This old country house is apparently abandoned, but three kids like to play there and use it as a clubhouse - indeed, the plan is that it is taken over by the council and turned into precisely that establishment for the local children. Or at least, that's what the trio of friends thought, but unbeknownst to them a business of contractors have made an agreement with the scheming Deputy Mayor to knock the place down, and have despatched a couple of builders to start surveying where they can start the demolition. But what may work in the children's favour is the residents of the house: a couple of ghosts from Oliver Cromwell's time (Jimmy Edwards and Graham Stark) who decide they're not going to stand for their place of rest being smashed up for no good reason...
The concept of friendly ghosts was not exclusive to this Children's Film Foundation piece, they had been around since The Canterville Ghost and would continue with Rentaghost and The Ghosts of Motley Hall, among many others which followed the concept on the page, small screen and large. This was notable, however, for its cast: C.F.F. regular director Jan Darnley-Smith corralled a variety of British comedy stars who would never be seen in the same project again, making this a goldmine for classic comedy fans seeking something a little different than the usual reruns of The Two Ronnies or Carry On movies. Indeed, practically every role here was filled by a stalwart of British entertainment, raising expectations that this would be an unsung gem.
If it did not quite live up to those high hopes, there was certainly a sense that the entire cast were having fun and taking the opportunity to amuse their kids (or grandkids) by appearing in something designed for the youngsters to watch. The humour was largely that of slapstick, so the dream team of Bernard Cribbins and Terry Scott were knocked about by the kids in the story with the help of the two phantoms, and we were invited to laugh our heads off at, well, Stark taking his head off and putting it underneath his arm. Patricia Hayes' running joke was her terrible driving as she powered along in a 2CV with great abandon, even if she wasn't in much of a hurry, sending pedestrians careering out of the way and shaking their fists after her, that sort of thing.
Despite there being little too elaborate, there were signs of imagination going into it. A light dig at authority figures not operating in the interests of the public was here, though the Mayor himself seems to be above reproach (simply too fond of going off to play golf at crucial times), but Ronnie Barker as the head contractor was the real boo hiss villain, playing it surprisingly straight and only occasionally going for a laugh. The special effects were as primitive as you might expect as far as the ghosts went, mostly double exposures to render them spooky-looking (or see-through), but the grand finale when they animated the demolition men's machines was nicely realised as the bad guys ran around like the proverbial headless chickens to escape their vehicles' rampage. Overall, not the classic you might want from this one of a kind cast, but perfectly acceptable as a time passer. Music by Burnell Whibley.
[This is one of nine films released by The BFI on DVD in the Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Volume 2.]