March 22, 2009 Article
Millions of viewers tune in each week to Living TV’s Most Haunted programme, eager to watch the show’s team of intrepid ghost hunters searching for spooks in some of Britain’s eeriest locations. Yvette Fielding and her fellow paranormal investigators keep fans on the edge of their seats as they turn off the lights and experience mysterious, unexplained happenings all over the country.
Creaking floorboards, vague muffled thumps from other rooms, inaudible breathing noises and sudden draughts are just some of the blood-curdling phenomena that have become everyday occurrences for the fearless Most Haunted team since the top-rated show started in 2002.
But according to one man, the on-screen ghostly goings-on are nothing compared to some of the scenes which never made it onto the show.
“Believe you me,” says former production runner Patrick Leverhulme. “Some of the things I’ve seen whilst working on Most Haunted have been so terrifying that I’ve been chilled to the marrow.” And now, in a new leaflet that he’s selling for 15p outside the Leeds Arndale Centre, Patrick is lifting the lid on the supernatural secrets of Britain’s scariest show.
The best places to look for ghosts, says Patrick, are those that are steeped in past events. Castles, stately homes and royal palaces that have stood unchanged for centuries are often teeming with the restless spirits of figures who we have read about in history books.
“Although visitors have often reported seeing the ghostly figure of King Henry VIII stalking the corridors of Hampton Court, nobody had ever managed to photograph him. Yvette, Karl and the rest of the team love a challenge, so they decided to do one of their famous Most Haunted Live broadcasts from the historic Thames-side palace.
“To try to encourage the Tudor monarch to manifest himself, it was decided that Yvette would spend the night in Anne Boleyn’s bed. We set up cameras all round the room, so that if Henry’s spectre appeared, we wouldn’t miss a thing. It was a risky plan, because there was a chance that the ghost would try to behead her, so the rest of us waited outside the door of the bedchamber, ready to rush in if it looked like she was in danger.
“All was quiet until about half an hour into the show, when Yvette suddenly let out a blood-curdling scream. When we burst into the room, the sight that met my eyes made my hair turn white on the spot. Standing next to the ornately-carved four-poster bed was the unmistakeable figure of Henry VIII. He was completely transparent, but what really scared me was the fact that he was holding an executioner’s axe, and it was poised above Yvette’s throat.
“We were all rooted to the spot with fear, unable to move. We could only stand and watch as the bearded spook swung the blade down. Fortunately, it was a ghost axe so it passed harmlessly through Yvette’s neck without harming her. This seemed to anger the spook and he roared with frustration before turning and disappearing through the wall.
“Yvette was clearly shaken by the whole experience, but Karl was over the moon. He knew that the show was being broadcast live on Living TV, and the millions of people at home would have shared our blood-chilling experience as it happened. However, it turned out that the station had gone to a commercial break seconds before Yvette screamed, so viewers had missed the whole terrifying sequence. But if they had of seen it, it would certainly have proved beyond doubt that ghosts really do exist.”
Ghosts come in all shapes and sizes, from poltergeists small enough to fit inside an upturned glass on a ouija board to full-scale ghost Civil War armies complete with ghost armour, ghost horses and ghost cannons, but nothing could have prepared Patrick for the size of the spectre the team encountered the night they decided to film a show in a disused lighthouse.
“It was on a rocky outcrop just off the Cornish coast. Apparently, a lighthouse keeper had gone mad and hung himself off the light fitting at the top back in Victorian times. The local trawlermen wouldn’t go anywhere near the island because they feared that his ghost would come back and get them.
“Well, the Most Haunted team were made of sterner stuff than that. We decided to spend a night in the lighthouse to find out if there was any truth in the fishermen’s stories. We spent the afternoon setting up our outside broadcast equipment and, as dusk turned to darkness, Yvette turned off the light and we began our eery vigil.
“It was pretty spooky, but after several hours of filming there was still no sign of the keeper’s ghost. We were about to pack up our cameras and set off back to the mainland when we clearly heard the sound of a creaking rope echoing through the building. Team parapsychologist Dr Ciaran O’Keefe said that it was probably the sound of the ghost hanging himself again, but then Stuart pointed out of the window with a trembling finger. I’ll never forget the look on his face, it was pure, unadulterated terror.
“For there, emerging silently from the mist was a ghost pirate galleon, crewed entirely by skellingtons. Yvette screamed and my hair turned white on the spot. The strange, glowing ship, with its tattered jolly Roger now clearly visible, was heading straight for the lighthouse. We all feared the worst; we were about to be captured by its bloodthirsty crew of bony cut-throats, and forced to walk the ghost plank. Yvette’s screams got louder and my hair turned even whiter.
“Then just as suddenly as it had appeared, the spectral vessel vanished, sent back to the netherworld by the first rays of the morning sun breaking over the horizon. Thankfully, ghosts can’t come out in the daytime, and it was this single fact that had saved us from our unimaginably grizzly fate.
“Our relief was mixed with great excitement – we were certain we’d got the best ghost footage ever captured on camera, and spirits were high as we headed back to the editing suite to look at the rushes.
“Our relief mixed with great excitement soon turned to crushing disappointment, however. In his terror, the cameraman had accidentally left the lens cap on, and the whole film was completely black. Once again, the programme’s viewers missed out on seeing conclusive evidence of ghost activity.”
Vampires have been a staple of horror stories for hundreds of years. But very few people believe that blood-sucking ghouls actually exist. One man who knows for sure is Patrick Leverhulme for, whilst on location with Most Haunted, he once had a brush with a vampire that was a little too close for comfort.
“We were filming a seance in the ruins of Whitby Abbey, trying to summon a dracula using a ouija board. It was a very spooky location up there on the cliffs amongst the gravestones, with the full moon and flickering candles providing the only sources of light. My imagination was running riot, as I kept imagining that I could see figures flitting about in the shadows.
“Suddenly, a tall, sinister, black-haired figure with a widow’s peak appeared in front of me. I was gripped with fear, until I realised that it was former world snooker champion Ray Reardon taking his Yorkshire terrier for a walk. I was just going to ask him for his autograph when I heard the cameraman shout out in terror.
“I turned to look where he was pointing and was horrified to see a huge bat with glowing red eyes swooping down towards Yvette. As it reached her, it turned into some smoke. When the smoke cleared, there was a dracula standing there, baring his teeth and making a hissing sound. He was dressed completely in black except for a white dress shirt, a dicky bow and a red silk-lined cloak that he was waving around, and looking over the top of. It was utterly terrifying. Yvette screamed and my hair turned white on the spot.
“As the crew watched in horror, Yvette started to become mesmerised by the vampire. She stared into his glowing eyes, arching her neck towards his glistening fangs. We were rooted to the spot, helpless spectators as the monster prepared to suck the very lifeblood from the former Blue Peter presenter’s jugular vein.
“We all knew that if the dracula bit her, then Yvette would in turn join the legions of the undead. The awful truth was that only someone who loved her could then free her from this torment. So it would fall to her husband Karl to break into the crypt where her body lay, ease back the creaking lid of her coffin and, lit only by the guttering flame of an oil lamp, hammer a steak through her heart. What’s more, he would have to keep hitting the steak over and over again as she screamed in agony, begging him to stop. Although it would make great television, nobody wanted this to happen.
“Most Haunted anchor man Paul Ross was in his caravan preparing for his link when he heard the commotion and came out to investigate. Thinking quickly, he nipped into the ruins of the abbey and got a handful of Holy water out the font. Running back, he flung the precious liquid in the vampire’s face just as its fangs were about to pierce the alabaster skin of Yvette’s neck.
“Howling with pain, the bloodthirsty dracula recoiled, clutching his face which was now burning where the Holy water had touched it. Then there was another big puff of smoke, and the next time we looked, the vampire had turned into just his clothes. It was the most frightening, amazing thing any of us had ever seen. And we’d got every last second caught on film.
“Karl shouted ‘CUT!’ and we all rushed into the OB van to look at what we’d got.
“Our disappointment couldn’t have been more palpable. Although the camera had caught every moment of the vampire attack, in the excitement nobody had noticed that there was a microphone boom left in shot. As every viewer of Most Haunted knows, Karl is an absolute perfectionist and he won’t let any footage make the final edit unless it is perfect in every way. And because of that microphone boom, this piece of tape fell short of his standards, and sadly the viewers never got to see it.
Many critics dismiss Most Haunted, claiming that its spooky footage doesn’t show real ghosts. The makers of the programme hotly deny that the supernatural phenomena they experience everywhere they go are faked. However, in his 15p pamphlet Leverhulme admits that the team themselves did once fall victim to a hoax, after being called to a London museum where security men were being chased by a mummy.
“Most Haunted was mounting a parapsychological vigil in the Egyptology department of the British Museum. Guards working on late night shifts had reported hearing low moans that sounded like ancient heiroglyphics, and several of them had been chased along corridors by a glowing, bandaged figure. I didn’t often get scared when we went on location, but I have to admit I felt a little spooked as we set up the cameras amongst all the sarcophaguses, canopic jars and death masks in the museum gallery. It was as if the ancient Kings of Egypt were watching us from beyond the grave.
“Medium Brian Shepherd switched the light out and filming began. The atmosphere in the pitch dark museum was really spine-chilling and it was no surprise that something ghostly happened almost straight away. There was a creaking sound, then suddenly the coffin of the Pharaoh Amenhotep flew open and a mummy floated out towards us. It was wrapped from head to foot in mouldy bandages, and had a weird ethereal glow. Yvette screamed and my hair went white on the spot. Again.
“We all panicked and ran, but the terrifying 4,000-year-old Egyptian figure just kept floating after us, groaning and incanting the curse of Tutunkhamen. We dodged into a storeroom and barricaded the door behind us so it couldn’t get us. When we put the light on, we realised we were in the museum’s Ancient Rome exhibition, and we hatched a plan to split up into two groups and catch the mummy in a gladiator’s net from the Colosseum.
“Stuart and Catherine were to lure Amenhotep’s re-animated corpse into the main reception area of the museum by calling attention to themselves and cheeking it. Meanwhile, Karl and Yvette would climb up a dinosaur’s neck and drop the net onto it as it came by.
“The plan worked a treat, and we soon had the mummy caught in the net and unable to escape. The more it struggled, the more tangled it became in the mesh. Dr Ciaran O’Keefe called the police, who arrived very quickly. It was time to unmask the ghost.
“Yvette pulled his mask off to reveal … the museum caretaker! It transpired that he had discovered a disused diamond mine in the cellar, and was attempting to scare away visitors by dressing up in a mummy costume coated with luminous paint. He had achieved the spooky floating effect using a fan-type motor. As the police led him away, he expressed frustration at his predicament, adding that he was certain his plan would have been successful if it hadn’t of been for us meddling adults.
“Even though the mummy chase through the British Museum was one of the most exciting sequences we ever filmed for Most Haunted, it never made it onto television. That’s because it wasn’t a real ghost, and it would have been short-changing the show’s viewers to show them anything other than genuine paranormal phenomena.”
Many ghosts are made from people who have met with violent ends. Their spirits remain earthbound, restlessly searching for the peace that was denied to them on this side of the astral veil. Some are murder victims, whilst others are notorious criminals who were executed back in the days when the death penalty was still imposed. And Patrick remembers a particularly spooky encounter with the phantom just such an infamous villain from days gone by.
“We were doing a show from a pub just outside York. It was a former coaching inn and was reputedly haunted. There was certainly a spooky atmosphere: local legend had it that the highwayman Dick Turpin had slept there the night before he was hanged and that his restless spirit still returned to haunt the pub on a regular basis. And there had definitely been strange goings on, that’s for sure. Customers had reported beer being mysteriously watered down, and the fruit machine eerily refusing to pay out night after night. Malevolent spirits were also interfering with the till, causing drinkers to be routinely short-changed. The team were determined to get to the bottom of it.
“It was getting late by the time we got all our equipment rigged up in the cellar – four infra-red cameras and six ultra-sensitive microphones. If any phantoms turned up in there we’d know about it. Yvette turned the lights off and we sat in silence, listening and watching intently for the first signs of ghostly activity. And we didn’t have to wait long. On the stroke of midnight the room went icy cold and Turpin’s ghost, complete with his trademark tricorn hat, black cloak and flintlock pistol, walked through the wall of the cellar. He was completely see-through and and his eyes were like burning red coals. I have never felt such a sense of evil in my life. It was utterly terrifying.
“I’ve seen plenty of phantoms in my time, but this one took the biscuit, I can tell you. Yvette screamed and my hair turned white on the spot. But in spite of our fear we managed to keep the camera rolling as the ghost floated about the room issuing terrifying curses in a horrible, hoarse voice.
“Sadly, the production team were unable to use any of the footage in the final show because because the spectral highwayman made some rather racist comments. That sort of language may have been okay in 18th century York, but it’s simply not acceptable today. We were filming in the wake of the Celebrity Big Brother racism row, and TV bosses were not going to take any chances by broadcasting racially-sensitive material. So unfortunately, the whole sequence ended up on the cutting room floor.”
Patrick is hoping that his memoirs sell well as he recently lost his job on the show following a run-in with producer Karl Beattie, husband of Yvette Fielding. “I was caught in his wife’s dressing room, performing a sex act into her knicker drawer,” he told us. “I explained to him that it was just a joke, but Beattie had a bit of a sense of humour failure and gave me my marching orders there and then. Admittedly, I had played the same joke a few times before, into her handbag and shoes and what have you, but still, there was no need for him to be so po-faced about it.
“Spook hunting is a stressful occupation, and you have to break the tension every now and then with a bit of behind the scenes horseplay. If Beattie doesn’t learn that, and soon, he doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance in this business,” he added.