Was The Inside No. 9 Halloween Special Really Live?
This article is more than five years old and was last updated in October 2021.
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton treated viewers to a one of a kind broadcast for Halloween, the likes of which has never been seen before.
The special, entitled 'Dead Line', was billed as being a live show, but turned out to be a massive prank at the expense of the show's fans. There were so many twists and turns that it's hard to know what's real and what's not and it has left fans questioning whether any of the episode was live or was it all a carefully planned pre-record?
It's actually pretty hard to tell. The easiest way to pull off the stunt would have been to pre-record the whole thing, but they had promised a live show, so perhaps they were true to their word and successfully pulled off the stunt live?
The episode featured footage of the cast in the studio mixed with real and mocked up archive footage in order to tell a compelling story, which is based on the real life stories of hauntings and mishaps at a famous television studio.
The half hour episode started with Steve Pemberton entering a house with a pumpkin outside with the number nine carved into it. At this point Steve was in character as an elderly man named Arthur Flitwick who had found a mobile phone in a graveyard while walking home.
This could all have been pulled off live, it only involved Pemberton being on a soundstage in the set of a kitchen and some simple pyrotechnics that cause his egg he's cooking in the microwave to explode.
After receiving several calls from Moira O'Keeffe, the scene changes. The camera zooms into the kitchen table, which allows time for the kitchen curtains to be drawn, various props to be moved around and for Reece Shearsmith to enter as Reverend Neill. It seems the reverend likes to cycle, as his character is wearing a helmet, complete with a helmet camera.
However, when the reverend starts speaking, we can't hear him or Pemberton. Worried viewers immediately took to Twitter, one fan said "Er did anyone's sound just go there? #InsideNo9LIVE @BBCTwo".
At this point a lot of viewers who were initially skeptical about whether the show was live or not started tweeting things like "no sound? Oh, it really is live then."
Luckily after 30 seconds or so the sound returns, but not for long. Minutes later all falls silent again and we're eventually shown a BBC Two 'technical issues' screen as the channel's continuity announcer tells us "I'm very sorry, but as you can hear we're having a few problems at the moment with the sound for this live edition of Inside No. 9. We hope to rectify that for you in just a few moments."
However, not all viewers believed what they were watching. There were plenty of tweets flying around along the lines of "with these two can never be sure if the sound problems are real or is it a twist?" Something that Reece actually references later in the episode.
Then, after another 30 seconds of soothing hold music, the programme continues, but unfortunately there is still no sound and the holding screen flashes up again. This time the announcer says, "well, I'm really sorry but we have a few gremlins in the studio and we won't be able to continue with tonight's live episode."
At this point, most viewers were a little disappointed and accepted that the audio problems were genuine as the episode was being pulled off air. One viewer tweeted "Gosh this is full on live TV isn't it? They've had to stop it entirely because of technical difficulties with the sound! Spooky! #InsideNo9LIVE"
Instead of the live show, BBC Two reverted to their contingency plan of airing an episode from the first series of the show, 'A Quiet Night In'.
The repeat of the 2014 episode began, the episode is entirely silent, set just to classical music, but after about a minute anyone who's seen the original episode will have noticed that the music was becoming more and more distorted and then a ghostly figure appeared that wasn't in the original episode. At this point the public knew they had been duped.
Of course this clip of the series one episode wasn't being performed live, but everything else up to this point, possibly even including the lines delivered by the continuity announcer were probably genuinely live.
And speaking of the continuity announcer, after the ghost appears and the image breaks up, we're back to the technical issues slide, but this time the announcer has someone whispering to her. It then goes eerily quiet and the announcer lets out a scream.
The scene then cuts to a security camera outside of studio two, where the set for the live show had been built. We see the actress Stephanie Cole sat off set reading her script. She's playing the role of Moira, who we'd previously heard on the phone to Arthur.
We then cut to some old and very bizarre footage of Bobby Davro. The sequence was filmed in the 1990s in the Granada Studios in Manchester. In the clip Davro seems to have been put in stocks by Lionel Blair, Jim Bowen and Keith Chegwin, but unfortunately the stocks topple over and Davro painfully faceplants into the hard concrete floor, almost killing him. The unaired footage was apparently shot for a kids show called 'Public Enemy Number One'.
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Next we see inside of Steve and Reece's dressing room courtesy of a security camera in the room. The two comedians are still in costume and chatting about their disappointment of the live broadcast being abandoned. The duo seem completely unaware that they are being filmed.
This part of the show is probably live too. The minute or so of the repeat and the Davro clip would have given the actors plenty of time to move from the set into a dressing room... or even a dressing room set.
Reece says that if there was a problem with the audio, the plan was to switch to the recording of the rehearsal that they'd done earlier in the day. Steve delivers the first laugh of the episode, "yeah, but no one would know it was live then would they." Reece snaps, "no one knows that anyway do they, no one f**king cares."
At this point Reece checks Twitter to see what the BBC Two viewers are saying about the show, he reads one tweet that says "what is going on with Inside No. 9? Is this part of the twist?" It's not clear if this is a real tweet, but it does perfectly encapsulate what was being said moments earlier on Twitter.
The scene suddenly cuts to Yvette Fielding in a 2005 episode of the long-running ghost hunting show, 'Most Haunted'. In this particular episode, Yvette is on the set of Coronation Street, which is filmed in Manchester. Yvette says, "hello and welcome to Most Haunted. This week I've landed us right in the middle of a Great British institution."
The show's historian, Richard Felix, then talks about the ghostly activity that's been reported on the television street and in the studios as a whole. We then see psychic medium David Wells walking around the studios with Yvette and two member of soap's cast, Simon Gregson and Sue Cleaver.
David talks about a spirit that he's made contact with, a male figure who worked in the studios as a member of crew and died at the studios. When the camera flicks back to Stephanie, who is still sat reading her script, eagle-eyed viewers might have spotted a picture on the wall of the Rovers Return, the iconic pub from Coronation Street, indicating that the live show is being broadcast from those same haunted studios.
We then cut back to the dressing room where Steve is reading about the studio's ghostly past from his phone to an uninterested Reece. He says, "producers were forced to hire an unnamed Roman Catholic priest to perform an exorcism at Granada Studios to ask the ghouls to leave in peace."
In case you were wondering, this is a true story. The exorcist was called in last year after guests to the set reported "banging noises" and even poltergeist activity ahead of a music event. The festival was to celebrate the demolition of the old Coronation Street set which had stood in Granada's studios for over 30 years. The street had already moved to a bigger location at the new Media City just outside of Manchester in 2015.
Steve continues, "there are also reports of a curse in Manchester after a run of bad luck which included a fire destroying costumes from flagship drama The Jewell In The Crown." He then goes on to mention Bobby Davro's freak prop malfunction and "the untimely death of prop man Alan Starr, who hanged himself from the lighting gallery on Halloween night ten years ago."
Reece then says he's received a WhatsApp message from his former League Of Gentlemen co-star, Mark Gatiss saying "put BBC Two on now." Mark was trying to alert the duo to the fact that their private dressing room conversation was being broadcast live on the Beeb.
Steve turns on the television in the dressing room, it first shows BBC News' coverage of the Jair Bolsonaro's Brazilian election win, presumably this is what was actually going out live on BBC One at that moment and was dropped into the show to remind us or convince us that it was live. If Steve and Reece were performing this scene live, then the BBC One output could have been being shown live on the television at that moment, or it could have been overlaid on a pre-recorded shot.
This leads them to flick through the channels a little more and they touch on the demise of BBC Three, a fact that Reece says he's unaware of, "I've got no interest in television, have I."
Unsure if they are actually live on television or simply viewing an internal feed of the security camera in the dressing room, Steve suggests that Reece tweets a message to his followers, "Are me and Steve Pemberton on BBC two now?"
Are me and Steve Pemberton on BBC two now?— Reece Shearsmith (@ReeceShearsmith) October 28, 2018
The tweet did pop up on Twitter at the exact moment, proving that we really were watching Reece type a tweet into his phone live... or, could he have been sat on his sofa at home sending the tweet while watching the show go out?
The pair continue to chat, but are cut mid-sentence when a black screen appears with the title "Dead Line Rehearsal", this is followed by a shot of Steve as Arthur stood in a bath covered in blood.
Of course, this shot couldn't be live because Steve couldn't have changed costume and got to the bathroom set that quickly. So this "rehearsal" footage is definitely pre-recorded VT that is being dropped into the live show.
Moments later, Arthur is joined by Stephanie's character Moira. As the actors deliver their dialogue in the kitchen, Stephanie interrupts the rehearsal to ask a question about her character's lines. As Steve moves out of shot to talk to Stephanie and we see a figure ominously standing in the background of the shot.
The man is out of focus and slowly walks towards the camera, but before the figure comes into focus, we cut back to the live version of Stephanie who is now sat in the living room set in studio two, signalling the end of the pre-recorded "rehearsal" VT.
Reece has come from the dressing room to talk to Stephanie, but finds she's acting a little strangely. She tells Reece, "they've always been here. Before us, before the studios. We shouldn't be here, this is their home." She adds, "they affect the cables and the television equipment. The technology makes them stronger."
Reece says, "yeah, you're thinking of Black Mirror, Stephanie. This is Inside No. 9, it's more dark comedy and twists." The next twist occurs right after this line when Reece leaves Stephanie to go and get a cup of tea and she pulls a knife out from the sofa.
The broadcast then cuts back to Steve in the dressing room, but on the television behind him we see Stephanie slit her own throat with the knife. Again, both Steve in the dressing room and Stephanie's suicide are part of the live performance.
There's then an odd shot of a bucket and mop falling over backstage. It can be hard to achieve special effects live as you can't use CGI or clean it up in post-production, therefore the string pulling the bucket over is clearly visible, which was a shame.
We then see a deserted television gallery where a light is swinging, then one by one all of the monitors turn off by themselves and before we know it, we're back to Most Haunted's Richard Felix on Coronation Street.
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Richard says, "just across the road was the church of St. John's, and I've actually found a plaque in the park which states that on that site were buried over 22,000 bodies in the graveyard." Of course, this further adds to the back story of the haunted studio.
There's then a brief shot of a backstage kitchen area and in a full-length mirror a ghostly figure can be seen, the same one that featured in the brief snatch of 'A Quiet Night In' earlier in the episode. This is one of the more obvious ghostly apparitions that are hidden throughout the show.
We then see the Roman Catholic priest walking around one of the soundstages at the studios. This is the actual real security camera footage of the exorcism that Steve mentioned to Reece earlier in the episode.
Next, and perhaps slightly jarringly, we cut to the helmet cam that Reece is wearing. We see him making his cup of tea in the same kitchen we'd seen moments before. This time the ghostly figure in the mirror is nowhere to be seen.
He then hears three bangs. These bangs don't just sound like, but are the exact bangs heard in the infamous BBC drama 'Ghostwatch', which aired on the night of Halloween in 1992. An iconic television hoax that has clearly influenced this episode of Inside No. 9.
Reece goes to investigate. Passing the fallen bucket he heard more sounds in a stage electrics store, but finds that the noise is coming from a member of the crew's walkie-talkie. As he picks up the radio, he hears a sound behind him and spins around to find his own head on the floor. The head is a prop that was used in the Arthur storyline in the live show.
As Reece reaches for the head on the floor, Steve jumps out on him wearing a creepy mask he'd found backstage. A surprised and annoyed Reece then delivers the very British line, "God, I could have had a hot cup of tea in my hand!"
Before we know it, Steve is being electrocuted after several bangs are heard off camera.
The scene cuts to archive footage of a reporter named Laura Howarth, who's covering the story of a "TV studio death" in Manchester. Unlike the other archive clips that have been dropped into the show, this one is not a genuine clip but it serves to add to the backstory of Alan Starr, who hanged himself at the studios and now haunts them.
The news reporter says, "Mr Starr had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and he believed the studios were being taken over by what he called ghosts in the machine."
The report is accompanied by a photograph of Alan Starr and it becomes apparent that he was the figured we'd seen stood behind Steve in the rehearsal footage. Although he was only seen out focus, his bald head and ginger beard made it easy to identify him.
The reporter goes on to talk about the messages from beyond the grave that Starr had recorded via a technique known as Electronic Voice Phenomenon. We're then played one of his EVP recordings, which says "let us be." This confirms what Stephanie had said about the spirits not wanting them there.
We're then shown an old archive news clip of a fire that destroyed the Botony Warehouse at the rear of Granada's studios. As mentioned by Steve earlier in the episode, the warehouse contained costumes, sets and props for the 1984 television series 'The Jewel In The Crown'.
For the episode's climax, we switch back to Reece's helmet cam to find him frantically rushing around the studio following Steve's death. After discovering Stephanie's body, the power in the studio fails and his camera switches to night vision mode.
Stumbling around in the dark, he climbs a flight of metal stairs in the studio where he encounters one of the ghost's that haunts the studio. The fright sends Reece plummeting to his death on the hard studio floor below, but after the impact his helmet camera is still broadcasting and with a catch a fleeting glimpse of some of the studio's ghostly residents.
This final shot is most likely pre-recorded in order to achieve the ghostly image and Reece's fatal fall.
The next thing we see is Gabby Logan and Ore Oduba sat in the studio of 'The One Show'. The clip is taken from an episode of the BBC magazine show, which aired a few nights ago and featured Steve and Reece as guests.
In the clip Gabby asks, "are you believers in ghosts?" Reece answers, "no, no. I like the idea of ghosts, but I'm very aware that they're not real." The episode ends with a shot of Steve and Reece being shot in the head, this is the ending from the episode 'A Quiet Night In'. The clip is repeated over and over, clearly this is the spirits of the studios mocking them after their claim that they do not believe in ghosts.
So, How Much Was Live?
The Halloween special was billed as a live episode and apart from the archive footage and the short clip of the rehearsal that was dropped in part way through, the show was live.
Although it could have been pre-recorded, the whole purpose of the episode was that it was a live episode. So, all the scenes in the set of Arthur's house featuring Steve, Reeve and Stephanie were live, as were the scenes in the dressing room and around the studio.
It's quite likely that the BBC Two continuity announcer was live too.
This means that when Steve was flicking through the television in the dressing room, it really was showing what was on BBC One at that moment and when Reece tweeted, he really did tweet live on television.
One member of the studio crew, Luke Fuller, tweeted a photo of the set just after the broadcast with the caption "absolute privilege to be part of a genius concept that fooled the nation." When asked by one of his followers how much was live, Luke replied "all of it was live apart from the VT inserts."
Film score composer, Christian Henson, also tweeted earlier in the day that he'd be in the studio during the broadcast to provide a live musical soundtrack to the episode. He said "tonight is the night... episode 25 of #InsideNo9 being filmed, scored and broadcast live."
The Halloween special was clearly best watched live on the night. Anyone who missed it and was forced to watch later on iPlayer will not get the same experience and will not be fooled for a second.
The show proved that traditional broadcasters like the BBC can still do something that the streaming giants like Netflix cannot. That being the ability to turn a broadcast into an event and a realtime two-way conversation. This was touched on with the use of Twitter in drama, but it could be expanded on.
It's rumoured that the next series of Netflix's 'Black Mirror' is going to have multiple endings that the viewer can pick as they watched using new technology. The BBC already has the ability to be responsive in the same way during a live piece of television, but in a much more satisfying and succinct way.
Rather than viewers discussing multiple endings and not knowing which outcome is canon, a show that is influenced via a realtime link between the broadcaster and the audience via Twitter could allow the show to be much more responsive, while still telling the same story to everyone watching.
It's nothing new or groundbreaking, but there is plenty more fun to be had with it, as Inside No. 9 demonstrated.
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