“Every year for the last seven years we’ve had the wife’s family up for Christmas dinner. This year, for a change, we’re going to let them in.”
This year Christmas fell on a Saturday. This had little impact on the BBC who would churn out another schedule very much like last year’s, but for ITV it meant that LWT were calling the shots. ITV’s day, then, commenced with Liza Minelli stepping into her mother Judy Garland’s shoes and taking a Journey Back to Oz. This 1971 animated sequel reconvened the old gang from The Wizard of Oz and – as is the wont of sequels – also shoehorned in a new character less appealing than the originals. Jack Pumpkinhead took on the Ewok/Batgirl/Scrappy-Do role here. And if you thought starting the day off with a rubbish film was a sour portent of things to come, you’d be right.
Meanwhile the BBC yet again slammed on something for the younger viewers as they too set out their stall with some animated antics and The All-New Pink Panther Show. This year’s first sojourn to a religious service, however, was notionally enlivened by the presence of Paul Daniels who fronted Carols from Buckfast. The fun-sized conjuror had been musing on Christmas presents this year, and concluded that he least wanted to receive aftershave: “I never wear it. I’ve got bottles of the stuff all over the bathroom. I’m sexy enough without all that. I don’t need it.” The “sexy” star would, he revealed, be spending Christmas with his mum and dad and getting “stuffed to the gills”. The Christmas Parade followed, featuring The Queen’s Lifeguard and the sons and daughters of The Household Cavalry and The Scots Guards, all enjoying a “special television request party” presided over by the unlikely and unappealing coupling of Simon Bates and Floella Benjamin.
At around 10.30am both ITV and BBC1 dropped in on those annual Christmas Morning Services. The Beeb brought us St Chad’s Church in Lichfield, whilst ITV looked-in on the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady, St John’s Wood, London. Whilst BBC1 then returned to cartoons (Racoons on Ice, featuring the voice of Leo Sayer!) ITV shoved on another film, an adaptation of Enid Blyton’s “The Island of Adventure”. BBC1 followed suit at 12.05pm and brought us Anthony Newley and David Hemmings in Mister Quilp, a musical version of Dickens’ “Old Curiosity Shop” and, like The Island of Adventure, this was its first showing on British telly.
Come 2pm and at last we reached our regular Christmas Day highlight, Top of the Pops on BBC1. And a veritable Christmas party it was too with Peter Powell, John Peel, Dave Lee Travis, Steve Wright, Andy Peebles, Richard Skinner, Tommy Vance, Mike Smith and Mike Read all in attendance. If there’d be an outbreak of fatal food poisoning at that Christmas nosh-up we’d have been in a situation akin to the Manchester United air crash, with only poor old Sir Jim left to shoulder the burden of light banter and the propagation of repulsive sweaters. This year there was to be but one TOTP over the festive season.
Almost in protest at this DJ-ing centre of excellence, ITV threw on Andy Williams’ Christmas Special; “a musical journey back in time, recapturing the spirt and joy of an early 19th century Christmas.” Herein was the mum and dad’s version of the TOTP party.
As ever, the Queen revealed her annus to the Commonwealth at 3pm, before more films took us through the afternoon on the two channels. On BBC1 it was the premiere of International Velvet, a sequel to the Elizabeth Taylor 1944 film National Velvet (which BBC1 had shown on Christmas Day in 1977). Tatum O’Neal picked up the reins as the plucky young jockey, whilst Nanette Newman took over Taylor’s role as a now grown-up Velvet. Somewhat improbably the horse featured in this one was supposed to be the offspring of “Pi” featured in the 1944 version. Over on ITV, things were rather less exciting as hoary old Disney film The Parent Trap padded out the afternoon.
Still remaining roughly in step come early evening both channels brought us 10 minutes of news, and then it was Christmas Special time. Establishing an enjoyable tradition, Jim’ll Fix Itreturned for its second year at Christmas. This time: “Dear Jim, Please may I … Visit Ken Dodd’s jam butty mines? Sing with Val Doonican? Help Father Christmas pack his sack?” A new series of Jim’ll was to follow on 3 January. ITV’s effort was the redoubtable 3-2-1. This year Ted Rogers and guests mounted an investigation into the source of Christmas cheer and introduced us to The Brian Rogers Connection.
At 6pm Paul Daniels was back on BBC1, with a cornucopia of special guests to accompany him: Floella Benjamin (her second appearance of the day too), Lorraine Chase, Billy Dainty, Jill Gascoine, Lucinda Green, Rolf Harris (who’d been sadly lacking from Christmas Day thus far this year), Nerys Hughes, Barbara Kelly, Patrick Moore, Tim Rice, Barry Took and Kenneth Williams all providing a foil for the rapscallion Daniels and his Bronco Booth. This was followed by seasonal editions of Last of the Summer Wine and The Two Ronnies making this early-evening section an exact repeat of last year’s line-up.
Back over on ITV, and things were looking familiar here too as the Game for a Laugh gang bounded back onto the LWT set for another Christmas of leg-pulling. “Real people are the stars and anything goes when we reveal that children are also Game for a Laugh” went the pre-publicity somewhat ominously. Staying within the LWT stable Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right took us up to the 8pm mark where it was movie time on both channels.
Both ITV and BBC1 hit us with British TV premieres. On BBC1 it was Death on the Nile, a fairly classy effort featuring “philosopher” Peter Ustinov in this Agatha Christie whodunnit. Less appealing was the frankly awful The Black Hole on ITV, a woeful Disney take on the Star Warssaga, featuring the crew of the USS Palomino and, in an era of cutesy robots (R2D2, Twiki, K9, Metal Mickey) the cutesiest of them all. Whilst Death on the Nile chugged on for a mammoth two hours 15 minutes, The Black Hole was over and done with by 9.50pm. With a shudder we then took up our invitations to Chas and Dave’s Christmas Knees Up, clocking the guests Jim Davidson, Eric Clapton, Lenny Peters, Jimmy Cricket, Albert Lee and Cosmotheka upon our arrival. Unsurprisingly we had LWT to thank for this ghastly shindig.
Post 10pm as always found the channels winding down, and never as obviously as with Perry Como on BBC 1. This was followed by The Signalman at 11.30pm – Andrew Davies’ adaptation of a Charles Dickens ghost story. Finally, and for the second year running it was Christmas With The Spinners, Tony, Mick, Cliff and Hughie singing out Christmas with their “navvy boots on” – probably.
Over on ITV Cleo and John featured an eclectic mix of musical guests (from Johnny Dankworth, Julian Lloyd-Webber and The Master Singers to … Rowan Atkinson?) bringing us an hour of pop, jazz and classical standards. Our final stop of the day was at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, but this was no throwback to those ’70s Meet the Kids efforts. Instead the programme featured the hospital’s radio station, Radio GOSH and followed the making of their own Christmas programme. In Granadaland, however, the night ended up a little differently. At 11.55pm they stuck on another film, The Triple Echo (an overwrought piece featuring Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed) before bringing us Radio GOSH at 1.30am.
It should also be noted that the Beeb reverted back to a variation on Christmas Night with the Stars on Boxing Day (falling on 27 December this year) with The Funny Side of Christmas. Hosted by Frank Muir this 80 minute extravaganza featured mini-episodes of hit BBC comedies such as Yes Minister, Sorry, Only Fools and Horses, The Les Dawson Show, Smith and Jones,Three of a Kind, Last of the Summer Wine, Reggie Perrin, Butterflies and Open All Hours. TheFools contribution, “Christmas Trees” saw Del trying to sell telescopic Christmas trees.
The year was notable for the inclusion of a new channel into the Christmas line-up, Channel 4. Establishing a trend it would rigidly stick to thereafter, it put on little to reflect the season. Thus on C4 you could check out “top American illusionist” Mark Wilson performing magic tricks in China, catch-up with goings-on in the Close thanks to the Brookside omnibus, and laugh at Olivier’s “classic” interpretation of Richard III to round off the night. A winter of discontent indeed. The only bright spot came on 26 December with the first showing of The Snowman, the adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ story. For one young chorister from Wales, life was about to change dramatically … and for us viewers it introduced a mainstay in the Christmas schedules.