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Ghosts, BBC One, season 5, review: proof that the late Queen had excellent taste in television

Charlotte Ritchie and Jim Howick in Ghosts
He's behind you! Charlotte Ritchie and Jim Howick in Ghosts - Guido Mandozzi/BBC

The late Queen was a fan of Ghosts (BBC One). When the sitcom’s co-creator Simon Farnaby played a royal footman in last year’s Paddington sketch for the Platinum Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II’s secretary confirmed Her Majesty’s fondness for the show – while warning that she still wouldn’t recognise him. Considering that Farnaby plays a disgraced and eternally trouserless Tory MP in the haunted house comedy, that’s probably for the best.

As we returned for the fifth and final series, an opening sequence cleverly laid the groundwork for the show coming to an end. Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) awoke to find that she’d lost her ability to see ghosts and, like us viewers, was momentarily bereft. Good news: it turned out to be an April Fool’s prank. Bad news: Alison promptly burst into tears. She spent the rest of the episode wreaking revenge on her phantom friends.

Meanwhile, husband Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) had his hands full with a loss adjuster (a delightfully deadpan Anna Crilly) investigating their insurance claim for the freak fire in series four’s finale. The couple’s financial worries are a running theme of these climactic six episodes, available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer. These only deepen when they receive the bombshell news that Alison is pregnant. Times are certainly a-changing as the best, most beloved homegrown sitcom of the past decade enters its final act.

Simon Farnaby, Laurence Rickard, Martha Howe-Douglas and Jim Howick play some of Button House's spooky inhabitants
Simon Farnaby, Laurence Rickard, Martha Howe-Douglas and Jim Howick play some of Button House's spooky inhabitants - Robbie Gray/BBC

Created by and starring the CBBC Horrible Histories team, aka “the six idiots”, Ghosts has always possessed the ability to be both gloriously silly and deeply moving. Its combination of daft dialogue and slapstick deliver big laughs, while storylines have the emotional heft of quality drama. We see hidden depths to caveman Robin (Laurence Rickard, perhaps the show’s MVP due to his dual role), learn the plot-twist truth about the death of Georgian noblewoman Kitty (Lolly Adefope) and discover an affecting secret about the closeted Captain (Ben Willbond) – not to mention his real name at last.

We’re also treated to a retro gameshow marathon and a life-affirming line-dancing routine, both led by scene-stealing Scoutmaster Pat (Jim Howick). All this cleverly plays out against the backdrop of Mike’s fears about fatherhood and Alison worrying whether they can afford to raise a child in their moneypit of a mansion. Ultimately, this final stretch is about home and family.

What does the future hold for Button House? Who will ascend to the afterlife? Or get “whoomph, sucked off”, in the ghosts’ parlance? As an unexpectedly poetic character says: “Home is not the walls or gardens. It is the souls within those walls. Home is the memories made on this spot.” Wise, humane and warm-hearted, there are few more comforting comedies than Ghosts. This is a worthy way to lay it to rest – until Christmas, that is, when it will return for a final festive special. It’s bound to be a weepy one. Perhaps it’s prudent to give your loved ones hankies this year.


The full box set is on BBC iPlayer now