Hunting Ghosts with Gatiss and Coles is a celebration of all things spooky, from ficitonal ghost tales to the real thing, writes CHRIS NEWTON
Hunting Ghosts with Gatiss and Coles
“Growing up I had an unhealthy obsession with death. Anything morbid and odd … I loved it,” said Mark Gatiss on BBC Radio 4’s Hunting Ghosts with Gatiss and Coles on Christmas Eve.
He had joined Richard Coles, the former vicar of Finedon, for a spot of ghost hunting in the Northamptonshire town.
This unlikely duo – the sceptic and the man of faith – discussed everything from their favourite spooky authors and personal experiences of the paranormal as Coles led Gatiss on a ghost tour of his erstwhile parish – “the most haunted parish in God’s own world,” as Gatiss teasingly describes it.
As you might expect, there are multiple references to Pan Horror, Dickens and, of course, M.R. James. Gatiss’ own adaptation of James’ ‘Count Magnus’ recently aired on BBC2 as this year’s A Ghost Story For Christmas. “I’m like the dark Father Christmas!” Gatiss crackles gleefully.
Coles talks with absolute conviction about his encounter with a ghostly figure brushing past him on Holly Walk, Finedon’s “seconds most haunted spot”, whilst Gatiss recalls the time he partook in a séance with his League of Gentlemen co-stars, only to reveal that the unearthly tapping noises had in fact been Gatiss “cracking his toe knuckles” beneath the table the whole time. “Reece [Shearsmith] totally fell for it!”
Their polar opposite approaches to the subject aside, it’s clear that both of these men adore ghost stories – and specifically the oral tradition of the Christmas Ghost Story. It’s probably most perfectly and humorously summed up when Coles describes a local spot said to be haunted by a Grey Lady where he and a parishioner were both walking their dogs. The parishioner told him that no dogs would walk there because of the ghost, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. “It was more important that ‘No Dogs Walk There’ than the fact of whether or not dogs walked there!”
In an attempt to make a believer out of Gatiss, Coles takes him to the sites of several alleged hauntings in what he describes as “the most densely haunted settlement in the whole of [Northamptonshire].”
Their first port of call is Harrowden Books. We may only be listening, but the pair’s enthusiasm for Dennis Wheatley and Robert Aickman is so palpable and relatable that one can almost smell the “musty volumes” that Coles describes.
Then it’s on to the haunted hot spots proper: the 18th Century Charity House, a former girl’s school, where “the most notorious hauntings in Finedon’s history took place.” Coles and Gatiss chat with the current occupant before moving on to the spectral ladies of Holly Walk (where No Dogs Walk!)
Their final port of call is St Mary the Virgin, where Coles was Vicar between 2011-2022. The church was once home to the infamous Duch Doll of Finedon, a haunted wooden doll that was reputed to come to life and walk about until it was stolen (or left of its own accord?) in 1981.
Gatiss may not have been made a believer by the end of the programme, but he remains “credulous”. As he puts it himself, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m frightened of them”.
Hunting Ghosts with Gatiss and Coles is now available on BBC Sounds
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