High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman

Shirley Ghostman


Shirley Ghostman

'Shirley Ghostman' is the creation of comedian Marc Wootton and although the series has just finished on BBC Three (19th April 2005), it's now due to run on BBC 2.

I added this webpage in December 2004 but removed it after speaking to the Associate Producer. Tiger Aspect were still filming and it seemed a little mean to blow the gaff on what was a sort of "You've Been Framed with attitude". As it turns out I never appeared, whether that's a good or bad thing I don't know but this page outlines how I initially became involved and perhaps helps to explain about how others were persuaded to take part.

At the bottom of the page are links to others who took part.

Updated 21st April 2005

Marc Wootton

Marc Wootton as
Shirley Ghostman

On Tuesday 14th December 2004 I travelled to University College London to take part in recording for a TV show that I had been told was looking at spirituality. The Associate Producer had sent me an email on 8th December 2004 asking if I would take part.

Dear Tony,

We are producing a new programme for the BBC looking at different aspects of spirituality and how it is used in everyday life.With this in mind we are very interested in your involvement in the programme as skeptical and scientific opinion plays a large part in how mediumship and psychics are viewed. If possible it would be great if you could contact me so that I can offer you more details regarding the programme and discuss the possibilities of your involvement. In the mean time thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.Many Thanks****
Assistant Producer

In a follow up phone call it was explained that they wanted me to have a reading after which I would give them my insightful comments. I was distinctly under the impression that this was a programme taking a serious approach to the subject. As far as I was aware, no other skeptics were involved. However another skeptic's name was mentioned (Wendy Grossman) as someone they had been in touch with but, I was assured, they would very much prefer to have me. Gosh! I was obviously famous, despite the fact that if you mention my name to any random passer-by they won't have a clue who the hell you're talking about. In fact ask them to name any UK skeptic (they might have actually heard of Randi) and you're guaranteed a confused stare. They are more likely to be able to tell you the average rainfall in Madagascar. It's mediums who are famous, skeptics are simply dragged in to offer a programme 'balance'.

The filming itself was pretty bizarre. I arrived earlier than expected and was quickly taken to the canteen. I realise now that this was probably because they were already filming someone else and didn't want us to meet up. All questions from me were answered as evasively as possible which made me wonder if this wasn't something more 'pro-paranormal' than I had been lead to believe. A few seconds before filming I was told that the medium (male) was called Shirley. Evidently he had avoided me earlier as he didn't want to be accused of having any prior information. Fair enough! I was ushered into a room which turned out to be a laboratory. 'Shirley' was already seated at a table, a spotlight lit up his white suit and heavily made up face. He spoke with a very camp voice but so loud that if communication with the dead were possible then they would have no difficulty in hearing Shirley.He began his reading by mentioning his spirit guide Sheba (now known to be a dog) and was asking her to go into the underworld to see what she could find out. The use of the word underworld struck me as odd, which is why I remember it. Shirley then revealed to me the startling fact that I was not the same as other people. I asked in what way and he requested Sheba provide us with more information. After apparently having a private conversation with Sheba he clarified by saying I was different from other people, I pointed out this was the same thing. He interrupted me frequently saying (shouting) things such as, You understand me. To which I responded that I certainly understood the words but that was all.He carried on in this sort of caricature fashion trying various cold reading ploys which he must have know were way off. He clearly wasnt trying to hide that fact that he was fishing for information. He was pretty comical and I confess that despite a few attempts from him to goad me into a some kind of hostile reaction I found him more amusing than aggressive.

I asked him if Sheba could provide my Grandfathers nickname and he tried various letters of the alphabet and I eventually agreed there was a T in it. He then spent what seemed an age saying.Ta Tar Tow Tay Etc.I eventually pointed out that I hadnt said it actually began with a T and he gave up.He told me my Grandfather used to give me butterscotch all the time. My response was that I have always loathed the stuff. Quick as a flash he told me that this was because my Grandfather once gave me loads of butterscotch during a train journey and it made me sick hence forth, he claimed with a flourish, I had always hated the stuff. The butterscotch was something he returned to frequently.At one point I leaned back on my stool and nearly fell off. I had forgotten there was no back support. Shirley immediately claimed this was caused by him psychically. I asked if it constituted assault.

The Director asked me to say who I was and say what I thought of Shirley. I introduce myself as someone who helps run the Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE). Shirley said I was a septic. I seem to recall that I said he was a fake but Im not sure of my exact words.

It was suggested, I later realized by the Director, that I do a drawing and Shirley would reproduce it. Now as someone who does this sort of trick himself, I was immediately wary. Fine Ill do a picture but not in front of a camera and not in front of Shirley. I pointed out I was a magician and knew something about guarding against trickery. To cut a tediously long story short I drew a diamond shape with a pigs head in it (Shirley said, You drew yourself did you). He then produced a drawing which had just about every conceivable thing on it, houses, trees, a bomb, flower, the page was covered. Alas no pig. For what seemed like an age he struggled to find a connection between my drawing and his. I think he was actually trying to find a comedic connection rather than a genuine one and in the end I helped out by saying the house he had drawn was probably the one used by the three little pigs. He readily agreed.

My pig drawing.
Okay so I'm not an artist!

That was basically it although I have probably forgotten a great deal. He made a big show at the end arguing with the Director and saying that they were trying to make him look stupid. This was obviously for my benefit. He yet again mentioned that damn 'butterscotch'.After leaving the set I couldnt help feeling that something wasnt quite right. The constant evasiveness from the time I arrived to the time I left had made me a little wary but only because I thought it would be biased in favour of psychics and I would be tricked. This obviously not being the case left me somewhat confused. It felt "wrong" but for the life of me I couldnt think why anyone would set me up. After all, despite a fair few brief TV appearances, I really am unknown. When I arrived back home and relayed the days events to my family I felt I should, just for the record, say something about my reservations. So I sent a quick email to the Assistant Producer (14th December 2004);

Hi ****, All went well - I think. If "Shirley" is a medium then I'm a lion tamer! Cheers, Tony

I couldnt really be specific because it still seemed so unlikely that any TV company would go to the trouble of setting me up. I suppose I should feel flattered that they did. I never received a reply to this email.

The next day (Wednesday 15th December 2004)
The day after filming I reluctantly came to the conclusion that this must have been a set up of some kind. But if it was a spoof then I knew no TV company would go to all this trouble just for me. Recalling Wendy's name had also been mentioned I sent her an email, but as we had not been in touch for sometime this turned out to be an old address. I had copied in another friend who knew us both as a sort of back up.
This is the email I sentHi

I haven't emailed either of you for so long I'm not sure my address book is up to date so maybe you won't get this at all!

I took part in a programme yesterday being put together by Tiger Aspect. Anyway I was checking to see if you were involved in anyway or knew anyone who was (at one point they mentioned you) Basically it was an obvious set up but not so obvious to me at the time. It is obviously going to be a "taking the piss out of people" type programme but whether it was aimed specifically at sceptics or involved believers as well, I have no idea.

The "medium" was so over the top, and so bad, that in normal circumstances you would fall over laughing. It was the fact that some mediums really are like that, although not to that degree, that held me back. At the time I wasn't sure who was setting up who but it's obvious that I was in fact the 'mark'.

I'm probably too late but if you're approached then be careful.



Eventually she did get my message and she had already done some research and discovered the true identity of 'Shirley' and had confronted the Assistant Producer with this information. In fact to date we know of 5 of us who were set up - there could be more. Who knows When I originally wrote this the AP still thought I was in the dark and although he had contacted at least some of the others he had not spoken again with me. In fact if I have a problem with my own involvement it was the continued silence and only ever being contacted when they discovered they had been rumbled. It seems they operated a 'need to know' policy which makes me wonder about how straight they were with other unwitting contributors. Normally I would have expected to be contacted and had the true purpose explained to me, then, and only then, would I be asked to sign a release form and not as I was being hurried out the door.

Was I fooled
Well yes I was, at least for a time but I should have spotted it sooner dammit. Various things stopped me from working out what was happening during the actual filming. Firstly as already mentioned I never considered myself a worthy target (and maybe they still won't actually use anything from my contribution anyway). Secondly most of the time skeptics are brought in in the expectation that they will ridicule mediums & psychics but in my defence although I always attack their claims, vigorously if necessary, Im not there to attack them as people. Shirley was obviously gay, very loud and more than a little theatrical but none of those things are relevant to determining his ability as a medium, which was what I had been asked to do.

Let me say again, yes it is pretty funny at times although other bits are purile nonsense My own view is that it would have worked much better as a 1 hour special. Please feel free to email me if you have any comments of your own.

Even more Shirley stuff
Apart from Chris French the other skeptics who appeared were Wendy Grossman and Nick Pullar.

You can read Wendy Grossman's account here and Nick Pullar's here.

Wendy even provides a clip of her appearance: www.pelicancrossing.net/shirley.avi

non flash menu: [home page] [Latest Commentary] [skeptic resource] [articles] [lecture] [bio] [books] [contact] [sitemap] [links]