“We’ve been reading through this mountain of inanity, boring ourselves senseless.” Not the sort of line you’d expect from a ghost, but this was one of many violent outbursts from the foghorn mouth of General Sir George Uproar (KCMG), self-appointed leader of the Ghosts of Motley Hall.
Between 1976 and 1978 the Ghosts of Motley Hall provided a half hour of phantasmagoric mayhem every Sunday afternoon. Written by Richard Carpenter, who wrote Catweazle several years before, the Ghosts of Motley Hall managed to squeeze a quart into a pint pot with tales of exorcism, headless knights, doppelgängers and malicious mediums.
But who were the ghosts? Who played them, where are they now (the actors, not the ghosts; we know where they still are.)
Sir George Uproar, the 19th century hellraiser, was realised by Freddie Jones. A blunderbus of a man, Sir George died after falling down the stairs.
Before him came Fanny – Sir Francis Uproar – an 18th century dandy performed by Nicholas Le Prevost. Fanny snuffed it in a duel, his thirteenth, and was the dimmest of the ensemble.
Bodkin, played by Arthur English, was a medieval jester and part of the original household. He became a ghost after his master, Sir Richard Uproar, threw him in a pond and left him to die of pneumonia.
Most mysterious of the spooks was Sheila Steafel’s White Lady. Constantly moaning and groaning she had no memory of who she was in life, although she was mistaken for Lady Matilda Basingstoke. The White Lady was also unique in that she was the only ghost visible to the agent looking after Motley Hall, Mr Gudgin (Peter Sallis).
Matt, the stable boy, was the only ghost who could leave the inside of the hall and wander round the grounds. The actor Sean Flanagan, the youngest member of the cast, died in the early 1980s in a road accident. He was joined by Arthur English who passed away in 1995.
I often wondered where the Ghosts of Motley Hall was filmed. Turns out, it was filmed at Borwick Hall near Clitheroe in Lancashire. Without knowing it at the time, I walked up to the main entrance about four years ago during a walk along the Lancaster Canal. Dilapidated at the time of filming it’s now an education and conference centre run by Lancaster City Council.
If the Ghosts of Motley Hall did one thing, it was fire my eleven year old mind and those of my mates. One afternoon we came across a pile of stones from a demolished house. Ornate and weathered, one of the stones had a name carved into it: Munster Hall Burnley. Could this be another Motley Hall, haunted and bothered by its own spooks and phantoms? Years later after the arrival of the internet I searched for Munster Hall and found nothing. A house as ghostly as its ethereal occupants.
All the episodes of the Ghosts of Motley Hall are on Youtube. And even today, nearly forty years after first sitting down to watch it the writing is ingenious, the style not condescending even for a children’s programme, and the acting faultless; how could it be anything else with actors of the calibre of Jones, Steafel and le Prevost.
Give it a try; marvel at 1970s special effects; laugh out loud when Sir George loses his temper with such violence he ends up outside the house and can’t get back in; and be relieved they never tried to make a film version! Some spooks are best left where they are.
Click the picture below to relive the series on DVD.