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Christmas Creamguide 2021: Week One

Christmas 2021
Only the opening titles will be festooned with tinsel

Hullo there!
And welcome to, heavens, the 22nd Christmas Creamguide! As ever we’ve combed the schedules for everything worth watching and listening to, joined once more by the gang from the Filmguide fireplace, like an annual for a long-folded comic. Again it’s spread over two emails, and because of the way the days fall we’ve got a bit to go until the big day, as we start on…

SATURDAY 18th DECEMBER

BBC1

14.30 Maleficent
And so, as tradition dictates, to the films. Forgive us if we seem a little distracted this year, but we’re currently in talks with several big studios who want to develop our pitch for a family-oriented animated film about a grumpy old middle-aged Beatles fan who gets Disney Plus just to watch Get Back, but then starts idly flicking through the rest of the channel’s titles and finds his cold, sarcastic heart slowly melting under the relentless onslaught of hand-drawn loveliness. The emotional final scene shows him, with family and friends gathered about, solemnly swearing to never again bang on about the mono mix of It Won’t Be Long in polite company. We’re currently considering several offers, but we’ll probably plump for the one that contains the lowest amount of James Corden. This, the first of many festive Disneys, is an early entry in the now saturated live action remake market, a “villain’s perspective” reworking of Sleeping Beauty. As such, it’s been analysed to death by the pundits as an allegory for everything from Christ to rape to capitalism, but the main takeaway for us is the sheer amount of fun Angelina Jolie’s clearly having in the title role. (Apparently the shoot overran by several weeks as Jolie couldn’t stop herself breaking into Siobhan Fahey’s verse from “Stay” every time the cameras rolled.) The aesthetic here is chocolate box woodland, with shafts of dappled sunlight and backlit mossy branches up the wazoo, taking cues from Lord of the Rings’s bucolic New Zealand, but on a scale that’s considerably less grandiose and much handier for High Wycombe Primark. Sadly, Miranda Richardson’s turn as Jolie’s sinister goth auntie was cut out, which is particularly egregious when you consider the amount of screen time given to Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville as uncanny valley comic relief pixies. Moral: Goths have all the fun.

18.10 The Weakest Link
Here’s a blast from the past. The Weakest Link began 21 years ago and took off almost immediately, moving from daytime novelty to primetime staple within three months and sold around the world within a year, the Beeb showing the first episode of the US adaptation unbilled one day because it was so exciting. It ran for over a decade but it was flagging quite a bit towards the end, and it was so associated with its host it couldn’t have carried on when they quit. Or you’d think so, but here we are again. Romesh Ranganthan is in charge now, and if you think a show based around insults and back-stabbing isn’t very suitable in the current climate, apparently this new version is totally played for laughs. It’s on quite a bit over the fortnight, and after the Blankety Blank revival last Christmas quickly led to a successful series, presumably it’s fingers crossed the same happens here.

00.20 The Lost Boys
“Gory, story, allegory, Montessori…” In the last few years we’ve often raised an eyebrow at the reclassification of some ’80s cinematic also-rans as generation-defining timeless classics. Ghostbusters, Splash, Flight of the Navigator, Highlander – they had their moments, they made their money, they spawned a tie-in Spectrum game and some Weetabix action transfer sets, but by and large they came and went in short order, leaving nothing save a Screen Test observation round in their cultural wake. Yet now we learn they were generation-defining masterpieces, their influence running through civilisation like a hard-boiled egg through a Dewhurst’s gala pie, and oh look, we’re filming a reboot that’s out next summer, what *are* the chances, eh? On the other hand, several films that really were massive deals at the time seem to have dropped off the zeitgeist altogether, and this Brat Pack vampire romp is a prime example. A less than prestige production – knocked out in just over three weeks, one of those being taken up with the “death by stereo” gag – it was one of the few films *everyone* at school had seen. Later it became a fixture in end-of-term “you can bring a film to watch in General Studies period” sessions, one of the few pictures (along with Life of Brian, Sid & Nancy and, weirdly, The Keep) enjoyed by baggy-jumpered Cure fans, bowl-cutted metalwork nuts and square-jawed basketball team captains alike. But do you see any announcements of a reboot? [Pause. Checks internet.] Oh. Right. As you were.

BBC2

07.55 A Christmas Story
09.25 King of Kings
Two long-standing seasonal favourites here. We all know about the second one (Spoiler: he never does come back to fix that chair) but the first needs some explanation, being a 1983 American celluloid precursor of those Facebook accounts about how ecstatically happy we all were in the days of non-fireproof tinsel and lumps of coal and Ye Olde Oak tinned ham and while we’re on the subject of the RNLI etc. etc. In short, regulation blonde speccy 1950s kid has regulation blonde speccy 1950s Christmas, complete with toy wagons and air rifles and furnace dampers and (unless someone’s seen sense and cut it out) a climactic gag about how funny Chinese people sound singing carols. Watch as an act of cultural anthropology, and thank God it’s them instead of you. Moral: be sure to drink your Ovaltine.

14.00 Great Expectations
Speaking of Dickens, this year Creamguide (Films) contributed to the serious, grown-up lit crit discourse by identifying chapter four of Bleak House as the origin of the old “small child with head stuck in railings” clichÈ (we know we should say “trope” if we want to be taken seriously but we just can’t bring ourselves to). The narrator happens upon a small boy, “very hot and frightened and crying loudly, fixed by the neck between two iron railings, while a milkman and a beadle, with the kindest intentions possible, were endeavouring to drag him back by the legs, under a general impression that his skull was compressible by those means.” Sadly our attempts to follow this up by locating a pioneering head-stuck-in-saucepan in the pages of Don Quixote, or a primordial toe-stuck-in-bath-tap somewhere in Madame Bovary, have proved fruitless.

18.30 Whisky Galore!
Remake! Yes, it’s the recent do-over of the old Ealing Hebridean booze windfall comedy, starring Gregor Fisher and written by Peter McDougall, although at no point during this film does anyone trash a Greenock pub with a cut-throat razor, beat up an OAP with a ceremonial mace, or use the heater in the cabin of their Wimpey crane to make a cheeky round of toast.

21.00 Madonna at the BBC
Madge was not a particularly prolific visitor to the Beeb over the years – indeed, after her two Pops appearances in 1984, neither of which we saw on BBC4 on the actual shows for reasons but did the other month when one was repeated in 1991, she wasn’t on it again until 1995, and we recall her performance on the lottery in 1998 being big news as her first live Beeb appearance for over a decade. But if she didn’t appear on British TV much performing, she certainly did as the subject of news stories, magazine items and much else, so there should be some interesting archivery served up here.

22.00 Desperately Seeking Susan
23.40 Madonna: Truth or Dare
A Maddiefilarious double bill, starting with Susan “Smithereens” Seidelman’s New York reboot of Jacques Rivette’s existential new wave classic Celine and Julie Go Boating. No really, it is. Well OK, they cut all that stuff about stopping a girl in a Victorian mansion being repeatedly murdered with the help of time-travelling sweets, but, you know, magic and adventure and carefree romping and all that, it’s all there. Among the assorted NYC “faces” taking bit parts are Richard Hell, notorious Sex Pistols “minder” Rockets Redglare, and the divine Ann “Bongwater” Magnuson hawking gaspers. Then it’s one of the better concert-based films, billed here under its US title for some reason, rather than the Bob Mills-inspiring one it bore in this country first time around. Possibly the only documentary film to have been parodied by RuPaul, French and Saunders, Elmer Fudd and Blossom.

ITV4

10.30 The Big Match Revisited
This series probably started two weeks too early, as Christmas has been and gone, and indeed thanks to a run of low-scoring and lower division matches, so has much of the first few weeks of 1981, and after the fourth round of the FA Cup last week, we immediately head to the fifth round in mid-February. After much excitement at the start of the season, Southampton seem to have gone off the boil a bit but they’re still in the cup so we do get the main match from Southern for the first time in a while.

Film4

16.25 The Karate Kid
18.50 The Karate Kid Part II
What with these two, along with the third sequel, the two film reboots, the cartoon spin-off and that stealth Netflix reboot from a couple of years back, this is clearly an evergreen format, so we’re busy finishing our pitch for The RT Kid, where a young dropout who thinks linear TV scheduling is old hat has his life turned round by a wise old mentor with an Ottoman full of Radio Times back issues. “Woddis On… Woddis Off.”

23.20 Conan the Barbarian
Now we’ve got Denis Villeneuve’s Sensible Dune, may we suggest a few other Dino De Laurentiiiiiiiiiis productions for his next “one of those loopy old films, but sensible” project? How about Sensible Death Wish, where all the blood’s a sort of muted beige and only one ne’er-do-well gets seriously injured? Or Maximum Sensible Overdrive, where a lorry slightly overshoots a parking bay while Ed Sheeran covers You Shook Me All Night Long? Sensible Orca, available for the Amiga and Atari ST? And of course Sensible Conan, where an ageing Schwarzenegger is grateful he no longer has to traverse harsh fantasy landscapes and break into temples to seek out the lager of Lamot, because the Co-Op now deliver. Go on Denis, avec tes yeux si bleus, give us a bell.

5 Select

21.10 Steptoe and Son
First of the Steptoe flicks (the second, much better, one’s on tomorrow), with Harold marrying and having a baby with stripper Carolyn Seymour. (Who also played a stripper in bonkers Peter O’Toole stage satire adaptation The Ruling Class the same year this film came out, stereotyping fans.) Look out for Mike Reid compering, Fred Griffiths bartending, and Bracket without Hinge.

Sky Comedy

18.00 Boomerang
We all have gaps in our pop cultural hinterland, and for Creamguide (Films) Southern Branch the early ’90s, being spent in unheated and largely television-free accommodation, is a mysterious and vague era, tellywise. But thanks to cheap student cinema tickets, we know far too much about the films of that period, so it sort of balances out. And when we say far too much, we’re not pissing about. It’s not just your Gladiators and your Players and your Reservoir Dogses, we paid (a little) good money to sit through Cool World, Toys, Radio Flyer, Blame It On the Bellboy, Freejack… it’s all there, indelibly etched in those memory locations where you probably store classic episodes of Screen One or Spender or The Fiddley Foodle Bird. Which brings us to this Eddie Murphy vehicle, panned at the time, mildly disappointing box office-wise, and as bizarre as a major studio motion picture can be. Murphy plays a foot fetishist shagabout ad executive who meets his match when Robin Givens turns up and gives as good as she gets lairiness-wise. (This counted as a solidly feminist plot in blockbuster land at the time.) Along the way Halle Berry slaps Murphy in the chops, Eartha Kitt leaps on top of him, and Grace Jones arrives in a beefcake-drawn chariot and gives birth to a bottle of perfume. It’s recently been revaluated as an overlooked classic and, well, we wouldn’t go that far, but it does at least stay in the memory, for better or worse. Which is more than can be said for Under Siege. Or 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Or Far and Away. Or…

Sky Sci-Fi/Horror

09.15 2001: a Space Odyssey
We’ve lost count of the number of special effects featurettes about the construction of this film’s rotating spaceship interior set. It’s only a bigger version of Fred Astaire’s ceiling dance in Royal Wedding, fellers. Smaller but far more innovative is the floating pen gag, accomplished with nothing more than a sheet of non-reflective glass and a piece of double-sided tape. Of course, even this has become inflated into Kubrick having double-sided tape specifically invented for the film by NASA or something, when it had already been around for years, but that’s the fanbase for you. Famously, an assistant director suggested to Kubrick that “you can use glue”, but Kubrick reminded him that time was money on a film set. “I’m using double-sided sticky tape for speed.” Mind you, we’re sure he stayed up into the small hours experimenting with different lengths and shapes of tape sliver, like Pinewood’s answer to Margaret Parnell. (Who, spookily enough, retired from doing the Blue Peter makes in, yes, 2001.) In fact all the films in Kubrick’s oeuvre have a one-to-one BP equivalent. 2001 itself is, of course, the corollary of Bleep and Booster. Barry Lyndon corresponds to those endless historical segments narrated by Sarah Greene over a bunch of watercolours. Slim Pickens at the end of Dr Strangelove is echoed in the various skydiving attempts, though John Noakes’s reaction noises are probably nearer the mark than Janet Ellis’s. That time they showed Cosmic Zoom is a dead ringer for Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico Technique film. Full Metal Jacket is Noakes climbing up that Royal Navy practice mast and chickening out halfway up. (If not then subsequently blowing his brains out with a rifle.) And of course Eyes Wide Shut is, er, the History of Corsets feature. Moving on…

Sky The Matrix

We don’t actually have any billings for this channel (you can probably guess its entire schedule for yourself), we just wanted to note that it exists. Ain’t technology something?

Talking Pictures TV

06.00 Phantom from Space
07.30 Fire Maidens from Outer Space
Two black-and-white Cold War sci-fi non-starters from the Golden Age of Sod All. First up, men in hats and overcoats talk for ages in rooms and drive cars with great big aerials on the roof as they chase after an alien who is either wearing a diving helmet, overalls and cricket pads, or conveniently invisible. Next, men in military caps smoking pipes talk for ages in rooms and travel to a remote planet that looks conveniently like a field in Hertfordshire to watch women in pleated skirts do interpretative dance and blow up an alien in a black body stocking. Visual effects in both come courtesy of Jewson’s.

19.05 Dr Who and the Daleks
Has Roy Castle’s Ian Chesterton been re-evaluated yet? If so, put our name down for a gross. That chocolate box business is textbook epically telegraphed set-up-and-pay-off stuff. And we know how popular chocolate-related humour is with the fanbase right now. “Another soft centre!”

BBC Radio 2

13.00 Pick of the Pops
It’s forty years to the week since the best ever episode of Top of the Pops, the live episode from Christmas Eve 1981 that we enjoyed so much on BBC4, with Kid introducing a silly string-powered Human League, Dollar and Altered Images, plus Ant Rap which we love the idea of generations of families sitting through. Happy memories of that edition in the first hour with a cracker of a chart. Then it’s 1991, as not seen on BBC4 the other week because it was an episode with Adrian Rose, but to be honest he did us a bit of a favour as it was a stinker. Hope for more Kym Sims and the KLF and a bit less of Shaft and Simply Red.

SUNDAY 19th DECEMBER

ITV

19.20 The Royal Variety Performance
This is pretty late in the year for this show, and indeed when the Beeb showed it around this time in the past they would sometimes bill it as The Royal Variety Performance At Christmas. With Sports Personality of the Year on the other side it’s a bit of a shame that two of the traditional pre-Christmas fixtures are going head to head, though it doesn’t sound like a vintage year all told, the biggest interest from our perspective coming from the Royal Variety debut of Elvis Costello.

CHANNEL 5

22.00 Funniest Ever Christmas TV Cock-Ups
Oddest programme in a generally odd TV Christmas last year was the Before They Were Famous compilation, which didn’t just recycle the clips but also Angus’ links, which meant he kept changing suit and indeed aspect ratio throughout. It was at least another reminder of his absolutely immaculate comic timing and we don’t see enough of him sitting behind a desk and delivering wonderfully crafted one-liners these days. He’s presenting this show, and maybe he might add a touch of class to what will likely be a pretty unedifying clip collection. Or maybe not.

ITV3

10.45 Man About the House
One of the few sitcom films that’s as much fun as its TV forebear, famed throughout the land for its climactic Brechtian romp through the Thames Television studios. Memorable as that sequence is, it throws up some existential problems. Robin and chums encounter, along with Bill Grundy and Spike Milligan, the male stars of Love Thy Neighbour off-duty in the studio bar. Ergo, Love Thy Neighbour exists as a sitcom in the universe of Man About the House. Fair enough, right? Problem is, in an episode of the short-lived spin-off Love Thy Neighbour in Australia, Eddie (Jack Smethurst) is reminiscing with his neighbour about TV shows, among them Steptoe and Son, Mind Your Language and… GEORGE AND MILDRED. Ergo, Man About the House exists as a sitcom in… We’ve pondered on this issue for a while, and we’ve decided the best course of action is to pretend Love Thy Neighbour never existed in the first place.

18.55 A Christmas Carol
The George C Scott one, aka Scrooge: Lust for Turkey. In which we learn a) that Angela Pleasance is such a perfect choice for the Ghost of Christmas Past it’s amazing it took until 1984 for someone to think of getting her in; b) George C Scott’s Scrooge spent his youth cosplaying as Turlough; and c) the score is by Nick Bicat, fresh from doing musical honours on his brother Tony’s dystopian musical Facelift for Central Television, a symbolism-stuffed tale of an Aryan future society with regulation bondage riot police and dry ice laser light tunnels on loan from Strollers nightclub, which has its stiffo ways shaken up by unruly magician Martin Shaw, who subverts a smitten Sue Jones-Davies by performing old Ali Bongo routines while dressed as Roy Wood. God bless us, every one.

11.00 Carry On Nurse
Second of the bunch, adapted from Patrick “the famous Beatles” Cargill’s play Ring for Catty by Norman “new phone” Hudis. Who’d adapt it again three years later, with a lot of the same cast, as Twice Round the Daffodils, for reasons we’ve never understood. Ironically, Daffodils is the adaptation which *doesn’t* end with the famous “Daffodil up Wilfrid Hyde-White’s arse” gag which, bewilderingly, was so popular with US audiences that some cinemas offered souvenir plastic daffs as tie-in merchandise. And of course it’s referred to by Frankie Howerd in Carry On Doctor. “Oh no, you don’t! I’ve seen that film!” Meaning Carry On Nurse exists as a film in the universe of Carry On Doctor, ergo… Oh God, this is going to keep happening, isn’t it?

5 Select

21.00 Steptoe and Son Ride Again
Birth in the first one, death in this, as Albert pretends to cark it for the life insurance. Come for Diana Dors, Milo O’Shea, Frank Thornton, Yootha Joyce, Geoffrey Bayldon, Bill Maynard, Henry Woolf and Sam Kydd; stay for the inspirationally grotty tower blocks, covered markets, butcher’s shops and dog tracks.

Sky Arts

21.15 Wild at Heart
We were disappointed earlier this year to see David Lynch dipping his snout into The Wrong Kind of NFT, not long after fellow US weirdos The Residents announced the same. Look out next February for Gibby Haynes’s crypto-currency Buttcoin. Anyway, here’s a choice cut from those first few years of the ’90s when Lynch ruled the world, with this film riding high, Twin Peaks obsessing entire sixth forms to the point of Nikki Kerr being ostracised from the common room after she prematurely revealed the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer on stage at the end-of-term show, Chris Isaak everywhere, and even Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet back in the charts. (That wasn’t really anything to do with Lynch, being attached to a Nivea ad, but it all added to the fun.) For a couple of years Lynch was the very thing, Jeeves, and you no longer had to hide that Channel 5 video of Eraserhead when girls came round. Then Peaks went badly off the boil, the follow-up film annoyed more people than it entertained (“You can’t hear what they’re saying!” “What’s Bowie blathering on about?”) and his sitcom On the Air got a reception so frosty it made No Soap, Radio look like Cheers. It was inevitable, of course. You can’t build a mainstream around a body of work like that without it shaking itself to pieces sooner or later. Still, it all adds fuel to our thesis that the ’90s were culturally hobbled some time in 1993, as all the odd and great music, films and TV of those first few years gave way to a bland diet of Britpop, Braveheart and Ballykissangel. It’s an entirely foolish notion with no basis in real events, but as conspiracy theories go these days it’s harmless enough, and it keeps us away from the fruit machines.

Talking Pictures TV

10.00 The Night We Got the Bird
Brian Rix shacks up with widowed Dora Bryan, and is harried by a mysterious parrot which turns out to be the reincarnation of Bryan’s departed ex, Ronald Shiner. Incidentally, Shiner replaced Jon Pertwee in the film version of the Navy Lark after the sainted Jon took himself off the project in protest at director Herbert Wilcox dropping Dennis Price from the cast on homophobic grounds, thus craftily dooming the project, hooray. This is billed as a Rix-Conyers film, the Conyers in question being Darcy rather than Hutton, which is a shame as he might have had some better camera equipment in that box alongside the lion. There’s a truly weird bit at the start where an old man in a bath chair is dragged along a pier by a nurse, who he whips with his cane, to a “What the Butler Saw” machine, through which he views the rudimentary animated opening credits. This is never referred to again.

16.00 The Footage Detectives
17.00 The Dickie Henderson Show
So, what have Mike and Noel got for us this Christmas? Well, no festive episodes of Runaround, alas, but they have unearthed a pleasing burst of old school variety that seems just right for the season. Dickie Henderson was a huge star in his day, a genial and generous performer who was a fixture on TV screens throughout the sixties and seventies. Indeed in the late seventies he starred in two shows with two of our favourite ever titles, the Bob Monkhouse co-starring I’m Bob, He’s Dickie and his own I’m Dickie, That’s Showbusiness. His longest-running TV vehicle, though, was his series for Rediffusion, a mix of stand-up, sketch and sitcom, seemingly modelled on the US sitcoms at the time, with Dickie playing “himself” with a host of guest stars each week. Most of it’s been wiped, but one’s just turned up.

17.30 Night Mail
“I stan, you stan, we all stan for Wystan.” Yes, it’s the GPO film that bequeathed a generation of bored schoolchildren their first and if they could possibly help it only poetry recitation. The production of this is now well catalogued: the GPO lads thought Auden was a tosser and Britten a ponce, one of the cameramen was Jonah Jones, presumably before he started hanging about with Zammo, and the breathless narration was recorded in multiple takes stitched together, which is why classroom recitations always tended to fall apart so embarrassingly. (Or, if you were smart like Gary Hyland, you made a comic thing out of running out of breath and pretended to collapse halfway through, thus winning over the kids to such an extent that the teacher gave up and didn’t bother making you recite the rest which is just as well as you’d never bothered to learn it all anyway.)

04.35 The Butler’s Dilemma
In which Ian Fleming plays Mr Pastry’s dad! Well OK, it’s not *that* Ian Fleming but the Australian actor of the same name who was one of the Speed Learning students in that episode of The Prisoner where Patrick McGoohan makes a telex machine blow up by telling it his favourite Carly Simon song. Still, pretty amazing fact, eh? Oh, please yourselves. “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Pastry, I expect you to dance around maniacally for fifty seconds and then fall over.”

TCM

13.15 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Just as well we’re in the sentimental season, as the presence of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Holmes films in these billings, having been constant since the early ’00s, makes us, if nobody else, come over slightly misty-eyed. So, here’s the second entry in the long, long series, based not on Conan canon but a stage play, with Moriarty cunningly distracting Holmes from a nefarious plot to steal – what else? – the crahn joolz. There’s lashings of hearty dialogue; Watson failing to recognise a shaved Moriarty; a portentous (and signed!) opening caption in large print for the elderly; a brilliantly perfunctory opening in which Holmes and Moriarty basically say “Let’s do a mystery!” “Righto!”; Moriarty’s conservatory headquarters, complete with menacing bloke constantly playing the flute and an unwatered rubber plant; Holmes playing his violin like a ukulele to a brandy glass full of flies; a woman bursting into 221B in a very melodramatic way and promptly apologising for “bursting in in that melodramatic way”; Watson putting a man’s life needlessly in danger and being called an “incorrigible bungler” by Holmes in the manner of June reprimanding Terry for getting orange juice all down him on the patio; a textbook fogbound death scream followed by a montage of London stereotypes going “‘ere, what’s that?”; Watson getting the deductive shit kicked out of him by a small boy and going into a massive sulk; a set of bolas beheading a statue a la Moonraker; and of course Holmes’s ace and totally superfluous Mr Pastry-style song-and-dance act to Oh, I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside. Rathbone novices start here. You’ll thank us, eventually.

MONDAY 20th DECEMBER

BBC2

13.45 Carousel
15.50 South Pacific
A Rogers & Hammerstein double, for fans of old school musicals. Although, just as in hip-hop, what’s old school now was very much new school at the time, as R&H innovated a new kind of movie musical where the song and dance numbers were actually integrated into and helped advance the plot. They’re very much the De La Soul of Broadway, with Lerner & Loewe as A Tribe Called Quest and Sondheim, with his grittier themes, a greasepaint Public Enemy. Be careful though, as any attempt to extend this already ropey metaphor into the present may bring up Lloyd-Webber/Kanye West comparisons and, well, best not, eh?

18.15 Porridge
19.00 Dad’s Army
All the familiar favourites are seemingly present and correct this Christmas, making a suitable alternative if you’re hoping to avoid the news over the festive season. As we’ve said before, it seems bizarre to look back at old Radio Times and see vintage sitcoms appear on seemingly unhallowed dates, given these days we’re so low on comedy that they pretty much get a Christmas Day slot by default. But they had hits to spare in those days, hence these two got outings on 24th December 1976 and 23rd December 1974 respectively.

19.30 Mastermind
Oh, we’re going to do the joke anyway. The standard of celebrities on this are getting worse and worse, we can’t even recognise… oh, it’s a normal one. And indeed it’s the only visit to the black chair we’re making over the entire fortnight, with the celebrity incarnation seemingly held back until the new year. Some interesting subjects, mind, with Rocky Horror, Eric Cantona and Black Mirror.

BBC4

19.00 Top of the Pops
“Andi Peters is still here – why?” No, still no sign of The Story of 1991, let alone 1992, but we’ve got a burst of festive specials over the next five nights, some familiar, some not. This one is especially familiar as we only saw it about six months ago, Christmas 1990. Pretty bog-standard as Christmas shows go, Paul Ciani’s big innovation is to accompany Goodiebags and Anthea with some famous faces who absolutely definitely weren’t just hanging around TV Centre on the day they recorded it, honest, because they genuinely wanted Bernard Davey to be involved. It’s all worth it for the most brilliantly bad noddy shot from Mark during his interrogation of The Soup Dragons, in any case. Oh, and the music’s alright.

20.00 What We Were Watching: Christmas 1991
A new instalment of this programme, where again it’s worrying to see Christmases you remember treated as nostalgic oddities. Indeed, the thing we most remember about Christmas 1991 was BBC2’s Perfect Christmas day devoted to non-stop repeats, of the likes of Christmas Night With The Stars, Pops 73 and Morecambe and Wise, all of which were fascinating and all of which were, of course, more recent than that theme day is now. Brrr. In terms of new programmes it wasn’t the most wonderful Christmas, we think, with Batman the big draw on Christmas Day, but this show promises to delve further into the Christmas Radio Times with clips from Top Gear and Going Live.

21.30 Pet Shop Boys in Concert
This is actually billed as 1991 Night, although it’s a bit of a half-arsed affair with the only thing between these two programmes a Keeping Up Appearances repeat. But this makes it all worth it, we think. Used to be a running joke that the PSBs would never play live or go on tour, Neil always saying they’d do it when Bananarama, another act who famously didn’t feel the need to show they could “cut it” live, did it. But then the ‘rams did, so they did as well, and decided it had to be the most theatrical and flamboyant tour that was absolutely worth seeing as a show in its own right. They certainly succeeded too, as this record of their Performance tour illustrates.

22.30 The Ice House
Been nice to see all the Christmas Ghost Stories in one burst on BBC4 in recent weeks, although if you’ve been waiting until the festive season to watch them all we hope you’ve recorded them as the earliest ones have already fallen off iPlayer. This is the last one, from Christmas Day 1978, though the series rather petered out with Lawrence Gordon Clark, who’d directed all of them, having defected to ITV. But still worth a watch for completeness’ sakes if nothing else.

Film4

14.30 Jason and the Argonauts
Stop-motion is often romanticised by hack critics taking a swipe at CGI. It’s a straight fight between heroic one-man feats of joyful homespun craft and industrially churned-out inhuman pixel-pushing every time, according to folk who’ve never seen one of those Rankin-Bass Christmas specials or an episode of Charlie Chalk. But the skeleton scene in this (let’s not kid ourselves) wildly uneven film really is superhuman stuff: one bloke alone in a cupboard for four months, keeping track of the speed, direction and position of each limb of seven skeletons, all the while making sure they match the live action combatants filmed months previously. Small wonder the special effects Oscar went to ruddy Cleopatra.

Horror Channel

00.55 Videodrome
James Woods and Debbie Harry stumble upon a military-industrial conspiracy by sitting up all night watching ITV Nightscreen. Then their black and white Alba portable goes all wobbly during an episode of Walker: Texas Ranger and all prosthetic hell breaks loose. Imperial phase Cronenberg, when he still dared to be silly with rubber but no longer had to shoot everything in Canadian motel rooms to save money.

Talking Pictures TV

14.35 Cup Fever
Some kind of Nobbyness is measured out in Stiles for this venerable Children’s Film Foundation adventure wherein a youth togger team skippered by the brother of Crossroads’ Miss Diane receives untold grief from evil councillor David “Cockleshell Heroes” Lodge, but fights back with the help of kindly copper Bernard “I Go a Bundle” Cribbins and Matt Busby’s Man United as themselves. Norman “Death Line” Rossington drives the coach, Dermot “that’s right, we are orally men” Kelly mends the boots, and Susan George and Olivia Hussey provide moral, if not athletic, support.

21.00 Doomwatch
22.50 Stardust
It’s a ’70s glam-horror double bill! Or “Solid Gold Easy Acromegaly” as someone’s illegibly written on this Ind Coope beermat we found in our pocket this morning. And it’s that very disease, contracted by members of a sleepy Cornish fishing village after eating contaminated haddock and making them look like Rondo Hatton in those old films, that forms the backdrop for the film of the Mary Whitehouse-troubling enviro-action TV series. It begins with a Telex machine typing: “MOST URGENT. TO COMBAT WORLDWIDE POLLUTION PROBLEM RECOMMEND FORMATION NEW GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT. TO BE CALLED…………….” We do like the fact it’s so urgent they omit indefinite articles but still have time to add a sixteen-dot ellipsis for dramatic effect. Then we get the opening credits over a montage of, well, let’s be frank, slurry. They knew how to grab an audience in those days. Still, the bucolic Cornish coast looks nice as Ian Bannen rushes along it in an orange polo neck frowning at unhelpful locals. Back at Doomwatch HQ, John Paul races about the lab like a Benny Hill Action Man, tapping flasks and asking the hard, true questions. A worthy environmental point, made in an entirely undramatic way. Then it’s the sequel to David Essex “price of fame” musical That’ll Be the Day, directed by cigar-chomping amphitheatre nut Michael Lindsay-Ho – no wait, Aylesbury’s own soft drink doppelg‰nger documentarian Michael Apted. Sorry, we were distracted by Ringo Starr not being in it, having been replaced since the first film by Adam Faith. Keith Moon’s still there, though, joined by Paul Nicholas, Larry Hagman, Karl Howman and Marty Wilde. Most of the fictional band’s music is by Dave Edmunds, apart from the title track in which Jeff Wayne revisits the winning echo chamber spookiness of Rock On, with added harpsichord, strings and pipe organ. It’s one of the maddest top ten hits of the ’70s, and would be equally at home on both Aladdin Sane and Around the World in a Day.

TCM

11.45 The Hound of the Baskervilles
13.30 Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman
Here’s the first and most faithfully-adapted of the Rathbones, which was subject to a lavish restoration and re-release in the mid-’70s, complete with restored heroin references cut from the original print, and an accompanying interview with Conan Doyle himself. It was very much the Get Back of its day. And it’s grand stuff, full of smoke-riddled back projection and obvious model work as it is, with a hilarious Holmesian rustic disguise that’s perpetrated largely to piss Watson off. (And listen out for the point where Sherlock starts to play Stairway to Heaven on a zither.) Then it’s off to Universal Pictures and into the present day – well, 1943 – to pit the Victorian sleuth against those, er, Nazis. It’s the one where Holmes fakes his own death in a Scottish stream at the start, then turns up just as Watson’s shifting his old books, dressed as a cockney postman. Much consternation follows. “Necessary me Aunt Dinah’s bustle! You’ll give yourself a treat acting about all over the place!” And when the game’s afoot, we get a slightly unfortunate Maharajah disguise complete with unevenly applied dubbin, a bunch of spooky silent kids, tarantulas crawling through air vents and being handily illuminated by a torch beam, and a grand shot of Watson in profile, playing the tuba. Plus, there being a war on and everything, we get a scene in a Nazi-themed fairground shooting gallery. “Hit ’em where their hearts ought to be and listen to the ‘ollow sahnd!”

BBC Radio 4

20.00 Look At What You Could Have Won
One of our favourite things on Twitter this year was when the Hollywood actor Josh Gad was at a loose end in his hotel room while filming in London, and promptly asked Twitter what the hell he was watching, which turned out to be Play Your Cards Right on Challenge. Among the replies – including “that’s our Prime Minister you’re insulting” – were various people who suggested he check out Bullseye, which he did indeed find an experience. Actually social media seems to be behind this programme, as we remember someone earnestly tweeting that when Jim asked the contestants who were unemployed what the job situation was like, they found it very moving as it illustrated that Jim was part of the struggle. That also seems to be the view of James McMahon, who posits here that Bully has “come to represent empathy, community and kindness”. Well, it’s something other than laughing at speedboats, we suppose.

BBC Radio 4 Extra

16.00 Quote… Unquote: A Celebration
End of an era on the Home Service with the final episode today of this long-running series, seemingly much to the relief of many who can’t believe it’s still going, as only Nigel Rees seems to actually find it amusing or indeed understand what the point of it is. Certainly it’s surely the quintessential Radio 4 panel game, aimed squarely at provoking wry smiles rather than belly laughs and seemingly just an excuse for the host to show off. That said, it’s certainly had its fair share of famous names both in front of and behind the microphone, with many future stars taking a turn at producing it earlier in their careers. But after 45 years and hundreds of shows that’s finally it, and here are some of Rees’ own favourite moments.

TUESDAY 21st DECEMBER

BBC1

14.45 Saving Mr Banks
The Poppins reboot is one of the Beeb’s Christmas centrepieces judging by the trailers and all the complimentary programming like this Hanks/Thompson dramadoc, and even in our curmudgeonly opinion, it wasn’t bad at all. There’s richness and variety in the set pieces (including a slight return to Disney for traditional cel animation), Emily Blunt is a capable Poppins, especially when she goes all mockney music hall, the score keeps wanting to burst into the theme from Bewitched for some reason, and there’s a plum sitting-down role for David Warner. Of course, none of this can change the fact that it’s not Mary Poppins (1964), with all the cultural freight that entails, but that can hardly be helped. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes: when George Martin did the original mix, he was careful not to crush the dynamic range…

BBC2

13.50 Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak used to get personal phone calls from Stalin in the middle of the night, asking what he was saying about his fellow poets who’d recently been removed for “discipline”. Nothing, honest, he replied, not being a suicidal fool. Stalin would then take the piss out of him for not standing by his comrades. Nice bloke. When this film of Pasternak’s book was being shot in fascist Spain, a location scene of crowds singing the Internationale attracted swarms of officers from Franco’s “Social Investigation Brigade”, fearful that this exhibition could kick off an actual revolt. Nice blokes. Then when the film finally came out the critics savaged it, being especially nasty about the cinematography if you please. Nice blokes. (But obviously not on the same level of niceness as the previous blokes.) Anyway, it’s a film that looked ravishing even on an old portable CRT in pan-and-scan, so it’ll blow you away on that OLED 50-incher. Unless you’re watching on a Freeview signal of course, in which case any scenes containing falling snow (and there are a few) will cause the picture to do that psychedelic MPEG breakup thing. Expect Julie Christie’s face to suddenly look like it’s covered with miniature Post-It notes with bits of the previous shot of Tom Courtney on them. “Where’d you get the drugs?” “Curry’s! I mean… I dunno!”

18.00 The Good Life
19.30 Dad’s Army
There are certainly people in the Creamguide office for whom Christmas cannot officially start until they’ve watched Margo and the Ooh Aah Bird, so it’s a good job it’s good and early this year we think. Then after last year’s Mortimer and Whitehouse special it’s the hour-long show from 1971, which we think makes for a pretty ace evening’s viewing.

BBC4

19.00 Top of the Pops
Here’s one of the less memorable festive shows, Christmas 1986. It wasn’t perhaps a vintage year for Pops, as it seemed to have a bit of a savage budget cut which saw the end of its glitter ‘n’ streamers excesses, and swapping the audience dancing over the credits for a video which made it a bit less of a spectacle. And indeed it’s a bit of an unspectacular Christmas show, not helped by most of the studio acts doing ballads and most of the excitement being on video. But it’s not one you see very often, probably for the best giving Peter Powell’s terrible tracksuit, and if nothing else you can puzzle over when they did the closing sequence where Simes announces The Housemartins are number one and then that they’re not. All very strange.

21.35 Victoria Wood: Seen on TV
Last Christmas we got that Victoria Wood show that could have filled up several weeks of Pseuds Corner with some of the talking heads (“Northern women do go to the chippy!”), and Vic would have taken the piss out of the whole thing. What was a bit odd is that it was based around a list of sketches Victoria chose for a never-made clip show in 2009, but there actually was a clip show in 2009, and this is it. And it’s good fun as well, what with it being ninety minutes of Victoria Wood sketches, and the talking heads are a bit more entertaining, including Victoria herself.

Film4

11.00 Thunderbirds Are Go
23.05 Watchmen
A rickety, poorly written and ineptly directed movie adaptation of a much-loved pop cultural property that’s quite rightly been long forgotten by everyone save for a few hardcore idiots nobody in their right mind listens to. And earlier in the day, a quite nifty Thunderbirds film.

Sky Sci Fi/Horror

11.50 Alien 3
13.50 AVP: Alien vs Predator
15.35 AVPR: Alien vs Predator Requiem
You really want us to do this one? Very well. Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite, Phil Davis and Mike off Casualty, plus some Americans, shout at each other in a medieval borstal while assorted directors and screenwriters turn up, take one look at the mess, then ask for their names to be removed from the project. Then it’s a slight return for The Wrong Kind of Paul Anderson as Spud off Trainspotting becomes the Key Markets John Hurt. Finally there’s a bunch of underlit nothing directed by the people who did the visual effects on Nutty Professor II: the Klumps. Bet you’re sorry you asked now.

TCM

12.00 Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror
13.30 The Scarlet Claw
Another full-on wartime episode here, with the pipe-hitting logician up against a Lord Haw-Haw-style propagandist broadcaster. Doylistas can compare and contrast the plot and final troop-rousing speech with original story His Last Bow. Some fantastic over-the-top deductions in this one (“adhering to your boot is a type of clay found only in Sevenoaks!”), plus Holmes phoning the Beeb with a record request and hearing it on the wireless three seconds later, and the duo trekking into the dreaded East End. (“This is Lime’ouse, and we don’t fancy your sort of bloke in these parts!”) After that, brutal sheep murders turn into something fouler as Holmes and Watson visit a black magic convention, leading to a showdown with a jealous, murderous former actor who pulls out more ludicrous disguises than even Rathbone can manage. The quality dips quite a bit here, but fun can still be had with the extraordinarily bad acting of some of the locals, and Watson getting pissed on wine and banging on about old Father Brown mysteries. Now, if any Father Brown fans know of an instance of him referring to Sherlock Holmes… please keep it to yourself.

BBC Radio 4

18.30 The Missing Hancocks
Been a good few weeks for Kevin McNally, as straight after being one of the best things about the last series of Doctor Who, he’s finally coming to the end of his mammoth project to recreate all the lost episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour. Only two more to go, and here’s the penultimate one, McNally as the lad himself alongside his regular supporting cast of Simon Greenall as Sid and Kevin Eldon as Bill, with an episode from Christmas 1954.

WEDNESDAY 22nd DECEMBER

BBC2

13.55 Kiss Me Kate
15.40 Guys and Dolls
Continuing Monday’s strangulated analogy, the first is old school player Cole Porter’s response to Rogers & Hammerstein’s daisy age innovations, so we suppose it’s the Broadway equivalent of LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out. Don’t call it a comeback. Guys and Dolls is clearly… er… [rustles papers, looks at shoes] the second Ice Cube solo LP? Yes, that’ll do. With Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat being the equivalent of Steady Mobbin’. “Does that make Take Back Your Mink the equivalent of No Vaseline?” “No comment.”

18.05 Dad’s Army
18.40 Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
Last year was a pretty bleak Christmas, which couldn’t help be reflected on the socially distanced shows on TV – making it one of the few examples of how Christmas Day TV has reflected the mood of the time, most years aiming to suspend all the worries of the day for 24 hours and having little to do with real life. Possibly one of the only other occasions when reality intervened was 1974 when the schedules were, in the words of the BBC Handbook, “greatly amended for economic reasons” with raging inflation leading to a preponderance of imports and repeats. There were a few new shows in that austere line-up, mind, the biggest featuring star of the Christmas Radio Times cover, Frank Spencer.

ITV

11.30 ET the Extra-Terrestrial
Possibly the only ’80s blockbuster that’s yet to be rebooted in any form, which must be down to a level of will on Spielberg’s part that could power the whole of Dunstable. And it contains an early instance of the blockbuster self-awareness that’s everywhere these days by featuring Palitoy Star Wars figures as a plot point. Hang about: so Star Wars exists as a film in the ET universe, but there are clearly ETs visible in the senate scenes of Rise of the Clone of the Phantom… [The final 6,000 words of this entry are available on a toilet cubicle wall in High Wycombe Primark.]

22.35 Die Hard
“Christmas film (n.) Any theatrically-released motion picture that appears at least once in the television schedules on or within the seven days either side of Christmas Day, with which at least one viewer forms a lasting emotional attachment evocative of said holiday period.” There, that wasn’t so difficult, was it? Right. Sales areas.

BBC4

19.00 Top of the Pops
We know that a lot of the seventies Christmas Pops are now unbroadcastable, but the 1979 instalment is bloody brilliant (Squeeze! Buggles! M! Blondie!) and still safe, and yet once more we’ve passed over it for boring old 1978 again. This is the one with Noel in the office, which has often been suggested was the result of the pre-Christmas BBC strike, though you’d assume they’d have started working on it more than a few days before broadcast, most of the other seventies shows were also without an audience (including 1977 and 1979) and many of the performances appear to be brand new. And in any case, you can’t blame the strike for the line-up, passing over the likes of the Boomtown Rats and Blondie who had enjoyed big hits that year in favour of the dumper-bound likes of Brotherhood of Man and Showaddywaddy, plus James Galway and the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, whose hit was in 1977 anyway. Useless!

20.00 Yes Minister
21.00 One Foot In The Grave
Two superior seasonal specials here, although the former only just counts we think as it was first broadcast on 17th December. The One Foot repeat run has been one of the highlights of the year on BBC4, and 1990 was certainly a prolific year for David Renwick as he churned out two full series and an hour-long special, and they were bloody great as well.

Sky Hits

06.00 Cats
Now the dust has settled and everyone who can possibly get away with it has loudly disowned this mess, we hope all future directors of CGI-heavy fantasy fare take heed of its lesson and actually listen to what the visual effects department recommends they do on set, and also give them slightly more than four blooming months in which to finish all the work. Incidentally Tom Hooper still has nothing listed as “in production” on IMDB at time of writing, so we assume it’s back to Capital One credit card ads for the over-confident nerk. We caught a few of his late-’90s EastEnders episodes on repeat earlier this year, and sure enough they were chock full of over-ambitious, awkward lurches into handheld vÈritÈ style, and cheesy, melodramatic “God’s eye view” camera angles of the type parodied in that Victoria Wood Play for Today sketch. “Ha ha ha!” “What’s so funny?” “Just remembered something in The Beano.”

Talking Pictures TV

00.05 I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle
Boon Goes Horror as Neil Morrissey (Rocky off of Boon) and Michael Elphick (Boon off of Boon) battle the eponymous bloodsucking Norton Commando (as opposed to the BSA Lightning, off of Boon) in a demented tale written by two of the film editors off of Boon. Burt Kwouk (who was in one episode of Boon) serves up garlic prawns, Anthony Daniels (as worshipped on Endor’s forest Boon) does an exorcism, and Danny Peacock (who found Do-It-All an enormous Boon) gets his head cut off and is reincarnated as a sentient turd. Yes, it’s that sort of film, we’re afraid. Bloody students.

TCM

12.05 Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
13.30 The Pearl of Death
First up is The Musgrave Ritual, if you’re playing along with your leather-bound Complete Works at home. It’s another good one, with some ace trappings – a spooky old manor complete with secret passages, a Drogna Game sequence on a chequered hall floor, a nicely eccentric Holmes firing guns into the walls of his house and faking his own death yet a-bloody-gain, a young Peter Lawford in a pub saying “Blimey!” and, best of all, no Nazis. Then we get a solid, square go at the old Six Napoleons chestnut, with elaborate alarm systems and a “hideous” villain – the Hoxton Creeper, played by acromegalic actor Rondo Hatton – who got his own spin-off film series. Which makes Hatton a sort of forties Tom Hiddleston to Rathbone’s Chris Hemsworth. Well, there was a war on.

THURSDAY 23rd DECEMBER

BBC2

14.00 The Battle of the River Plate
15.55 The Heroes of Telemark
It is a spectacularly crappy day for films on proper telly (or ‘linear TV’ if you happen to be wearing a black polo neck, sporting wee square glasses and freebasing an oat-milk gingerbread latte) perhaps because the schedulers imagine kids are still at school today, bringing games in or taking part in concerts and recitals and things. Do those still happen? We’re too old to know now. So instead here’s a double-bill to keep the dads who are ‘working from home’ happy. Peter ‘you’re on television, dummy’ Finch is up against Ludo Kennedy’s old man in the first, while Kirk ‘snails’ Douglas fannies about in the snow in the seminal adaptation of the 1954 book, ‘Skis Against the Atom’ (and which genius decided not to call the film that?!) It’s just a few peaceful hours for the middle-aged to crack open some tins of Kestrel and relax before they take a back seat for a week or so. Kestrel kegs away, ginger!

18.45 Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
We can be pretty sure that the line about the crucifixion will be edited out of this one, given the early timeslot, but this has become a bit of a festive staple now. A bit of cute scheduling here too as it’s preceded by a recent Upstart Crow special, so you can see how many jokes and concepts Ben has recycled.

22.35 Top of the Pops – Big Hits 1984
23.35 The Old Grey Whistle Test
01.40 The Old Grey Whistle Test
A pleasing selection of late night music to kick off the extended holiday weekend. As we said the other week (yes, we do this every week, if you’re reading it on the website), 1984 is probably the last genuinely great year for Pops as it was the last time the major acts of the day specifically went out of their way to appear on it as it was a huge deal, before they were able to send across videos instead. Then there are two Christmas Eve concerts, with Elton in 1974 and The Kinks in 1977.

ITV

20.00 Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow
Last year’s Christmas instalment of this series was one of the few shows not to be socially distanced as it was recorded nearly twelve months earlier, and now this year’s will be one of the few shows that is as they recorded it at the height of lockdown with the rest of the run that went out months ago. It’s The Price Is Right, which is the show that you’d think would suffer most from the lack of an audience. They do a decent job of covering it, but it does mean the contestants’ excitement comes across as pretty contrived and annoying, even more so than usual, and after umpteen goes at it you’d think that they’d finally land on a way to reveal the result in the showcase showdown that actually makes sense on screen.

BBC4

19.00 Top of the Pops
Here’s one that’s not been on BBC4 before – 1998! Seems about five minutes ago now, we know, but no weirder than showing an episode from the early seventies would have been then. This is the first archive episode we’ve got from the show when it was run by Chris Cowey, formerly of The Tube, who favoured pre-recording umpteen performances in one go and putting together the show in the edit suite, so it certainly doesn’t have the sense of spectacle the really great eras of Pops has. On hosting duty are Jayne Middlemiss, Jamie “Theako” Theakston and Kate Thornton, all quite likeable we think although they don’t get to exhibit much in the way of personality. For all that, it’s a perfectly serviceable survey of a period we have quite fond memories of, although LeAnn Rimes, Boyzone and Celine Dion back-to-back is a bit heavy-going, we think.

Talking Pictures TV

09.10 Scrooge
So what we’re trying to do here, see, is find stuff that isn’t on every other day in the torrent (or torrents) of films available for everyone on demand all the time. Back In The Day we cried in one voice, ‘Come on, Channel 5! Show Alf’s Button Afloat!’ now every version of WH Darlington’s Famous Farce is available to watch on a watch on the bus. Is this progress, we ask? No one answers, but we still ask. And while the estimable Leslie Dwyer Channel has been capitalised precisely to fill this brief, even it has the odd festive bauble to hang up next to its pleasingly ramshackle calendars (still available). Some things never change however and taming the quickening pulse at seeing the word ‘Scrooge’ in the listings by hurriedly checking which version is on offer is one of them. Worry not! It’s not the Bloody Reginald Owen One but instead the 1935 Seymour Hicks One. Sir Seymour is largely forgotten now but in fact the Laddie Himself pretty much created the role of Ebenezer Scrooge on stages he both acted on and managed. He got into kinemotographolas early with silent films and on the way discovered Alfred Hitchcock but Scrooge As We Know It remains Seymour’s real legacy, even if only to pave the way for Brian Desmond Hurst to prod Alistair Sim into the definitive version a wee while later. Hicks is still hep to the jive in one respect though; he died of flu.

CHRISTMAS EVE

BBC2

17.35 Dad’s Army
All the familiar episodes getting an outing over the festive period, and while this one is post-James Beck, it is from Christmas 1975 which, as we’ve said before, it surely the ultimate telly Christmas with a comedy line-up based around this, Porridge and Morecambe and Wise, plus all the big shows like the Gen Game at the peak of their powers, and film premieres including The Wizard of Oz, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Railway Children. All killer, no filler, and best of all there was a strike on the 29th so there wasn’t any news that day to spoil the fun.

CHANNEL 4

12.30 Father Christmas
17.00 The Snowman
We don’t doubt that when the ratings come out for Christmas Day and reveal modest figures, everyone will yet again say that the audience want “something new” despite the most successful show of the past decade being a revival of a decade-old sitcom and the channel that seems to have pinched most viewers from the Beeb wheeling out a schedule even more familiar than BBC1, with both Home Alone films present and correct. These are two of the more welcome repeats, mind, the former thirty years old this year, and while they have several other outings during December, this is where we think people like to see them.

14.00 It’s A Wonderful Life
“I’ve seen it 37 times,” / “That’s commendable.” Ed Flanders and Lee Richardson really knew what they were talking about when they discussed this Frank Capra festive staple in Exorcist III: Legion. Except that it’s difficult to imagine getting to their age without having watched it well into triple figures. As it goes we’ve watched EIII:Legion at least 37 times, too. But then we’re weird. Of course the ‘lazy slag clichÈ’ (see above) is to opine that this is soooooo dark because it’s really about a man contemplating suicide. In fact, it’s dark because it’s about a man contemplating not bothering to save his brother from drowning and letting Mr Gower poison that laddie. And by the way, Uncle Harry still works for the Saving and Loan and Mr Potter hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s all going to happen again! It’s inevitable! They don’t put that on the bloody DVD collectibles.

CHANNEL 5

11.55 Scrooge
No, no, don’t panic. It’s the Anton Rodgers one. Albert Finney makes an uncredited appearance in there too, dressed in a maid’s outfit and screaming in the background at the bust-up in the speakeasy powder room. Oh wait, that’s in Miller’s Crossing. Same story basically, if you swap Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley for John Turturro as Bernie Bernbaum. Well, they both return from the dead with a warning and in the end everyone sees the error of their ways. Except Johnny Caspar, who gets his head blown off on the stairs but that’s only because Dickens dropped the gangland slayings from his last draft. They don’t put this shit in the Radio Times, folks!

22.10 1979: Britain’s Biggest 70s Hits
23.35 70s Greatest Electro Pop
The fact it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t stop this series, although given synthpop bands were responsible for 20{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96} of the eighties’ Christmas number ones (and you could probably get it to 40{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96} if you want to include one written by Vince Clarke and another produced by Midge Ure), the latter sort of fits. And before that, the best of a year which always sounds brilliant when it’s on Pick of the Pops.

BBC4

19.00 Top of the Pops
Earlier on we mentioned the excitement of seeing an episode of Top of the Pops that was nearly twenty years old when BBC2 repeated Christmas 1973 in 1991, so doubtless we’ll all be thrilled by this screening of the Christmas show from that far-off world of 2002, won’t we? Well, maybe not, especially as many of the artists are still knocking around these days, though it’s a bit of a footnote as the last fully-fledged Christmas show before the radical revamp in 2003 which everyone’s considered the final nail in the coffin. Richard Blackwood and Lisa Snowdon are our hosts, and if you want a reminder of what was powering the music industry at the time, we’ve got Will, Gareth, Darius, Girls Aloud and Liberty X.

00.30 Whistle and I’ll Come To You
Here’s a little bit of a surprise, nicely tucked away in the witching hour. As an accompaniment to the recent repeat run of Ghost Stories for Christmas – and Mark Gatiss’ new story on BBC2 earlier – here’s an outing for Jonathan Miller’s adaptation of MR James’ story, first shown under the Omnibus banner in 1968. The fact it was first broadcast in May means it doesn’t quite count but it was hugely influential and everyone who watched it seems to remember it absolutely vividly.

ITV3

09.45 That Riviera Touch
It’s Christmas Eve again and the Morecambe & Wise quotient remains high across the season, demonstrating that at least some things never change amongst the global viral disasters and rampant wokery and which is worse, we don’t know! [SATIRE] Leaving all that aside – and not wanting to bum everyone out – it’s impossible at this time of year not to think of the past in terms beyond Kick Start in the mornings and Disney Time in the afternoons and think instead on absent friends. Recently we learned of the desperately sad news of the untimely passing of Cream and OTT alumnus Cameron Borland, often and accurately described by us as The Angriest Man on the Internet. As the man who, in his reviews, coined the aphorism ‘lazy slag cliche’ he absolutely laid the basis for what came to be known as The Wrong Kind of Nostalgia with his withering critiques of everything and anything he felt to be just that. With a natty prose style and the intellectual legerdemain to hate both ‘I Love the 70s/80s/90s’ AND anyone who moaned “What’s next? I Love Last Tuesday?” there was no escape from his ire. And that extended into real life too, as Andrew Collins, David Quantick and Stuart Maconie found out when the Cream Circle went on a road trip to see the trio’s Edinburgh Fringe Show. If you can imagine the occasion as a family outing with Cammy as the surly uncle in the back, by the time we all got to the venue CB was ready to be unimpressed. And that he was, in the front row, clutching a pint in his mit and in the most menacing way possible, greeting pretty much every Collins, Maconie and Quantick setup with a loud variation on the theme of, “Oh for fuck’s sake!” We don’t remember much about that occasion but, by God, we remember that! Here at the Filmguide Fireplace we shared a workplace with Cammy for a while, the most fun we’ve ever had on an agency nightshift, and spent many happy weekends at his home singing along to The Quiet Man with the rest of the family to his absolute disgust. Cammy went through a previous bout of serious illness 30 years ago which he overcame but that proved almost worth it just for resulting in his epic Twin Peaks story. Transatlantic air travel, David Lynch, time zones, seedy pubs and bookies and London dockland gangsters all featured in the sort of narrative Guy Ritchie wishes he could conjure up. In a just world Jack Rosenthal would’ve turned it into a TV single starring Mick Ford. Sadly, his most recent illness wasn’t overcome with the same elan and Cammy passed away far, far too soon. We hadn’t been in touch for a while and for that, we are both sorry for and deeply regret. Hold everyone close, people; these are treacherous days. Our best wishes to his wife and family and before his ghost comes and slaps us for sentimental bollocks, on with the silly self-referential nonsense!

Sky Max

19.00 The Amazing Mr Blunden
Mark Gatiss has it pretty sweet, seemingly permanently recreating his childhood, working with all his heroes and making new versions of all the shows and films he grew up with. Increasingly he seems to be Mister Christmas as well, with his production of A Christmas Carol currently on stage, his new Ghost Story for Christmas on BBC2 tonight and this new adaptation of one of his favourite films. The original was Lionel Jeffries’ follow-up to The Railway Children and, if it’s been rather overshadowed by the huge popularity of that film, there are many, including Gatiss, who look back on it with great fondness, and this new production, starring Simon Callow and Tamsin Grieg, promises to include plenty of moments that’ll amuse any fans of the original looking in.

Talking Pictures TV

19.30 The Smallest Show on Earth
21.05 Rita, Sue and Bob Too
Here’s an interesting double bill to accompany the wrapping. Casually glancing at both whilst mostly distracted can only produce a memory mashup so that Christmas Eve will come to mean Bernard Miles singing Agadoo and Margaret Rutherford queuing up for a jump. In any case, a film about cinemas struggling to survive has become weirdly topical again and remains immensely fun, even if scenes of crowds of people in a small space now give us the fear. Weirdly, it’s the second film which appears much more anachronistic now. We can’t imagine that anyone under 30 will recognise very much of the landscape at all. Unless they are big Peter Greenaway (or Krankies) fans and enjoy picking out Willie Ross.

And that’s that!

We’ve been droning on for ages and it’s still not Christmas Day yet! That will follow, as well as everything else in 2021, in the second part of the Christmas Creamguide which will arrive tomorrow. See you then!

By the way…

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Richardpd

    December 15, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    Looks like my hard drive recorder will be busy!

  2. Sidney Balmoral James

    December 19, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    Well done on this marathon and every entertaining article – nice to see passing references to Jimmy James and the stupendous skeleton fight at the end of Jason and the Argonauts, which is still in my top ten all time best bits of any film whatever (alongside the bit when Peter Sellers puts his head around the wardrobe door in Casino Royale and says ‘Hello Sailor’, which I’d imagine took rather less technical ingenuity to shoot). Also, the sadly missed Dickie Henderson! When he was dying in hospital, someone visited him and he said ‘The doctor says I look a bit better today. Now you know how bad I looked yesterday.’

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