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A Black Country ghost, captured on film by the BBC

By rob taylor  |  Posted: November 01, 2012

Coseley Tunnel, scene of some of the film's key moments.

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BY BUGLE standards, the nineteen-eighties are virtually last week — all mod cons and colour telly.

But time marches on, and hard as it is to believe, it's now more than three decades since those socalled Thatcher years began.

And it's been precisely thirty years this year since the BBC descended on the Black Country to film a children's drama for television. It was a no-expenses-spared adaptation of local author Edward Chitham's 1973 tale Ghost in the Water, and a host of actors, including one or two wellknown faces, combined with local talent to make up the cast for a one-off special to be screened on New Year's Eve, 1982.

The spooky tale was set in the Rowley Regis and Old Hill areas, and in the original novel such places as Gorsty Hill tunnel, Blackheath Market, Tippity Green and Cawney Hill were mentioned, grounding it firmly in territory familiar to local readers.

And when the BBC decided to bring the story to the screens on one of the darkest, coldest nights of the year, they went to great lengths to make the film as authentically Black Country as the book had been, utilising several locations and a good many locals in the cast.

In truth, they had to cast around a little wider than the original story for their locations, and in the process brought in quite a bit of the wider Black Country. Phil Cadman of Dudley recalls watching it at the time, and tells us that the canal tunnel used for filming was the Coseley Tunnel, with many of the key scenes, including the film's climax, filmed at the north end.

Graveyard There are several graveyard scenes in the dead of night, some apparently filmed at St Mark's Church in Pensnett, and one 'Dracula' sequence, which looks very much as if it was shot in Netherton's main churchyard, on the hill at St Andrew's. Other locations used were Barrow Hill in Dudley and, most notably, Netherton's Hillcrest School, whose sign was clearly shown in an outside shot.

A fair proportion of the action was filmed in classrooms, presumably at Hillcrest rather than a studio, and dozens of pupils, in their Hillcrest uniforms, were used as extras in outdoor and corridor shots.

Among the familiar faces in the cast were Paul Copley, who has appeared in dozens of dramas and children's programmes over the years including Coronation Street, Holby City and Downton Abbey; Jane Freeman, who appeared in Crossroads, Blackadder and Last of the Summer Wine; and local actor Ralph Lawton, who made dozens of appearances in such dramas as Z Cars, Crown Court and Crossroads.

But the two main characters, and many of the supporting roles, appear to have been played by young locals, perhaps members of local amateur dramatic societies. The central character, Tess, was played by Judith Allchurch, with her friend and sleuthing sidekick David played by Ian Stevens. Both have pretty convincing local accents, but don't appear to have acted in any other officially listed productions.

Other youngsters with speaking parts included Lynda Higginson and Mark Danesi.

Were you one of the cast of Ghost in the Water? Were you a pupil at Hillcrest School, and did you take part as an extra; or did you see any of the filming at Coseley? If so, please get in touch with us here at the Bugle.

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  • Black Country Bugle User  |  January 23 2013, 8:53PM

    I was in several scenes in the play. Ian Stevens was my best friend at school and I was lucky to spend a day filming with them. Sadly Ian passed away in 1992. I would love to find a copy of this as a momentum to the film and my best school friend

  • Black Country Bugle User  |  November 03 2012, 3:26PM

    With reference to the 'ghost on the water' short film in the 1980s there were a couple of pupils from Wood Green High School, Wednesbury. One in particular was Simon Orme who was the kid on the bike, after the scalf. I remember it well. many of us had been hyped up to watch it and looked out for Ormy's role. He was very secretive about it! Still, all good fun. Film itself was ok. A bit of excitement in the good ol' days!