High Spirits With Shirley Ghostman, BBC3

by | Mar 1, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

That master of malevolent comedy Marc Wootton sends up spiritualism in a wickedly funny way

What to say if you disliked it

It’s much more fun watching LivingTV’s smarmy psychic Derek Acorah sweating when no-one knows a Maureen or laughing at that blind Irish woman who proved to be so useless when BBC2 filmed her last year

What was good about it?

• Wootton, as ever, has come up with loads of great ideas and they’re packaged well – and Shirley (he’s a man – but very camp) could join the likes of Marjorie Dawes and the League Of Gentlemen shopkeepers in the list of TV’s grotesque greats.

• The title sequence – a cross between a music video and the opening titles to Scooby Doo – featuring Princess Di, Andy Warhol, Freddie Mercury, Rod Hull and other dead famous folk

• The tumbleweed moments when Shirley told lousy jokes to the audience assembled in a church eg “The only other person who can contact as many dead celebrities as me is the guest booker on Des & Mel.”

• Instead of throwing out lists of names and generalities like the charlatans we’re used to, Shirley is ultra specific when it comes to receiving information from labrador spirit guide Sheba. “I see a tall man who was charged by a hippo,” he announced. There was no response. “We’ll put that to one side.”

• But he can also be very general. “I see you going through a door, into a room, there’s a painting on the wall.”

• And incredibly insulting. “I’m seeing someone with piggy eyes,” he said. “That’ll be me or my husband,” an audience member volunteered.

• The cruel tricks played on hopefuls trying to enter Shirley’s Spirit Academy. The most gullible contestant was the hunky man who was conned into lying on top of Shirley. “I’m just gonna open up your chakra.” Shirley also played that guess-who party game. “Who’s on your face?” he asked of a girl with Rod Hull written on the Post-it note on her forehead. She didn’t know. “He had a puppet called Emu.” “Is it Jimi Hendrix?”

• Shirley’s ability to comfort the bereaved: “I feel your shame, I feel you pain, but you’re not to blame, You deserved the holiday. How were you to know dogs can’t feed themselves?”

• It’s amusing to see how the public react with a cheery embarrassed laugh when Shirley comes out with lines such as “I don’t know if you’ve ever killed a dog. It’s not bloody easy.”

• The sight of audience members weeping freely as Princess Di was channelled through Shirley. “I am Lady Di. Amazing, tremendous, magnificent Lady Di, what died. I liked the funeral like what you done on me.” And the disturbing way that they seemed to accept cruel lines such as “I’ve got a few secrets about that wrinkly monkey [the Queen]. I caught her sucking her own tits.”

• Shirley performing a song, Little Lady, she’s received from Roy Orbison with her computer-generated house band comprising Jimi, Di, Ghandi and Hitler.

• The catchphrases: “she knows what I’m talking about” and “”spook to you later”

What was bad about it?

• Flamboyant spiritualists are just too easy a target for parodying. “I’m going over the other side and no, I don’t mean ITV,” was far too obvious.

• The item featuring tongue-tied, childish psychic investigator Ian Jackson meeting a rumpologist (and her flabby-assed client, previously seen among the nudists on Distraction) was just deeply unpleasant.

• The responses from members of the public at the vet’s didn’t ring true as Shirley told them what their animals were thinking.

• It’s not funny or original enough to become a must-see show.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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