Whatever they paid, it was worth it, I say, even if it did mean having to lose the guest appearances by Beyoncé and the cast of Cats

Whatever they paid, it was worth it, I say, even if it did mean having to lose the guest appearances by Beyoncé and the cast of Cats… “and the scene on the aircraft carrier” jokes Howick. “We had to pick our battles.”

The song helps to tie together the episode’s separate threads, something Howick and Baynton initially struggled to do. With the baby and the hotel storyline established, the challenge came in making the episode Christmassy.

“Because we’ve done three Christmas specials in a row now and there’s only so many Christmas themes you can do that are sort of joyous and not kind of… sad,” Howick explains. They wanted to surprise viewers and not deliver the expected Nativity featuring baby Mia (a name chosen because it felt instinctively right but which they later realized is a happily accidental mix of the names ‘Mike’ and ‘Alison’) not only because it’s been done before in The Vicar of Dibley and Bottom, but because there’s nothing funny about a genuine childbirth emergency.

“We already had a sad idea. So it’s like, well, what can we do? Then one of us came up with the idea of Robin not feeling Christmassy after being the one who wasn’t into Christmas in the first place, and loving it like a child and then all of a sudden, he’s not feeling Christmassy anymore and doesn’ t understand that he’s matured like a child in the last five years.”
As the ghosts suggest their own trigger points for Robin to get that Christmas tingle, it injects the episode with more festive stuff – including the joy of Howick’s character Pat doing the distinctive seventies thumbs-in-belt-loops shoulder bobbing dance to “Merry Christmas Everyone” by Slade. (Howick saw a couple at a wedding dancing like that all night, regardless of tempo and never forgot it: “I was like, Pat definitely did that!”)
It all leads to the beautiful conclusion that the real Christmassy feeling is being able to give someone a gift. Like so many other insights on Ghosts – to do with love and grief and family, it’s a little bit of truth that the creators have learned themselves, loaned to their characters.

What’s on TV and radio tonight: Wednesday, December 23 | Times2 | The Times

Howick finds Christmas gifts a little bit overwhelming now, he says. “I obviously love getting presents of course and I’m very grateful, but I much prefer to give them. It’s definitely a mark of maturity.” He agrees that the show’s ending – in which Button House is renovated into a fancy hotel – is a gift of arrangements from the creators to their pastime-starved characters.

“If you know the series, if you know the show well, then, you can completely understand that a hotel is something that [the ghosts] feared the most at the beginning, but really it offers them all the greatest distractions, the greatest entertainment . You’ve got gossip for Lady B, you’ve got honeymooners for Julian, you’ve got tennis, golf, sports, you’ve got everything. And knowing the ghosts and how they’ve adjusted to modern life thanks to Mike and Alison, they probably feel equipped to deal with anything now.”

That’s why the coda at the end with the Plague pit ghosts enjoying a steam bath in Button House’s new basement spa was included, to show that “this hotel has actually been a really good thing for them.” The steam room was the last scene filmed on the show, on an emotionally charged set. Everyone had turned up for the wrap, so behind the camera there were cast members, producers, BBC execs… For the 20 seconds that ended up on screen, they filmed 15 minutes of footage as the gang improvised lines in character. “We didn’t really want it to end, but they had to cut it at some point.”

The same is true for Ghosts as a whole. As much as the creators and fans have loved it, the end was always going to come, says Howick “That is inevitable. In a way, the show is a sort of metaphor for that: everything has its exit. All things must pass, and we just have to make sure that it’s tailored correctly, and the legacy we leave is, in our minds, as perfect as it can be.”

And so we left Button House and the horror-comedy gang that suddenly became a family behind, but it goes on without us – for years and years, as the finale flash-forward shows. That scene is there “to encourage the understanding that their lives have gone on together,” confirms Howick. As will the careers of the Ghosts, Yonderland and Horrible Histories gang, he’s confident. The six of them are pursuing their own projects for the time being, but keep meeting up to chew the fat and throw around future ideas. Whatever it is they do next as a gang, Ghosts has taught them that it should exist in a hyper-reality, says Howick.
“I don’t think that it would be right for us to write something that is completely natural and dramatic and normal and isn’t sort of quite big. There’s a lot of reality in Ghosts, but certainly the ghosts operate on a different level of reality. They’re a little bit more hyper. And and we have to sort of be aware that that is our sort of brand, really, that’s our tone, and we wouldn’t want to give that away and just all of a sudden do something completely different where no-one recognizes us – they might recognize us as actors, but they don’t recognize our sort of collective canon, our tone.”

They each have their individual next jobs, but like any family, he promises, they will always come back to each other. If the fates allow?

“If the fates allow!”

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