As the hit comedy returns to BBC One, the cast reveal all you need to know about this ghoulishly good show
By Ross Campbell, Writer
What started as a comedy collective known for making us all laugh in Horrible Histories has grown into a successful series for the BBC – and now it’s back for a third run.
For the uninitiated, the show is led by Alison (Fresh Meat’s Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Stath Lets Flats’ Kiell Smith-Bynoe), a married couple who inherit the grand, but dilapidated Button House from Alison’s distant aunt. The only snag is that the country manor is riddled with bumbling spirits from different eras in British history, and only Alison can perceive them.
With the second series of Ghosts averaging just shy of four million viewers, it was one of the BBC’s biggest returning comedy series of 2020. And now, series 3 is finally back to haunt us (with hilarity). We went behind the spooky scenes to hear from the cast about what to expect…
1. They’ve got it locked down
Although lockdown was a pain, there’s the possibility it could have been an inadvertent contributor to Ghosts’ success. Kiell Smith-Bynoe says: “It’s about people stuck together in a house, unable to escape each other – that resonates with a lot of people, especially during lockdown. It’s also a great family show. You can watch it together, no matter what age you are. That's why it's been so successful.”
Ritchie adds: “Alison would hate to admit it, but she would miss [the ghosts] if they were gone. She really cares about them. As annoying as they are, they’re all very lovable”.
2. Too many cooks don’t spoil this broth
The old adage may have some merit in certain industries, but when it comes to scripting a hilarious BBC comedy, not so much. Ritchie explains that it’s very much a case of the more the merrier: “The fact that the show is written by an ensemble is really brilliant. The vetting process for every joke is so thorough. A lot of shows that are written by a team, like this and Fresh Meat [in which Ritchie also starred], are really strong. People bounce ideas off each other, and that’s really productive.”
3. Mike is feeling a bit left out
Central to the story is the fact that Alison can communicate with the ghosts, while Mike can’t. And one of the big questions is if Mike will finally be able to make contact with the deceased. “I think that’s what keeps those relationships so interesting and makes the comedy work so well,” says Smith-Bynoe. “Especially the fact that Mike never knows when the ghosts are in the room.” But that might not be good news for our protagonists, with Ritchie explaining that the dynamic is putting a slight strain on the couple’s relationship. “There is a whole episode about his jealousy in series 3, which was a lot of fun to do,” she says.
4. Ben Willbond’s Captain is drawn from real life
The sexually repressed Captain is a fan favourite, and it turns out that inspiration for the stuffy military man came from the childhood of the Horrible Histories actor. “I love playing slightly confused establishment figures,” explains Willbond. “I grew up in quite a strict military boarding school, and I found all of the grown-ups utterly absurd – the Captain is my reflection of that.”
5. We’re in for more flashbacks
One of the most intriguing bits of the show is seeing glimpses of the ghosts’ living years, and it sounds like we might be in store for a bit more of that. Martha Howe-Douglas (Yonderland), who plays the tight-lipped Lady Button, says: “We get a lot of tweets about the flashbacks. People are so invested in the ghosts, which shows that we’re on the right track. But we are very aware of not overloading any series with too many death stories.”
“Not all of the flashbacks are pretty,” explains Jim Howick (Peep Show), who plays deceased scoutmaster Pat Butcher. “We kick off with a really exciting flashback that everyone will enjoy. But what we don’t want the show to become is just a series of flashbacks.”
“That’s why we drip-feed them,” adds Howe-Douglas. “We want a few more series, so easy does it!”
Simon Farnaby (Paddington) says his flashback was one of his favourite scenes to film. Speaking of his sleazy politician character, Julian, he says: “We see him moments after he dies… he’s dealing with having just died without any trousers on and realising that he will now have to spend eternity without any trousers on. I really enjoyed that!”
6. They’re still trying to turn a profit
Early on in series 1, Mike reveals that he’s taken out multiple loans in order to get the house up to scratch, but money woes continue in the third series. Smith-Bynoe explains: “Mike and Alison trying to save as much money as they can. In one episode, they have to close the house. They can’t afford to stay in a hotel, so they end up camping in their own grounds, which is a real laugh.”
The twisted mind of Ben Willbond never sleeps, as he tells of how he orchestrated misery for Alison and Mike: “I spend a large proportion of my evenings watching property programmes where people attempt to maintain a huge house. You are watching and thinking, “Oh my God, it’s amazing – oh no – the roof's gone!” That’s how it is for Mike and Alison.” The only things missing from this picture are steepled fingers and an evil grin.
7. There’s a new plan to grow the piggybank
“They’re doing a history documentary to market the house,” says Ritchie. And although it sounds like a brilliant plan, it doesn’t come without its mishaps.
“Alison has to face the possibility of doing PR for her own house, which she is not very good at. They are navigating all the ways they can maintain the house because it is so completely mad and expensive.”
8. The cast and crew found something to sneeze at
The Button House of the show needs a lot of TLC, but the actual stately home in which the series is filmed, West Horsley Place in Surrey, is a place of majesty and grandeur. But the cast weren’t too chill about certain aspects.
“It’s freezing and dusty. A lot of antihistamines are going around by the end of a shoot. To make matters worse, the producers fill the interiors with haze to give it atmosphere,” explains Katy Wix (Stath Lets Flats), who plays Mary, a Stuart-era peasant who met her maker when she was burned at the stake.
9. The magnificent library is actually real
Wix is a bit of a bookworm when she’s not in character, and loves sneaking off to the house’s impressive library to lose herself in some long-forgotten stories. “The house is full of the sort of treasures that you might see on Antiques Roadshow. And it has an amazing library. You find all these books that have been long forgotten. Between takes, I’m always picking out rare books.”
When is Ghosts series 3 on TV?
You can watch the first episode at 8.30pm on Monday 9 August on BBC One HD (CH 101/108). The whole series is available to watch as a Box Set after the first episode airs in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer.
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Image credits: Ghosts © Monumental Television - Photographer: Guido Mandozzi