“‘Hello Ask’, a small boy greets Aspel.”
ITV launched their Christmas Day with an ambitious carol service recorded at the Royal Festival Hall involving the massed choirs of all of London’s hospitals – no cheap, low-key schools effort this, and all the more ironic given that the BBC’s idea of an early morning carol concert this year was actually a repeat of last year’s Chetham school singalong – boo! BBC1 then went straight into an episode of Mr Benn(“Cowboy”) followed by the morning service, outdoors in Runcorn Town Square.
After the familiar appeal, though, a major change: A Stocking Full of Stars at 11.30am replacedMeet the Kids, with a new location – the National Children’s Home in Harpenden – new hosts – Michael Aspel and Roy Castle – and a new format, with special live and pre-recorded appearances by the stars of Blue Peter, The Goodies, Animal Magic, Basil Brush, Top of the Pops, Tom & Jerry, The Generation Game and Vision On. This sort of junior version ofChristmas Night with the Stars ran for a whole two hours and was an imaginative, if perhaps a bit contrived, means of combining the sober aspects of life at the children’s home with some great entertainment for viewers and residents alike. The Black and White Minstrel Show turned up next, and Top of the Pops ‘72 followed according to plan at 2.10pm. Again it was in two parts, this first edition fronted by Sir Jim plus Ed Stewart. Part two wasn’t until 28 December – a Thursday – when new recruit Noel Edmonds joined Tony Blackburn.
On the other side, ITV followed its early morning carols with a short story for young children, set to music: Enchanted House, told by Mary Malcolm and Howard Williams. This animal-centred fable led into A Merry Morning at 9.30am and the return of Leslie Crowther, now taking up residence at the King Edward VII Orthopaedic Hospital in Sheffield. This time, the hapless patients had to put up with a ukulele recital from Alan Randall. Then came the film clips for kids – Clapperboard’s Christmas Cracker hosted by Chris Kelly – and a highly flamboyant church service at 10.45am from St George’s Chapel in Windsor with no less than the full royal family in attendance.
Sandwiched between this unconventional regal encounter and the conventional 3pm message was a feature length cartoon of Gulliver’s Travels – but dating from 1939, so very much showing its age. Why did ITV have this habit of scheduling ancient films or animation in the midday slot every Christmas? Could nothing more up-to-date ever be found? The annual look-in to the big top followed at 1.15pm, though this year it was the Mary Chipperfield International Circus down on Clapham Common rather than Kelvin Hall. 12 Lippizaner horses and David Hamilton were promised. Then a charmless musical about the flight of a snow goose – with songs by Glen Campbell – bored viewers into submission before the National Anthem.
A textbook BBC1 schedule followed the Queen’s message: Billy Smart’s Circus; the pantomime (Dick Whittington, with Peter Noone in the title role, Dick Emery as Sarah the Cook and Michael Aspel popping up again this time as The Vizier); Bruce Forsyth and The Generation Game; Christmas Night with the Stars at 6.55pm; and finally Morecambe and Wise.Christmas Night … was hosted for the second year running by The Two Ronnies and with a fantastic menu including Lulu, Cilla Black, The Goodies, The Liver Birds and Dad’s Army. It meant Ronnie Hazelhurst and his Orchestra scored their second appearance of the day – having already provided suitable music for the panto.
Morecambe and Wise at 8.15pm delivered the goods, along with guests Jack Jones, Vera Lynn, Shirley Bassey, Glenda Jackson (again) and many more. Eric’n’Ern graced the cover of the Christmas Radio Times as well, posing in a circus ring alongside Bruce and Lulu. BBC1 rounded off this memorable schedule with their usual choice, a film – this year, the Robert Redford 1967 movie of the musical Barefoot in the Park; then came another look back to thoseGood Old Days – a special 20th anniversary retrospective – and finally a 10 minute short story told by John Slater before a midnight closedown.
You could catch Morecambe and Wise on both sides this Christmas: ITV followed up the Queen with the pair’s dreadful 1960s film That Riviera Touch. But then Hughie Green, the old trouper, came to the channel’s rescue at 4.50pm with an Opportunity Knocks! Christmas Special. This all-winners show was trailed as a chance for viewers to see entrants for theOpportunity Knocks! Fanfare for Europe – though they couldn’t vote for anyone as the winner was to be chosen “by a special committee.” Still, better viewing than what followed: All Star Comedy Carnival, this time hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck, but once again lasting way too long (105 minutes) and scheduled directly against Christmas Night with the Stars: a ludicrous idea. However it did promise the unlikely sketch “Christmas with Wogan” – Terry opening gifts by his log fire?
Also appearing were the stars of this Christmas’ TV Times cover: Jack Smethurst and Rudolph Walker, from Thames’ Love Thy Neighbour, dressed up as “The Black and White Santas” under the heading “Merry Christmas Neighbour”. Launched in April of this year, the notorious series was perhaps the most talked about comedy show around, certainly the most controversial. Two series had already been shown come this Christmas, and incredibly another six would be made over the next three years.
Because it was a Monday there was an episode of Coronation Street at 7.30pm; that was followed by another recent smash hit: Granada’s stand-up cabaret show The Comedians. Breeding ground for innumerable game show hosts, this ludicrously cheap but popular programme had debuted in June 1971 and already run for five series come Christmas 1972. Indeed, a 45 minute special, The Comedians Christmas Party, had aired on Christmas Eve last year. This time the bunch of northern comics won a primetime slot on Christmas Day itself – a bizarre choice, as they were hardly family entertainment, and were up against Morecambe and Wise on BBC1. Still, if you wanted Bernard Manning, Charlie Williams, Frank Carson and Jim Bowen, here they were.
The evening ended as per usual – the long film, with a break half way through for a short news summary. Granada viewers could enjoy the epic tale Tom Jones, while ATV ran the dreary colonial saga Khartoum. But wait, what’s this, lurking at 11pm? The Love Goddesses. “The treatment of sex in the cinema has long been a reflection of the customs, manners and morals of the time. The story of the Love Goddesses it itself a history of sex in the movies.” Blimey. This was actually a collection of clips from 40 black and white classics, not the Channel 4-esque sounding romp that TV Times promised. Still, an amusing contrast with The Good Old Days on BBC1.
Boxing Day again proved to be the resting place for this year’s Beatles film – Help – and theCarry On, which this time was Carry On Cleo: both great viewing. Disney Time was on Christmas Eve, with Rolf in charge. As for BBC2 – well, a more varied line-up was tried on Christmas Day this year. Play School at 11am saw Miranda Connell and Rick Jones telling the Christmas Story; while later there was a festive edition of the timeless Call My Bluff with guests Jean Marsh, Miles Kington, Douglas Fairbanks Junior and Anne Stallybrass. Peter Alliss reviewed sporting highlights in Golf Story ‘72, Alastair Cooke continued his personal history of the US in America, the classic 1944 film of Henry V followed the Queen’s message, and then a Berlioz opera, a silent film about a stallion and a French romantic ballet filled up the early evening. The premiere at 9.25pm of Nigel Kneale’s play The Stone Tape provided an excellent contrast to the film action on the other two channels. With the evening closing with Fred Astaire in conversation with Dick Cavett besides singing a few of his famous tunes, this was a fine effort by BBC2 – their best so far this decade.