Nicola Kirk: Author and Collector of Paranormal Stories and Other Strange Encounters

Posts tagged ‘filming’

Lights… Camera… Start Screaming! Most Haunted Visit Coalhouse Fort, Tilbury

Yvette Fielding: Most Haunted or Most Awful?

Kieron and Melanie Savill run the successful paranormal investigation company, Paranormal Knights.  They have both studied under the tutorship of Martyn Pentecost and Kieron, for his sins, is an approved investigator for ASSAP (The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena).  They have a variety of exciting events coming up (I’m allowed to plug them with shameless abandon, it’s my blog) so if you’re feeling brave, have a look at their site to see what’s coming up over the next few months.

The following is Kieron’s account of Most Haunted’s visit to Coalhouse Fort Tilbury in December 2007:

“Just five more minutes,” I murmured to myself.  The room was cold and the thought of leaving the warmth of my bed was less than appealing.  As I lay there I suddenly became aware of several red blinking lights scattered around the bedroom.   Not an unfamiliar sight really when you study the paranormal, but at 7am in the morning it just didn’t quite feel right. I fumbled around for my glasses and put them on, bringing the room into focus.  I glanced around with bleary eyes at the various torches, cameras and walkie talkies that were on charge. It was about this time that my wife, Melanie, awoke, asking what time we had to be at the Fort.

It then dawned on me that this wasn’t a normal working week day and that today we would be working at Coalhouse Fort in East Tilbury. Melanie and I had been working as part as a paranormal team at the Fort for about a year, hosting some twenty or so paranormal groups on their investigations of the old Fort. Normally, we get to the fort for around 7pm and work through the night until the following morning. It is an interesting job and we both feel lucky to have the opportunity to do what we do. There aren’t many people out there who have the chance to study a location in such detail over such a long period of time.

The different groups that we get to meet are fascinating. Believe me, we have seen it all in the last twelve months! Good groups and bad groups, scientific groups that are anything but scientific, psychic groups that believe everything they hear is paranormal, the lot. You name it, we have experienced it.  Some of the groups arrive in military style black uniforms with huge maglites attached to their belts and every possible gizmo you can imagine. Others are more like a day out with the local woman’s institute, screaming at everything they encounter.

Although we are basically there to guide groups around the different parts of the Fort safely, we do join them on their vigils and sometimes we do find ourselves helping them and educating them in some way. Maybe it’s an ASSAP thing but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. If I had a pound for the amount of groups that point laser thermometers around the room and then somehow come up with the room temperature… At 3am, sitting in a dark, cold underground tunnel listening to someone call out “is there anybody there,” well, sometimes I can get a little tetchy.

Today was different though.  Today we were hosting a group that would be at the fort for two days. Today we were hosting the team of Most Haunted.

It was a lovely bright, crisp December morning as we approached the main gate to the Fort.  It was 9am and some of the crew had already arrived. As I unloaded our equipment and various extra items of warm clothing that we were hoping that we wouldn’t need, I observed the crew members unloading a large van.  The familiar bald head of Stuart Torevell emerged from inside the van.

Dozens of large crates were unloaded from the Most Haunted van, each jam packed with equipment. It was like watching a military operation as a large petrol generator vibrated into life from the corner of the parade ground, echoing around the casemates of the fort.  Cables galore trailed from the generator down into the tunnels.

As we made our way up to the Fort  tea room, I passed a member of the Most Haunted crew who about to enter the tunnel. Just as I was about to say: “Would you like me to escort you into the tunnel system as you really shouldn’t go in it alone…” he disappeared into it.

The Fort you can seen today was built in the 1860s and remained in use right up until the 1960s but after that it became derelict and at fell into disrepair. Many parts of the Fort have become unsafe and that is why we have to escort people around and not let them wander around into places where they can get hurt. Eventually the Fort project volunteers hope to raise enough money to restore the Fort to its original state and repair the areas that are falling down.

As I went to follow the chap into the tunnel, another one emerged from it and then another from a different exit and then another from an exit across the parade ground… We were going to have our work cut out for sure and we hastily made our way up to the tea room where we hoped Simon would be waiting. Simon is a lovely fellow and for the last couple of years he has been in charge of all paranormal events at the Fort.

For Simon and the rest of the Coalhouse paranormal team, having Most Haunted at the fort was a bit special. The thought of the Fort being on television felt like a reward for all the hard work we had put in to the place.

Due to Karl Beattie’s production company, Antix, having contractual problems with Living TV, they had already cancelled on us three times previously, so it was good to finally get them there.  Like everyone who’s interested in the paranormal, we all have our views about Most Haunted. We all admit to watching it in the beginning because when the series first started there was a serious lack of paranormal programmes, so MH found the perfect niche.  But then for many it became a bit boring and lost its credibility – or that’s what you hear these days. As more and more people got interested in the subject they quickly outgrew the show. Watching the ever theatrical Derek Acorah and never ending orb footage began to turn people off.

Or did it?

I wonder now at how many people that criticise the show, actually still watch it.  I suspect they are still avid watchers but just won’t admit it to their peers. The reason they watch Most Haunted is because whichever way you look at it, the programme is entertainment, same as any other successful television show.  It is successful – why else would Living TV commission a tenth series?  I have to say confess, however, that at the time I was no different from anyone else and I regarded Most Haunted with a touch of disdain. Their unprofessional methods, lack of real evidence and showman type performances left me rather unimpressed. My once prized Most Haunted Live DVD featuring Woodchester Mansion had long been relegated to a dusty corner of the shed.

Eventually we found Simon in the tearoom buried behind more crates of MH equipment. He was busy frantically filling the tea urns to keep the hard-working crew members refreshed. More vehicles were entering the Fort and I decided to man the main gate to keep the prying eyes of the public outside.  As I went to leave the tearoom I saw a small blonde lady standing in the doorway.

“Hello, I’m Yvette” she said.

It’s not often that I get to meet a celebrity.  You like to think that when you do meet one that you won’t treat them differently to anyone else, but the last thing you want to do is make a fool of yourself.

Running through my head at that particular moment was the thought of me saying something along the lines of: “Hello, my name’s Kieron and I’m an investigator with ASSAP.”   Unfortunately, my mouth wasn’t listening to my brain and all that came out was a cringeworthy:  “Alright…”

Yvette Fielding entered the tearoom and was shortly followed by her husband, Karl Beattie, and Cath Howe, the makeup lady. They all seemed very pleasant and I left Melanie and Simon to look after them while I made my way to the main gate.

The parade ground was a frenzy of activity as more equipment was unloaded and assembled. More of the Most Haunted crew arrived and I watched with fascination as a large weighted boom was constructed. It must have been thirty feet long and it swung around with a camera attached to the end. This is what they use when filming aerial shots and views from unusual angles.

Filming taking place at Coalhouse Fort

The last of the crew arrived, including Scottish Paranormal’s Ryan O’Neill who was standing in for parapsychologist Ciaran O’Keeffe who was absent due to just becoming a father. The remaining two people to follow on later that day would be historian Lesley Smith and whoever the medium was going to be following David Wells’ decision to leave the show.

As the last of the cars entered the fort I closed the main gate and returned to the tea room where the cast were assembling. Yvette was by now having her makeup applied by Cath while Karl was busy planning out the various shoots with the rest of the crew.  While Yvette was having her makeup done she began practicing her opening lines.

Yvette in makeup with Cath

As you may have seen on previous shows the introduction, where Yvette introduces the location and then gives a brief history and goes on to explain about the paranormal activity there, is filmed during the day.  As she went through her lines she got to the part about paranormal activity at Coalhouse.

“Tell me if this is correct,” she said and then rattled off a list of occurrences that had been reported. We assumed that this information had been gathered by some researcher beforehand. As she went through the list it became apparent that a lot of what she was asking about we had never heard about. Was this the first sign of MH fakery? Smiles crept onto our faces as we shook our heads at some of the things Yvette was saying.

But then something happened that shocked me. Yvette amended her script, and wrote it again, deleting the parts that we didn’t agree with. This really took me by surprise; I hadn’t expected for one moment that they would be interested in our input and opinions. Once Yvette’s makeup was finished it was time to start filming and the crew made their way outside to the far end of the north parade ground to film the opening scenes.

Yvette and the Most Haunted Crew filming the introduction footage

Yvette began to go through her lines:

“I’m Yvette Fielding and welcome to a new series of Most Haunted!”

Everything was fine until the end of her speech where she finished with:

“And all from this incredible haunted location in Essex that is Coalhouse Farm.”

“CUT!”  screamed Karl.  Giggles spread through the rest of the team. “Does it look like a bloody farm?” he barked at her with a grin.  I guess even the professionals can’t be right all the time.  I wondered if I had just witnessed a future bloopers clip.

The team then broke for lunch and it was at this time that I had the chance to sit down with Yvette and Karl and talk with them about the show and their views on the paranormal.  They were very easy to talk to were very receptive when it came to other people’s views. I had expected them to be quite blinkered in their views on the subject and dismissive of anyone else’s but they were quite the opposite. They welcomed input from the Coalhouse team and an interesting discussion on all things paranormal ensued.  Topics ranged from infrasound to EVP and then to Karl’s surprising admission to his lack of belief in mediums.  It was about this time that I started to see the bigger picture of Most Haunted.  For all the criticism it receives it is just a TV show. It entertains millions across the world. The people that produce Most Haunted are not so different to the rest of the paranormal society and they have a successful formula, so why should they change it?

Daytime footage continued to be filmed during the afternoon and as it began to get dark the historian, Lesley Smith, arrived along with a larger than life coloured lady by the name of Johnnie Fiori. Johnnie would be the show’s medium for the night.

If you thought Derek Acorah was theatrical then you will be in for a shock with this lady as she managed to make him look dull. She was a veteran of MH Live and was currently on stage with the West End show Hairspray.

“What tunnels?” an American Whoopi Goldberg-esq voice boomed into the tearoom.  “Black people don’t go underground!  Get my agent.  Nobody mentioned no damn tunnels!”

The team, now complete, then left the Fort for the rest of the evening to have their evening meal at a local pub leaving just myself, Melanie and Stuart Torevell at the Fort. When the crew returned later the vigils would start. Stuart had not stopped all day so we made him a cup of tea and he took a well earned breather while he stopped for a chat with us.

As with the others, he was a thoroughly nice man and there wasn’t an ounce of so called “Woo” with him. He was very down to earth. He was a hard worker and went on to tell us about all the places he had visited with MH, but that because he was always so busy he never really got time to explore the places he had been to. I have a lot of time for Stuart. He seemed a very genuine man and I got the impression he was quite hurt by some of the accusations that had been written about him. I have met hundreds of people whilst working at the Fort who have reported witnessing paranormal activity. Most of the time it is clear to me that they are probably mistaken and that there was a natural explanation. From my short time speaking to Stuart Torevell I am quite convinced that his experiences have been genuine.  I asked him if he thought that this would be the last series and that the show had probably run its course. He laughed and said that the show was far too successful and would go on for a long time yet.

When the team returned, preparations started for the filming of the vigils. I felt slightly envious when Ryan O’Neill was handed a very expensive looking thermal imager to play with. It looked much more exciting than the basic Cellsensor EMF meter I had.

I felt quite sorry for Ryan; it was his first time on the show and he was obviously quite nervous. I would have loved to have had the chance to accompany him and help him out.  Of course, I would have been in charge of the thermal imager…

Every member of Coalhouse staff anticipated the possibility of being involved in the vigils and being in front of the cameras but sadly this wasn’t to be.  I wasn’t sure at first whether I would want to anyway, but by the end of that first day I would have jumped at the chance.  As I wasn’t present at the vigils I cannot comment on what happened in them and like everyone else, I had to wait for the show to be broadcast in February 2008.

Between us, Melanie and I have done over a hundred vigils at the Fort so we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. We looked forward with anticipation to view their footage.

At the end of the filming when all the equipment was being packed away, Karl approached me. He said that he thought that Coalhouse was a very special place and that he admired the volunteers for what they were doing to try and save it. He offered to give us the services of his production company and help us in any way he could. He offered to send a film crew to us and produce a DVD of the Fort. I thought that was a very nice gesture and we hope to take him up on the offer.

Spending time with the Most Haunted crew really changed my mind about how I view the programme. I’m not saying I will make a point of watching it in the future (well, maybe the Coalhouse one) but I will certainly think twice when I hear negative things that are said about the programme.  They really were a pleasure to work with and I wish them every success in the future.

Group Hug:  Most Haunted and the Coalhouse Fort Team


Nicola

Weirdworld@hotmail.co.uk

©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010

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