When it comes to ghosts, are you a believer, a skeptic, or a ‘never really think about it’? If the latter is true Uncanny might not be on your radar but now the paranormal podcast, hosted by Danny Robins, has become a BBC Two TV show it’s definitely worth a look. Robins is a writer, comedian, broadcaster and journalist, who, as well as Uncanny, made the podcast The Witch Farm and wrote the acclaimed play 2:22 A Ghost Story.
Betteridge’s law that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no,” does, unfortunately, apply here, however even though, no, of course the show doesn’t prove anything, it delves into multiple theories, and comes up with some fairly convincing arguments should you be inclined to believe. And if not? Well it’s still a rollercoaster of storytelling.
The format of the show is similar to the podcast. Each episode Robins talks to a member (or members) of the public about a strange instance they can’t explain. He then consults experts on both sides of the argument – skeptics and believers – and attempts to explain what happened to his guests. Danny is a believer (but only as of about two years ago, he says), but his approach is investigative. You’re not going to see him wandering around looking for orbs (or not in episode one at least).
The podcast is wildly popular and part of what makes it stand out is the crowd-sourced nature of the show. Robins made the podcast series The Battersea Poltergeist in 2021, based on a true case, and after its broadcast he asked people to get in touch with their own stories. Uncanny was built this way, with frequent updates on the incidents from early episodes bringing a wide ranging richness to it: it’s not one person tells a story and two people debate it. Instead others who hear each tale contact the show with their own experiences of the supposedly haunted locations and investigations are enhanced and corroborated (ish), or other debunking theories are added to the mix.
The show is the same, with updates teased for further down the line.
So to episode one, which focuses on Kate, an otherwise very sensible-sounding woman who grew up in a village in the 70s called Melbourn, in Cambridgeshire. She’s convinced that as a child, she repeatedly saw the apparition of a woman who she somehow knew was called Miss Howard. Howard would appear in her bedroom, would frighten Kate and at points, Kate reports, would even touch her. Spooky enough, but in 2010 Kate came across a blog post from people who lived in the house prior to her, saying they had experienced very similar phenomena from a ghostly lady they also knew as Miss Howard. The families did not know each other.
Could it have been hallucinatory effects of the mould that Kate’s dad had likely unearthed when he knocked their house together with the one next door? (Maybe, though it wouldn’t necessarily explain the people that came before.)
Could this be an example of something akin to The Philip Experiment, where a group of Toronto students deliberately invented a ghost, who they apparently managed to manifest despite all knowing they’d made him up (Robins has a little go at this in the show, which is fascinating but one for the skeptics)?
Or could it be that somewhere, subconsciously the girls from the two families saw, or read about, a former resident of the house called Nora Howard, and misrepresented house noises, shadows in the dark and any other combinations of weird goings on with this being a ghost? Ask Kate, or Jane and Lisa, the girls who lived there before, and they will say a resounding ‘no’. And then there’s the old man with the lamp who appears to Kate and apparently sees her just as she sees him and vanishes back into the shadows…
The show is structured around Robin’s investigations, making it compelling TV. Was there a real Miss Howard? Yes! Did she die in that house? Yes! And are the former residents really able to recognise their ghost from old-timey pictures of the real Howard family? Well… maybe.
To throw our own spanner in the works, what’s mentioned, but not emphasized in the show, is that Nora Howard died on 3rd Jan 1963 at home. Lisa and Jane’s mother says she lived at the house from 1964 to 1971. Kate’s family lived there in the 70s, though exactly what year they moved in isn’t mentioned. So it seems fairly plausible that the Howards lived there and Nora died. Lisa and Jane’s family moved in next, then Kate’s family right after. Is it possible then that both families heard stories, even peripherally, about former owners the Howards, and Miss Howard who had died in the house? Well yes.
If you want to believe there’s a lot of engaging evidence assuming none of the people involved are fibbing (which it doesn’t feel as if they are) and know their own minds and memories (harder to say). But as the show points out, the human brain is a complicated thing.
What the show has going for it most is Robins, a very popular host for good reason. He’s not a conspiracy theorist kook, he’s never seen a ghost (though he would like to) and he’s empathetic and respectful to all his guests. He’s also got a very cheeky face – the man is clearly massively enjoying all elements of possibility. Come along for the ride and make your own mind up.
Uncanny will have three episodes of 60 mins each, the first arriving on BBC 2 and iPlayer on Friday 13 October at 9pm.