WARNING: this article contains major SPOILERS for all five series of Ghosts
So the fifth and final series of critically acclaimed BBC sitcom Ghosts is out, and it’s the end of an era, but thankfully the show has bowed out with a flurry of important questions being answered.
This comedy, created by and starring many of the team behind Horrible Histories, has earned itself a dedicated and enthusiastic fandom (as well as an American remake on CBS) thanks largely to its heartwarming ensemble performance.
The majority of the characters are ghosts from various eras, but at first it wasn’t clear how any of them had died. One of the show’s many charms is that over the five series it gradually drip-fed us the hilarious and often lowkey heartbreaking back-stories of these lovable ghosts one by one, but we went into series five with the fate of two ghosts – wartime veteran The Captain and naive Georgian noblewoman Kitty – still a mystery.
Series five delivered on these long-awaited final death stories, giving the show’s many fans the closure they were craving.
So what do we know about how the ghosts died? Here’s a recap:
The tragic fate of Jim Howick‘s scoutmaster Pat was the first ‘ghost story’ to be revealed back in series one. Episode three (‘Happy Death Day’) opens with a flashback to 1984, when a very-much-alive Pat is using the grounds of Button House to teach his scouts about archery.
Perhaps unwisely, he allows the boys to pass around the bows and arrows while he doles out instructions, only to be interrupted mid-sentence as an arrow shoots clean through his neck. A scene equal parts funny and horrifying ensues, where he tries to get the stunned boys to help him, while attempting to remain calm, as he makes a doomed effort to drive himself to hospital on the scout bus before crashing into a tree.
Later in the episode, we see Pat’s family visiting Button House on the anniversary of his death, and discover his son Daley is now happily grown up with a son of his own, who he has named after his late father. No, YOU’RE crying.
One of Ghost’s most beloved and ridiculous characters, Mathew Baynton‘s Thomas is a poet and hopeless romantic from the Regency era. We learn of his fate in episode four of series two, ‘The Thomas Thorne Affair’, in which we also learn where Button House gets its name.
Thomas arrived at the then-named Higham House with the intention of wooing its owner’s daughter, Isabelle, by performing one of his (frankly awful, two-hour long) poems. He is sabotaged by his cousin Francis Button, who first gives Thomas a fake letter he wrote from Isabelle denying her feelings for him, then leads Thomas to believe Isabelle’s honour has been insulted by a military man, which prompts Thomas to challenge him to a duel.
Francis then seals Thomas’ fate by telling him to take twenty paces at the start of the duel instead of the required ten, leading to him being shot fatally in the back. In one final cruel blow, a dying Thomas asks for Isabelle, and Francis promises he’ll fetch her but doesn’t, leaving Thomas to die alone. Cheery stuff. Anyway, Francis Button marries Isabelle and the house is renamed Button House after him, so there we have it.
Lady Fanny Button
The way Lady Button died was revealed in the very first episode of Ghosts: she was pushed out of the bedroom window by her husband George after discovering him having a threesome with their groundsman and butler. Quite the scandal! In the 2021 Christmas special we found out their marriage was somewhat forced both ways, as Fanny’s father had bankrupted the family through gambling and George was a wealthy, ‘wayward’ (presumably secretly gay) bachelor.
Like Scoutmaster Pat, who is doomed to spend eternity with an arrow through his neck, Humphrey’s death is obvious from his appearance, considering his body spends most of its time wandering around trying to find his head. We discover the details of his comically tragic Elizabethan fate at the beginning of series three of Ghosts, in the episode called ‘The Bone Plot’.
Like Fanny, Humphrey’s marriage is one of convenience rather than love, and he and his French wife Sophie live separate lives, him trying and failing to keep her entertained, even though neither of them speaks the other’s language. Or so we think. Sophie turns out to have much better English than she’d been letting on, when we discover she and the ‘book group’ Humphrey arranged for her have actually been plotting to assassinate Elizabeth I.
When Her Majesty’s Guard arrive to apprehend the plotters, Humphrey nobly blocks the door to give his wife time to escape, and then hides from the guards in a fireplace. When the coast is clear, he steps out and pats the fireplace in delight, only for two decorative swords hanging above it to fall and decapitate him. The guards then find him and claim it was they who killed him, and he’s falsely remembered as the mastermind behind the deadly plot.
Although it seemed fairly obvious from his state of half-dress and sleazy politician vibe, it isn’t until the series three episode ‘A Lot to Take In’ that we find out for sure that Julian has died in a sex scandal. He has a suspected heart attack mid-intercourse while having one of his many affairs (this time with another politician called Lindsay) during a Champagne-fuelled fundraiser being held at Button House. In the words of Julian “It was the dream death – booze, bit of rumpy-pumpy, and out. There are worse ways to go.”
We never got a flashback of Mary’s death, but that’s probably just as well, considering it’s revealed early on that she was accused of withcraft and burned to death at some point in the 17th century. This gives her the disturbing ability to make people smell burning when they are around her. Mary was still understandably traumatized by her horrific death, and hadn’t spoken about it in 400 years, until during series two episode Redding Weddy she began to open up about what happened to her. Sadly, the Captain’s bomb detonates causing a fire in the garden, and the sight of this was enough to clam Mary up again.
We never did get to hear more from Mary, and in a shocking series four twist her character was the first and only ghost to leave, ascending forever to whatever comes next (or getting “sucked off” as the ghosts insist on calling it).
Robin the Caveman
The prehistoric death of lovably silly caveman Robin was revealed in the season four finale “Not Again.” At first, everything points to a pretty grim Death by Bear: when Mike brings a giant stuffed bear home, we discover Robin has a huge phobia of them, and we then see via flashbacks that he witnessed two of his caveman pals meet grisly (pun intended) ends at the hands of a hungry bear. We then see Robin had climbed a tree to hide, jumping down with a sigh of relief when the coast was clear and leaning up against the tree trunk to relax… only for the tree to get struck by lightning and electrocute him. Which also explains why Robin has the strange power to make the lights flicker on and off.
Lolly Adefope’s Georgian noblewoman Kitty is one of Ghosts’ most beloved characters thanks to her cheerful naivety and childlike innocence. In series three episode Something to Share? we learned that she was adopted and had one sister, her parents’ biological child, who resented and bullied her while Kitty remained blissfully ignorant. Many fans assumed her sister must have been behind her death, until series five episode Pineapple Day revealed the truth.
Via a flashback, we see that on the day of Kitty’s death a visiting nobleman called Lord Bummenbach arrives full of stories from his recent trip to exotic foreign lands, and he graces the assembled guests with a gift: their very first time seeing and eating a pineapple. Kitty is thrilled and grabs it for a closer look, only to exclaim in pain because the skin is so sharp. Hours later, she’s at her deathbed, and can’t be saved. The ghosts assume she was somehow poisoned and play detective, unpicking the events of the day to work out what happened, before coming to the sad realisation that there was a venomous spider on the pineapple which gave Kitty a fatal bite. We also got a moving moment where her sister Eleanor regrets her earlier jealous behaviour and begs Kitty to stay alive.
When the ghosts break the news to Kitty, she reacts in textbook Kitty style, firstly thinking this must mean she’s got Spiderman-like powers, and then saying she feels lucky she was the one who was bitten, because if it had killed Eleanor instead it would have been the end of the family’s bloodline and her beloved Alison would never have existed. Oh, Kitty.
During season two of Ghosts, in the episode Redding Weddy, we learned via flashback that the Captain was stationed at Button House as commanding officer of a troop during World War Two. It’s hinted that he was researching a new landmine (one of which is found and exploded in the gardens in the present day) and we also learned he was in love with his second-in-command, Lieutenant Havers, but fails to admit his feelings before Havers leaves for the front.
But it wasn’t until the season five episode “Carpe Diem” that we discovered how The Captain actually died. We see (via another flashback) that he returned to Button House after the war for an event celebrating the war’s front-line veterans. The Captain is refused entry, so he breaks in via a back window, and we quickly learn he’s there to see his beloved Anthony Havers. The two lock eyes across a crowded room, but before they can reunite, he’s accosted by his old army colleague Cartwright, who quickly realises The Captain is there under false pretences. The barrage of shameful accusations in front of a room of his peers causes The Captain to have a heart attack. While Havers runs to him and holds his hand, The Captain desperately tries and fails to get the words out to tell him he loves him, but Havers softly whispers “I know.” And that’s why we all need therapy.
Series 1-5 of Ghosts is now available to stream on BBC iPlayer