People actually send spies to the rehearsal rooms
And welcome to – yikes! – the 24th annual Christmas Creamguide, where once more we’ve collated everything worth watching and listening to over the next fortnight in two mammoth emails, assisted as ever by the good people at the Filmguide Fireplace. Some fascinating stuff to discuss as well, so let’s get on with it.
SATURDAY 23rd DECEMBER
10.15 Jesus Christ Superstar
“Hal, it’s about Magnificats.” We kick off the festive film free-for-all with arguably one of the most school-play-nostalgic musicals ever made. (We were Unidentified Apostle in the 1982 Allan Shaw Combined School production, for the record. Always in the ensemble, never the spotlight, that’s us.) Never forget, this is one of that diverse group of productions co-written by the young Melvyn Bragg, alongside 1977 BBC2 Christmas sci-fi musical Orion, workmanlike Michael Caine North African WWII adventure Play Dirty, and start-of-the-bonkers-era Ken Russell Tchaikovsky biopic The Music Lovers. A true Renaissance man, our Melv. And not a Cumbrian class struggle in sight!
13.05 The Big Sleep
Two films that, up until the mid-’90s, were rolled out to fill afternoon slots on terrestrial so often they became something of a running joke, bywords for lazy scheduling (though never quite as notorious as the omnipresent 633 Squadron). Now, when slumps in the schedule are routinely patched with a brace of Homes Under The Hammer or Cashes in the Attic or Bargains Hunt, it’s something of a welcome treat to see these old timers surface once more. So here’s to the resurgence of old films on the main terrestrial channels! Don’t bring back pan-and-scan though, please. Our spectacles may be rose-tinted, but we can still see through them.
This may be the film that comes closest to being a Rocky Horror for the cishet comedy buff. You’ll all be chanting along with it, we know. “Tarbrush!” “Armadildo!” “Googie Withers!” “Canary’s got haemorrhoids!” “Which one’s the Goodie?” “Fiddled the VAT on his sausages!” “I said a dash, Lotterby!” etc etc etc. Practising your Mister Mackay Neck Flex in the mirror of the All Bar One gents, we’ve seen you.
21.00 Disco at the BBC: Volume Three
22.00 Disco: Soundtrack of a Generation
23.00 TOTP2: Donna Summer
Barry White once said he didn’t like the name disco because it deserved a more beautiful name because it was a beautiful artform, and certainly few musical genres have brought more people together. The documentary, of which this is the final part, is doing a grand job in explaining that, although tonight we’re discussing the death of disco thanks to the dumbass Disco Sucks movement which was just as excuse for some thinly-veiled racism and homophobia, and then the horrors of HIV. But there’s a happy ending as its legacy lives on to this day. Before that it’s another new compilation, of which we’d happily watch as many volumes as are available.
23.30 Studio 54
While we at Creamguide don’t presume to be experts on gay cultural history (and anyway, our black turtleneck’s at the dry cleaners) we do feel qualified to inform you that this is the recent deep dive documentary on the world-famous exclusive New York nightspot, and not the nineties film of the same name where Ryan Philippe is a Michael Sundin-alike being eyed up by club impresario Mike Myers, which was filleted of most of its debauched content by, heavy irony ahoy, Harvey Weinstein.
16.30 It’s a Wonderful Life
Two of the festive big hitters for you to polish off in one sitting. And this is probably the best order to tackle them in. Half past two and we’re plunged straight into the grim late-80s Hollywood depiction of television – megadumb and hypercynical in true Network fashion. (We’re years away from The Sopranos/The Shield/NYPD Blue/Cop Rock/whatever show marks the dawn of “The Golden Age of TV” this week.) Bill Murray’s “live Christmas eve spectacular” is merely symbolic of his empty-headed megalomania, as George Clooney is yet to inaugurate the era of the all-live prestige throwback. Quibbles, these. It’s a fine enough romp, with a demented cast list (John Forsythe! David Johansen! Bobcat Goldthwait! Miles Davis!) and a festive gospel closing song that’s always given us a bigger hit of tinsel nostalgia than anything by Wham! (Mileages on this last point, we’re sure, will vary.) The second film you’ll have heard about. It’s not bad.
21.00 Die Hard
Has the internet got over the whole “Christmas movie” debate thing yet? Yes, we get it, our horizons have been broadened by your amusingly incongruous recategorisation of the old Bruce Willis chestnut, for which we can only offer humble thanks. But why stop there? After all, 1988 alone produced countless other candidates for a putative “Christmas movie” that’s just unlikely enough to get people looking admiringly in your direction for mentioning it. Rain Man! Dirty Rotten Scoundrels! They Live! Working Girl! High Spirits! (You know, that sort of Irish Rentaghost with Peter O’Toole.) Cherry 2000! (You know, that sort of cross between Blade Runner and The Stepford Wives, with Melanie Griffith driving around a quarry with a bazooka for ninety minutes.) Tapeheads! (You know, that thing where Tim Robbins makes music videos and hangs around with Courtney Love and Doug E Fresh.) Braddock: Missing in Action III! (Look, you get the idea.)
23.35 Scent of a Woman
The film that finally got Al Pacino an Oscar, but seems largely forgotten nowadays. People don’t even go “Hoo-hah!” any more. We remember it well, though, as 1992 was the year when, as students and thus in possession of the necessary financial concessions and free afternoons, we saw just about every film that went on general release. So we feel qualified to say that, God, it was a mad year. You’re probably familiar with bowler-hatted Robin Williams indulgence Toys and Blender-tutorial-chic VR parable The Lawnmower Man. But we also saw painful sun-drenched Dudley Moore-Patsy Kensit farce Blame it on the Bellboy; pointless Majestic Wines goose chase Year of the Comet; Ralph Bakshi’s edgy Roger Rabbit-alike Cool World; morbidly irresponsible “hey kids, beat child abuse with this one handy retreat into fantasy!” Tom Hanks dud Radio Flyer; studiedly wacky “if we make it sound like a Peter Greenaway film, more people will come” mistaken identity porno-Jesus mess The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish; and of course Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang, which we’ve unburdened ourself of in these pages before. Stripe me, what a year. Thank God we also had good, honest, straight-up-and-down films like Delicatessen and Fire Walk with Me.
11.45 Miracle on 34th Street
13.50 Escape to Victory
16.10 The Dirty Dozen
Natalie Wood and Ernest Borgnine are the bread in a Mike Summerbee sandwich. That’s not a sentence we get to say very often.
21.00 Parkinson Takes A Christmas Look At Morecambe and Wise
Wow! Some absolutely amazing archivery on telly, and on this channel in particular, over the festive season, with someone really making the effort to rummage around the Beeb’s back catalogue and presenting some shows we’ve been fascinated by ever since we encountered them in old Radio Times and always wanted to see. Not quite Fred Emney Picks A Pop, but still ace. 1974 was notoriously a pretty ropey Christmas for the Beeb, the following year’s BBC Handbook shamefacedly admitting the schedule was “greatly amended for economic reasons”, a line they could still use this year probably. What made it all the weaker was the lack of a Morecambe and Wise show, though that was partly as their most recent series had only finished a few weeks previously. But to make up for it a bit there was this rather oddly-titled programme, in the prime slot of 11.25pm. Quite a lot of places suggest this includes Parky interviewing the pair but we think that’s actually not the case and the only new stuff is Parky’s links. But what would make it into a compilation in 1974 is perhaps not what would make it into one fifty years later, so it should be an interesting selection.
23.20 Liberace in Concert
More Parky here, first of all in a show from December 1973 when he speaks to someone who was more or less unknown twelve months earlier but was now one of the biggest stars on TV, Michael Crawford. Alongside him is a seemingly pretty feisty Liberace, chatting and performing, and then after that you can see his unique brand of showbusiness at Wembley in 1983.
Talking Pictures TV
12.00 Strange Invaders
Franchises with “strange” in the title that archly ape the science-fantasy fodder of several decades ago, eh? What a smashing idea! Here’s the second and last of a trilogy of films (the money ran out) directed by Michael Laughlin, who’d been involved with a few groovy countercultural projects like Two-Lane Blacktop back in the day, and would go on into the 21st century to co-write notorious utter, utter disaster Town and Country. It’s an ’80s do-over of the ’50s cornball “alien abduction” b-pictures, the cinematic equivalent of the B-52’s, only not any good. Nancy Allen is Kate Pierson, Diana “Rumblefish” Scarwid Cindy Wilson, and Fred Schneider is… let’s see… Wallace Shawn.
00.30 Day of the Triffids
In a world of constant pruning and gutting of TV schedules, Talking Pictures TV continues to delight, we’re glad to report, now having the clout to show actual films both you and your nan will have heard of, although this means they have stopped showing the grubbier vintage of ’70s sex comedies. We can understand the desire to disassociate yourself from Confessions of a Sex Maniac, aka The one With Trigger Off of Fools and Horses as a Randy Architect, but those films, for better or worse, aren’t going to be screened anywhere else. (Unless you live in the south-east and have access to demented regional digi-channel London Live, who earlier this year screened forgotten early-’90s Ray Winstone-Kate Winslet sitcom Get Back, scaring us half to death.) Mind you, a little bird tells us that TPTV have got their hands on the rights to screen ’70s haulage firm soap opera The Brothers, and if that intelligence proves correct the channel will be right back at the top of our watch list. From the spartan Glyn Owen-Jean Anderson years to the Dynasty-on-Thames glamour of the Colin Baker-Kate O’Mara period, 2024 is shaping up to be The Year of Hammond Transport Services. In the perceptive words of Clive James, it’s “like talking to your analyst, only less expensive”.
BBC Radio 2
13.00 Pick of the Pops
The radio in these weeks is so often the soundtrack to lengthy cross-country drives, so we don’t much care for too much talk during the day and easy uncritical nostalgia that will appear to absolutely everyone is much preferable. You can consider this Exhibit A, though it’s perhaps a little too late for the older members of the family. 1994 is the first year, which we saw on BBC4 a few months ago, with two Christmas classics at the top, then it’s 2001 with Gordon Haskell’s five minutes of fame.
BBC Radio 4
20.00 Stevie’s Inner Visions
Last anniversary to mark in 2023 is that of one of the most critically acclaimed LPs ever made, Innervisions by Stevie Wonder. It was almost his epitaph as well as within days of its release he suffered life-threatening injuries in a huge car crash (no, he wasn’t driving), but music was a huge aid in his recovery and the critical response certainly helped, while he later claimed that some of the songs on the album took on a new meaning for him. Here’s friends and fans to explain why it sounds so brilliant.
14.50 The Sound of Music
Well, of course. This film has been a festive staple ever since its first run on Christmas afternoon in 1978. (“Already a legend in the movie world, one of the most popular films ever made is shown on British television for the first time.”) Two years later it was switched to Easter cover duty (and had been slightly promoted: “a special holiday showing of the most popular film ever made”), and by 1982 they were idly lobbing it out on BBC2 in high summer (where it was busted back down to being “one of the most popular films ever”). So don’t get too comfy in that festive main channel slot, er… Sing 2. Cripes, the Big Christmas Day Film really is a thing of the past, isn’t it?
13.00 White Christmas
You’ll be seeing that Bing-‘n’-Bowie clip a good few dozen times this Christmas as always, but what about the rest of the show it was taken from, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas? The whole conceit is that Bing’s distant relative “Sir Percival” invites him to stay for Christmas en famille at his estate “south of London”. (It’s not made clear if he means Thamesmead or Dog Kennel Road.) Stanley Baxter plays all the sub-Upstairs-Downstairs domestic staff and impersonates Bob Hope. Ron Moody is the stuttering lord of the manor, and plays an assortment of characters in a Dickensian musical segment that goes on far too long. Twiggy goes up into the attic with Bing to sing a medley of Christmas songs that also goes on far too long. The Drummer Boy segment of legend is prefaced by a not-at-all scripted chat between The Groaner and The Dame about Christmas traditions (“Presents… tree… decorations… agents sliding down the chimney”) followed by a not-at-all-incongruous promo clip of Heroes. Scenes where the Crosby kids have to act natural with their dad are uncomfortable, to say the least. The whole thing ends with everybody (minus Bowie – those agents have their uses) singing another medley of Christmas songs that goes on far too long. The whole thing was scripted by Buz Kohan, veteran writer of the linking material for a hundred US awards ceremonies. It all suddenly makes sense! And, of course, “production assistance and financial consideration provided by National Airlines”.
22.30 Nine to Five
Always a jewel in those “women versus the world” film seasons they used to do at the NFT, usually paired up with either Thelma and Louise or Smashing Time. If they were feeling fancy, they’d also sneak Vera Chytilova’s Daisies in there, a joyously plotless slice of adolescent anarchy, a feature-length Vision On cutaway repurposed for sedition. If they were feeling extra-fancy, they’d push out the boat and slap Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating across an afternoon, sometimes daringly shadowed by its bastard American offspring, Desperately Seeking Susan. Contrary gits that we are, we’d always hope for Rivette’s less-celebrated (and, purely coincidentally, about half as long) follow-up Duelle, where Celine and the blonde love triangle woman are recast as the Queen of the Night and the Queen of the Sun respectively, swanning around a twilit Paris spouting gnomic utterances, searching for some scarcely explained mystical gemstone and generally giving it the full Romana. We’d pair that up with Babes in the Goods, the Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly comedy short where they get locked in a department store and a dishwasher explodes. Just as a thematic counterpoint, like.
Fun Trivia Morsel: The magisterial scene with Alastair Sim witnessing his own funeral at the hands of Christmas Yet To Come was originally filmed one June night in Wapping. Artificial snow was laid round the prop gravestone, lights were rigged up, Sim changed into his nightie and all was set. Then it pissed down, washing all the snow down the drain. The rain eased, and a quick call to the fire brigade lined the graveyard with foam as a hasty snow replacement. Before long this, too, got washed away, so the crew gave the night up as a bad job and rebuilt the graveyard in the Walton-on-Thames studios. Showbiz, eh?
19.30 Bradley Walsh: My Comedy Heroes
Second part of Brad’s comedy picks here, which focuses on his own field of stand-up. Actually Brad is probably one of the last of the old school stand-ups who didn’t necessarily write their own material, and it was interesting on his last doc on this channel last year where he discussed his rather ropey ITV one-off He’s Pasquale I’m Walsh in 1994, saying they took the first TV offer they got, knocked it off in a few days and it was so weak it set both of their careers back a bit. Certainly by that time he seemed from a different era entirely, but it’s all worked out well for him since and he’ll be selecting stand-ups from across the comedic divide.
21.00 Only Fools and Horses: Greatest Christmas Moments
For so long you’d be guaranteed at least one repeat of this most weeks on BBC1 but for the past decade or so it’s been under lock and key on Gold, and there’s even more on this channel than the Beeb this Christmas. Nothing here you won’t have seen before clip-wise, obviously, but David Jason has done a new interview for it which will perhaps give it a level of gravitas this wafer-thin format probably doesn’t deserve.
23.30 Road House
One of those films pundits point to and go “Ooh, look! This is a bit daft!” Not pausing to think that maybe a film all about kicking people in the bollocks might not be aiming for Tarkovsky territory in the first place.
19.00 Last of the Summer Wine
20.30 Yes Minister
An absolute cracker of an evening on this channel, starting off with the first of two sitcoms shown for the first time in restored, high definition format, thanks to some sterling work from comedy archivist Richard Latto and friends. Actually this Summer Wine is a fascinating affair all round, from 1983 which is the midst of the series’ imperial phase when the classic line-up was pulling in huge audiences. It’s also an unlikely pioneer as this was the first proper feature-length sitcom special. Before then when a sitcom expanded longer than half an hour it would be via a crappy film version, but this was the first time the Beeb extended a show to ninety minutes and shot it all on film without audience laughter, which would later lead to the likes of To Hull and Back and many others. The beautiful locations and slow-burning humour made Summer Wine the perfect show to benefit from this method -which would later become the norm for the entire series -and this new version will make it look even more handsome. It’s also got a pretty arresting plot by its standards as they have to cope with a dead body. Then after Party Games it’s…
21.30 One Foot in the Algarve
“We’ve gone on holiday with ten years of Access statements and a hundred copies of The Beezer!” Another sitcom at the peak of its powers here, this special was one of the most-watched shows of the nineties, although we’re not sure it gets the credit it deserves these days, thanks to it now being considered an undisputed fact that sitcoms aren’t as good when they’re away from their usual settings and a feeling it was only commissioned because of the title. But it’s absolutely ace, with loads of brilliant gags and halfway through it becomes the pilot of Jonathan Creek as well, so you get two top shows for the price of one. Mrs Warboys is brilliant in it so it’s a lovely tribute to Doreen Mantle who sadly died this year, and as with Summer Wine it’s been lovingly restored so will look better than ever before. And then…
23.05 Bruce and Ronnie
Woah! Here’s surely the most incredible repeat of this or any other Christmas, not least because the Beeb seemed to go off the idea pretty much as soon as they commissioned it in 1988, Brucie recalling producer Marcus Mortimer coming into the rehearsal room in tears before they’d even recorded it to break the news it was being flung out at eleven o’clock on Boxing Day. With Ronnie B having retired twelve months earlier this was a new double act for Ronnie C, though while we love both of them dearly you’d have to say that Brucie’s undoubted comic talents were best illustrated via ad-libs and interactions with the public than much in the way of scripted material, even if it’s written by such talents as Barry Cryer. So this is an old school variety show which, as the scheduling suggests, was already falling out of favour at the time, but that’s what makes it all the more fascinating.
17.55 Doctor Who
Truth be told, we were never that broken-hearted when Who stopped appearing on Christmas Day, if only because as far as we’re concerned it’s one of the least convenient days to watch television and we often recorded it in any case so it wasn’t interrupted by trips to the tea table. But RTD said the return to the big day was one of his conditions for coming back, and certainly he knows his way around a spectacle so this should be a crowd-pleasing affair, especially as it features Davina McCall as herself and there’s even an original song it. And we are sure that Ncuti will put some trousers on at some point.
11.15 Chariots of Fire
Way, waaay back when we started doing these film billings, over two decades ago for goodness sake, we established beyond a shadow of a doubt that the best film to screen on Christmas morning was The Wrong Box, as you could perfectly time your Christmas dinner preparations by referring to significant plot points in the Bryan Forbes comedy. And how many times have terrestrial channels taken heed of this research to provide a valuable public service during the festive season? Zero. Instead we have to make do with this Colin Welland-arousing saga of Hurdling Havers and pals as our guide. So: put the bird in during the funeral, boil the spuds when they get on the boat to France, put them into the oven when the randy bisexual brother from Jubilee refuses to run on the Sabbath, sprouts on for the hundred metres final, and the gravy should come together over the end captions. Join us again next year for more Oscar-Bait Christmas Prep, as we explain how to divvy up your guest accommodation with a little help from the cast of Terms of Endearment.
15.10 Death on the Nile
Agatha Christie is big once more, thanks, unfortunately, in part to those ropey old Kenneth Branagh films and Hugh Laurie’s likeable-but-sorry-with-the-best-will-in-the-world-just-all-over-the-place go at Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Thus, we have a few of Aggie’s filmic adaptations over the holidays, including all three of the Peter Ustinov Poirots, beginning with this long-standing holiday afternoon stalwart with Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven and a few faces we’ll be seeing in similar circumstances again later on: Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith and Jane Birkin. The screenplays for all the Oosti-Boosti Herculean adventures were the work of Anthony “killing me won’t bring back your apples” Shaffer.
17.25 Dad’s Army
17.55 The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show
19.00 Morecambe and Wise: In Their Own Words
20.00 The Music of Morecambe and Wise
Been a long time since this channel was devoted to foreign films and fine art on Christmas night -though there’s ballet earlier and classical music on BBC4 -and at times today it’s more crowd-pleasing than BBC1. Certainly that’s the case here, with the home of the hits 1971 for Eric and Ern, though the two shows that follow are pretty interesting. In Their Own Words is a doc from Christmas 2007 which despite being introduced by the resistible Jonathan Ross, when he was Mister Beeb, is a fascinating collection of interview extracts. Then it’s a real rarity, a Silver Jubilee special! Like on Saturday, it’s Parky taking another look at Morecambe and Wise, but during the Jubilee holiday in 1977 they actually joined him in the studio to chat comedy and pick some of their favourite musical moments. Some of them you’ll have already seen a few times this week, or indeed this evening, but by this point on Christmas Day you may not mind so much.
21.00 Ricky Tomlinson Remembers… The Royle Family
21.15 The Royle Family
A new documentary follows an evening of shows devoted to the much-missed Caroline Aherne, responsible for the centrepiece of Christmas Day on BBC1 for many years in the noughties. Both the series we’ll see started as late night BBC2 experiments before becoming national institutions, and in his new introduction Ricky Tomlinson will no doubt reflect on how unsure they were about it when they started making it. We thought it ran out of steam a bit by the end, mind, and the 2000 Christmas special, the last of the original run, that we see here is not perhaps the show at its best, because after Denise had the baby she was just bloody horrible, but it was still a cut above much else.
21.55 The Mrs Merton Show
What’s also fascinating about The Royle Family is that it appeared on screens only a few months before Mrs Merton and Malcolm, which was considered a much better bet to succeed and hence on primetime BBC1, only for it to be a complete disaster both critically and ratings-wise and never shown again. But the series it span off from was a huge hit, starting off in the unhallowed post-Newsnight slot before swift promotions to primetime and then to BBC1. Again it probably went about one series too long and the Bernard Manning one was just revolting, but here’s how it all began at quarter past eleven in February 1996, and just a few minutes in first guest Debbie McGee helps it take off before your very eyes.
22.25 Caroline Aherne: Queen of Comedy
Caroline Aherne seemed to have come out of nowhere but there was a long apprenticeship on local radio and regional TV before that, Creamguide first encountering her on Remote Control and sundry other Granada shows. She also did a bit of stand-up as herself in those days as well, but she never seemed all that comfortable on TV out of character. This should be an entertaining but poignant show with friends like Steve Coogan, Craig Cash and Sue Johnston paying suitable tribute.
00.20 And Now for Something Completely Different
This film will have been the first exposure to Python for a lot of people reading this, us included. Forty years ago or thereabouts, in that wilderness between the release of the team’s second and third “proper” feature films, there was, as Mel “Alexander Walker” Smith observed, “little enough proper Python” available on TV. You had to rely on compilation shows hamfistedly plucking a single sketch out of an episode, the show’s pathological punchline avoidance meaning it often ended at an excruciatingly arbitrary moment. Then, in February 1983, after a BBC1 Saturday evening as unremarkable as they come (Alexis was trying to tempt Blake away from Krystle in Dynasty -as usual -and Wogan’s original, late night chat show was on the verge of totally falling apart -as usual) the Saturday Late Film, instead of being a second-tier western like A Man Called Horse or a big famous flop like Ocean’s 11, was this fine piece of filmic reconstruction. And for a good six years, until the programmes proper were shown again entire, these versions of the sketches were, for us, definitive. The permanently overcast suburban skies, the very green Eastmancolor grass verges, the weirdly echoey soundtrack (which came from the film being shot in an old dairy to save money) and the bespoke, for-one-night-only links between the sketches were gospel to us, just as the LP incarnations were for many other young fans. Now, occasionally the film sketches are worse than the originals. (Blackmail’s loss of that intense strobing effect may be a medical plus, but the excision of Jack Trombey’s genius Roving Report from the soundtrack is just vandalism.) Occasionally, the film is a huge improvement. (“The room is full of milkmen, some of whom are very old.”) But, damn it, it’s *our* version, and Python is personal. Oh, and the Lumberjack Song will for us always end just before the line about pressing wild flowers, as that was when our dad turned the set off and told us to go to bed.
22.00 Barry Humphries: The Last Laugh
Here’s an obituary anyone would want -Barry Humphries invented the word skidmark, or at least was the first person cited using it in that context, and he’s also featured in the OED as the source for numerous other wonderful expressions that have really enriched the English language, including trouser snake, technicolour yawn and pointing Percy at the porcelain. If that was all he’d done it would have a been a life well lived, but he was also a primetime comedy star for decades and a consistently chaotic presence in telly interviews. His best work was probably on LWT with umpteen Audience Withs and brilliantly bonkers shows like The Dame Edna Experience and Neighbourhood Watch which took the piss out of everything, so it’s good to see the light channel paying tribute, this programme including Nick Cave and Alison Hammond together at last.
15.10 The Italian Job
A free floater in the eighties, this became a true Christmas tradition round about 1990, and the Beeb shoved it out on or around the 25th pretty much every year of the subsequent decade. Add to that the obsession the Mod-ier end of Britpop developed for its on-the-nose iconography, and you could say this film is, in a way, much more a nineties film than a sixties one. We’re still waiting for Menswear’s tribute to Fred Emney.
22.00 Forrest Gump
From those far-off days when every new film’s publicity fell over itself to tell you about all the exciting new ways they’d used CGI to Bring The Impossible To Life by Pushing the Technological Envelope and Heralding a New Dawn for Visual Effects. Now, though, the envelope’s been pushed so far it’s full of next week’s pools winners, so instead we’re told how blockbuster-to-be X used absolutely no CGI whatsoever, honest, and look at all the actual sets and authentic people pushing wooden props about in a genuine warehouse and gosh, how Real it all is. Then, when blockbuster X wins the VFX Oscar for its 241 CGI-augmented shots, that bit of the ceremony is quietly truncated or banished from the TV coverage entirely to make room for more frocks. Which we could maybe live with, if it wasn’t for the stream of pundits pointing out that yes, obviously the planes in Top Gun 2 are all real, they can tell, they have that visceral presence that CGI planes just don’t have, you can’t fool the good old human eye, etc. The CGI artists who made those planes, being modest types, just quietly take this as a compliment on their skills, and good for them, but the entire profession is in danger of doing a Marni Nixon, being swept entirely into a secret cupboard of behind-the-scenes shame, and that just won’t do. Anyway, this particular film is a weird watch these days, not just because of its frankly bizarre premise but because, while some visual effects here still look good, a lot of the Tom-Hanks-inserted-into-newsreel footage now looks uncomfortably like an After Effects tutorial with 57 views. In a world where even your bumbling Uncle Trevor has mastered the art of planar tracking, there can be no winners.
15.10 The Wizard of Oz
Christmas Day 1975 was the first outing for this one, after Billy Smart’s Christmas Circus (boo!) and before Bruce and Anthea. Mind you, we’d already had Bernard Cribbins reading the book on Jackanory in 1970, which was at least as good as the film, and, way back in 1962, “scenes from Tom Arnold’s ice presentation of the famous story” from the Empire Pool, Wembley. (We’re fairly sure it’s not *that* Tom Arnold.) And this makes us a little sad, to be honest. When whoever gets the rights makes an unnecessary fuss of showing Barbie on Christmas Day in a couple of years, will we be able to say “no thanks, we’ve already seen the Cribbins recital, and that’s enough for us”? We will not.
21.50 Miss Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage
You might think Call the Midwife is slightly gloomy viewing for Christmas night, but Miss Marple was on Christmas Day for three years out of four in the eighties. Happily this isn’t 1989’s A Caribbean Mystery, the official second most depressing thing ever broadcast on Christmas Day (after Don Brennan’s suicide attempt in Corrie), but an instalment from 1986 when it wasn’t even the most miserable thing on the day as it followed the notoriously crap Royal Flush episode of Only Fools and preceded Den and the solicitor’s letter on ‘stEnders.
23.25 West Side Story
First shown on Christmas Eve 1972. (We’re milking this gimmick for all it’s worth, don’t you worry.) But we had already had -oh, yes -an ice spectacular “inspired by the music from West Side Story,” again back in… 1962. Evidently ice shows were the thing for the British populace as they endured the long wait for the Beatles to get back from Hamburg.
Talking Pictures TV
06.20 The Sandwich Man
A film to frantically defrost the turkey with a Babyliss hairdryer to. This is a weird concoction, equal parts The Plank-style slapstick sketch anthology and Look at Life “swinging London” bandwagon jumper. Michael Bentine is the eponymous walking ad for a tailor’s establishment, strolling round the capital and observing various groovy hi-jinks. We’ve tried to break our old listing habits, but what you’ll be wanting for this little number is the Big Old Cast Member Checklist, so here we go. Watch out for Dora Bryan, Bernard Cribbins, Ian Hendry, Harry H Corbett, Anna Quayle, Terry-Thomas, Donald Wolfit, Stanley Holloway, John Le Mesurier, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Ron Moody, Norman Wisdom, Suzy Kendall, Alfie Bass, Peter Jones, David Lodge, Warren Mitchell, Aubrey Morris, Ronnie Stevens, Fred Emney, Gerald Campion, James Bolam, Brian Cant, John Junkin, Roger Delgado, Anna Karen, Valerie Leon, Burt Kwouk, Jeremy Lloyd, Nosher Powell and Good Old Marianne Stone.
BBC Radio 2
10.00 Junior Choice with Anneka Rice
17.00 Pick of the Pops
22.00 Cilla at the BBC
The usual eccentric selection of programmes on the Light for Christmas Day, including Junior Choice making a return like the annual for a long-folded comic. Later on it’s three hours of Pick of the Pops, kicking off with 1973 where, as we’ve mentioned before, the Christmas number one became a thing and Gary Glitter’s at number two, and the show is already on Sounds if you want to hear how Wright elegantly talks his way around that. That’s followed by a cracking 1983 and a less exciting 1993, while later it’s Cliff paying tribute to one of Twitter’s favourites.
BBC Radio 4
09.00 The Reunion
It’s the fortieth anniversary of Band Aid… er, next year, but you’ll hear it plenty this Christmas anyway so no reason to hang on. And they’ve assembled a pretty interesting cast to reflect as well, Bob of course alongside Gary Kemp, the first person he asked to appear as he bumped into him walking down the road, plus video director Nigel Dick, PR Mariella Frostrup and Richard Skinner, who ended up getting the exclusive announcement on his show as Bob was billed to appear anyway and revealed it out of the blue.
18.15 The Wombles
Mark Gatiss and Mackenzie Crook have both been spending the last few years recreating their childhoods with new versions of much-loved stories, and now we can add Johnny Vegas to the list, who’s responsible for these new adaptations. He’s done a lovely job as well, it seems, emphasising the environmental aspect of the stories while still leaving plenty of room of gags, and while there can never be another Cribbins, Richard E Grant is an acceptable alternative.
09.00 High Society
This is, of course, the Sinatra-Crosby-Kelly musical of legendary sophistication, and not the Bowery Boys comedy bearing the same name and same year of release, which through a massive clerical error received the 1957 Oscar nomination for best screenplay meant for *this* High Society. The writers of *that* High Society knew something was clearly up and had a quiet word with the Academy, who must have given quiet thanks that they narrowly avoided granting immortality to a film whose classiest joke involved Huntz Hall eating a china plate.
12.45 Brief Encounter
14.10 North by Northwest
This year’s Jason Isaacs Cary Grant bio-series was pretty good fun as it goes, though it slightly over-egged the period pudding by depicting the set the biplane scene in North by Northwest was filmed on as being approximately eight feet square, poky even by Pete Smith Specialty standards.
17.15 Dad’s Army
17.45 The Two Ronnies Christmas Sketchbook
18.15 Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice Remember… Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
18.45 Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
Some fairly familiar repeats here, and you may wish to swap out an ill-looking Ronnie B making jokes about Tony Blair for the fascinating Studio Recordings on BBC4 at ten. But it’s nice to see again Frank and Betty reunited, as seen a few months ago, as for all Crawford’s achieved in his stellar career he’s still hugely grateful to this show for all it did for him, even if they don’t explain why the opening titles were so bizarre.
Now, we don’t want to take anything away from that colourised version of The Daleks on BBC4, but for us the archive TV event of the year was STV’s from-the-top rerun of Brookside. We’re not sure how much restoration of the early episodes was needed, but they didn’t half-arse it -all fields were retained, and there was none of the granular murk that creeps in when a cash-strapped outfit has to pull a rapid digitisation workaround out of its collective arse. So we were free to marvel at the sparse, eerie early stories: Gavin’s stockpiling of stoves on a patch of waste ground, the feckless Roger Huntingdon’s struggle with an MFI bookshelf, the precipitous middle-class relegation of the Collinses, and the glory that was popular culture’s first and best Alan Partridge, all relayed at a pace strangely slow and deliberate even by the standards of the time, a tableau of George Shaw paintings edited by David Lynch. Even ignoring the teething troubles inherent in what was essentially one long continuous outside broadcast, there was an uncanny atmosphere to the first six months of the show. This wasn’t what we expect soap operas to look like, and it was glorious.
15.30 The Great Escape
So, with five episodes uploaded per week, we get to watch the first years of Brookie in the perfect way: slightly condensed, so the many technical improvements and nudges to the setup that happened in the early days are that much easier to track. It’s a time-lapse film of a production team building the plane as they fly it, and it’s fascinating. The weird longueurs, the audio issues, the over-ambitious attempts at tracking shots following characters as they walk from one house to another, the “Hey! We can do this sort of thing now!” conversations through French windows or in actual cars being actually driven on actual roads are tweaked, improved or quietly binned off, according to preference. This enables the alert viewer to play production value detective. Just a few weeks back we had a brace of episodes entirely set in either assorted workplaces or Liverpool town centre, and when we returned to the Close the indoor lighting and sound were suddenly several degrees brighter and clearer respectively. Aha! And the 100% authentic locations are a social time capsule all to themselves. We’ve been in post-punk boutiques, up St John’s Beacon, in supermarkets, on ferries, in the original Liverpool Airport terminal, and even to an authentically pokey Benidorm hotel. Oh, and don’t forget the Garden Festival -Heseltine’s baby in all its muddy, scrubby, drooping-tree-off-A-Charlie-Brown-Christmas glory. It’s a valuable historical record that will only be surpassed if Talking Pictures TV ever gets its hands on the Mersey Pirate masters.
18.50 Raiders of the Lost Ark
The most instructive aspect of the Brookside reruns is the way these embryonic first eighteen months do, to a certain extent, form their own self-contained series with a whole different feel to the show’s “peak” period. You have characters like the permanently frazzled Petra and her biscuit-hoarding supermarket breakdown; Katrin Cartlidge’s brilliant performance as the original Lucy Collins, a frustrated suburban revolutionary intellectual in a Chelsea Girl beret; the hapless Gizzmo Hawkins, perpetually ten minutes behind everyone else’s conversation; the congenitally awkward Gordon Collins asking bar staff for “two half-pints of mild beer” and programming Alan’s Sun Workstation with software that “invents games”. Perhaps best of all is Paul Collins, blustering Petrochem executive, unrepentant One Nation Tory and all-round relic of the postwar old boy network, perpetually at sea in this new world of talking Austin Maestros and ready-mixed Harvey Wallbangers. So, if you haven’t already, climb aboard the STV Player and fill your boots while stocks last. Because at time of writing we’re only a few months away from The Siege, and before you know it the Grants will disband, Jimmy Corkhill will turn up and patios will start being laid. Get it while it’s hot.
13.25 The Glenn Miller Story
An otherwise largely straight biopic of the bandleader, though this film does start going a bit weird half an hour in, when a Harlem nightclub scene is “jazzed up” by the unsteady application of coloured gels over the lens. The intended effect is kaleidoscopic abandon, but the way the gels seem to get stuck every half-turn or so gives it an unintentionally funny appearance no amount of aw-shucks mouth-breathing from Jimmy Stewart can cure. And it’s always weird seeing Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H as a young man, mainly because he already looks like an old man.
20.00 Ronnie Corbett: My 30 Funniest Moments
A very Ronnie Christmas here, although despite the title on this new compilation Ronnie himself doesn’t contribute, given his very poor health at the moment. It was easy to turn your nose up at Ronnie C as his solo shows like Sorry were resolutely in the middle of the road, while unlike Ronnie B he didn’t write any of his own material, but he didn’t need to because all the great comedy writers of the day wanted to write for him because they knew he could deliver the goods so well, as we’ll see.
22.30 Playhouse: A Song at Twilight
23.55 The Wednesday Play: The Vortex
There’s a new documentary about Noel Cowerd on BBC2 this evening, accompanied by two archive adaptations of his plays. The first is from 1982 with Deborah Kerr and Paul Scofield heading the cast, while the latter is from 1969 and illustrates that while it was renowned for its contemporary and socially conscious dramas, The Wednesday Play featured productions of all styles, including this period comedy of manners.
Talking Pictures TV
11.00 Sparrows Can’t Sing
12.50 The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
Stepney locations ahoy as James Booth looms over Barbara Windsor in a series of east London districts which these days are all brimming with brushed steel student accommodation blocks and independent coffee shops with “hilariously” rude names. Then it’s the one film Luis Bunuel did entirely for the cash, a fair if routine retelling of the tale of the man with the knackered parasol -better than the version made by schools’ programme Watch (their Crusoe was “all alone/And all on his own,” you’ll remember) but nowhere near as good as the French summer holiday filler with the irresistible theme tune that’s right this moment commencing a four-hour sojourn in your head, for which our apologies. Surreal Bunuelisms don’t exactly abound, though there’s a weird dream sequence in which Robinson’s dad turns up, laughing and washing a pig, before promptly drowning.
WEDNESDAY 27th DECEMBER
Remember the days when the Ghostbusters “universe” consisted of one quite good film, one quite bad film, and that was it, no further debate necessary? Good times. Anyway, never mind all that, one thing that’s always annoyed us is the retrospective categorisation of Ray Parker Jr as a “one-hit wonder”. What was Raydio, exactly? Chopped liver? No-one talks about Jack and Jill, and the answer record from Jill’s perspective, A Woman Needs Love, both written by our Ray, like a one-man Roxanne Wars. Or his pre-Venkmann solo hit The Other Woman, a smash seemingly everywhere but the UK in 1982, complete with proto-Thriller horror film video. Or his immaculate production work on everyone from Diana Ross to New Edition. (Do check out Maxine Nightingale’s Why Can’t You Make Love Like You Mean It, a neglected disco classic with a masterful Parker guitar intro that deserves immortality.) Instead of legend status, Ray got the usually brilliant Key & Peele making him into a sort of R&B version of Griff Rhys Jones’s serial film theme failure Stanley Rogers, and a cameo in those excruciating 118 118 adverts. (Let’s just pause for a second and give thanks that those don’t exist any more.) All we’re saying is, Junior deserves better. We need some Rayeducation round here.
22.30 imagine… French and Saunders: Pointed, Bitchy, Bitter
Been a pretty crowd-pleasing run of imagine so far, and here’s another subject taken straight from primetime BBC1. It was forty years this year that Dawn and Jen got their first ever starring TV show as part of Channel 4’s series of one-offs The Entertainers, although while the rest of the series went out pre-watershed, their single use of the word “clitoris” saw it get a drastic rescheduling to half eleven, so nobody saw it. That said, by 1985 they were writing and starring on primetime ITV in Girls on Top, but it’s their Beeb shows for which they’ll be best remembered. They haven’t done all that much together in recent years, but they’re still best mates and are in suitably nostalgic mood it seems.
This is the time slot that says “Christmas” to us. Films before 9am! In fact, not wanting to sound like those Keep Sunday Special goons, but we always loved the quietness of television on the Big Day before civilised hours, that silence before the storm of Noel’s Christmas Presents, tastefully broached by one or two special little programmes that occasionally swam into view. Christmas Day on BBC1 never ventured north of nine until 1974, albeit with the expected carol service from Canterbury. By ’76 this had been sexily retitled Sing Noel! and prefaced by an edition of Ragtime. This sober sort of thing continued for years (the nativity episode of Watch? A schools programme on Christmas morning? Sure, why not?) until the 1983 debut of The Christmas Raccoons, musical predecessor of that slightly annoying Canadian cartoon series, with songs by every eight-year-old’s favourite pop stars, Rita Coolidge and Rupert Holmes! From then on, the slot was a showcase for toddlercentric festive extravaganzas. Christmas Christopher Lillicrap’s Busker! (“We’ve Come to See the Bab, Missus.”) Christmas Knock Knock, hosted by Trevor Jordache! Christmas Roland Rat: the Series, featuring Blessed and Tarrant! By 1987 this grew into an entire CBBC mini-schedule starting at seven o’clock sharp, with Andy Crane and friends effortlessly exuding that hi-Simon-what-did-you-get-for-Christmas-no-we’re-definitely-not-pre-recording-this-on-November-18th festive bonhomie. In 1991 came a rebrand to Christmas But First This, giving young viewers the opportunity to turn on the telly at 6.55 and see Esther McVey’s face staring back at them. Finally in 1993 we got an entire Christmas Live and Kicking at half past eight, with a celebrity Run the Risk and everything, and that was it. The pre-9am no man’s land had been fully colonised. What once felt like a remote, secret tryst between the Beeb and one dressing-gown-clad sleepless child was now just scheduling business as usual. The silent test card wilderness dotted by the odd furtive glimpse of Alan Rothwell in granny specs recounting Papa Panov’s Special Day had blossomed into a teeming jungle, where you were never more then ten minutes away from the theme tune from Poddington Peas. We’re not saying that’s a bad thing, but we’ll always get a lump in our throats whenever we see a Ceefax logo with snow on the top.
14.50 The Mirror Crack’d
16.35 Evil Under the Sun
Two more examples of how they adapted the Devonian detective delineator back in the early ’80s. First up, Angela Lansbury is a Miss Marple right up there with Joan Hickson (and snapping at the heels of Margaret Rutherford) as Hollywood stars Liz Taylor and Kim Novak descend upon a sleepy English village fete. The supporting cast for this one is an endless treasure trove, featuring everyone from Pierce Brosnan to Harry Cross. Then we have the third and least successful of the Ustinov Poirots, with Diana Rigg, Jane Birkin and Maggie Smith donning mink stoles and big floppy hats for some Adriatic shenanigans.
“My schoolboy son’s not much use, and we’re expecting a Spanish cook!” This has been on ITVX for a while but over the next three nights it’s the first outing on terrestrial TV for Russell T Davies’ biopic of Noele Gordon, which is seemingly brilliant fun. Certainly any drama with a cast of characters including Harold Macmillan, Jimmy Tarbuck, ATV big cheese Charles Denton, Larry Grayson (played by Mark Gatiss) and John Logie Baird (as portrayed by John Mackay as he was in Who the other day) has got to be worth watching. And given his long association with a show that is perhaps even more maligned than Crossroads, it’s a hugely affectionate piece of work that illustrates RTD’s great belief in the power of soap as the people’s theatre.
We’d love a George Lucas-style “special edition” of this film which restores the original Predator costume, ie a tyro Jean-Claude Van Damme bumbling about the shrubbery in a flappy-headed pink rubber bug suit giving off strong Brain of Morbius energy. If it’s not economically feasible, make it part of a three-for-one offer with the Yaphet Kotto balloon from Live and Let Die and the original test graphics for The Book in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, done in-house on a BBC Micro.
08.45 Gone with the Wind
It took 42 years for this to make it to British TV screens. “Here it is at last – the film that more people have been to the cinema to see than any other has finally come to television.” (Where The Sound of Music fitted into all this wasn’t explained.) Shown over two nights starting on Boxing Day, and heralded with a Special Film 81 documentary, the 1981 debut screening was plugged to within and inch of its life. And no wonder: the 56-film package that featured a fifteen-year rights deal for the civil war juggernaut had cost the BBC around four and a half million pounds. In the end, it netted a disappointing sixteen million viewers, beaten hollow by Coronation Street with twenty. “Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara were no match for Stan Ogden’s braces!” chortled the press.
13.10 The Dam Busters
15.50 Where Eagles Dare
They’d have gotten away with striking a mortal blow at the heart of the Nazi industrial complex if it wasn’t for that pesky racist dog. To follow, we have a complicated mountain rescue bid with everyone disguised as everyone else which is exactly what you want to watch on a perineum afternoon when you’re half cut and repeatedly dozing off. Honestly, they might as well put Mulholland Drive on. “Yes nan, Naomi Watts is the one who wants to kill her… no nan, she’s not the Naomi Watts who had it off with her, that was a different Naomi Watts. No, I don’t know what that key’s for, but if you’ll just be quiet for a… no nan, Naomi Watts didn’t have glasses on earlier, you’re thinking of Tank Girl.”
22.40 Alison Steadman Remembers… The Singing Detective
22.50 The Singing Detective
If we’re going to have the discourse about whether Die Hard is a Christmas film, we can perhaps debate whether something is a Christmas TV show if it appeared in the Christmas Radio Times. The last episode of this did, in 1986, although we feel it’s not quite up there with The Box of Delights in terms of supplying that festive feeling. Another play for one of the most acclaimed dramas of the eighties over the next two nights -which as usual has the side-effect of giving it another outing on iPlayer -accompanied by Alison Steadman’s intro from the last repeat.
Talking Pictures TV
07.00 And the Same to You
A featherweight boxing comedy, written by Norman Wisdom’s scriptwriter of choice, John Paddy Carstairs? With “additional material” by John Junkin and Terry Nation? Starring Dr Who William Hartnell as a small-time boxing promoter going up against Sid James’s big-time boxing promoter? With Brian Rix as a most u-hu-hunlikely prizefighter? And Tommy Cooper as his trainer? And Miles Malleson as a bishop? And Vera Day, “Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe”, doing a homage to Marylin’s short-sighted comedy turn from How to Marry a Millionaire? (“She’s got nationalised glasses, they don’t suit everyone!”) Oh, go on, then.
22.00 The Facts of Life
Bob Hope begins to tire of his marriage to Ruth “Where’s my wandering parakeet?” Hussey at exactly the same time Lucille Ball has had enough of hers to Don “Thorny” DeFore. What to do? The most notable aspect of this film didn’t make it to the screen -Ball, Hope and several other cast members had on-set accidents of varying severity, leading them to call the production “cursed”. Princess Margaret had to sit through the resulting tepid comedy of manners, but that doesn’t mean you do.
BBC Radio 2
21.00 Radio 2 Remembers Paul O’Grady at the BBC
An almost 2016-esque parade of national treasures died this year, though you’d have perhaps been surprised that O’Grady fell into that category when they were one of the rudest stand-ups on the circuit back in the nineties. Funnily enough it turns out O’Grady had an even longer career when he took the wig off and retired the original act. He was on this station for many years as well, although seemingly didn’t leave on the best of terms, but that’s not stopped them paying tribute with clips of him as both host and guest.
THURSDAY 28th DECEMBER
15.40 Ghostbusters II
Even if you try and ignore All That Stuff, it’s plain that Bobby Brown’s skippedy New Jack Swing number about “throwing a party for a bunch of children” can’t hold a candle to Ray Parker Jr’s original bouncy castle of funk. But in the decades since, has the genre inexplicably retitled Swingbeat by UK music papers grown in stature? We think some of it has. Boyz II Men we still can’t abide, but Rescue Me by Al B Sure! (one of a select few singers with an exclamation mark on his passport) comes up as fresh as paint, and Bell Biv Devoe remains the name to drop for freshly-cuckolded fathers at breakfast tables the world over. But there is one bone of contention, and to pick a side on the issue is no trivial matter: was This Is How We Do It a new jack swing song or not? James Hamilton thought it was, but others claimed that, being based on a Bob James jazz-funk sample, it couldn’t possibly count, otherwise Slick Rick’s Children’s Story would be new jack swing too, and that’s just absurd. So let’s all just agree to never come wack on an old-school track and move on.
14.30 Witness for the Prosecution
16.25 Murder on the Orient Express
The two “really, properly good, as confirmed by the serious film men of film” Agatha Christie adaptations here, with Billy Wilder overseeing Charles Laughton overseeing Marlene Dietrich in the first, and Sidney Lumet waxing Albert Finney’s tache in the second. With its trans-European locales, cosmopolitan cast and magisterial half-hour exposition scene, the latter was in danger of giving the Europudding, that bloated genre of epic, would-be Hollywood-beating, multinational spectacles a good name. Fortunately preproduction had already begun on Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? and the genre would be swiftly dragged back into the mud, just where we like it.
18.30 Top of the Pops
No, not on Christmas Day again, though this is a rather better slot than the late night outing it got last year and -hold on! -it’s on Thursday evening around seven o’clock! Just like the old days! Although if it’s recalling any era it’s probably Christmas 1978 in that, like last year, it’s mostly clips and videos with a few acts joining Clara Amfo in the studio for some intimate performances, and rather Pops in name only. For all that, mind, it’s probably as effective a review of the year in music as you can get, and because we’re old that means we’ll be listening out for The One From That Advert, The One That’s A Theme Tune On Sky Sports and The One They Danced To On Strictly.
23.20 Aretha at the BBC
23.50 Aretha Franklin in Amsterdam 1968
“You know, she can make any old rubbish sound good… and I think she just has!” Although despite Peel’s playful remarks, it’s mostly imperial phase Aretha here, the new compilation to accompany the premiere of the biopic Respect, with many of the clips coming from the period in the early seventies when she seemed to be a regular visitor to the TV Theatre. Her storming live show follows.
13.10 The Ten Commandments
A triumph of Old Hollywood visual effects, some of which weren’t properly finished as the release date loomed. Being unable in those days to call up half a dozen Spanish freelancers on Fiverr to do 72-hour shifts for peanuts, Cecil B DeMille had to bite the bullet and let the film go out with badly mismatched bluescreen shots, a burning bush that was more of a smouldering shrub, and a Pillar of Fire that would look more at home in the opening titles of Willo the Wisp. Still, the Red Sea scene was worth the admission price on its own, as complex an optical composite as you could get at the time, and a quantum leap beyond the huge mounds of damp jelly that festooned DeMille’s previous stab at the same story in 1923. Another cost-cutting aspect of the burning bush scene: Charlton Heston (Moses) doubled up as the voice of God in a deeper register, conversing with himself like a biblical incarnation of Roger de Courcey and Nookie Bear.
23.20 The Godfather
The film Coppola only reluctantly agreed to direct to make up for pissing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of studio overheads away on George Lucas’s THX-1138. In fact there’s a whole alternate reality where we’d be sitting down this evening to watch a Sergio Leone film, with Orson Welles in the title role and Jack Nicholson in the Pacino role, plus a cameo from Elvis Presley, while eating spaghetti made with official Godfather brand Bolognese sauce. (This may or may not be the same alternate reality where Spice World features cameos from John Cleese, Gary Oldman and Tony Blair.)
11.50 Police Academy
The original and… first. We saw this at the cinema when it came out, greatly chuffed to be able to get into a 15 certificate film, if nothing else. We wonder if the young Chelsea Clinton felt the same way when Bill, itching for a distraction from the Whitewater scandal, sat her down in the White House cinema for a marathon back-to-back session of the first six films in the series. If it’s any consolation, the shooting script for the first one initially clocked in at two-and-a-half hours, so it could have been worse. Two-and-a-half hours. Of Police Academy. Imagine.
21.00 The 1970s Dinner Party
The 1970s Supermarket was a fun series this year, and this festive spin-off promises more of the same pleasing mix of evocative adverts and pop science, some of which might have been recycled from the series itself. But this time it’s based around a hugely entertaining conceit where Debbie McGee hosts a soiree for her guests Johnny Ball, Cheryl Baker, Vicki Michelle and Leeeeeeeeeeee John, with Rustie Leeeeeeeeeee on kitchen duties.
21.00 Bob Monkhouse: The Last Stand
22.00 Bob Monkhouse: Talking Comedy
Another screening here for the ace documentary recalling Bob’s final performance in 2003, which of course now also serves as a tribute to Mike Yarwood, who was Bob’s surprise guest on the night, making what we think was his last ever TV appearance, and it’s a lovely way to remember both of them. Any of the anecdotes that aren’t in that show are in the one after, which we’ve featured here many times but is worth a look however often they screen it, given it includes him discussing the Man From Wergs and, our favourite bit, telling Michael Charlton how nightclub audiences want “fresher, brighter, gayer!” material than on TV.
15.35 A Bridge Too Far
19.10 Smokey and the Bandit
“Consummate on-set generalship from Milord Attenborough!” “Rather better than Montgomery’s, as it happens!” “He even got hold of the right model tanks!” “Watch out for that chicken!” Dinner table conversation about the first of these films will flow like the finest Black Tower. Things might tail off a bit when the second one unspools over the Brazil nuts. “Hey, did you know that the third one of these was originally filmed with-” “YES.” “Ah.” And we have to say, having loved the “Smokey is the Bandit” legend ever since we read about it in the 1987 Leonard Maltin Guide, we are starting to wonder how much truth there is to it. We mean to say, it’s funny how, in this era of recovery and restoration, no footage at all, not even a still, of Gleason in Burt Reynolds garb has surfaced. We’re beginning to think we backed the wrong film lore horse. Next summer will see the Library of Congress finally get the go-ahead to do public screenings of Jerry Lewis’s treacly Holocaust parable The Day the Clown Cried, for heaven’s sake, and we’re still pining for pics of the Great One in a Stetson and stick-on tache. We’re starting to suspect we may look a bit foolish.
Talking Pictures TV
13.15 M Hulot’s Holiday
Loved by the sort of off-putting film snob who always used to bang on about Tati’s “refined physical comedy” perhaps, but this film was also the favourite viewing of Rik Mayall, which we think breaks the spell well enough. This is Tati’s second feature, coming after obsessive cycling postman lark Jour De Fete and before modernism-mocking plastic technofarce Mon Oncle, and it’s probably both the best-loved and most representative of the man’s work, though we’re bigger fans of the insanely expensive and detail-attentive 70mm urban ballet Playtime. But if you’re new to the world of the half-mast-trousered, forward-leaning Frenchman, this is the place to start. Think of him as a glass of Merlot to Eric Sykes’s pint of mild, and off you go. Sproing!
22.10 Bagdad Cafe
00.20 The Gamma People
Quirky-in-a-good-way truckstop trifle starring former loopy Munich cabaret artist Marianne Sagebrecht and the great CCH Pounder, followed by some prime Cold War paranoia, with Leslie Phillips, in regulation blazer and cravat, getting stranded in an isolated Mittel-European country rife with Caligari-esque mind control murder zombies. We’re still a good three years away from the dawn of the “Ding-Dong!” era, you won’t be surprised to learn.
FRIDAY 29th DECEMBER
09.30 School for Scoundrels
Adapted, of course, from Stephen Potter’s Gamesmanship books. This is, to our knowledge, the only narrative film borne out of a non-narrative Christmas gift book. (The original book of Yes Man had a through-line, so it doesn’t count, sorry.) Television, however, is a different matter. There was Root Into Europe, the Henry Root TV series with George Cole as the proto-ERG wet fish magnate; The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady was turned into Sunday night frocks-‘n’-follies fodder; and technically the Wicked Willie cartoons span off from a book, but the cinema has so far eschewed this abundant stream of ready-made intellectual property. (Doubtless there have been projects that never reached the screen -if Schott’s Original Miscellany wasn’t once slated to become a Josh Hartnett vehicle we’d be very surprised.) This is a great shame. We’d love to have seen Pierce Brosnan in a celluloid version of Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book, How to Be a Wally with Robin Askwith, or Zack Snyder’s Book of Heroic Failures. Come on, faceless entertainment conglomerates! Let’s see Christopher Nolan’s $200 million, three-hour version of Willie Rushton’s Pigsticking for summer 2025!
13.45 Hello, Dolly!
16.05 Funny Girl
A pair of Streisands that each advanced the technology of cinema in their own way. Funny Girl refined the helicopter shot to within an inch of precision for that tugboat belter moment in Don’t Rain on My Parade. Hello, Dolly! rebuilt an old train, but the true innovation was Walter Matthau’s Manly Dance, a perpetually pissed-off rhythmic sideways stomp that put men’s choreography back a good forty years. If you feel the need to practice yours in readiness for this screening, it can be easily snuck into your regular bins night routine.
22.00 The Kemps: All Gold
Rhys Thomas has been creating some top kids drama in Dodger, which Creamguide’s mum thinks is brilliant, but we’re pleased to see him back making his own brand of really silly comedy, which we don’t have enough of these days we think. Three years ago he made a ridiculous biopic of the Kemps, and now he’s catching up with them for an equally stupid sequel, where Martin’s splitting up from his wives Pepsi and Shirlie and Gary’s writing Spandau: The Ballet. Loads of other really famous people turn up to make daft cameos and while it’s pushing it a bit at an hour, there’s so much crammed in that it pretty much bludgeons you into laughing at it.
23.00 For a Few Dollars More
The middle one in the Man With No Name “trilogy” which was only a trilogy for marketing purposes and anyway he has three different names in the films so just showing one on its own like this is perfectly valid scheduling. It was proved in court and everything! And The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was originally going to be a National Lampoon parody of the first two films until Steven Spielberg got wind of things. Or was that Jaws 3?
22.20 The Real Nolly
Accompanying the drama is this profile of the woman herself, who really is a pivotal figure in television, given she made her TV debut before the war and actually appeared in John Logie Baird’s experiments in colour TV in the forties. When ITV began she was installed as “women’s programme adviser” at ATV, which sounds like a boring desk job but actually meant she appeared in pretty much all of its daytime output, including ad-mags and embryonic magazine show Lunch Box, which meant she was already a hugely famous face across the Midlands before she set up that motel in Kings Oak. Indeed it was always suggested her huge popularity was the reason they got rid of her from Crossroads, as she basically ran the show, and pretty much the entire station. This documentary will try and discover more, with access to some of her personal effects that have never been on TV before.
12.45 Close Encounters of the Third Kind
If you still want to play the Christmas Film Game, this is our nomination. The mothership was rigged up with a load of actual Christmas tree lights, after all. And just like Hitch-Hiker’s, they had a go at doing some early-doors CGI for the final scene’s VFX, hiring a hangar-sized military-grade mainframe to churn away all night and produce a test frame. Said test frame was so crappy the computer company offered not to charge the studio for it, as long as they went away and never spoke of it again. Enter Ralph McQuarrie, Greg Jein and a truckload of Airfix offcuts -job’s a good’un. That test frame was auctioned off for a tidy sum a couple of years ago, but the piece of Encounterbilia we’d personally love to own is one of the idiot boards containing Francois Truffaut’s lines that were attached to the set, props and even other actors. So some poor sod had to stand in front of the auteur of The 400 Blows with the phrase “It is an event sociologique” pinned to their tits. And that’s what we’d like for Christmas. If it can be arranged.
15.25 Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Police Academy be damned, the first edit of this film ran over *three* and a half hours. Suck on that, Jacques Rivette! That’s pure Candy and Martin boobery for longer than the duration of The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia, and the longest Godfather instalment. And, including stoppages, pretty much any Bears game.
22.45 The Godfather Part II
Aliens. For a Few Dollars More. The Empire Strikes Back. O Lucky Man. Mutiny on the Buses. The Middle Trilogy Peak theory has many fine examples, this film being the most illustrious of all. Released just before Christmas of 1974, it shared cinemas with Young Frankenstein, The Towering Inferno and The Man with the Golden Gun. Between the four of them, those films have filled enough gaps in Sunday afternoon TV schedules to stretch from here to Easter.
09.15 Out of Africa
The film that started the endless stream of Meryl Streep “accents for awards” gags that occasionally still pop up to this day. Not to be confused with the straight-to-video Coronation Street special of the same name, where Kirk, Fizz and Chesney go to see Cilla Battersby and her new fancy man in South Africa, Fizz pretends to be a nun and Kirk has to pretend to have learning difficulties to win some Hearts of Gold-style competition. This isn’t that. Look, if you’re up and watching Channel 5 at this time in the morning you’ll need all the clarification you can get.
19.00 Top of the Pops
Was a bit of a shame when they stopped doing the second part of the Christmas Pops in the mid-eighties, as while the Christmas Day show featured the most obvious crowd-pleasers, the second one a few days later could include some slightly less familiar fare. That’s illustrated here in the show from 29th December 1983, not that we saw the other one, which is a pretty likeable line-up including the likes of The Belle Stars, The Style Council and a Robert Smith double-bill. It also makes up 50% of the Pops appearances of the lesser-spotted Adrian John.
End of Part One
But the Christmas Creamguide will continue here, at 7pm on 21 December
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