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Show of the week: Harry Price: Ghost Hunter

Bentley Productions is best-known for making worldwide detective hit Midsomer Murders, but things are about to take a paranormal twist for the All3Media-backed prodco with its new ITV show, Harry Price: Ghost Hunter.

Based on the adventures of Harry Price, the UK’s first-ever ghost hunter, as relayed in Neil Spring’s novel The Ghost Hunters, Bentley Productions new drama one-off for ITV is penned by Jack Lothian.

Lothian, whose credits include Shameless, Skins and Strike Back., says: “The real Harry Price was something of a showman who courted publicity, and wasn’t above certain deceptions in his own work, so we’ve tried to stay true to that spirit. He was a man who wanted to be remembered, so hopefully we’ve helped him with that.”

Price is a contradictory character who, as the show starts, has lost his way and is conducting false séances for cash. His chance for redemption comes when he has the opportunity to investigate a haunting at the house of a local politician.

Price (played by Rafe Spall) teams up with the politician’s family maid, Sarah Grey, played by Downton Abbey’s Cara Theobold, and the pair set out to investigate the ghostly goings on.

Commissioning the show for ITV last summer, the network’s director of drama Steve November said: “Harry Price is an intriguing character at the very heart of the drama. Jack Lothian’s wonderful script is a skilful blend of fact and fiction as Harry’s past, his fascination with the paranormal and his faith in science are all real yet set against a fictional backdrop of political conspiracy and scandal.”

With its paranormal themes, there are some frights along the way. “It’s a piece about the supernatural, so hopefully it’s scary, but we’re trying to be a little restrained with it as well,” says Lothian. “The main thing is that hopefully the central story – about a woman [the politician’s wife] who fears she’s losing her mind and the husband trying to save her – draws the audience in and they care about the characters. And if people feel the need to sleep with the light on afterwards, then all the better.”

The one-off 120-minute format is similar to film-length, but for commercial TV presents a particular writing challenge. Lothian says: “It’s near movie-length, but because you’re writing for commercial television you have to be aware of the ad breaks, so rather than using a traditional three-act structure you end up with a seven-act structure.”

The series, which is being shopped internationally by All3Media International, is set in in 1920s London at a time of rapid technological development. Should the show be a hit for ITV in the UK, Lothian says he has plenty of other Harry Price ideas ready should more specials, or a series, be ordered.

“There’s a whole folder full of stories worked out, many of them ones that Harry investigated in real life, and it would be a great opportunity to see Rafe Spall’s excellent work on the character developed even further,” says Lothian. “I think it’s a show that can cheerfully work in any format, be it specials or a series.”

In focus
The show: Harry Price: Ghost Hunter
The producer: Bentley Productions
The distributor: All3Media International
The broadcaster: ITV (UK)
The concept: Ghost-hunting drama from the Midsomer Murders stable