An unsung response by ITV to the BBC’s Ghost Stories For Christmas? RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES looks at Granada’s creepy festive double-header from 1974: Haunted.
Christmas 1974: Launched with little fanfare three years earlier, The BBC’s Ghost Story For Christmas strand had established itself as something of a tradition already, with a more than respectable audience garnered annually for its late-night slot. That same audience was no doubt eagerly awaiting the fourth entry in the series, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, which was scheduled on BBC1 for December the 23rd at 11:35pm.
This year however, fans of a festive frisson were in for an extra treat. Two extra treats, in fact as ITV’s north-western England station Granada Television had busied themselves with producing a duo of ghost-fiction adaptations of their own. Unlike their rivals, Granada selected stories from writers who were still very much alive and active at the time, namely Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Taylor.
In the director’s chair were two directors who would later make a mark in Hollywood: John Irvin would helm the first instalment and go on to make Ghost Story (1981), Hamburger Hill (1987) and Widows’ Peak (1994). Episode two’s director, Granada regular Michael Apted had instigated the company’s 7-yearly Up series of documentaries and went on to Gorillas In The Mist (1988) and James Bond entry The World Is Not Enough (1999) amongst many others.
Was Haunted a conscious effort by Granada to emulate the BBC’s success with ghostly tales? At this remove in time, it’s difficult to say with 100% certainty, but I would certainly be willing to bet money on it.
Consider the evidence: The rivalry between the BBC and ITV was never more ferocious than it was at Christmas and the two broadcasters would have keenly examined each other’s festive viewing figures to see where they were trumping each other, or where they were getting a good hiding. It would not have escaped ITV’s notice that the competition’s creepy tales were getting viewing figures way above what one might expect in what was ironically known as “the graveyard slot”.
Then there’s the scheduling of the first story: I think it not a coincidence that opening episode The Ferryman was programmed for the same night as the BBC effort, likely hoping to attract the same viewers. ITV’s News At Ten slot was sacrosanct and not open to rescheduling, whilst placing a ghost story directly after a news bulletin might have been considered in potentially bad taste (should a particularly harrowing news story have broken that night), so the 9pm slot probably seemed like the safest bet.
With a purpose-made opening title sequence commissioned, it’s more than feasible that the two tales were a taster/tester for more tales to follow, be that a full series or an annual festive undertaking. In any case, for reasons unknown the experiment was not repeated and nothing more was heard from the Haunted strand after this brief run.
Full reviews of Haunted’s two episodes can be viewed via the links below.
TRIVIA POINT: ITV earlier broadcast another supernaturally themed series entitled Haunted: Produced by ABC and broadcast across 1967-68, it starred Patrick Mower as a philosophy professor investigating reported paranormal happenings, pre-empting The X-Files by a good quarter-century. None of its eight video-taped episodes is believed to have survived.