BBC One’s Ghosts stands out among fellow British sitcoms for its unique setting, a huge countryside estate that just so happens to be populated by a ragtag group of friendly ghosts.
Filming on the series, including the upcoming Ghosts Christmas special, took place at West Horsley Place in Surrey, which becomes the grand (albeit unloved) abode that Alison and her husband Mike unexpectedly inherit.
The series explores how the young couple tackle sharing their home with the fussy ghouls, while also attempting to renovate the property which is falling apart in some areas.
It may surprise some to learn that the house is similar in real-life to how it appears in the series, something RadioTimes.com saw firsthand when we visited the set earlier this year.
Producer Matthew Mulot showed us around the huge house, which becomes a bustling hive of activity as the crew behind Ghosts prepares for a shoot.
The team arrives six weeks before filming starts to begin ageing down the property and moving in props, although the manor has also retained some of its original items.
The most valuable were sold by Bamber and Christina Gascoigne to raise vital funds for the West Horsley Place Trust, which is seeking to rescue and restore the Grade I listed building and its surrounding estate.
It goes without saying that the crew take the greatest care to ensure that nothing of historical value is damaged or affected by their activity, leaving West Horsley Place exactly as they found it.
“We start reinstating everything on our way out so by the time we’re filming our last scene of the last day, almost everything is back to how it was bar that one space that we’re filming in,” Mulot explains.
Nevertheless, they get the most value out of their location as possible, utilising virtually every room for scenes or storage and finding inventive workarounds for the most ambitious scenes.
In the opening of series one, an elderly woman passes away in the master bedroom and we see her ghost float up above her before disappearing – a scene that was actually filmed in a completely different part of the house.
Mulot recalled: “The truth is, there’s not an awful lot of room in [the bedroom] to be floating a lady around, so in the ballroom we set up a massive green screen, and we had Ania [Marson] stood on a green box on her tiptoes pretending to float.
“The trick was, we had a camera that was up high and it just slowly moved down against the green screen so then the effect was that it looked like she was rising up.
“It was quite a number, but because it was the beginning of episode one, we wanted to do something that was quite visually arresting.”
The production team behind Ghosts have pulled off several ambitious sequences at West Horsley Place, but believe the hard work is always worth it in service to comedy.
Mulot continued: “We do have to weigh up how complicated it is, how expensive it is, how funny it is – and if it’s funny, it’s worth tackling one and two.”
“If it’s not funny, we’re like ‘we’re not spending X amount of money and X amount of time doing that’. But the [writers] are hilarious and the scripts are great, so more often than not if they write it we just find a way to do it.”
That was the case with the so-called “plague pit” scenes, featuring a large cluster of ghosts who reside in the basement of the house – which are actually filmed in a room next door to the kitchen.
Mulot revealed: “There’s just a room that’s not a basement at all, but we just blackout all of the windows, we cover over the doors to the kitchen with the boiler and some other things, and we basically just create that.
“To be fair, if we did have a basement, filming down in it would probably be a nightmare. It’s already quite dark and claustrophobic, because the idea is there’s sort of infinite plague victims down there.”
Meanwhile, for the Christmas special, the production team were tasked with transforming parts of West Horsley Place into completely different locations for a series of flashbacks about Simon Farnaby’s deceased MP Julian Fawcett.
The episode opens with him giving a speech in the House of Commons, filmed in the house against a green screen setup, while his Westminster office was also created from dressing up one of the many rooms at the team’s disposal.
Perhaps more impressively, the designers were able to turn a small area at the back of the house into the outside of a nightclub on a busy city street for another scene showing Julian in his mortal days.
“They brought Soho to the middle of the countryside,” Farnaby told RadioTimes.com.
West Horsley Place is currently under renovation in real life, meaning that some of the scaffolding spotted throughout series one was real, as opposed to set dressing.
“We can just incorporate it into our story that that’s just work they’re having done, rather than the real-life builders are genuinely coming back the day after we finish filming to continue working in that room,” Mulot said.
West Horsley Place Trust hopes to turn the property into a welcoming space for the community to share and enjoy with arts, history, wellbeing and nature at its heart.
Ghosts star Kiell Smith-Bynoe told RadioTimes.com that progress seems to be coming along nicely, which made filming series two an easier experience than the first.
“It’s been upgraded massively since the first series, they did some fundraising and they added heating in the house which definitely made a difference,” said Smith-Bynoe. “It feels a bit more like a house I think, rather than this old building that we’re filming in. I thought it was much nicer this time around.”
Ghosts airs a Christmas special on Wednesday, 23rd December at 8:30pm on BBC One. While you’re waiting visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out our guide to new TV shows 2020 to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.