TV Cream

The 1980s Christmas Logs


“For whom the jingle bells toll”

Mike Yarwood can be found wearing a red cardigan, reclining on a rug in front of an open fire for the benefit of Radio Times. He muses: “My main wish for Christmas is a male Prime Minister.” And then, changing tack, provides an insight into just what makes Christmas TV so unique: “I mustn’t make the show too Christmassy in case it gets repeated in the summer. So only the titles will be festooned with tinsel.” It’s Christmas 1980s style, everyone!

This year, BBC1 kicked off proceedings with an episode of the schools’ programme Watchentitled “The Nativity”. A fairly inauspicious start to the day, it mattered little as the channel boasted the triumvirate of Paul Daniels, Larry Grayson and JR Ewing waiting in the wings. Things continued in this gentle vein with Mr Benn and The Pink Panther Show until 10am when we dropped in on the Christmas Family Service. Broadcast from Clifton Cathedral, viewers in Scotland enjoyed an opt out to High Carntyne Parish Church, Glasgow instead – “the children bring their presents to show to [Rev] James Martin … you are invited to share in this joyous celebration.”

The feature film The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, being an 18 year old “star studded extravaganza” (the only recognisable name is Terry Thomas – and he’s 13th on the bill), and another interminable service (Carols from Warwick Castle with Douglas Fairbanks Jr) took the schedules up to 2pm, leaving behind a rather dull morning of TV. Finally, at 2pm Christmas properly kicked in – Top of the Pops ‘80. Hosted by Peter Powell and Jimmy Savile OBE the best acts of the year (Abba, Blondie, Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Police and – incredibly – The Nolans) were accompanied by Legs & Co and the Top of the Pops Orchestra. A second edition went out on New Year’s Day, hosted by DLT and Tommy Vance. The Queen rolled along at 3pm and then it was the afternoon film, Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, hardly blockbuster stuff but it represented the right sort of enjoyable stodge that would take us happily through to the early evening.

Then it was time for the Christmas specials. First up came The Paul Daniels Magic Christmas Show. The programme boasted “a trick that is fantastic. It’s called the Million Dollar Mystery and is probably the best guarded secret amongst illusionists.” With an intermission provided by the Evening News (read by dads’ favourite, Angela Rippon) the entertainment resumed at 6.10pm with Larry Grayson’s Generation Game. Fresh from the Radio Times’ Christmas party (“Larry Grayson and Isla St Clair came in tandem – the latter looking gorgeous in a blue shift”) this faintly ribald barn dance of a programme was perfect Christmas day fodder, with its pursuit of games and prizes.

Symptomatic of Dallas-fever (this was the year of “Who Shot JR?”), JR Ewing and the residents of Southfork shuffled on at 7.15pm with an episode entitled “Trouble at Ewing 23″. At 8.45pm we had the big film – Airport 1975, a disaster movie of the ilk that just doesn’t get made anymore. This bloated monolith taxied through the night until 10.30pm and another 10 minutes of Angela Rippon.

At 10.40pm BBC stalwart Michael Parkinson was enlisted to round off the day with Parkinson at Christmas. The following “Christmas Comedy Classic” felt much like an afterthought even then – but Fawlty Towers and a quick weather report drew a line under an inauspicious, but chunky Christmas day on BBC1.

With an apparent paucity of Christmas-type programming it perhaps would have been more fun if the Beeb had shuffled some of the Christmas Eve telly into the Christmas Day morning line-up. Here BBC1 laid on the stuff of a perfect summer holiday morning (King RolloThe Red Hand GangWhy Don’t YouPlay Chess …) and better still an All Star Record Breakers (with Toni Arthur, Johnny Ball, Stuart McGugan et al, although no Kenneth “biggest puff in the business” Williams). “Down on the farm Roy holds a Record-Breaking party where cows and vegetables dance, Laurel and Hardy stage a comeback and guests are transported to outer space!”

This year also saw the demise of the traditional Christmas showing of a Beatles film. And so, on 13 December BBC1 brought us The Birth of the Beatles, a 1979 biopic of the Fab Four. From this ignominious exit the Fabs would return only rarely to join us on Christmas day.

It must be in the Charter somewhere, but as ever BBC2 opted out of Christmas altogether. The channel didn’t even start broadcasting until 11am with Play School and then quickly closed up again until 3.10pm. Their first programme back on air was A Year in the Life of an Exmoor Man(“The film follows Tom’s year, from sheep-shearing to lambing …”) presumably intended to coincide with a post Christmas dinner snooze. We were then assailed by a Fred Astaire double-bill and at 8.05pm, Tosca (“a superb film version of Puccini’s three act opera”). As we have seen before, and will again, BBC2 will unceasingly bang on an opera on Christmas Day. The rest of the evening panned out in much the same fashion with One Hundred Great Paintings and then Walter Matthau in The Front Page. Merry Christmas BBC2, you old Scrooge!

In the meantime ITV’s Christmas jewels were well summed up by the relevant TV Times cover which displayed Roger Moore, pushing Janet Brown (in Maggie Thatcher guise) through the snow in a skidoo whilst Morecambe and Wise in full Santa get up skied alongside. This was what we wanted.

ITV’s day started off in fine style; A Merry Morning with Don Maclean and Guys and Dolls brought us a children’s party from the Yeaden Town Hall in Leeds. The TV Times explained, “this is the first year Don Maclean has been host at the annual party which usually comes from a hospital.” And if casting off the grim appendage of sickness wasn’t enough, the programme also featured The Chuckle Brothers. At 9.45am it was, of course, time to fulfill that one niggling commitment and thus Christmas Eucharist brought us an hour’s service from Canterbury Cathedral. This was the first such service Robert Runcie had delivered since his enthronement as the Archbishop of Canterbury, but who wasn’t really chomping at the bit for Christmas Runaround to start at 11.10am?

In preparation for a new series of the excellent kid’s quiz from Southern Television (to start the following Wednesday) Christmas Runaround not only brought us the usual chaos but, wonderfully, on ice. A great concept. After these high energy exploits there was a comparative lull with Laurel and Hardy Film Library but we got back on track at 12.45pm and Give Us A Clue(which had only started the previous year – infamously using the same theme tune, Chicken Man, as Grange Hill). This year “instead of the usual male-versus-female competition, today’s teams are mixed”. The line-up was a classic; Lionel Blair and Una Stubbs (as per), then Joan Collins, Jim Davidson, Kenny Everett, Alfred Marks, Molly Sugden and Barbara Windsor. IfChristmas Runaround and Give Us A Clue were anything to go by, it would seem that your classic Christmas edition must feature one arbitrary (but nevertheless, enjoyable) change to the format.

At 1.15pm it was Crossroads, the only soap on Christmas Day, and only by virtue of the fact that Thursday was its normal transmission day. The moteliers found that romance was in the air at a Christmas Day disco, as motel secretary Rita Hughes got closer to manager Adam Chance. Interviewed in TV Times before the episode, Lynn Dalby who played Rita commented: “It is news to me. I haven’t read the scripts that far.” Most parts of the ITV network then tookBilly Smart’s Circus (STV had The Glen Michael Cavalcade) before Christmas Sunshine at 2.30pm. “As their names suggest, Sunshine try to bring a little happiness into people’s homes.” As expected this was followed by The Queen.

The George and Mildred film then locked horns with the BBC’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.George and Mildred the series was still doing good business in 1980, being the 20th most watched programme of the year, although its last ever new episode went out the previous Christmas. This brought us into a strong evening line-up. After dispensing with a quick news bulletin, Ted Rogers brought us the 3-2-1 Pantomime. Populated by Nicholas Parsons, Derek Batey, Bill Maynard, Sheila Steafel, Mike Reid, Jacqui Scott and Bob Carolgees, here was where all the stars spent their Christmas. Then it was time for the big movie, and fittingly it was one of the more vulgar James Bond films The Man with the Golden Gun. Here we found Roger Moore in his classic safari suit era, accompanied by the cheesiest Bond theme ever (“He’s got a powerful weapon …”) But in 1980, Bond was still a big hitter (“He charges a million a shot”).

And if things couldn’t get any better, The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show followed. It’s generally accepted that things for the duo were never the same when they returned to ITV, but with a line up including Peter Cushing, Jill Gascoine, Alec Guinness and Glenda Jackson, and with Eddie Braben scripting, it was probably good enough. Keeping it family-orientated, Eamon Andrews arrived with This Is Your Life at 9.30pm. But who was featured? As we reached 10pm, things became a little more grown-up. Janet and Company featured the then nascent Janet Brown in a half-hour tailored show designed to showcase her skills at impersonation. But this being ITV grown-up equated to gentle digs at the government and a lot of dressing-up.

At this point ITV then threw in the towel and allowed the day to peter off with a news bulletin followed by the “classy” Glenda Jackson and George Segal film A Touch of Class before the customary Late Call at 12.15am. But by this stage they’d done enough to prove that the lowly simple pleasures of a great Christmas Day could be utterly in tune with the business of independent television.



  1. Glenn A

    December 19, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    The first Christmas we defected to ITV for most of the day, and with James Bond, a much improved Morecambe and Wise and Janet Brown, why not? Perhaps this was a symptom of what was to come as BBC1 until Michael Grade appeared seemed to become weaker and less watchable than ITV.

  2. Glenn Aylett

    December 22, 2019 at 11:33 am

    I can never get why the critics stick the knife into The Man With The Golden Gun. Yes it’s not From Russia With Love, the one they always seem to praise the most, but Moore’s Bond was more like a continuation of The Saint, a rich playboy who happens to be a secret agent. What’s not to like, the kung fu school, Christopher Lee as a very convincing Bond villain, the car chase through Bangkok, the house of mirrors and Herve Villechaize as a lethal dwarf. Ideal fare for winding down on Christmas afternoon.

    • richardpd

      December 22, 2019 at 2:16 pm

      I agree about the Man with A Golden Gun being a bit unfairly drubbed in recent years.

      While it’s not perfect by 007 standards there’s a lot of like about it, especially the set pieces seemingly brainstormed in a script conference.

      Just like Diamonds Are Forever it manages to piece them together & somehow makes it all work.

      • Glenn Aylett

        December 22, 2019 at 2:59 pm

        It’s not the best 007, it is a bit cheesy and dated in places, but a typical light hearted Roger Moore Bond, where the violence isn’t too severe and there are plenty of corny one liners and jokes. Also while Sean Connery would have drop kicked Knick Knack into the South China Sea, Moore locks him up in a lobster basket.

        • Sidney Balmoral James

          July 7, 2021 at 11:07 pm

          Agree that Man with the Golden Gun is under-rated – it has a cracking John Barry score, good performances from Roger (who is tougher in this than perhaps people remember and immaculately dressed) and Christopher Lee, and what seems to be much higher production values than immediate predecessors – both Diamonds and Live and Let Die – although the latter is pretty exciting – seem a bit tired and cheap-looking at times (both made in American studios?), whereas Man seems exotic, with good local colour. The first of the glossy, spectacular Bonds which have lasted virtually to the present day, with only a few deviations (I find You Only Live Twice very clunky, and far too pleased with itself for filming in Japan, despite the obvious effort made with the volcano rocket base).

  3. Glenn Aylett

    July 8, 2021 at 11:19 am

    @ Sidney, Gun was made during an energy crisis with fuel shortages and soaring inflation, so it’s amazing how such an expensive film was made without it being compromised due to the energy crisis. Live And Let Die is good, though, and has the best theme tune of the Moore Bonds. Also Bond was to play a big part on getting people to watch ITV on Christmas Day afternoons from 1980 onwards and the following year, Dr No won some viwers from BBC 1.

  4. Richardpd

    July 8, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    Roger Moore does toughen up a bit in Golden Gun, getting a few more fist fights & such.

    The scenes in Hong Kong & Thailand are well shot & Scaramanga’s house is an impressive series of sets.

    Lulu’s Bassey-isque theme is a bit marmite but I like it.

    There seemed to be a few years in the 1980s where only the Moore films were regularly on TV, I don’t remember seeing most of the Connery ones until the 1990s.

    You Only Live Twice is great in places, but the Japanified Sean Connery scenes are a bit clunky & don’t add much to the plot, though I guess were included as they were in the original novel. Likewise the early scenes in Hong Kong are cringworthy apart from a cameo by Anthony Ainley pre-Master.

    • Sidney Balmoral James

      July 9, 2021 at 8:17 pm

      I don’t remember seeing many Connery bond films when I was young either; they didn’t start showing Bond films until 1975, so it may be they hadn’t started to repeat until the mid-80s. See this very interesting article which lists premieres of all Bond films I remember my father driving like a maniac to get home from Sandbanks to see The Spy Who Loved Me one Sunday evening – it would have been the TV premiere on 28th March 1982, so must have been very good weather for us to go to the beach!

  5. Richardpd

    July 9, 2021 at 10:56 pm

    Thanks for the link, though I’m not sure if the dates are accurate.

    I’m sure Octopussy was shown before 1988, as I remember my Sister was quite young & we had a baby sitter the night it was on as my parents were out.

  6. Glenn Aylett

    July 10, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    @ Richardpd, I can remember Octopussy being shown on ITV on Boxing Day 1988, but can’t remember ITV showing it earlier. Also for ITV in the eighties, even a third showing of a Roger Moore Bond could guarantee at least 10 million viewers. People just seemed to love the feel good nature of the films that contrasted with the darker Connery Bond. OTOH I do remember seeing the premiere of A Licence To Kill on New Year’s Day 1994 and finding it a nasty, sadistic film that killed off the Bond franchise for several years.

    • THX 1139

      July 10, 2021 at 5:25 pm

      I believe it was a legal/rights issue that kept Bond off the screen until Goldeneye. Took them ages to sort out. Licence did OK, but not up to their expectations (it was a 15 certificate here, and the more adult (i.e. violent) tone put off the family audience. Mind you, there is a 15 version of Craig’s Casino Royale out there (more ball-busting action!).

      • Richardpd

        July 10, 2021 at 10:26 pm

        Licence To Kill had a few problems behind the scenes, one being a writer’s strike during filming, along with the name being changed from Licence Revoked late in the day as test audiences didn’t like it!

        When it was released it was crowded out in the summer of 1989, which was a blockbuster bonanza.

        With some mergers of studios the rights fell into a black hole for a few years.

  7. Glenn Aylett

    July 12, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Of the Connery Bonds, ITV seemed to love Diamonds Are Forever the most in the eighties and a repeat showing in 1981 was the most watched programme one week. With Bond in the high Moore years by then, it’s hard not to see why they liked it so much, the campness, the outrageous plot and the minor characters Kidd and Wint( like a pair of gay comedians who kill) and Bambi and Thumper( Bond’s most unlikely foes). Not a favourite of mine as Sean looks bloated and out of condition, DAF nevertheless set the tone for the light hearted Moore Bonds to come.

  8. Richardpd

    July 12, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    My Dad used to point out the wheelie mistake in Diamonds Are Forever, where 007’s car goes down an ally one one set of wheels & out the other side on the other pair.

    The early Roger Moore films were common Bank Holiday fare for years, probably because they were a bit more family friendly for a pre-watershed slot.

    In spite of the above issues, Licence To Kill was shown by ITV a few times in the late 1990s though the 1996 screening was dropped as it was just after the Dunblane Massacre.

  9. Glenn Reuben

    December 28, 2022 at 10:08 am

    The episode of This Is Your Life on Christmas Day 1980 was for John Wells.

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