like ghosts, holograms also couldn’t touch anything (Yeah, I know more advanced technology in later series of Red Dwarf allowed holograms to touch things, but still).
In ‘Free Pass’, a studio wants to shoot a period drama in Button Hall. Alison has a crush on the lead actor in it, Toby Nightingale. The Captain, however, has a crush on the assistant director, Adam. The drama is about Lord Byron, and Thomas is outraged, claiming Lord Byron stole his verse and a woman Thomas was attracted to. Some of the ghosts are engrossed in the plot of the drama, but Mary is more fascinated by what the crew are doing with the camera, or as she puts it: “What are they feeding the metal cow?”. Though the drama shuts down production anyway after Toby falls through the floor of the old house.
In ‘Moonah Ston’, Alison and Mike find out they have a “next door neighbour” – but by “next door”, it means “a mile away”. He’s a landowner, who owns the local village, and technically, he also owns Button Hall’s driveway! Alison tries to hold a posh dinner party to sort it all out, but it doesn’t help that it’s double booked with the ghosts taking part in Robin’s “Moonah” ritual. Or that the pheasant and stew get burnt, so a frozen lasagne ready meal is served instead. Or that Alison and Mike lose a lot of money in a poker game. But the landowner suddenly becomes very generous when Alison finds out he has a secret bank account in Fiji!
But in the last episode ‘Getting Out’, Alison and Mike still think they can’t afford to keep the house. They find out a hotel chain, Harrington Hotels, want to buy the property.
Alison and Mike try looking for a new house, but Alison can see ghosts in those properties now too!
The ghosts of Button Hall have grown fond of Alison and Mike as well, and want them to stay. Lady Button tries to persuade Alison. She doesn’t get off to an ideal start (saying to Alison “When you first came here, I thought you were a prostitute”!), but shows her a box kept under a floorboard behind a chest. Lady Button tells Alison the box contains an expensive jewel once belonging to an Empress, and it should still be worth a lot of money even now. The money would help Alison and Mike with their fiancial problems! This is a very touching scene… but best of all is the ending, as all that’s in box is a note from Lady Button’s husband saying “Sorry darling, pawned it!”
To make matters worse, the snooty, condescending representative for Harrington Hotels is planning on ripping Alison and Mike off. The Captain discovers this, and manages to manoeuvre things so that the plague pit is discovered, with the skeletons of the cellar ghosts in there (the cellar ghosts themselves have fun recognising who’s skeleton is who’s, almost like they’re going through old photos!).
Alison and Mike have to assure people that they aren’t serial killers responsible for that pile of bodies, but the fact that the skeletons are from hundreds of years ago makes the site one of historical significance now, so they can’t sell at the moment, but it looks like they’ve come round to the idea of staying anyway.
Ghosts is quite traditional in some ways, as mainly it’s about a houseshare. It’s almost Big Brother-ish, with an eclectic bunch of people from different backgrounds, and in this case historical periods. I am kind of surprised nobody has done that sort of idea before, of a sketch about a (Celebrity) Big Brother-like show, but with historical figures. Or perhaps they have and I just haven’t seen it. Again, that seems like something that they would do on Horrible Histories.
The concept of ghosts wanting to scare off new living owners of their house has often been used for comic effect, for example the film Beetlejuice, which Mathew Baynton mentioned as an influence for the series.
Ghosts also feels quite BBC Three, it reminds me a little of some of their supernatural dramas like Being Human and The Fades in their “rules” for the afterlife. In Ghosts, Being Human and The Fades they all have a thing where some ghosts pass straight on to the afterlife right away, while some have to stay on Earth.
Random highlights of this series:
While Alison and Mike are flathunting, one flat has a view of a grotty takeaway called Buddy’s Fish N Pizza.
Alison runs smack into a closed door chasing after Robin. (As he’s a ghost, he can go right through it).
Mike while doing some DIY does robot moves using his drill to make sound effects.
Pat introducing Kitty and Mary to the wonder of snap, crackle and pop.
Ghosts was very enjoyable, and it looks like it was a lot of fun to make too, and it seems to have been well received by critics and audiences – and soon after this series finished, there was some good news – it is definitely coming back for a second series!