“A sort of Christmas bonus, you might say.”
After their botched effort last year, the BBC rallied in 1975 to deliver another classic Christmas Day schedule with the restoration of many of the traditional big-hitters to the schedule. But before that we had to get through the morning …
Both channels had tried ringing some changes with their morning schedules. BBC1 began withRagtime with Maggie Henderson and Fred Harris; the return of the kids carol concert; a cartoon of Oscar Wilde’s fable The Happy Prince; then after a service from St George’s Chapel in Windsor (with the royals in attendance) a big shock: no hospital visit. This was a major departure from tradition. And there wasn’t even a similarly-themed replacement: just Rod Hull, Emu, 300 kids and the Glossop School Band with more carols, before the same pattern as last year: Laurel and Hardy (in Pack Up Your Troubles), Holiday on Ice and at 2.10pm Top of the Pops with Tony Blackburn and Noel Edmonds (bizarrely this was part two of the usual double edition, part one airing on 23 December with Sir Jim and DLT hosting).
A classic bit of meaningless scheduling began ITV’s day: a short film describing the origins of the carol Silent Night at 8.40am, then after Rainbow at 9am came … another short film describing the origins of the carol Silent Night. But after this unfortunate duplication it was business as usual: a service from Luss Parish Church in Scotland; A Merry Morning from St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford with Leslie Crowther, magician Larry Parker and the surreal Animal Kwackers; a compilation of Harold Lloyd film clips; Jack Parnell and his Orchestra playing big band classics; and finally Chipperfield’s Circus taking us through to 3pm.
Meanwhile, on BBC1, almost everything was back in its proper place for the afternoon, including – best of all – Morecambe and Wise; and The Wizard of Oz was a fantastic choice of film to fill the previously problematic gap between Billy Smart’s Circus and The Generation Game. The only weak point was what followed Bruce and Anthea: the perhaps inevitable return of Frank Spencer in another one-off festive special, the first new episode since last year’s seasonal offering. Still, it would’ve scored a high audience, no question; and things improved drastically come Eric’n’Ern’s appearance 45 minutes later, with Diana Rigg, Des O’Connor, Robin Day, Gordon Jackson and others joining the pair for another superb Christmas Show.
The rest of the evening wasn’t too bad either. Another fine film at 8.45pm, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, probably kept many viewers switched to BBC1, after which came The Good Old Days – restored to its place on Christmas Day after a two year exile. A fitting finale to an almost faultless line-up of programmes was the man Parkinson with a specially recorded interview with Bob Hope.
In contrast ITV struggled – as usual. They opted for the deeply unfunny film Doctor in Trouble to follow the Queen – but up against The Wizard of Oz anything would’ve flopped. The familiar lapse into pointless filler material began with Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo at 4.45pm – animated bible stories did not belong at this stage of the day. Next came an episode ofCrossroads, simply because Christmas happened to fall on a Thursday this year. “David Hunter extends an invitation which may prove very embarrassing,” hinted TV Times, and maybe Ronald Allen, a key attraction during this period of the soap’s history, could’ve wooed a significant audience away from Judy Garland. Unlikely.
ITV seemed to be catering for different audiences with each new programme, rather than going for consistent all-out family entertainment. So Crossroads was followed by a slice of mid-’70s pop: The Bay City Rollers Show with Gilbert O’Sullivan, The Drifters, Elton John and David Cassidy on offer. Another ill-assortment of stars showed up next in Christmas Celebrity Squares, which marked the first appearance on Christmas Day telly of the great Bob Monkhouse. He was joined by John Inman, Noele Gordon, Charlie Drake, Des O’Connor, Arthur Mullard and others, all for charity. Then at 7.30pm came an hour of Thames Television comedy. First, a special Christmas episode of a series that had only debuted on screens that October:Get Some In!, the Esmonde and Larbey scripted comedy set in 1950s Britain and the world of National Service. Then came Love Thy Neighbour, half way through its (count ‘em) eighth – and last – series. If ITV wanted to lure viewers away from Morecambe and Wise, a sitcom barely two months old and one on its last legs was a miserable idea.
The big film that followed was another epic: The Taming of the Shrew, running until 11pm (with 15 minutes for news in between) and featuring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in yet more rounds of love wars. And finally, wrapping up the evening was crusty old Sir Geraint Evans, back for the third year with his carols and tall tales, this time to be found Beneath the Christmas Tree – a disturbing image to conjure with.
BBC2 was better this year: kids could look forward to both Play School, with Chloe Ashcroft and Johnny Ball telling the familiar nativity story, and also Christmas Day Play Away. Then after a load of repeats – including Prince Charles Pilot Royal, a sober film on the heir to the throne’s flying career – came Nice One: a 15 minute portrait of a Cockney wedding. “A red letter day in the East End: Alan Jude and Helen Savage get married and to cap it all West Ham win 1-0.” Great stuff later on as well: a re-showing of Jack Rosenthal’s fine drama The Evacuees (starring his missus Maureen Lipman); the classic film of the musical Guys and Dolls; and perhaps most memorably a rock version of the legend of Troy not only starring Bernard Cribbins, Paul Jones and Patricia Hodge but with music arranged and directed by Jonathan Cohen.
The holiday period was topped off with the proper appearance of both the Carry On team (… Up The Khyber on 23 December at 7pm) and The Beatles in Let It Be, the supremely downbeat documentary of their impending demise, a brave choice for Boxing Day morning. Good old Bing Crosby showed up too, hosting Disney Time the same day; while on Christmas Eve came the premiere airing of a true comedy classic: the first special Christmas episode of Porridge – “No Way Out”, 45 minutes of genius. An excellent year for the BBC, then, only spoilt by the choice for the Radio Times cover: a crap drawing of a huge robin.