Daytime TV: Shadow lands

From the Enfield Poltergeist to the most haunted pub in England, Gary Day has still to see proof of ghosts

January 28, 2010

Joe Swash wants to know if ghosts exist (I Believe in Ghosts, BBC Three, Tuesday 19 January, 9pm). It's an interesting question for an actor. Joe used to play Mickey Miller in EastEnders. But the producers ran out of storylines for him. Which is actually quite a nice way of describing death. I have my own theory though. They simply got tired of waiting for his voice to break. Mickey was never a successful con man because only Wellard, the dog, could hear what he was saying.

Joe had even less luck in trying to find a ghost. He sat chatting with his nan over a cup of tea and a jam roll. "I went to the toilet one night," she said, "and my dad was at the bottom of the stairs. 'I've just come to tell you that there is something after death and you're not to be afraid,'" he confided. The viewer assumed her dad had passed on, not that he'd been downstairs watching the God channel.

There would be no point in a dead relative telling me not to be afraid as I stumbled to the bathroom in the early hours. The very fact that said relative had risen from the grave and was now calling to me would mean I would discharge my bladder before reaching my destination. If ghosts don't want to scare you, why do they always come at night?

Father Wang tried to explain the Catholic Church's position. There is life after death, yes. Spirits exist but ghosts don't. Spirits are the souls of the dead whereas ghosts are, well, they're not spirits. Some spirits work in the world. Some give themselves to evil. It depends on the kind of job they are offered. If it's boring or minimum wage, then moving people's furniture around or even inhabiting them and making them speak in funny voices must be a more attractive option.

There was a famous case in 1977. Eleven-year-old Janet Hodgson's bedroom was a mess. Clothes on the floor, records out of their sleeves, tops not put back on make-up tubes - that kind of thing. When her parents complained, Janet said it was a poltergeist. At first they weren't convinced, but when she started growling like Linda Blair in The Exorcist they brought in Maurice Grosse from the Society for Psychical Research. He frightened the demon off with his magnificent moustache, two great curling horns on either side of his face.

"Do not open yourself to the unknown," advised Father Wang, echoing the advice of the Church to scientists over the centuries. Joe took no notice and headed off to a Spiritualist church where a congregation sang Sailing. They were out of tune but sincere. A very young man called Ross Bartlett stood up and eyed the congregation. "I'm conscious of a lady wanting to talk to me," he said. Was it his mum telling him he was late for his tea? No - it was a spirit, or perhaps a ghost. The creature seemed rather hazy on the matter itself.

"I'm feeling a connection with a lady at the back," said Ross, who looked as if he should be back at home tucked up with his teddy. A lady at the back sat up and beamed. "I'm getting cancer," Ross continued, to the alarm of several maternal types in the hall. "A relative has died of cancer recently?" The lady at the back nodded vigorously. "She has a message for yourself. She knows she wasn't her usual cheerful, bubbly self before she died." The lady at the back nodded in agreement. Ross cocked his head in case there were more revelations from the dead. "I think I'll leave it there," he said.

Joe was beginning to despair. Surely there must be a ghost somewhere that wanted to meet a celebrity from EastEnders? So off he went to The Ram Inn at Wotton-under-Edge, the most haunted place in England. The owner, John Humphries, claimed the resident incubus constantly wants to have sex with him. Perhaps it had a thing about baseball caps. Unusually for these times, John wore his the right way round. But here too Joe was disappointed.

As must have been all viewers of Newsnight at 30 (BBC Two, Saturday 23 January, 8pm). Assorted guests of a rather bored-looking Jeremy Paxman considered how Britain had changed in the past 30 years. The internet, celebrity culture and voter apathy were the main themes. But not a word about the rise of the free market, growing inequality or the problems of the environment. It was left to Tracey Emin, whose skin was a vivid orange colour, to say something about the erosion of freedom. Martin Amis worried that the young learnt about sex from pornography. He dissected an earthworm. One feels for his first girlfriend.

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