The second series of spooktacular sitcom Ghosts is headed to BBC One next week, but was very nearly caught in the coronavirus chaos that swept up much of the television industry (and indeed, the world).
Filming on the upcoming episodes began at Surrey’s West Horsley Place in January and continued right up until mere days before the UK went into coronavirus-induced lockdown.
As cases of the illness began to rise rapidly, the team behind Ghosts packed out their shooting schedule so they could wrap filming a day early (17th March, less than a week before the most extreme measures were implemented).
Star and co-creator Laurence Rickard recalled jokingly asking if everybody could “be really good on their first takes” during those final few days on set, adding that Ghosts crossed the finish line “more by luck than judgement”.
“If we had been starting to shoot a week later, I don’t think we would have had any of the episodes quite complete, because we shoot all of the plague scenes in that last week,” he explained to RadioTimes.com and other press.
The scenes he refers to involve a large group of ghosts who died of the plague in the Middle Ages, and now haunt the basement of the house inherited by Alison and Mike in the sitcom.
Having first appeared in series one, the story of how the ghosts contracted the disease is to be revealed in an upcoming episode, but initial plans for the scene had to be stripped back as social distancing was introduced.
Co-creator Mathew Baynton said: “The irony was that we were filming a storyline about how the plague came to the village, when there was a village on the site of the house.
“And so, on those last couple of days, we had to stand down our cast of supporting artists – about 15, 20 people – who were meant to come and play pandemic victims. We had to call them and say: ‘don’t come to play pandemic victims because there’s a pandemic, it would be dangerous.'”
As a solution, some of the show’s crew were used to populate the background of certain scenes, as co-star Kiell Smith-Bynoe told RadioTimes.com.
“Obviously we couldn’t have SAs [supporting artists] sitting around when we were hearing all this news about people being too close to each other,” he said.
While the pressure was on to get series two in the can, Smith-Bynoe reveals that the mood on set stayed relatively calm as the Ghosts team “came together and made it happen”.
“It wasn’t really [a rush] because when it started to get quite serious in the news, we knew that we had sort of a week left,” he continues.
“I think there was a medium worry and it didn’t become a large worry because it sort of felt like something that was happening somewhere else. And I guess we didn’t really all understand the scale of it and what would happen.”
Filming across the first three months of the year, the cast were together as the coronavirus escalated into a global crisis, but awareness of the bug was initially fairly low.
Rickard added: “It was weird though because one of my earliest memories on this production was being the first week of rehearsal, and I think it was Katy [Wix] saying ‘have you heard about this thing in China?’
“And about half the people in the room were going ‘no, what’s that?’ And to go from that to the other end of the same shoot, literally shutting down a day early, it was really weird to see that develop alongside trying to shoot the show.”
Ghosts returns to BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Monday 21st September. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.