Illustration: Stefan Marjoram (

Brian Clough, Geoff Boycott, Peter O’Toole, Tony Wilson, Mark E Smith And Tim Healy In A Haunted House Near Carlisle, 1984


It is Friday 13th January 1984. Michael Fish on the BBC weather forecast has warned of thick fog and treacherous driving conditions for the North-west where, almost inconceivably, six opinionated cultural idols become stranded.

  • Brian Clough – The Nottingham Forest manager is returning by car to his Derby home having convinced Celtic’s out-of-favour midfielder Jim McInally, on loan with Dundee, that a switch to the Canon First Division will benefit both English and Scottish football alike.
  • Geoff Boycott – These are troubled times for the ousted Yorkshire cricket captain, whose clandestine meetings with The Reform Group – a pro-Boycott association – bring him to the safety of a Lake District hostelry to discuss his immediate future.
  • Peter O’Toole – Having split from an American model girlfriend, the Lawrence Of Arabia actor and former hellraiser plans to kidnap his young son Lorcan from New York. First he must gather a crew capable of such measures, but a detour brings O’Toole in the vicinity of a wartime curio.
  • Tony Wilson – The Factory Records and Haçienda nightclub co-owner is on the verge of bringing Madonna to the UK to appear on Channel 4 show The Tube alongside label stalwarts New Order, but on his winding route from a meeting at the Tyne-Tees studios his Peugeot 505 Estate grinds to a halt.
  • Mark E Smith – Manchester band The Fall have played a string of gigs in Scotland. After a disastrous evening in Ayr and a fall-out with wife Brix in Glasgow, frontman Smith is hurtling south with a roadie pal. A diversion to Carlisle for a bottle of Whyte & Mackay leads to a stupendous crash.
  • Tim HealyAuf Wiedersehen, Pet is the TV programme of the moment and the Geordie actor who plays ‘gaffer’ Dennis has been filming kids’ TV programme Tickle-On-The-Tum in Manchester with folk singer Ralph McTell. His motorbike collides with Boycott’s car on a Cumbrian B-road.

In the worst fog seen for a generation, the six weary travellers arrive via various circuitous routes and find themselves at the entrance of the mysterious Hangingbrow Hall, a grand castellated house that was abandoned in the War. A worn-out Ministry of Defence warning sign is ignored and a window is broken to gain entry. It quickly becomes apparent that the derelict interior is, as O’Toole describes it, “haunted to buggery”. The fulcrum of this story is to find out how these most alpha of alpha males deal with a set of highly extraordinary events.

Mark E Smith – a psychic – witnesses visions of grisly misdemeanors and they soon see evidence of the supernatural fury of the house in the guise of, what Boycott calls, “a big glowing moosehead”. A ventriloquist’s dummy with an appetite for human flesh hardly adds to the homeliness. Wartime paperwork is found and these gathered managerial minds begin piecing together the history of the site. It becomes clear that the one-time owner of Hangingbrow Hall, the Swiss businessman Gerhard Twisteaux, was a Nazi sympathiser who had the ear of the German high command.

Following an ill-advised cricket match in the main hall in which Boycott makes a half century (he’d brought his kitbag), they make a dash, traversing thick woodland whereupon they discover a graveyard of German soldiers alongside the final resting places of Sarah Twisteaux and three young children. Smith reveals that the demonic Gerhard has murdered his own family.

O’Toole, no stranger to shimmying an urban drainpipe in order to enter a top-floor open window, scales a 100ft cliff to organise a rescue party. Clough, Boycott, Wilson, Smith and Healy, with no head for heights, end up back at Hangingbrow Hall to their utter dejection.

A bloody battle to the death with a carnivorous version of a baggy-mouthed American kids’ TV mammoth followed by a fracas with a possessed tree starts a series of events which soon finds the demoralised five in the clutches of a hidden German SS platoon in a secretly built annexe beneath the house. Within this “Fourth Reich” hub, Twisteaux is located dressed like an extra in a school nativity play. He is an authority figure in a military-industrial bunker in which deceased and living Nazis exist side by side, under the sinister rule of the Darth Vader-like spectre of Adolf Hitler.

For Hitler’s amusement, Tony Wilson – a Granada TV news anchor when not an indie-music mogul – is invited to interview the Führer, Twisteaux and an SS major, Walter Schröder, on stage in a makeshift TV studio. The Q&A, entertaining though it is, is doomed to failure and the five are sentenced to death. Awaiting their fate, a friendly face behind a ventilation grille – Peter O’Toole, of course, accompanied by a pair of soldiers from the top-secret SAS Supernaturals wing – provide a chance of survival if they can meet circling RAF Chinooks.

Add to this volatile mix MI5, poisoned Pot Noodles, an anti-spectre prototype weapon, the ghost of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, time-travelling Opel Monza 3.0 GSEs, a faulty lintel, a sperm-whale oil lab, exotic Axis alcohol and a dream sequence in which Boycott professes his same-sex love for Clough, and you have an action plot that goes light years beyond 007. It is aimed at older readers and is a vague merging of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Parkinson and The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The author: Lee Gale

I’m a writer and sub-editor who has been involved with the magazine industry since 1992. Currently I’m chief sub at Motor Sport magazine but have been employed by the likes of GQ, Grand Designs and Jack and I’ve written for The Guardian, Independent on Sunday and Esquire. The usual subjects I cover are bands that were prominent in the 1980s, World War II aircraft, football and the mundane – things like concrete lamp-posts and the design of electricity pylons.

The idea behind this book was to bring together some of my favourite media personalities and see how they interacted in atrocious situations. I started the story just before Covid struck and when I was gratefully furloughed, I properly dived in, setting myself the task of completing a chapter every week.

Quickly, the ghost yarn became central to my existence but as my wife has remarked on a number of occasions, “It doesn’t sound very commercial.” All I know is if I saw a book titled Brian Clough, Geoff Boycott, Peter O’Toole, Tony Wilson, Mark E Smith And Tim Healy In A Haunted House Near Carlisle, 1984, I’d buy it instantly.

Interested in publishing this?