Yes, it’s that time again – when everyone starts going on about the big-hitting Christmas specials of yesteryear. That episode where your favourite programme went all-singing all-dancing and a newsreader came on and said, “Hello, I am a newsreader!” and everyone laughed. But, to be honest, we always preferred it when you just got a suitably Jingle Bell-ed up regular instalment of something, and here’s our rundown of the 10 absolute best…
10. The Mr Men: Mr Snow (1974)
Lowe-related Hargreaves-adapted tale of a snowman who takes on Mr Man form to help out a stranded Santa when snowed-in sleigh issues prevent him from adhering to his present-delivery schedule, complete with tinkly ‘snowflake’ version of the theme tune. He didn’t look anything like he did in the book, though. Later subjected to what-a-lot-of-Mr-Men-there-are non-seasonal cut-and-shut with Mr Fussy, which was never quite the same. Still better than that air-walking jerk, though.
9. Ever Decreasing Circles: The Party (1984)
“And I said, ‘Good Morning Martin’!” Anne’s looking forward to another exciting Christmas full of Martin double-checking that the screws on all the hinges in the house are sufficiently tightly secured when Paul runs into a spot of bother – all of those unseen ‘mates’ he keeps droning on about have turned up en masse to spend the festive season at his place, and there’s no room at the chintzy designer-clad inn. It’s Martin to the rescue, drawing up a feeding of the 5000-style breakfast and bathroom rotas as if all his Christmases have come at once. Howard and Hilda, needless to say, remain oblivious to it all. Ending with Egan-instigated snowfall, it’s charming and good natured fun all the way; so much so that you can even overlook the dubious “in all probability!” bloke.
8. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)
Mighty Three Doctors-esque Jagger-meets-Lennon conflation of all the Blackadder incarnations to date (except for, erm, the first one, who didn’t even get to film his scenes in his shed), bookended by the tale of how nice-as-Christmas-pud Dickensian Blackadder turned evil and missed out on a prize from Queen Victoria, complete with bible-baiting gag that had to be cut from repeats. Extra points for featuring Peri from Doctor Who and Ro-land from Grange Hill, and it was funnier than The Two Ronoids too.
7. Chorlton And The Wheelies: Chorlton In The Iceworld (1977)
Everyone’s favourite Happiness Dragon recruits the aid of that Mexican Duck thing that wasn’t always in it when Fenella lures the Wheelies into some sort of not at all Dougal and the Blue Cat-esque network of ice tunnels filled with frowny snowmen. Needless to say, it ends with everyone but her discovering the true meaning of Christmas, resulting in a Yuletide wallop for poor old Reilly and Claptrap. Running to a full half-hour, this is the Citizen Kane of Cosgrove Hall animations, and exactly the sort of thing you’d get on ITV at Christmas, back when they could be bothered.
6. Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (2005)
Yes we know it’s outside the Cream Era. Shut up, we’re having it. Rose and her mum do the lion’s share when bony-helmeted boomy-voice types the Sycorax turn up hoping to plunder all of Earth’s resources by making everyone stand on the roof, with the newly-regenerated Doctor showing up at the last minute in a not at all West Wing-inspired plot device, shouting, “It’s a fightin’ hand!” and trying to make The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy ‘canon’. There’s also a bit of simultaneous Thatcher/Blair satire thrown in for good measure, so go and stick your dribble about ‘BBC bias!!’ up your Donna Noble. A couple of months previously, we’d still all thought we’d never actually see Doctor Who on TV again, and yet here it was on Christmas Day, doing a natty bit of ratings-skewed Venusian Aikido on anything else shown that day to boot. That’s why we love it.
5. Bod: Bod’s Present (1975)
Bod and the boys get submerged by a heavy snowfall while carrying presents to Aunt Flo’s. They are bailed out by a disctinctly Bod Universe Santa, who enlists their help in delivering presents before dropping them off at their destination. In true zen fashion, she’s got them all handkerchieves, which is handy as they’ve all contracted colds from their exposure to the elements. Then there’s a guessing game with crackers and presents, Five White Snowmen instead of 10 Green Bottles, and Alberto Frog solving Hippo the French Horn Player’s dilemma over what to get his wife for Christmas by, erm, arranging a concert on their stairs. Bod, and Christmas… yes! That’s Snap!
4. Grange Hill: Christmas Special (1981)
Tucker’s oft-referenced ‘Our Kid’ gets a job in an electrical store, prompting both pre-Nasties excitement about rending Saturday Night Fever and Alien (‘the X version’), and the loan of a set of turntables and speakers to organise an end of term social. Some Brookdale ruffians attempt to steal the takings from under the frequently-bloodied nose of not exactly safe pair of hands Justin, but it’s all a big ruse – and in the confusion, they try to make off with ‘the disco’! Only an unlikely ‘Football in No Man’s Land’ alliance between Tucker and Doyle puts paid to their plans. Trisha, predictably, extends no such hand of PA-protecting friendship, denouncing the evening’s entertainment as “the same old spotty faces making the same old spotty jokes”. Written by a Blue Peter competition winner, who also got the chance to appear as one of the would-be Numark-nickers, along with Phil Redmond’s own personal thumbs-up. Better still, there wasn’t a sodding donkey in sight.
3. Rising Damp: For The Man Who Has Everything (1975)
Rigsby sends himself a card and fails to get Gwen the postie under the mistletoe. Not expecting Rigsby to be there, Philip turns up with his new girlfriend. Not expecting Rigsby or Philip to be there, Alan and Brenda are hoping to do a bit of seasonal boot-knocking. Rigsby assumes the new girlfriend is one of Philip’s wives, and later still, due to extremely crossed wires, mistakenly believes she’s his Christmas ‘present’. Alan and Brenda have only got him bath salts. Everything gets out of hand until they reach the usual running around squabbling under the end credits, and none of them end up under the mistletoe. No ‘message’, no high concept, just the same old characters annoying each other with scraggy old bits of tinsel knocking about. That’s how you do a sitcom Christmas special.
2. EastEnders, Christmas Day 1986
Defying the daily tabloid stories about declining ratings (which at one point – gasp – dropped by A MILLION), EastEnders confidently strode into its imperial phase in 1986, seeing the year out not just with Every Loser Wins and Something Outa Nothing, but with a radical-for-the-time two episodes on Christmas Day. And it needed two to cover both the climax of the Christmas Club-pilfering Are You Avin’ An Arfur Fowler? storyline, and the most famous and widely-quoted line ever heard in a soap opera – “I hope you didn’t mind me using the upsta-“… sorry, “‘Appy Christmas, Ange”. Whatever they pull out of the bag for this year’s instalment, it has nothing on this. Pity Dog Market had split up by then, mind.
1. Watch: The Nativity (1977)
Star-following science and history edutainment nirvana as Louise wanders around Bethlehem on scratchy film, pointing at virtually everything she sees and narrowly avoiding chucking up on the back of a camel, while back in the studio James makes some cardboard puppets of the manger scene and sings a load of proggy songs about The Good News. They even explain what ‘myrrh’ is! Fondly remembered not just for being really really fun, but for providing undeniable, incontrovertible proof positive that school was about to finish for Christmas. It was a time to be happy. A time to clap your hands and be cheery!