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Ghostwatch Remembered

Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Looking back on a controversial BBC show called Ghostwatch and its creator Stephen Volk, a hoaxer who out-Orsoned War of the Worlds.

“The BBC Halloween Hoax That Traumatized Viewers”
by Jake Rossen
Mental Floss
October 6, 2016

aotp_ghostwatchAfter more than 20,000 phone calls, one induced labor, and thousands of angry letters, the UK’s Broadcasting Standards Council convened for a hearing. On June 27, 1995, they ruled that the producers of Ghostwatch, a BBC program that aired on Halloween night less than three years earlier, had deliberately set out to “cultivate a sense of menace.”

Put another way, the BBC had been found to be complicit in scaring 11 million people senseless.

Airing from Northolt, North London, Ghostwatch alleged to report on the paranormal experiences of the Early family, which had been besieged by the actions of a ghostly apparition they called “Pipes.” Four recognized BBC presenters appeared on the show, which took on the appearance of a straightforward documentary and offered only subtle clues that it was an elaborate hoax. For a significant portion of viewers, it appeared as though they were witnessing documented evidence of a malevolent spirit.

Viewers grew so disturbed by the content that the network became embroiled in a controversy over what audiences felt was a ruse perpetrated by a trustworthy news source; cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in children were even reported in the British Medical Journal. What the BBC had intended to be nothing more alarming than an effective horror movie had petrified a country””and would eventually lead to accusations that it was responsible for someone”™s death. Read more.

War of the Worlds, Alabama Style

Filed under: Practical Jokes and Mischief, Publicity Stunts

Alabama radio station”™s hoax alien alert terrifies community, strains cops
by Michael Walsh
New York Daily News
September 2, 2013

Star 94.9″™s prank, inspired by Orson Welles’ 1938 radio adaptation of “˜War of the Worlds,”™ caused some Tuscumbia to fear a takeover. The hysteria saw the police flooded with phone calls, and now the cash-strapped department has to pay officers overtime.

aliens3n-1-web-200The radio promotion was inspired by Orson Welles”™ radio adaptation of “˜War of the Worlds”™ in 1938.

Station Star 94.9 thought a mock warning of an extraterrestrial invasion would generate publicity for a programming change, but it spiraled out of control when listeners in Tuscumbia took it seriously last week.

“It’s a very innocuous promotion that got blown out of proportion,” Brian Rickman, program director for the Shoals Radio Group, told local news site

Worried parents reportedly flooded the police with phone calls Thursday about a supposed bomb threat. Frightened children stayed home from school, and police were dispatched to several schools to calm fears.

“It may have started as something innocent,” said Tuscumbia Police Chief Tony Logan, “but it has gotten out of hand and turned into an issue concerning public safety.”

Logan said that the department needs to pay officers overtime wages for the extra time they put in even though there is not enough money in the budget, reported the Times Daily, a local newspaper.

War of the Worlds Revisited: TV Pilot on Russian Attack Causes Panic in Georgia

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Pranks

HOAX NEWS: Russia attacks Georgia, Saakashvili killed
Russia Today (RT)
March 13, 2010

If one of your main news channels said your country’s been invaded and your president murdered – you’d no doubt be extremely scared. In Georgia, that’s just what’s happened. What’s worse is that the TV station only gave a brief warning that the Russian attack was a hoax – before frightening its primetime viewers for a good thirty minutes.

Related links:

  • Outrage in Georgia over fake Russian invasion report, AFP, March 15, 2010
  • Fake Russian Attack Report Throws Georgia in Panic,, March 14, 2010
  • War of the Worlds Revisited [English & Spanish]

    Filed under: Media Pranks

    Submitted by journalist Mike Ibanez based on his article published in Cultura/s, October 31, 2008:

    In 1991, an episode of the TV 2 show Camaleà³ (Chameleon), called La Mort [The Death] became a small War of the Worlds. About 1/3 of the way through the show, the drama was interrupted by a special news bulletin announcing that a coup d’état was in progress in the USSR. It was staged so well that other spanish media – TV, radio, etc – broadcast the (fake) news. And the confusion started (the news bulletin begins at approximately 8:30)…

    The program was cancelled, however, reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, and 6 months later there was an actual coup d’état in the USSR against Gorbachov just as Camaleà³ has predicted. Here is Mike’s article in Spanish:

    La Guerra de los In-Mundos (more…)