Welcome to Bedlam Heights, a new, luxury apartment building. But little do the prospective tenants suspect the unimaginable horrors that await them – ghosts from a dark and violent past out for revenge.
This modern day take on the haunted house story, written by David Allison, stars Charlotte Salt as Kate, who both lives and works at Bedlam Heights, as a sales agent. She is surprised by the unexpected arrival of Jed (Theo James), her adopted cousin, who has a checkered past of mental health issues, which includes seeing ghosts. He is propelled there by messages he has received that say, ‘Save Kate.’
David Allison spoke with us at the TV Critics tour about his popular BBC series.
Were you a fan of ghost stories?
There were three of us who co-created the show, Neil Jones, Chris Parker and myself, and we’re all massive fans of the genre and we wanted to make a genre show. We were influenced by everything from classics like The Shining to Japanese horror as well, like Ringu and Audition. They are all classic ghost stories. We wanted the ghost story of the week to be a big, strong, stand-alone ghost story that’s really enjoyable, that you can engage with.
I’ve heard of writing duos, but there aren’t a lot of writing trios.
I think writing trios or writing teams in the UK are still quite rare. You get comedy duo writing teams; that’s very common. But in series writing, often you find it’s one person’s voice, like with Abi Morgan in The Hour. But that’s shifting and changing.
Can you talk about the genesis of the series?
Life on Mars had been a really big hit in the UK and that was written by three different writers. And I think that gave the BBC the idea. The BBC came to me and said is there a team you’ve ever thought about writing with? I was like, ‘I know the people.’ We’ve known each other over a decade. We were all desperate to write together.
We literally locked ourselves in a hotel for a weekend and knocked around ideas and Neil Jones pitched us Bedlum. He said, ‘Asylum, ghosts,’ and we were like (he snaps his fingers), ‘Got it.’ The DNA was locked in from the very beginning. That was six years ago, so it has been a long journey to the screen.
I kept expecting someone in the show to say how dumb it is to build an apartment complex over an insane asylum.
I hope that unfolds over the series in terms of what the family know. Kate and her family have a connection to this building, but she isn’t fully aware of what that is. The interesting thing is we did a lot of research, and nearly all the ghost stories are based on real patients’ records.
We found an asylum which had online patients’ records. And the stuff that was going on in the asylums in the past couple hundred years was so incredible it was better than anything we could have invented.
Why would Jed stay there with all the crazy things that are happening in the complex?
When we start at the top he’s getting the text messages [saying] Save Kate. That’s coming from a source which will become clear later, and that’s to do with the building. I think we felt that we wanted him to feel that maybe this was the last battle. This is such an epicenter of activity, if he can succeed here, then maybe it will all go away. I think he may be misplaced in that faith, but that’s his driving force. This is the big battle for him.
Where did you shoot this?
It was all on location in or around Manchester. It’s actually not one building. It’s more than one. It’s a bit of a cheat. But obviously we have a lot of old buildings in England, so they’re kind of handy for stuff like this. The exterior is Bangor University, which is in North Wales, which is just extraordinary. It’s on a hill and it’s gothic. It’s an amazing location.
We went and looked at the asylum we based the research on, and when you arrive there you feel this slight chill when you look at the place. Half of it had been converted into luxury flats, and half of it still had the mortuary there. And it was genuinely creepy.
Is this anything like the US series Ghost Whisperer?
I think we would hope to be different from Ghost Whisperer, as we wanted this to be really scary. Ghost Whisperer was a different kind of show. It was quite emotional, where she can talk directly to the ghosts.
These are disembodied, angry spirits who you can’t have a conversation with. We’re all big fans of horror, and we really wanted people to jump. We hope there’s some really scary stuff in there.
The biggest compliment I got were friends saying to me that they didn’t want to watch it on their own. And for me, that was like we’ve done our job. That was what we set out to do.
Do you believe in ghosts?
That’s a great question. I believe that a place that’s had a lot of stuff happen in it has a footprint. I think a place like Bedlam Heights, which has had several hundred years of this badness, this rottenness, this unpleasantness [leaves a footprint]. We have all had that feeling when you walk into a building and you think, ‘I don’t like it here.’ You can feel the history. We wanted the building to feel like that.