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TV Cream’s top 10 of Christmas telly!

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!




  1. George White

    December 19, 2017 at 10:04 am

    “Dun Laoghaire pier” – that must have been Joe Lynch’s own addition. Plus being an RTE stalwart (later moaning that RTE restricted his work cos of his 20 year term on Glenroe), he uses the proper RTE Gaelic pronunciation “Doonlayorah” not the more common Anglicised “Dunleary”, My grandad knew him, didn’t like him much.

  2. Glenn A

    December 19, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    Surely K9 and Company belongs on here, it was just as eagerly awaited by younger viewers( well younger Doctor Who fans) over Christmas 1981 as Grange Hill. OK it had an extremely bad synthesised theme tune by uber fan Ian Levene, the opening credits had K9 sitting on a wall, but for the fans it was a welcome return for two very much missed companions( Sarah Jane as well as K9). Also you have to check out K9 singing We Wish You A Merry Christmas, it’s a classic, and some really shonky special effects, although the story involving satanists was quite good.
    Of course, Doctor Who non fan Alan Hart took an instant dislike to K9 and Company, cancelling it after the Christmas special even with 8 million viewers, and what could have been a brilliant, OK reasonable, DW spin off never happened. However, K9 probably had the last laugh as 25 years later both he and Sarah Jane returned in the imperial DW era, and both got their own CBBC show in 2008.

  3. George White

    December 19, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    What would a series have been like, though? The rumour of a robot dog who fights witches’ covens all over the country sounds limited. Jonathan Creek with a metal mutt, perhaps.
    And the Master would have revealed to have built this K9 as a decoy, rather stupidly.

  4. Glenn A

    December 21, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    An interesting one last night and a Christmas special I’d almost forgotten about, The Two Ronnies 1973 Christmas special( relegated to Boxing Day then due to another comedy duo on Christmas Day) shown on BBC Four last night. This was an interesting diversion for them, rather than their usual show, it was a murder mystery set in 1874 and featuring two detectives they’d use to great success in their 1977 series, Charley Farley and Piggy Malone. Still top stuff, with the monologue, sketches, news, comedy musical pieces and guest stars( Pans People, possibly, doing a can can) all set in 1874. Rather better than the below par 1982 Christmas special that followed, which I consider to be their worst.

  5. Richardpd

    October 15, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    K9 and Company was effected by the Winter Hill transmitter failing & almost no-one in the North West being able to watch it!

    According to Elisabeth Sladen even when they were making it there was the feeling it wasn’t going to be a full series.

  6. Glenn Aylett

    October 15, 2022 at 6:57 pm

    @ Richardpd, in Cumbria, we used Caldbeck, that 1000 feet of transmitter that can be seen as far away as Alston, and while this could go off in bad weather, it stayed on for K9 and Company.
    K9 and Company was OK, a welcome return for two well loved fixtures from the seventies, just not quite good enough for a whole series. The Grange Hill special meanwhile was the last regular outing for the original cast, as in series 5, Tucker and his friends would only make cameos and then vanish when they left school at the end of the series. This again was OK, but not one of the better episodes.

  7. Richardpd

    October 15, 2022 at 9:52 pm

    I can about remember Tucker in Grange Hill, in the years after there were quite a few changes like the merger with the neighbouring Rodney Bennett School which allowed for a change around of teachers & pupils.

  8. Glenn Aylett

    October 16, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    @ Richardpd, the merger occurred in series 8 and was the debut of the legendary Mr Bronson. Tucker and his friends Alan and Tommy appeared in a spin off called Tucker’s Luck that ran for three series, but by then, who was really bothered about a Grange Hill character that left the show in 1982, when the current crop of characters in Grange Hill were just as good.

  9. Richardpd

    October 16, 2022 at 10:16 pm

    OK I thought the merger was a little earlier.

    I was bit too young to watch Tuckers Luck, but I remember a documentary a few years ago featured a few clips that looked good.

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