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The six worst TV Times Christmas covers

Christmas is not all about Radio Times of course. Because whenever John Craven craned out from a festive Back Page so too did a limpid-eyed Katie Boyle. But while the BBC always decked its schedules with the very merriest fare, that’s never quite been the case on ITV, meaning the Christmas TV Times has, if anything, a more eccentric run of covers than its upstairs rival.

We’ve already waxed a little wry over RT X-mas duffs here. But now, come all ye faithful, here are TV Times’ worst ever efforts.

6: 1981


Slap-bang in the ‘so much more than TV times’ magazine era, Harry Secombe, there, firmly on the highway to getting sozzled, in a perfunctory photo-shoot of the ‘let’s just split for lunch’ variety. Sack the art ed who married those red and white hues with a lime flavoured logo.

5: 1976


The concept – to bring together the TV Times family of stars in one Christmas super-shoot. The realisation – hastily scissored faces slapped upon stock Santa hoods. Many, not even looking into camera (“Frankie, over ‘ere!”).

 4: 1967


“Christmas Morning service comes  from the ancient parish church of Bierton in Buckinghamshire.”

3: 1978


M&W mark their first, desultory, Braben-less, Christmas on Thames with a TVT cover. Again, strong concept (and one they’d revisit with far more success in 1980) but shockingly poor realisation. There’s even a light reflection off the cardboard Connery’s shoulder. And as for Eric seemingly about to blow his own head off… well, perhaps the realisation of all of this was just sinking in.

2: 1965


Who’s that? A young Jan Leeming perhaps? “Here’s the news: It’s Christmas!” In fact it’s – as the cover caption tells us – The Boy Jesus by Florence Kroger. Turns out that shit vanity covers by ‘name’ artists aren’t just the province of modern day RT.

1: 1983


We’re fans of the over-sized heads school of caricature, but, in all charitableness, that’s probably an inadvertent feature of this horrid imagining of a – we’re going to say it too – ‘right royal Christmas’ with Charles, Di and William. What’s that Wills is reaching for? And is Di really leaning on a mattress, adjunct to a Ferguson TV set?

Dishonourable mentions for…

Everything generic, creepy Santa illustration which they’ve run in perpetuity since the mid 1990s.




  1. David Smith

    December 11, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    As I remember, the Eric’n’Ernie’n’Bond issue was more widespread in a terrifyingly stark, leaflet-thin black and white “emergency edition” due to some printer’s strike or other; I remember being well impressed when my dad brought home a colour one.

    Oh, and Harry wouldn’t have been on the 1983 cover as he didn’t pop till September of the following year…

    • TV Cream

      December 11, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      You’re quite right! Our mistake. Updated!

  2. Andrew Holmes

    December 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Nice to see Buck Tarbrush’s toothy grin on the 1976 edition.

  3. Duncan

    December 11, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Dickie D looks awfully creepy in that 1976 edition.

  4. Rawmackaw

    December 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    The 1984 cover with Russ Abbot as a fairy not get a mention?

  5. Applemask

    December 11, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Judith Kerr > you.

  6. Des E

    December 12, 2014 at 11:05 am

    The Harry-as-Santa-plus-lime-logo cover is actually from 1981 – a clue to that being that there’s no mention of Channel 4.

    The 1982 cover not only featured a doorway with Charlie Chaplin, the Muppets, Superman and Frostie standing in it (plus Eric and Ern, Roger Moore, a drawing of The Snowman and an oversized robin for good measure), but it also mentioned the fourth channel twice.

    • TV Cream

      December 13, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Des, you’re right! Fixed the date.

  7. Glenn A

    December 12, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Hughie Green as Santa on the 1976 cover, this is enough to give kids nightmares. Mercifully 15 months later he was gone for good.
    Actually the Morecambe and Wise one is quite good, just a shame their first two Thames Christmas shows were so dire.

  8. Liam

    December 12, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Why does Diana look like some bizarre hybrid of Edwina Currie and a yet-to-be-even-born-in-1983 Rachel Riley?

  9. Glenn A

    December 13, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I think Eric Morecambe is contemplating suicide after reading the script for the 1978 Christmas show. However, this was one of the few Christmases ITV could claim ratings success as even though M and W’s Christmas show was hopeless, it still topped the ratings and the BBC threw in the towel with a boring western.

  10. Glenn A

    December 15, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    I don’t think the one inside the church looks that bad, it seems to give ITV a more serious image than Harry Secombe looking sloshed. Actually Secombe looks so far gone, I thought it was Arthur Mullard.

  11. borgduck

    December 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm


  12. Des E

    December 23, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    “Dishonourable mention for: creepy Santa illustration which they’ve run in perpetuity since the mid 1990s.”

    *puts on pedant’s hat*

    1996’s cover featured Wallace and Gromit, while the Teletubbies were the stars in 1997.

    1998 had the cast of Changing Rooms, in TVT’s last photographic Xmas cover to date (some nine years after RT’s last).

    2000 gave us a polar bear – which, as I said on the six best TVT covers page, I like more than RT’s Harry Potter offering. Finally, 2004 featured a snowman that didn’t look dissimilar to the one on RT’s 1992 cover.

    *takes off pedant’s hat*

  13. Glenn A

    December 25, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    The 1976 cover was so bad because ITV knew Christmas Day was a lost cause against Morecambe and Wise and the Generation Game and could only really compete when Eric and Ern changed sides and BBC1 cancelled the Generation Game. However, 1976 did have one highlight, the hilarious film version of Please Sir at 3.00, but after that, it was all downhill with the joys of a boring three hour film all night.

  14. Glenn A

    December 16, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    I think the Royal one in 1983 looks weird and unsettling, as Charlie’s head is bigger than his body. This was, of course, the start of the ITV love in with anything to do with Charles and Diana and an attempt to show ITV was more patriotic and royalist then the BBC. They could have even had Alastair Burnet on the cover as Santa.

  15. TVTimesAddict

    September 21, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    Actually, 1977’s edition was crap, too, well the page headers were, anyway.

  16. TVTimesAddict

    September 21, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Actually, 1977’s edition was pretty crap, too, well the page headers were, anyway.

  17. Richardpd

    December 9, 2020 at 11:53 pm

    The 1994 & 95 Santa looked very weird, considering the other drawn covers from the early 1990s were a lot easier on the eye & almost what the Radio Times would have on the cover around then.

  18. Sidney Balmoral James

    December 14, 2021 at 7:56 pm

    Who is the woman under Tarby (horrible thought) in the 1976 cover? Only one I can’t identify. Is it Eleanor Bron? Joan Hackett?

  19. David Smith

    December 6, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    Oddly, in 1976 the TVT’s Christmas dates were 24th Dec-7th Jan, while the RT’s were 18th Dec-1st Jan.

  20. Richardpd

    December 6, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    Checking out a 1976 calendar, RT started their listings from a Saturday, while TVT started on a Friday.

    • David Smith

      December 7, 2022 at 9:03 am

      For that issue, yes, but presumably the 24th was just a duplicate so the issue didn’t start on Christmas Day (the RT would have also duplicated Sat 1st to include New Year’s Day).

      I’m just curious why the two of them were a week apart as I don’t think that’s ever happened before.

      • Richardpd

        December 7, 2022 at 10:20 pm

        Yes that makes sense!

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