Sunday, 14 December 2014

Rescheduling Christmas Day

There's been much gnashing of teeth and clasping of hands over the past few weeks, particularly in the House of Commons, over something vitally important to the nation. Global warming? No. International terrorism? No. George Osbourne's 'Gladys Pugh' hairdo? Thrice no. MPs were having a collective strop about the state of Britain's Christmas TV schedule. A speedy calculation from some boff confirmed that 63% of TV output over the festive season consists of repeats.

As usual, there was the maudlin harking back to TV Christmas past and wonderful it all was. How we all gathered, bathed in nostalgia, to praise the programmes lovingly crafted for us by Auntie Beeb and her common sister-in-law, ITV. Was it all that great though?

Our first port of call then is 1974, a land of horrible clothes and multiple general elections. The BBC's festive fare had all the appeal of a scabby turkey. As ever, they kicked things off with one of those mawkish visits to a children's home. That particular year it was in the company of Rolf Harris. A-hem. With a Savile-fronted Top of the Pops soon to follow, it's a surprise that the entire schedule hasn't been consigned to a wicker man and burnt. The big film of the day was that Christmas favourite True Grit, boring us all nicely for almost four hours. For the Beeb, the big turn of the day was Frank Spencer in a festive Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Fifty minutes of misunderstandings and pratfalls.
Aside from a Parkinson special on Morecambe & Wise (there was no Christmas special from them in 1974), all BBC1 could offer was Bridge Over the River Kwai. Nothing like a bit of festive war to warm the cockles.
Given the BBC's shoddy line-up, maybe 1974 would be ITV's year? Well, they began with their perennial non-favourite, A Merry Morning. Here we had Leslie Crowther shuffling around the wards of a children's hospital. Another finger-wagging 'lest we forget' moment. Opposing 'the Pops' on BBC1, ITV had Kid Jensen fronting 45 (remember that?) with guests including  - the Bay City Rollers! One Direction in tartan flares,for those under twenty. At least ITV had the decency to wheel out a family film, namely Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Hurrah! However, this tactical lead petered away thanks to Meet Peters & Lee at 5.45. Thirty minutes of comedy and song . . . apparently. ITV then ploughed on with a Tommy Cooper special and This Is Your Life before admitting defeat with The Undefeated, another festive outing for John Wayne.

A fairly dreary mid-seventies menu of nothing then. Had things improved by 1984? BBC1 had ditched its 'weep for the children' slot in favour of Noel Edmonds and The Late Late Breakfast Show. Ninety minutes of live broadcasting from Telecom Tower in London may not have been the greatest of ideas but full marks to Auntie for trying something different. They did the same with Top of the Pops by ditching all involvement with Radio One DJs and thus the featured acts introduced each other. Mary Poppins was the day's big film, cheery family stuff, followed by Les Dawson's Blankety Blank. Dawson had replaced Terry Wogan earlier that year and had garnered an audience of twelve million. A decent figure then but massive by 2014 standards. The BBC evening rattled on with camp goings on in Hi De Hi, a Paul Daniel's magic show and the highly successful bitter-sweet comedy Just Good Friends. Wogan brought things to a close with guests including Elton John and Victoria Principal.

Over on ITV we were in the era of Roland Rat on TV-AM. Still probably better than cameras on paediatric wards though. Things rumbled on in a dull manner with the likes of a Torvill and Dean ice show and the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun - which had been ITV's Christmas Day film just four years earlier! To accompany the mince pies and hangovers, the parlour game Give Us a Clue was rolled out (Wayne Sleep, Julie Walters and Bernie Winters featured). ITV then spent almost two hours remembering the late Eric Morecambe before serving up Raiders of the Lost Ark. A decent stab at a festive schedule but nowhere near as good as the BBC.

Christmas Day 1994 fell on a Sunday and so BBC1 clung to some of its standard programming such as Songs of Praise (featuring Marti Caine in Lapland and a house party with Don Maclean) and rather oddly, the EastEnders omnibus at lunchtime. The Top of the Pops special was hosted by Take That and no doubt they will feature on the 2014 show too. There's progress for you. After the Queen, the Beeb gave us one of those Noel Edmonds weep-a-thons followed by Animal Hospital (really?) The Wrong Trousers, Keeping Up Appearances and the usual cheerless festive edition of EastEnders served as a warm-up for the big film, Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves. Yawn. Anyone fancy a bit of Christmas cake? Oh where was I? Birds of a Feather, a Victoria Wood special and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places followed. Well done the BBC!

ITV tried to tempt us with an early afternoon 'made for TV' movie starring Ed Asner. OK. Oddly there were regional opt-outs for the big movie, some showing Mary Poppins (again) while others plumped for The Empire Strikes Back. The Disney production of Sleeping Beauty followed and then we were into Coronation Street, the hoary old dating show Blind Date and pedestrian-yet-popular Heartbeat. Stodgy fare but a decent attempt to outdo the Beeb.

In 2004, Reggie Yeates and Fearne Cotton hosted their first Christmas Day Top of the Pops. They are still there today. Handing out the Christmas presents and weepy stories was Dale Winton, stepping into Noel's very tiny shoes. A popular concept which was perhaps outstaying its welcome by 2004. BBC1's big afternoon film was 102 Dalmatians after which Alistair McGowan served up a Big Impression. The came two and a half hours of Harry Potter. Someone must like it. Slap bang in the middle of prime time came an hour long EastEnders which managed to top the ratings despite being not so good. Both French and Saunders then featured on BBC1 - although not together. The Vicar of Dibley was followed by Absolutely Fabulous. Both great comedies but which were nearing the end of the line.

ITV's 2004 afternoon kicked off after HM with Martin Clunes in Goodbye Mister Chips, a period drama. Well it made a change from James Bond. Harry Hill was now in charge of You've Been Framed, a welcome addition to the big day unlike ratings juggernaut Who Wants to Be a Millionaire which was finally running out of steam. Only half an hour for Emmerdale in 2004 but a full sixty minutes for Karen McDonald's Coronation Street departure. ITV then waved the white flag and admitted defeat by throwing out Midsomer Murders and the newly-defected Parkinson. The BBC had won the day yet again.

There we go then. Christmas past. Whether the likes of Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing and Paul O'Grady's For the Love of Dogs can match the success of yesteryear is yet to be seen. We will probably have forgotten them by Boxing Day though.

No comments:

Post a Comment