Thursday, 1 December 2011


I guess that I belong to a generation for whom a big part of our Christmas experience revolved around what was on the telly. I don’t suppose that many people my age or younger can really remember a time when the Christmas TV schedules didn’t play a rather large role in how they viewed the whole Christmas experience. Oh, I know about the “religious” and “family” aspects of Chrimbletide, of course I do, but for me, what was going to be on the telly was quite possibly the most important aspect of the time running up towards Christmas Day, perhaps even more than the inevitably disappointing present giving which just seemed to prove year after year that my family had never even met me.

A big part of that excitement came from the annual publication of the “bumper two week” Christmas and New Year editions of the Radio and TV Times from an era when each was devoted to either the British Broadcasting Corporation or the Independent Television companies and neither could publish details of what was on “the other side”. Up until fairly recently, you had to buy both to get full details of what you could choose to watch on all of the three (Yes, three! Count ‘em…) television stations that broadcast in the United Kingdom. After 1982 and the arrival of the exciting new idea that turned out to be Channel Four we then had, well, four, but they were still split across the two magazines pretty much until the end of the 20th century.

As a child of the television age, and having had a rather unhealthy interest in the whole world of telly right up until the days when it all started to go horribly wrong (and I’m sure you’ll all have your own ideas of quite when I think that was), I tended to do rather strange things like hang on to those special Radio and TV Times editions and, even though I’ve recently discovered that I did have a slightly surprising tendency to cut things out of them, I have managed to keep them stored in various little boxes through many a relocation and so, over the coming run up to our big ol’ festive day, I thought I might just share a few moments from our collective ghosts of Christmas tellys past for the sake of a good old fashioned wallow if for no other reason.

Some of those covers may still feel strangely familiar, and some of the featured faces may come as something of a surprise, but I hope that you’ll join me on this unusual journey as we turn the pages of those long forgotten TV guides from the days of black and white printing on old newsprint and the glossier format of that shiny young pretender from the other side.

Firstly, I present to you the Christmas Radio Times from December 1975, with its intricate cover illustration by Owen Wood, and a page three apology for the production problems that made it, by necessity, an “All-England” edition. Incidentally, this is the oldest edition that I own, bought in a year when I was only eleven years old and the Christmas holidays were offering a daily treat they called “Holiday Star Trek” which no doubt converted much of a generation to the delights of the exploits of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty.

Christmas Eve on BBC1 that year offered a “Jim’ll Fix It” Christmas special (pause to lament the recent passing of an icon), the movie “The Great Locomotive Chase”, “Dick Emery’s Christmas Show”, “Porridge” and “Christmas with Kojak” before finishing the evening with “André Previn’s Christmas Music Night” and a midnight mass. BBC2 meanwhile gave us “Carols from King’s” (as they still do), “The Magic Moving Picture Show” presented by John Huntley, “Amahl and the Night Visitors”, “Cartoon World” (with the legendary Bob Godfrey), “The Old Grey Whistle Test” featuring (for the first, but not the last time) Queen’s Christmas Concert live from the Hammersmith Odeon and finished the night with the latest of its Humphrey Bogart film season “Beat the Devil” (a very Christmassy title, I’m sure you’ll agree).

The big Christmas night film that year on BBC1 was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” which followed “The Generation Game”, “Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em” and “The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show” and was followed by “The Good Old Days” and Parkinson meeting Bob Hope. BBC2’s alternative entertainment was “Great Big Groovy Horse” (a rock musical about the siege of Troy with Bernard Cribbins), Jack Rosenthal’s “The Evacuees”, “Poems and Pints”, “Presents Past” (or “the Art of the Tin Toy” as it was billed) and the classic musical “Guys and Dolls” rounded off Christmas Day.

On Boxing Day the BBC1 viewers were being offered all new Dad’s Army and “The Railway Children” (“That’s my daddy!” Sob!). “The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show” still hadn’t made the leap to Christmas Day itself and was followed by “The Lion in Winter” and “The Diane Solomon Show”. BBC2 stretched our intellectual muscles with Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and then tickled our funny bones with “Rutland Weekend Television”.

New Year’s Eve on BBC1 was a smorgasbord of “Superstars”, Ken Dodd, “Trapeze”, Max Bygraves and a Round Britain New Year’s Eve party called (rather predictably) “For Auld Lang Syne”, whilst BBC2 saw out 1975 with Jerome K Jerome, Vera Lynn, “Women – Which Way Now?”, “Happy Birthday Columbia” (the film company), a “Watchnight Service”, Big Ben and more “Whistle Test”.

Finally, New Year’s Day’s bank holiday entertainment chiefly involved Bruce Forsyth’s “Generation Game”, John Wayne as “Chisum” and the Inside Story of “The Archers” which was then a staggering 25 years old (itll never last...).


  1. Eating Christmas dinner while watching Top of the Pops... life didn't get much better than that.

    I still buy the Christmas Radio Times and plan what I'll watch. I never watch it though.

  2. Ah well, be warned - there's going to be a LOT of this kind of thing over the next few weeks, this being, for better or worse, my chosen "advent theme" for this year.

    This might very well bore you to tears, so it's probably best to keep your comment powder dry for when it's really needed.

    Telly Christmas! M.

  3. The start of a festive nostalgia trip. Join me if you dare...