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Spooks On Screen: Our adventures in television

By Web Monster, January 14, 2024 - 4:21pm
Mark Wogan with the Mad Monk and Adam Lyal on This Morning (ITV)

Having created and launched our walking tours (The Cadies) in Edinburgh 40 years ago in 1984, we participated in two small business competitions sponsored by BP and Shell, becoming runners-up in the Shell Livewire competition. Our success was spotted by the BBC, who invited us to appear on the topical TV show Pebble Mill at One.

For our younger readers, Pebble Mill at One was a British magazine programme broadcast live on weekdays at one o'clock on BBC 1 from 1972 to 1996. Our section in this show was pre-recorded in Edinburgh with our co-founders Robin Mitchell and Colin Macphail chatting to Scottish actors Johnny Beattie and Una McLean on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Robin and Colin were suitably attired in the kilt, while Johnny and Una were dressed as traffic wardens. Hold your horses! I hear you cry; Dressed as traffic wardens? This probably needs some sort of explanation. Well, as it was December, Johnny and Una were appearing in pantomime at Edinburgh's King's Theatre, and the humble traffic wardens were among their many colourful costumes from that performance. The producer thought this might add some colour to the show, and indeed it did. After the show was broadcast we were approached by a number of tour operators wishing to reserve Royal Mile walking tours.

With the success of this early foray onto the small screen, we realised that TV appearances would be good free advertising, so we contacted a number of production companies with ideas for their shows. Many appearances followed on TV stations around the globe from Japan to South Korea to Australia to Iceland to... well you get the basic idea. Too many appearances in the last four decades to list here, so here's a small selection. You may note that, alongside the expected travel and magazine shows, we wormed our way into a number of less-likely spots on popular quiz shows and even some true insitutions of primetime light entertainment!

  • People (BBC)
  • Blue Peter (BBC)
  • Albatros (WDR Germany)
  • Getaway (Australia)
  • This Morning (ITV)
  • The Big Breakfast (Channel 4)
  • Attractions (Channel 5)
  • Noel's House Party (BBC)
  • Holiday (BBC)
  • Eggheads (BBC)
  • The Antiques Roadshow (BBC)
  • Four Rooms (Channel 4)
  • A World of Wonders (Canadian TV)
  • Style Challenge (BBC)
  • Ready Steady Cook (BBC)
  • Wonders of the World (Japanese TV)
  • Walking Victorian Britain (Channel 5)

One of the better-produced shows we appeared on was BBC's People programme with Chris Serle, a hot-property presenter recently "poached" from ITV's smash-hit lifestyle show That's Life!.

The People programme involved two full days and nights of filming in 1988, but it was well worth the effort as the end result was really exceptional. Chris had to learn to become one of our ghosts (or as we call them, "jumper-ooters"). Our section within this show lasted 10 minutes and was shown in the last segment of the programme. At the end of our segment, the show actually listed our telephone number on screen! And as the following programme was none other than Eastenders, millions, who weren't necessarily watching us, were tuning in to see the nation's favourite soap opera and were confronted with ghostly characters "jumping-oot" and a telephone number appearing on the screen. Unsurprisingly, the next day we had over 200 telephone calls (in the days when people used telephones as telephones). The calls resulted in many bookings for the winter of 1988/89.

Watch a clip of the People show here.

Some years later, ITV's flagship This Morning programme imitated the People programme when presenter Mark Wogan (Terry Wogan's son) had to learn to be a jumper-ooter. Again, this was pre-recorded in Edinburgh.

Watch a clip of our This Morning appearance here.

Stay to the end of this clip to enjoy TV presenter Richard Madely charging at the camera, clearly showing his own desire to be a jumper-ooter!

Almost certainly our most widely-viewed appearance was to come in 1999. Our former manager, Lorna Baxter, set up our co-founder Robin Mitchell on Noel [Edmonds]'s House Party which was broadcast on BBC television on Saturday primetime. Robin was invited to a tourism discussion at Edinburgh's George Hotel with a live audience. The discussion was hosted by presenter Nick Ross (of Crimewatch fame). Robin was told to appear in ghostly costume (which he may well have planned to do anyway). It was explained to him this show would be recorded and no transmission date had be scheduled as yet. However, the whole scheme was a complete set-up, and Robin was subjected to a number of "difficult" questions from the audience. He was then shocked (an understatement!) when presenter Noel Edmonds surprised him, appearing on a TV monitor live from London. That wasn't the end of it, as Robin was forced to sing a version of Marilyn Monroe's I Wanna Be Loved by You live in front of a mere 14 million viewers. A truly shocking experience for Robin (and the audience) as let's say Robin isn't the best singer in the world. Thankfully we cannot find a clip of this.

In March 2007, our head ghost at the time, Adam Lyal (deceased) aka Euan MacInnes attended The Antiques Roadshow at the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow. He took with him our famous card case, made from the skin of the murderer William Burke, to be valued. Although the ghoulish relic was declared priceless, Euan happily chatted to the presenter Michael Aspel, who was a little spooked by our grisly relic. The show was broadcast on BBC1, and our section of the show later appeared on The Best of The Antiques Road Show.

Then in May 2011, Former MP and television broadcaster Michael Portillo filmed on the Witchery Tour for his BBC2 documentary about the then Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. This was not the first time Michael had been on one of our walking tours: he'd attended a Witchery Tour away back in the mists of time (1992). Apparently our guide, back in the day, had made an amusing quip about the Maastricht Treaty. Well, at least he thought it was amusing. A clip of this programme can be found here.

Watch a clip of the documentary Portillo On Salmond here.

More recently, filming took place in Greyfriars Cemetery for a Channel 5 series called Walking Victorian Britain. Our co-founder Robin Mitchell was wheeled out again, this time in normal clothing instead of ghostly attire. Robin chatted to the presenter Dr. Onyeka Nubia about grave-robbing and the Anatomy Act of 1832.

So... what's next? Well, with the advent of social media platforms, I suppose the water-cooler discussion of the previous night's TV viewing has been relegated to a distant memory. It looks like we might have to keep our eyes peeled for bloggers, vloggers and social media influences.

Watch this space...