“An ITV/Diet Coke Movie Premiere.”
The fact that advertisers were not really interested after the pre-Christmas spending spree tailed off began to tell this year. ITV went hell for leather in the autumn, leaving virtually nothing left for the festive season itself. There wasn’t even a Coronation Street. The 1993 ITV Christmas Day schedule is not just the worst Christmas schedule, but maybe the worst schedule ever, full stop.
Things started reasonably well with GMTV, and their first Christmas Day, which consisted of seasonal episodes of their regular series Rise and Shine and Saturday Disney. At 9.25am we saw the traditional worship (from St Peter’s Cathedral in Bradford), but then the third channel just stuck to its usual Saturday schedule - What’s Up Doc was at 10.40am, followed by The Chart Show at the usual time of 11.30am and at 12.30am, unbelievably, Movies, Games and Videos, the epitome of all cheap filler television. This was followed at 1pm by two musty oldBugs Bunny TV specials, and it wasn’t until 2pm that we saw some vaguely festive programming, as Phillip Schofield interviewed the Walton sextuplets.
Following the Queen was the bank holiday staple, The Never Ending Story (Bond was back inThe Man with the Golden Gun – seemingly Bond’s most persistent film at Christmas time – at 4pm on Monday 27 and, better still, the premiere of Licence to Kill on Monday 3 January), and then at 5pm, the only new, British programme in peak time was Beadle’s Daredevils, wherein Jeremy introduced a series of death-defying stunts. Then from 6pm til near midnight it was just back-to-back movies - National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Field of Dreams and DOA, with just a brief news bulletin at 7.50pm offering respite. The problem was not just that the schedule on the biggest TV night of the year was full of films, but also that they were mediocre films. It’s perhaps only Field of Dreams that anyone was really desperate to see, and all would really not seem out of place on a bog-standard Saturday night schedule. Then at 11.40pm we saw aSouth Bank Show special on Irving Berlin, a world away from the big budget entertainment of the past.
The BBC, therefore, had a great day. CBBC kicked off earlier still this year, at 6.20am, and as it was a Saturday, there was a festive Live & Kicking at 8.30am, with Andi Peters, Emma Forbes and the legendary John Barrowman. Then at 10am, we saw a return visit to that old Christmas Day staple, the circus tent, although thankfully just for a carol concert introduced by Roger Royle. Anne and Nick were gone, and so Albert Finney’s version of Scrooge was offered up to fill the mid-morning slot from 10.45am. Then at 12.35pm we opened up the Christmas Comedy Cracker with two all-time greats, The Two Ronnies and Dad’s Army. Top of the Pops(“Christmas 1993″, of course) was still pretty bad though, with Franklin and Dortie in charge again.
Noel’s Christmas Presents returned and was moved to 3.10pm – seemingly Noel was now a big star after his success with House Party, and this was inoffensive enough. Back to the Future IIIwas the family film in the afternoon, then it was hit after hit well into the evening – a 90 minuteOnly Fools and Horses at 6pm, billed as possibly the last ever, then EastEnders had a free run at the 7.30pm slot that Coronation Street decided not to contest. Birds of a Feather was still there at 8pm, then at 9.10pm was the big film, Ghost – a more worthy Christmas Day movie than any of ITV’s offerings. The BBC even broadcast the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show at 11.10pm, as if to emphasise that Christmas Day meant BBC1.
Indeed, so popular was this schedule, that at various points of the evening, both BBC2 and Channel 4 had no viewers at all – or at least, a viewing figure of only a few thousand, rounded down to zero. That night, very few people were watching BBC2 when they were broadcasting Alan Plater’s dramatisation of Glyn Thomas’s autobiography in Selected Exits – a special edition of Bookmark, while on Channel 4 John Geilgud starred in a low-budget, one act play directed by Kenneth Branagh, no doubt delighting the handful who bothered to tune in – they were probably also happy with the three hour Italian opera broadcast afterwards. Still, at least they had The Snowman, at 4.25pm, and BBC2 screened Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Day Outas well.
In 1993, BBC1 seemed to have hits to spare, and Boxing Day was perhaps even more successful than the day before – extended episodes of Keeping Up Appearances and Casualty, followed by the excellent One Foot in the Algarve at 9pm crushed ITV’s schedule of an oldPoirot repeat, a Dame Edna special recorded for American television some two years previously and a Hale and Pace compilation. Indeed, One Foot in the Algarve got the highest audience of the whole festive period, but on Christmas Day, Del Boy et al took the spoils with 19.6 million viewers. Well, given the choice between that and Chevy Chase…