TV Cream

The 1990s Christmas Logs


“At Christmas, Freddie is disillusioned.”

The schedules for the early part of Christmas Day by this point had settled into a predictable pattern. Children’s BBC would kick off the day, this year at 6.50am, and include Tony Robinson’s retelling of the Christmas story and Edd the Duck’s pantomime (Edd the Duck’s Megastar Trek). Then we’d get a service – this year, Follow That Star, from Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London. But this time, the usual fare of Edmonds/comedy repeats/Top of the Pops was broken up somewhat. At 10.30am, Anne Diamond and Nick Owen replaced Noel, who was seemingly concentrating on hisHouse Party. Their programme seemed to hark back to the old Telecom Tower shows, being broadcast live and including reunions and a phone-in “sing-a-long”. But much like their daily show was no match for Richard and Judy, on Christmas Day they were no match for Noel, and by the following year they had already become less popular at the Corporation and weren’t allowed anywhere near The Big Day. Another notorious programme followed at 11.30am, Eldorado, by virtue of the fact that Friday wasEldorado day. After the disastrous launch in July, the series was practically treading water until it was taken off, and this was about as good a slot as it could have got – by this point, the episodes on Bank Holidays were already relegated to mid-afternoon.

At least we still had the Christmas Comedy Cracker at noon, but there were just two programmes this year, Hi-De-Hi! and The Two Ronnies, to make way at 1.35pm forNeighbours. Famously, episodes were shown 18 months after Australian transmission, so it was midsummer in Ramsey Street. However, they seemingly had a spare 25 minutes this year, although there was no early evening repeat, and it’s hard to imagine who could remember to make a date with the series on this day. Top of the Pops followed at 2pm, helpfully reminding us it was “Christmas 1992″, and with the gruesome twosome of Tony Dortie and Mark Franklin in charge.

Alright, it’s hardly a great schedule, but at least the regular aspects were present and correct. ITV never had such a strict pattern, but this year devoted a large amount of the pre-Queen period to similar repeats – Get Some In and Nearest and Dearest received unexpected revivals (the former being a landmark as the last programme made by Thames to go out on ITV on Christmas Day). This half-heartedness seemed to filter down to the rest of the day – TV-am, with less than a week to go before they closed down, continued in much the same way as the previous year (with the same cartoons in some places), but at least attempted to make a day of it with original programming – Top Banana and a Timmy Mallett special as well as the return of the Thought for Christmas Day. Then the ITV network took over with the Morning Worship – from St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh – then the elderly Disney film Candleshoe, before the mass of sitcom repeats.

Then, following the Queen at 3.05pm was the film Supergirl – receiving its umpteenth showing on ITV (alas, no Bond this year, although the other family fave Flash Gordon got an outing on 28 December). Going into the evening, Coronation Street was cast adrift slightly at 5.20pm, followed by festive episodes of Blind Date and Barrymore. This was all done by 7.50pm though, so when the really big audiences turned on for the main part of the evening, they were treated to the mediocre films Three Fugitives and the undistinguished Youngblood – a forgotten ice hockey drama with Rob Lowe.

After a shaky start, things improved on the BBC after the Queen had done her stuff. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a useful film for mid-afternoon, followed again by theGeneration Game and EastEnders, this time at a more realistic 6.25pm. Then there was a triple bill of hour-long comedies, with Only Fools and Horses at 6.55pm, then Birds of a Feather– yet again – and a new Victoria Wood show at 9pm – in an attempt to generate a big budget special in the vein of Morecambe and Wise, perhaps. Another decent film, Shirley Valentine, followed at 9.50pm, and this all added up to a comfortable win for BBC1, with the Trotters victorious again, and this time with 20 million viewers.

Of course, BBC2 and Channel 4 went their own merry way – BBC2 had a slightly more mainstream schedule than before, though, including the film Top Hat, a profile of Nigel Mansell, a repeat outing for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert first shown in April, and Reindeer Rock, a wry look at the history of the Christmas single. The main events were slightly more accessible too, with the premiere of Dangerous Liaisons and the ballet of Romeo and Juliet, and they found space at 11pm for a festive Likely Lads followed by the Hitchcock classic Rear Window.

Channel 4 started the day with The Big Breakfast – the series having begun in September of that year. For the rest of the day, we saw a tribute to Charlie Chaplin, a Christmas concert from Carnegie Hall and, of course, The Snowman at 6.25pm. The evening offered up Brookside flung rather artlessly between a documentary about Malcolm Muggeridge and Derek Jacobi in the lengthy period drama The Fool. There was an all-star tribute to Bob Dylan at 11.15pm from Madison Square Gardens to end the day, though this was probably less fun than Radio 1’s broadcast of the same event where DJ Neale James expressed regret that Dylan wasn’t alive to see it.

The BBC’s victory, though, was not as comfortable as it would be next year, when ITV seemed to lose interest in the idea of Christmas Day programming altogether.

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