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Your Friday Night In...

Your Friday Night In… December 1982

Friday, 24th December 1982


Featuring our heroes on baubles in the opening titles, obviously. If you’ve got your Christmas sitcom cliche spotter’s guide to hand, here are the items you need to tick off: randy middle-aged men at the office party (bonus points for a reference to the girls “from accounts”); plain middle-aged women hoping in vain for a spot of lust under the mistletoe; the boss inviting himself round for Christmas dinner; the boss falling asleep during the Queen’s Speech; playing charades after Christmas dinner (bonus points for a comical misinterpretation); a reference to a “foreign film on BBC2” and, of course, a set of dicky fairy lights. In short, everything we demand from a festive sitcom special.


During the 1980s, it became something of a BBC2 family tradition to nip round to Russ’s country cottage on Christmas Eve for some star-encrusted conversation, fireside entertainment and nostalgic reflections on Christmas in the “North Country”. The guest list for tonight’s soiree included a gaggle of Russell regulars, such as Diana Dors, plus Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, Bryan Robson (although our favourite Harty encounter with the world of football remains the time he flew over the Vatican in an airship with Trevor Francis) and, rustling up the canapes, bow-tied old-school culinary maestro, John “Entertaining On A Plate” Tovey.

For the last decade, the great man had been the face of Christmas on ITV, but this was to be the last Baxter bran-tub for the light channel, henceforth deemed too expensive by the LWT mafia (his shows were costing £500,000 a pop by this point). Inevitably, the line-up included a lavish recreation of Brideshead Revisited, a report from “Alan Whicker”, and the traditional high-kicking homage to the golden age of Hollywood. The next time we’d see Stanley on telly at Christmas, by the way, he’d be promoting the merits of the new Acorn Electron (“it’s as fast as a business computer and it has a real keyboard!”).



  1. Eugene

    December 22, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    There is also the possibility that they stopped letting Stanley Baxter have his show because it wasn’t funny…

  2. Glenn A

    December 23, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Possibly, Eugene, his Christmas Day shows on ITV, while well made and quite entertaining, didn’t stand a chance against BBC One and were usually preceded by a dull, un festive film like Young Winston for over two hours, so most people had abandoned ITV for the night. Moving him back from the big day could have helped, but at 500 grand a show, LWT thought Stanley Baxter was too expensive, and they could make far more from something cheap like Game For A Laugh.

  3. Droogie

    July 13, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Always found watching Stanley Baxter an odd experience as a kid. (though maybe that’s because a lot of the double entendres went over my head.) There’s no doubting the man’s talent, but I don’t recall laughing as much as I would to say Dick Emery. Baxter also had the same curse as Alistair MCGowan by being a brilliant voice impressionist but having a strange face that despite lots of make-up meant he rarely looked like anyone he impersonated.

    • Richardpd

      July 13, 2021 at 10:39 pm

      I remember some of the charm of watching Alistair MCGowan was seeing how hit & miss the make-up could be. At least co-star Ronni Ancona could looks like some of her impressions with not much effort.

  4. Glenn Aylett

    July 13, 2021 at 4:24 pm

    Baxter was one of those comedians who while actually quite good at times( you have to see his send up of The Towering Inferno to see he had flashes of brilliance) is never mentioned much now and his shows had the ultimate booby prize of often being on ITV on Christmas Day when few people would be watching the light channel. Also when he was bad, he was awful, such as a completely unfunny send up of the Weissmuller Tarzan era which was all about why Jane had a different body to Tarzan. I’d say like Terry on June on BBC1 at the same time, Baxter was half hilarious, half awful.

    • Droogie

      July 14, 2021 at 1:15 am

      @Glenn The Towering Inferno parody is indeed very good.
      I think one problem I had with Baxter was his love of old movie stars that he’d insist on recreating. If you were a young kid watching his show in the 70’s, you were never going to most of the references made to the dead people he impersonated ( the 1976 Xmas show has a long segment featuring Noel Coward who’d died 3 years previously!) I also recently watched his 1985 BBC Xmas show when he painstakingly recreates the Wizard Of Oz playing all the parts himself. You can admire his range, but quite who wanted to see a 50 year old man dressed as Dorothy for 10 minutes is a mystery. ( weird use of canned laughter and applause in that show too.)

      • Glenn Aylett

        July 14, 2021 at 9:50 am

        @ Droogie, he did end up with a short series of shows on ITV on Saturdays in 1981. One sketch I do remember is where he dressed up as a middle aged woman on a driving lesson who flirts with the instructor and crashes into a police car. Same series had the useless Tarzan sketch and my dad always said about Baxter, he could he hilarious for one sketch, but the next one could be long drawn out and tedious. His BBC shows were better, with a send up of a television awards ceremony and some digs at Little and Large( how I enjoyed that), but Baxter’s references were often to long gone actors that confused younger viewers.

        • Droogie

          July 14, 2021 at 3:08 pm

          I recently watched some of his shows on Youtube where he literally plays each character in every sketch. Rather than be impressed by his range as an actor, my main reaction was thinking how bloody long it must’ve taken to make each show!

          • Sidney Balmoral James

            July 14, 2021 at 7:27 pm

            Agree, the endless costume changes and set-ups alone must have taken weeks – presumably wherein lay the costs (was it John Birt who axed him on both channels?) Pretty good with a line however corny – pity he couldn’t have continued with a slightly less extravagant production each year. He could still be doing them now! There was a good clips show a few years back, in which he did a few spots – at the end he was shown as an old Colonel type, switching off the television with the words ‘That was a bit poofy!’ which was very funny.

  5. Richardpd

    July 14, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    A few impressionists seem to have a shelf life if most of their act is built around spoofing celebrities who might drop out of the public eye.

    Supposedly Mike Yarwood’s popularity dropped after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister.

  6. Droogie

    July 15, 2021 at 2:53 am

    The problem with being a TV impressionist is even if you’ve mastered an impression of a famous celeb or politician, it has a short shelf life. Jon Culshaw was another curious performer. He could do a perfect Ozzy Osbourne or David Brent , but after 3 minutes it got boring and you wanted the next impression to happen. Dead Ringers got increasingly desperate with it’s mature cast trying to impersonate contemporary celebs half their age. Seeing Phil Cornwell attempt Russell Brand was a particular low point.

  7. Glenn Aylett

    July 15, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    Nothing can date as much as satire and impressionists. I might have considered Mike Yarwood hilarious in 1978, but impersonations of almost forgotten politicians would be hard to watch now, in the same way Not The Nine O Clock News was rarely repeated as the humour was based on current events when the show was made. ( Now who was that Michael Foot again and what was the SDP?).

  8. Richardpd

    July 15, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    The worst example of an impressionist losing out because they could no longer do an impression was Vaughn Meader, who had built a career around being able to do a very good John F Kennedy impersonation.

    • THX 1139

      July 16, 2021 at 12:22 am

      It’s a pity The Simpsons wasn’t around, he could have done Mayor Quimby.

  9. Droogie

    July 16, 2021 at 12:26 am

    There’s a clip of Mike Yarwood on his 1977 Xmas special doing a sketch with special guest Paul McCartney. Yarwood is Dennis Healey but dressed up as a Punk Rocker, because 2 of the worst problems facing the UK back then were punk rock and high taxation of tax dodging millionaires. I can’t believe Macca agreed to appear in this but he did, so hey. .

    • Glenn Aylett

      July 16, 2021 at 9:55 am

      @ Droogie, there was a Yarwood sketch from 1977 where Denis Healey was dressed up Batman with the name VATMan. Again incomprehensible to anyone under 50 who would probably wonder what on earth this was about. Yet for his time, Yarwood was quite a talented impressionist and very popular, but an ill advised move to ITV in 1982 killed his career after one series.

  10. George White

    July 16, 2021 at 8:33 am

    Weirdly, SB’s BBC-era Godfather III sketch in 1984/85 eerily predicts the actual film, albeit with Vito and Pope John Paul II rather than Michael and a fictitious depiction of Pope John Paul I

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