Seeing dead people

Actress Charlotte Ritchie told David Hennessy about Ghosts as it returns to BBC, her time on the popular period drama Call the Midwife and why she’s sure her love of acting comes from her Irish ancestors.

Recognisable from her roles in medical drama Call the Midwife and Channel 4 student comedy Fresh Meat, Charlotte Ritchie returns to our screens this week with the second series of Ghosts. Charlotte has also starred in sitcoms Siblings and Dead Pixels and alongside Friends star Lisa Kudrow in romantic Channel 4 comedy Feel Good.

Charlotte was also one quarter of All Angels, the classical crossover group who sold millions of albums worldwide.

Ghosts found Charlotte’s character Alison and her boyfriend Mike struggling to find a house when she unexpectedly inherited a huge but run down country mansion. The only problem is she has to share it with the ghosts of its former inhabitants. And unlike her partner, Alison can see and talk to the ghosts. Written and performed by many of the cast of Horrible Histories, the first series was so positively received last year that it has already been commissioned for a third outing.

Charlotte told The Irish World what to expect from series two: “We learn a bit more about the ghosts’ back stories and stuff which is great.

“There will be a couple of flashbacks to different points in history which I think will be quite nice to see.

“To be commissioned for the next one after that is just such a treat. I can’t wait for people to see it. I think they’re going to be hopefully really happy with it because it’s more of the same and more.”

The ghosts come from a variety of different periods in history so there is a caveman, a WWII captain, a witch trial victim and a disgraced MP and more all sharing the same space.

“I think they’ve become much more tolerant just by living with each other. You have to be to kind of endure each other’s existence. They’re all so annoying and full on that you have to become quite patient with other people.”
Thinking about it, the ghosts have been enduring their own never-ending lockdown.

“It also explains how eccentric they all are that they have been living in one place for all that time. We had a taste of it for three months but they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. It’s a wonder that they’ve kept it together at all.”
How did Charlotte cope with lockdown herself? “It was okay. I was actually really, really lucky because I was living with two of my really good friends so I felt quite lucky to be around them. We managed to make the most of it basically and it was okay but I think I did go a bit mad. I would have liked to have not been locked down. I wish the whole thing had never happened obviously but it was fine.

“I think it was a real trial, a mental trial but I’ve managed to sugar coat it now so I can remember the good bits.”
Charlotte has recently returned to shooting which has been joyous great uncertainty about how filming would return.

“It’s amazing. I never thought it would happen so I’m so happy.

“I was on a show that tested us three times a week so I’ve had that. I’ve had lots of tests which has been a big change and really nice to be able to feel much more confident that you don’t have it, you don’t know for sure.

“It’s a show that you don’t need to be too close to each other whereas I have a film coming up. I am obviously going to have to be much more intimate with the actors and so I have to isolate beforehand. It will be a bit more difficult.

“It will just become more normal, I think. Actually, a part of me is quite looking forward to being at home again. I kind of got a bit into it. I think I got used to it during lockdown.

“It is quite nerve-racking to be honest. The government clearly don’t know what to do so if productions don’t know either, it’s not really a surprise.

“I think we’ll make it work.”

Charlotte has found that some families are watching Ghosts together.

“What a lot of people have said to me is that they like to watch it with their kids and it’s one of the rare shows that they can watch with their kids. What I think is really cool though is that the writers haven’t compromised on their humour. Their immaturity shines through so it appeals to both.”

After three years on Call the Midwife, Charlotte was delighted to return to comedy with Ghosts as she made her name playing Oregon in the comedy Fresh Meat.

“I had missed it. I really had and Ghosts is so funny, it was such a pleasure. There was so many different things to do and so technically difficult in terms of talking to Ghosts and talking to living people and covering it up and seeing people and not seeing people. It was super fun to go straight into a very technical, slightly farcical way of doing comedy. I loved it.”

How does Charlotte think she would react to seeing a ghost like her character? “What I admire about her is that she does come to terms with it really quickly.

“What I like about Alison is that she’s more annoyed about them than scared in any way and I suppose that is because they’re more annoying than scary.

“I think if they were sinister, it would be a very different situation but the fact is that they’re basically really, really lovable eccentrics.

“I think she’s more practical and amenable than I am. She’s able to roll up her sleeves and get things done whereas I’m a procrastinator and I would worry about things all the time.

“But I think the fact the ghosts are so sweet overall, apart from maybe the exception of Julian, I think we would be fine.

“I think I would probably enjoy their company as much as she does, maybe more.”

Charlotte joined the cast of Call the Midwife in 2015, playing Barbara Gilbert who was still finding her feet as a nurse and midwife when she arrived in the show. This was a big deal for Charlotte because she had been a fan of the show herself.

“I was a big fan beforehand. I used to watch it sometimes with my mum and I just always admired it. I thought it was a very sensitive and heartfelt and very feminist show so I just loved it.

“I always found it amazing that it is a female led show about female issues, about things like periods and wounds and menopause that were just not even spoken about let alone had on TV. For it to be such a successful show with on average 8 million people watching it is so incredible because actually those issues were so sidelined.

“We don’t know enough about women’s reproductive systems and I think that’s just because women weren’t doctors until the second half of the century. It’s kind of amazing that the show is such a hit when this is all it’s about when all that stuff has been kind of in the shadows for hundreds of years like women being encouraged to just stay at home if they were on their period and not go out. You just think, ‘How are you supposed to have a job or do anything if that’s the case?’ I think it’s such a remarkable show to bring all that to the fore and to remind us how much has changed.

“It was a great, great, great job. It was amazing. The cast were so friendly, the storylines were so beautiful and thoughtful.

“It was great and I learned a lot and my character developed so beautifully and intricately and kind of grew up so when I left it, it kind of felt like the right time because she had had the most amazing journey. I just felt it was the right time to go but I loved it so much. I really miss it and I’m still in touch with the cast and everything.”

When Charlotte decided to leave after three years, she was written out with a tragic and poignant storyline that saw her character die of sepsis.

“It was so sad. It was quite a full-on ending. People really go through that. Because it’s such a serious illness to have sepsis, I think it’s important because people still suffer from that. I think it was quite poignant but obviously quite surreal to be doing that and quite a surreal thing to think about.

“Most people don’t think about their death at all. Generally as a culture we’re really bad at thinking about it so to lie on a bed and pretend to die for a week was a strange thing. Most people don’t invite that into their lives.”

Charlotte says it was strange to watch herself die and also that she should not have watched that one with her mother. “It was weird.

“I watched it with my mum which was a huge mistake. That was very awful on her. I had to keep squeezing her hand and being like: ‘I’m here. I’m not dead. I’m here. I’m fine’.

“I did feel genuinely sad about the character too.

“I really thought of her as a very separate person from me. I loved that character and I loved the world that had been created around her and that she had been part of.

“A little bit of me was sort of living in 1960’s Britain, in this ‘communal egg sandwiches and lemonade’ type existence without all the hard stuff that would have been the reality of living in that time.

“It was a horrendous time. Unless you were a very small minority of people, it was a hard life but I did feel really sad to see her go.”

The actress deliberately made no reference to her Irish roots on a recent appearance of Saturday Kitchen. This was because she was talking about how potatoes are her favourite.

“I do (have Irish blood). I didn’t reference that because I absolutely do not want to reinforce that stereotype but it’s in my blood, they’re my favourite. I got a bit of stick about that on Twitter, people being like, ‘Oh, it’s such a boring choice’. I love them. They’re delicious.”

Charlotte told The Irish World all the way back in 2014 that she was planning to get to the West of Ireland.
“I have been since. I went to Galway and Co. Clare and all up that side. It was only for three, four days but I loved it. It was so beautiful. I had always wanted to go so it was a real dream come true. The pubs are so great.”

Born in Clapham, Charlotte’s Irish blood comes from her Irish grandfather who came from a family of entertainers.

“He moved around a lot because his family were travelling musicians. They were clowns who would travel the country. He was left at home a lot in different places.

“I have pictures of my great-grandparents, who were his parents, dressed up as clowns with big buttons and big hats and a violin. That was their job.”

Does Charlotte think her own creative tendencies run in the family considering these colourful relations? “Yeah, completely. There must be a link. There must be a link there. And also my grandma on my mum’s side. She was an actor so it kind of runs a bit in the family.”

As All Angels have been dormant for years, does Charlotte sing these days? “I don’t but I did just get an audition through yesterday actually that I think may involve a bit of singing so watch this space.

“It does feel like the logical step to make so fingers crossed.”

Ghosts is on BBC1 at 8.30pm on Mondays.

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