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(G)hosting television: Ghostwatch and its medium

Steward, Tom; Zborowski, James


Tom Steward


This article’s subject is Ghostwatch (BBC, 1992), a drama broadcast on Halloween night of 1992 which adopted the rhetoric of live non-fiction programming, and attracted controversy and ultimately censure from the Broadcasting Standards Council. In what follows, we argue that Ghostwatch must be understood as a televisually-specific artwork and artefact. We discuss the programme’s ludic relationship with some key features of television during what Ellis (2000) has termed its era of ‘availability’, principally liveness, mass simultaneous viewing, and the flow of the television super-text. We trace the programme’s television-specific historicity whilst acknowledging its allusions and debts to other media (most notably film and radio). We explore the sophisticated ways in which Ghostwatch’s visual grammar and vocabulary and deployment of ‘broadcast talk’ (Scannell 1991) variously ape, comment upon and subvert the rhetoric of factual programming, and the ends to which these strategies are put. We hope that these arguments collectively demonstrate the aesthetic and historical significance of Ghostwatch and identify its relationship to its medium and that medium’s history. We offer the programme as an historically-reflexive artefact, and as an exemplary instance of the work of art in television’s age of broadcasting, liveness and co-presence.


Steward, T., & Zborowski, J. (2014). (G)hosting television: Ghostwatch and its medium. Journal of British cinema and television, 11(2-3), 189-212.

Acceptance Date Jan 16, 2014
Publication Date 2014-07
Deposit Date Oct 21, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal Journal of British cinema and telelvision
Print ISSN 1743-4521
Electronic ISSN 1755-1714
Publisher Edinburgh University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 11
Issue 2-3
Pages 189-212
Keywords BBC; Broadcasting; Direct address; Drama-documentary; Flow; Ghostwatch; Horror; Liveness; Television; Television presenters
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article published in: Journal of British cinema and telelvision, 2014, v.11, issue 2-3.


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