TV Cream

The 1970s Christmas Logs

1975

“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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Glenn Aylett

    December 28, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    The 1975 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show was shown on BBC Two this year and is one of their best shows. I’d forgotten the sketch where Morecambe and Wise attack Robin Day and the near the bone one where they visit Diana Rigg as a psychiatrist. I’m not surprised over half the population used to watch these shows in the mid seventies, the quality and choice of guests was so good,
    Not liked TVC Towers, but I did watch the repeat of the Some Mothers Do Ave Em 1975 Christmas special last week and this is timeless fun and made better by Michael Crawford doing his own stunts. While everyone remembers the driving test, the scenes with David Jacobs and the dangerous furniture are just as much fun.

    • Richardpd

      December 28, 2020 at 12:45 pm

      I’ve found the Some Mothers Do Ave Em 1975 Christmas special a mixed bag, it looks like most of the budget went on the driving test, as the bits with David Jacobs are a bit shambolic even by the show’s normal standards, but at least are fun to watch.

      • Glenn Aylett

        December 28, 2020 at 1:14 pm

        The 1975 Some Mothers Do Ave Em was probably remembered best for the stunts involving the swing bridge and the car going to the sea than the scenes with David Jacobs making a DIY show at Frank’s house. Yet the David Jacobs portion has more running gags such as the doorbell, the collapsing shelves, the broken sofa and the microphones, and how Frank turns the normally unflappable Jacobs into a nervous wreck is hilarious.
        Rarely seen now, the 1978 special is probably better technically as the scenes inside the plane were filmed for real and the BBC pulled out all the stops to make this look convincing.

  2. Sidney Balmoral James

    December 28, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Why does TV Cream hate Frank Spencer so much? Is it the strange change which came over Frank in the last series perhaps, when he became a rather pompous figure? Did Michael Crawford once nick your parking space? There are lots of 70s comedies which are dreadful beyond belief – mainly on ITV – but Some Mothers is still hilarious, with very few slack episodes. Like Fawlty Towers and Rising Damp, it has a superb bit of characterization at the heart.

    • Glenn Aylett

      December 29, 2020 at 7:28 pm

      I’ve never got the hate for Frank Spencer, although I suppose it’s down to personal taste, but a sitcom that was like Harold Lloyd in London in 1973, that relied on hilarious and sometimes dangerous stunts performed by Michael Crawford, was unique. However, my favourite has to be RAF Reunion, which is a bit more advanced in its humour, where Frank turns up at a local RAF reunion, falls asleep and dreams about his short and very disastrous attempt to join the RAF.
      Keeping the sitcom to three series and three Christmas specials at least stopped it getting predictable and boring and the third series saw Frank having a long running feud with his neighbours and trying to take himself seriously.

      • Richardpd

        December 29, 2020 at 10:46 pm

        The RAF Reunion is influenced by The Secret World Of Walter Mitty, but still has many funny moments.

        Originally Michael Crawford didn’t want to do a 3rd series being worried about being stereotyped, but the BBC managed to persuade him with a pay raise and creative control as it had been a good export earner for them.

        The feud with Mr Lewis is fairly one sided, but creates some hilarious moments, like when Frank falls through his ceiling.

  3. Richardpd

    December 28, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    I remember having the 1978 special on video for ages, with my brother quoting “I think It’s Newport Pagnell!” for a while afterwards.

    There’s probably about one dud episode per series, but the rest are laugh out loud funny.

    I got my wife into watching it a few years ago & often we’ve got out the DVD set when there’s a quiet night on TV.

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