Ghosts fans could be forgiven for assuming that Mary (Katy Wix) getting "sucked off" – a misjudged term for moving to the next plane of existence – would be the saddest thing to happen in the show's fourth season. That same group are in for a shock when they sit down to watch the latest Christmas special. Don't get me wrong: Ghosts is still among the most purely fun shows on British television, but this year's festive episode packs a heavy punch by acknowledging the utter tragedy in its premise.


Of course, this theme has risen to the surface before, most notably during flashbacks to the ghosts' troubled lives and tragicomic deaths, but the show's delightful hijinks usually wrestle primary focus. On this occasion, not even a full pantomime could stop my weeping.

The 2022 festive special sees Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) leave her supernatural houseguests to their own devices on Christmas Day, as she goes to visit her in-laws with husband Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe). Ever the thoughtful landlord, she prepares a bespoke gift for each of the paranormal entities to keep them occupied until her return. The presents range from a vintage Samantha Fox calendar for '90s politician Julian (Simon Farnaby) to a copy of the board game Risk for military strategist The Captain (Ben Willbond).

But she really outdoes herself with scoutmaster Pat (Jim Howick), whom she gives a digitised version of his recently unearthed home videos, which include footage he took on Christmas Day 1983 - the last he had before his death in a freak accident. His initial viewing of the tape, which he naughtily peeks at the night before due to bad influence Julian, is moving enough all on its own. The thought of Pat having this reunion of sorts with his beloved family, just as he remembers them in life, is enough to bring tears to the eyes. But it doesn't stop there.

His initial joy at revisiting these memories turns to frustration and sadness as he realises he may not have been as respected by his loved ones as he thought. As a tradition, he always warned them that the Christmas pudding is "highly flammable and we don't want to be spending Boxing Day in accident and emergency" – a spiel he never noticed was being quietly mimicked by his wife and youngest son. The complex feelings this brings up then erupt the following day, as his fellow ghosts playfully jest during rehearsals on a pantomime they are planning for Alison.

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The cast of Ghosts Christmas special 2022
The cast of the Ghosts Christmas special 2022.

A pep talk from Robin (Laurence Rickard) helps smooth things over, but Pat remains emotionally raw the following day, lamenting that his final Christmas was not quite as he remembered it. That is until Alison plays him the rest of the tape, which continues to show festivities in the years following his death, when his family keep up the traditions that he set for them. His eldest son digs out the clunky old camcorder, with Pat's widow commenting that he's just like his father. Around the dinner table, he recites the very same speech Pat once did to cheers from the rest of the family, who obviously miss him dearly – including all his quirks.

God, I'm welling up just writing about it.

Episode writers Mathew Baynton and Jim Howick have penned a really beautiful scene here, with the latter also deserving praise for a top-notch performance which is sure to resonate with viewers across the country. Celebrating Christmas after a loved one's passing is an experience most will have had in some form, and to see it explored from the other side – as only Ghosts can – is profoundly moving. While there is joy to be found in Pat's realisation of just how valued he was, there's also bitter sadness in that he will never have this life back.

The show has had touching moments in the past, but none have hit quite as hard as this scene, which is easily the standout of the episode; particularly impressive considering it also includes a panto.

Ghosts is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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