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Retro Crimbo 2016: George’s ultimate Christmas Day TV schedule

December 23, 2016


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All ident for Christmas is you: the UK BBC1 channel’s Christmas idents from 1977 through to 1991 (the last being an alternate to the second last for the Christmas Day network premiere of 1989’s Batman) 

So, it’s just a couple of days away now from the thing itself and, having taken a look at the telly schedules, you may have concluded (in the UK at least) that Christmas TV this year – as so often nowadays – somehow isn’t really cracked up to what it used to be. So many channels and so many viewing options, but when you plough through it all and find the diamonds in the rough, you realise there aren’t actually that many of them and, to watch them, they don’t quite cut the mustard in the way a seasonal special back in the day from, say, The Two Ronnies, Mike Yarwood or even Top Of The Pops did.

Which inevitably leads you to wonder – what, if you could have your way, would you really want to sit down to watch on Christmas Day? Which shows, movies and marvellous moments would you want to be tickled, teased, gripped and delighted by? Well, you may disagree with me, fair dos; but below follows a schedule that would pretty much be my pick (along with clips of the different entries – or even the whole programmes; lucky you!). Either way, take a look, have a watch and, by all means, let me know what you think by leaving a comment at the bottom. Now where’d you leave that darn remote…?

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7.00am TV-am Good Morning Britain (1985)

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What better way to kick-off Christmas Day than a visit to the classic ITV breakfast bods at TV-am – not least when it was hosted by the diamond pairing (geddit?) of sexy-would-be-wife-next-door Anne Diamond and he-of-the-plastic-grin Nick Owen? A viewing of the short clip below (it begins proper 50 seconds in) reveals that their co-hosts’ll include random TV-am regular of the era Jimmy Greaves (who’s bringing in his grandkids for some reason; it’s a funny old game), while weather girl d’hier Wincey Willis will be visiting the largest children’s hospital in Surrey. Which is nice. Plus, Anne and Nick are baking mince pies, even though neither of them like them. And Nick’s wearing a jumper with bananas on it, even though neither we nor Anne surely like it. Ah, Christmas in the ’80s…

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8.40 The Noel Edmonds Live, Live Christmas Breakfast Show (1985)

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Over to the Beeb for mid-morning because, on the same day, BBC1’s go-to-man of the ’80s/ ’90s had transferred his Saturday early-evening precursor to the House Party (namely the Late, Late Breakfast Show) to London’s British Telecom Tower for some sort of live-charity-telefon thing. He was ably assisted by the likeable, sadly late Mike Smith (the lucky Mr Sarah Greene) and a guy in Leeds called Tudor Nash Jones (great name). He was also joined by charlies running up the Tower to set a new world record and The Krankies and Feargal Sharkey on a 747 (obviously), while a ‘brand new’ charity named Comic Relief was launched (yes, that one) and a live prize draw was conducted via computer (exciting!). Unlike everything on this schedule, I remember this being broadcast and seem to recall it feeling like genuinely dynamic TV. Er, yes. If you really want to, you can watch the whole thing below…

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10.45 Film: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

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For millions around the globe, Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without this golden slice of do-good Americana from the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood. It stars a career-best James Stewart as an everyman who itches to see the world but is tied to his home town to responsibly see it through bad times and good. A tiny slip one festive season, though, puts him and all around him in jeopardy, until he’s visited by the most unlikely guardian angel he could ever imagine. Utterly charming and beguiling, romantic and dramatic, funny and compelling; this has to be the perfect way to revv up to Christmas lunch. See for yourself via the clip below…

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1.00pm A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

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Good grief! Poor old Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of Christmas amidst all his pals and iconic pet dog Snoopy, of course, in this all-time classic – actually anti-commercialised-Christmas – US TV animated special. Featuring all the smarts, sass, wisdom and off-kilter greatness of the Peanuts universe and the marvellous jazz-inflected music of Vince Guaraldi, the whole thing follows here…

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1.25 Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970)

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Narrated by Fred Astaire himself, this rather awesome origin tale of good ole Santa Claus (neatly working in the tune from which it takes its title) may just be the greatest of the spate of late ’60s/ early ’70s stop-motion animated specials produced by the Rankin Bass studios for American TV. It’s adored just as much – if not more – today than when first broadcast, so discover the magic of Kriss Kingle and co. by watching the whole thing below…

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2.15 Top Of The Pops 73 (1973)

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A staple of BBC1’s Christmas afternoon schedules for decades (it still is; even though the regular pop-chart-tune-featuring show itself no longer exists), the edition from ’73 has to be the all-time festive classic. Why? Because it would have featured Slade performing Merry Xmas Everybody (#1 that Crimbo), Wizzard doing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday (#4) and possibly Elton John inviting everyone to Step Into Christmas (#7). Admittedly, footage of that particular show’s hard to come by, but what a glam rockin’, toe-tappin’ party it must have been – here’s Slade doing their thing from an episode a week or two before…

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3.00 The Queen (1957)

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A real timepiece here, the very first television-shown message from Her Maj, the likes of which forever after (apart from one year that is, 1969) have been broadcast on BBC1 and ITV every Christmas Day at 3pm. Yes, so very much has changed since then – Ghana and Malaysia only gained independence from Britain that year (as she mentions) and the little boy in that photo nearest her is Prince Charles (yes, really!), but much hasn’t changed at all; take note of what she says about disregarding the good values and traditions of ‘the past’ in the face of the uncertainties of the future. Watch the full thing below…

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3.10 The James Bond Film:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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And what better to follow The Queen than a Bond film? Yes, it could only be Bond really, couldn’t it? (Certainly on this blog at least, haha!) And here’s a real stonker – for two reasons. First, it’s an unashamedly snowy and seasonal one (Bond says ‘Merry Christmas’ at one point and Blofeld even decorates the tree!); second, its one of the very, very best. Yep, its the one with that Aussie feller George Lazenby, but he makes a more than decent 007, plus there’s Diana Rigg as the Bond Girl, Telly Savalas as the villain and Gabrielle Ferzetti, Joanna Lumley, Catherine Schell and Angela Scoular all in supporting roles, as well as lashings of terrific action, real Swinging Sixties style and cool, genuine romance and one hell of an ending you’ll never forget. Here’s just a snippet…

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5.30 The Snowman (1982)

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Originally broadcast for UK Channel 4’s first Christmas – and a national institution by the mid-’80s thanks to choirboy Aled Jones’ near-chart-topping rendition of its theme Walking In The Air – this is an irresistible, unforgettable old-school pastel-like animation that tells the tale of a lonely boy’s snowman magically coming to life and whisking him off on an adventure one Christmas. It’s like a British answer to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Sort of. (Warning: the ending’s just as heart-melting):

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6.00 Bruce Forsyth
And The Generation Game
(1973) 

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Life is the name of the game and he wants to play the game with you! Who could forget the Generation Game, honestly! All those clueless yet loveable members of Britain’s great unwashed making fools of themselves under the BBC studio lights playing daft games and trying to win a ‘cuddly toy’ and other prizes, while a – back then – sprightly and sarky Brucie took the p*ss and his squeeze (on off the screen), the toothy beauty Andrea Redfearn, ‘did a twirl’. It was very un-PC, admittedly, but top Saturday night telly entertainment – and here’s the first few minutes of a Crimbo special from its heady heyday…

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7.00 The Good Life (1977)

Silly But It’s Fun

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The one-and-only festive special of the ’70s-suburban-self-sufficiency sitcom par excellence (which featured the outstanding thesp quartet that was Richard Briers, Penelope Keith, Paul Eddington and sexy Felicity Kendal); it’s defined by the episode’s title above there, with drunkenness, parlour games, class-ish comedy and crap presents throughout. Silly but oh-so classy fun. Watch the whole thing here…

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7.30 Family Ties (1983)

A Keaton Christmas Carol

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Yes, its Marty McFly as Scrooge, folks! Before he headlined Back To The Future (1985), Michael J Fox was the breakout star of one of the best sitcoms of the ’80s, the wonderful Liberal-vs-Conservative-America comedy that was Family Ties – and in this Christmas special from its second season, the Reagan-worshipping eldest son Alex (Fox) to a pair of hippie-ish Dem-lovin’ parents gets the Dickensian treatment in order to learn whats truly most important this time of year. Watch it all below…

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8.00 Only Fools And Horses (1996)

Time On Our Hands

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Before it was brought back for a trio of festive specials in the early Noughties (which, in retrospect, lacking in the old magic as they were, probably shouldn’t have happened), this is where the Only Fools journey concluded – with Del Boy and Rodders finally making it and becoming mill-yonaires in this third of three hour-long specials shown across Christmas 1996. This one, the last and best of the three, was actually broadcast on Sunday 29th December, but still brought in more than 26 million viewers, as it utterly deserved to. Relive below the moment at the end when, having realised their dream at long last, they finally face up to the fact that Trotters Independent Traders (TIT) has ceased trading – all the fine acting, perfect timing and pathos that made it maybe the greatest ever British sitcom is right here…

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9.00 The Morecambe And Wise
Christmas Show
(1971)

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Let’s face it, for any British TV watcher who knows and appreciates their stuff, no perfect Christmas Night would be complete without an hour-long seasonal special from the still (surely forever) unparalleled comic double act that was Eric and Ernie. And, let’s face it, it’s far from easy to choose which of their nation-halting, festive BBC extravaganzas that aired every December 25th (apart from one) between 1969 and ’77. There’s the Upstairs, Downstairs take off from ’75, the high-kicking of Angela Rippon from ’76 and the roster of newsmen hoofin’ it up to There’s Nothing Like A Dame in ’77 (the show that was watched by more than 27 million avid viewers). However, I’ve gone for the classic from ’71, which featured that year’s Best Actress Oscar-winner Glenda Jackson, Shirley Bassey singing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (as Eric and Ern sort out errant props and her footwear) and the magnificent sketch of Morecambe’s ‘performance’ with the LSO of Greig’s Piano Concerto ‘by Greig’ – overseen by Andrew Preview, sorry André Previn. Watch the following clip for more on that oh-s0 brilliant bit…

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10.05 Bernard And The Genie (1991)

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Between the days of Blackadder and transforming Hugh Grant into a global film star in Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994), comedy writer par excellence Richard Curtis turned out this all-too-little-seen, far-too-little-repeated Christmas comedy special-and-a-half, which sees shy nice guy Bernard Bottle’s (a pre-fame Alan Cumming) Christmas turned upside down but also salvaged by a Biblical-era genie (Curtis’s Comic Relief pal, Lenny Henry; on effervescent best form). With a gaggle of great, often knowing gags, the always terrific Rowan Atkinson on villain duties, something of a cinematic feel and an irresistible seasonal atmos, it’s easily one of my favourite slices of festive TV. Watch it in full below…

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11.15 Julie’s Christmas Special (1973)

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What better way to pass Christmas Day’s late-night than by being serenaded by Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews? This ’70s-stylish US TV special’s a real treat. It sees her and guest Peggy Lee (as the Sugar Plum Fairy) perform various seasonal favourites and swingin’ tunes, while Peter Ustinov provides fine support as Santa Claus (perfectly cast). Mind you, the highlight has to be Julie’s mellifluous rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter. Heart-melting. Watch the whole thing below…

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12.05am Film: Trading Places (1983)

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Finally, for those still awake despite the day-long onslaught of turkey, rum truffles and too much sherry; yes, they and the night owls out there will be rewarded with a pseudo anti-Crimbo comedy classic from the early to mid-’80s that sees the (then) unlikely pairing of Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd – both at the peak of their powers – unwittingly switch roles as part of a scheme by a pair elderly tycoon codgers (who are sort of Scrooge-cum-Trump hybrids), only to plan the latters’ comeuppance with their accomplices Jamie Lee Curtis (sexy) and Denholm Elliott (dry as a non-British summer’s day). Merry Christmas!

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