Thursday 05 September 1996
The possibly spook-ridden venue was Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, owned by a streamlined aristo named Donald Macer-Wright. Since the recession hit his tourist revenue, Donald can't afford the upkeep on this 12-bedroom listed monster. He must either get documented authentication of the house's legendary ghosts, in order to woo back paying visitors, or sell the place and decamp to the plebeian life in a three-bed bungalow.
Enter Randy Liebeck, an ex-cop from New Jersey, now a ghost-hunter. He brandishes an array of sexy kit: a thermal camera, a hyper-amplified parabolic surveillance microphone and various field sensors. Randy is thrilled: "For a ghost-hunter to travel to England is similar to a Muslim making his pilgrimage to Mecca." Accompanying him are a vicar-cum-exorcist, a psychic, a clairvoyant and a parapsychologist (the token sceptic, who thinks ghosts are all in the mind).
They all listen intently to the haunting stories. Donald's son, Matt, an overgrown youth with a fuzzy quiff and a nervous giggle, describes seeing "this flashing object... literally going up those stairs". Hall manager, Averil, remembers being roughly pushed out of the master bedroom by a pair of invisible hands. The most intriguing and oft-seen spirit is the Black Boy, who murdered his master in 1744 and supposedly trudges along the landing holding a candle.
So to nightfall, and the ghost-hunt proper. Lurching, dissonant string music and night-vision tracking shots through the deserted stairways. Randy found something, viz: "anomalies in the electromagnetic and electrostatic fields" (inexplicable, untraceable). In the morning, Randy has turned Popperian empiricist: "I haven't uncovered any evidence which indicates that a haunting is not occurring." Which isn't as useless as it sounds: Randy has exposed many hauntings as hoaxes, but not this one.
Donald, however, decides to sell. You could have predicted this conclusion immediately, from John Pitman's lugubriously sarcastic voice-over. "Maureen Conway, the clairvoyant, is all of a-tremble," we were informed helpfully at one point. The intellectual raggedness of some of the "experts" was not a new story. Given the programme's ambience of obsessive parody, you dreamed that a demon might materialise and strangle the film-makers themselves. "Ghost Hunters" wasn't funny enough to be a comedy, nor dispassionate enough to be a documentary. It was a waste of time. Let's just hope that Donald got some cash out of it.
For modern vindication of medi-eval superstition, it was QED (BBC1) which instead came up trumps. Leeches, whose very name is a metaphor for nasty, parasitic behaviour, are making a comeback in 20th-century medicine, thanks to the highly efficient anti-coagulants in their saliva. These chemicals enable the leeches to suck their victims' blood without getting clots in their innards; they may also turn out to be revolutionary in the treatment of both heart disease and strokes.
Strange critters, leeches: their cute little faces look like Muppets, but they conceal three jaws and 300 teeth. A giant Amazonian leech inserts a six- or seven-inch proboscis: to get it off your leg you have to tickle its belly. The film showed us round the world's only 24-hour emergency leech factory, Biofarm in Wales. The men who work there are tender, caring. "They like a bit of Bach now and again, especially on the days when there's not much happening," said one affectionately. Do not despair, Glenn Gould. Love, for these useful vampires, is the drinking of blood, and music really is its food.
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