TV

Ghosts star Ben Willbond on show's devastating Christmas finale: 'As with life, you’ve got to move on'

This piece is spoiler-free for the upcoming Christmas episode though it does contain spoilers for series five

Ghosts Christmas Special People: Kitty (LOLLY ADEFOPE), Pat (JIM HOWICK), The Captain (BEN WILLBOND), Mike (KIELL SMITH-BYNOE), Julian (SIMON FARNABY), Alison (CHARLOTTE RITCHIE), Robin (LARRY RICKARD), Thomas Thorne (MAT BAYNTON), Lady Button (MARTHA HOWE-DOUGLAS), Humphrey (LARRY RICKARD)

The Ghosts gather for the final episode of the BBC comedy. Photo: BBC/Monumental/Guido Mandozzi

This Christmas sees viewers bid a sad farewell to Button House as the beloved BBC sitcom Ghosts comes to an end after five series.

Ghosts follows married couple Alison and Mike [Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe] in their adventure of inheriting a grand country house – which happens to be inhabited by opinionated ghouls from different points in British history, who only Alison can see. The smash hit show was created by the stars of CBBC cult classic Horrible Histories, who also appear as the not-so-spooky spectres.

Ahead of Ghosts airing for the final time on Christmas Day, Ben Willbond (one of the creators of the show, who plays The Captain) spoke to The Big Issue about the show ending, the importance of community and that series five storyline.

Viewers were left devastated when it was announced that series five of Ghosts would be the last, but for the creators it made sense. “It’s important to end on a high, to not outstay our welcome. And the great thing is that when you create something it’ll always be there. But as with life, you’ve got to move on,” Willbond says.

Ending it on their terms meant they all went into it knowing they were filming their last series, but that didn’t necessarily mean it softened the blow. “When we started in January, we thought, ‘Oh, there’s ages this is great! We’re going to really enjoy this,’ but then it was suddenly the end of February, closing in on March and it was like, ‘Oh, this is it’ and it was really sad.”

The Captain is, at first glance, a stuffy, stuck-in-his-ways World War II soldier, but throughout the five series his layers are peeled back and we eventually learn that he was gay in a time when it was illegal.

“I will miss him, he’s become such a huge part of my life that it’s sort of hard to shake him off,” Willbond says. The Captain has taught him the importance of bravery: “It’s that ability to go, ‘You can do this,’ and mean it, even when it’s hard.”

Perhaps the hardest thing both the Captain and Willbond faced was finally revealing how the character died. In a truly devastating scene, the Captain has a heart attack whilst sneaking into Button House to reunite with his (definitely more than) friend, Lieutenant Havers. “When we were throwing ideas around set for his death I came up with the stick not being his, but it being Havers’s. Of course it is!” Willbond laughs when I make a noise similar to a dying animal at this. “So he’s always got a bit of Havers with him. I know, I know, oh god,” he groans, head in his hands.

In the scene, we also finally found out the Captain’s name, something Willbond and the others had a lot of fun disguising throughout the show.

“It was one of those things where I did it once and we knew we had to do it every time, but it wasn’t as much fun as revealing it was just a normal name. Because he was a normal man and I think that speaks louder than trying to do something shocking.”

In his final moments, the Captain calls to Havers. “Anthony,” he says. “James,” says Havers, clasping the Captain’s hand as he dies.

Ghosts Christmas Special
People: Robin (LARRY RICKARD), Julian (SIMON FARNABY), Pat (JIM HOWICK), The Captain (BEN WILLBOND)
Robin (Larry Rickard), Julian (Simon Farnaby), Pat (Jim Howick) and the Captain (Ben Willbond). Photo: BBC/Monumental/Robbie Gray

Willbond says he also loves that we only saw small snippets of the Captain’s life and that the idea to tell his death very quickly was that of his fellow creator and star Mat Baynton [who plays poet Thomas Thorne].

“I think it’s best that his story is preserved in people’s imaginations. You don’t need me to do a whole two-hour special on wartime Button House. No matter how wonderful that would be,” he chuckles. “It’s lovely instead to know that people think about it and imagine him playing cricket with Havers.”

The truly beautiful thing about Ghosts is that although it’s a family comedy it’s not afraid to tackle difficult subjects, such as homelessness in the series three Christmas special. It was vital for the writers to “lean into life rather than thinking you have to write comedy as something two-dimensional or cynical,” Willbond says.

“Life is complex and tough for most of us, I would argue for all of us, and those whom we think are having it easy are probably billionaires or just putting on a really good show. Our families, our relationships, our real-life logistical worries, especially now we’ve had years of governmental neglect, they affect all of us.” he adds.

A huge theme of the show has always been family, but not in a traditional sense. Though the ghosts are thrown together and at first don’t get on, thanks to Alison realise how much they need each other. They are a found family. “She brings them together, shows them where they connect, allows them to confront all those little flaws with learning and laughter.”

Willbond concludes that although society has become more “disconnected, it’s important we all come together. We all need to stick together, find our community, support one another, listen and generally just try not to be a dick, yeah?”

Is this really it for Ghosts though? “It sort of has to be, their journeys are done,” he explains. “When you’re an actor or a writer. You often think, ‘Whatever I do next – that might be it, I might never work again.’ But with Ghosts it feels different, because if this is it, then I’m really happy.”

So what’s next for Willbond? Strictly? Or maybe the I’m A Celeb jungle? “Honestly if my career is ever in that sort of absolute state, I’d just go, ’It’s fine guys, I get it,’” he laughs. “I’d go and live by the seaside and open a bookshop – but maybe that’s next year, maybe that’s January.”

The final episode of Ghosts airs on Christmas Day at 7.45pm on BBC One and iPlayer.

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