❉ The Ghosts of Christmas Television Past.
The arrival of the Christmas double issue of your favourite TV listings is still something that feels exciting. There’s a thrill at opening those pages, pen in hand, ready to mark off all those programmes you’re looking forward to seeing over the festive period.
Ben Baker’s Festive Double Issue takes us back to the simpler times before the boom of multi-channel TV, covering the forty year period from 1955 to 1995 when Christmas TV was truly a shared national experience. The books looks at some of the overlooked Christmas and New Year specials from that period rather than the favourite shows that still get repeated ad naseum every year to provide the reader with pretty much a fantasy Christmas schedule to cover you from December 22nd through to New Year’s Day.
Taking it a day at time, Baker has scoured the TV listings for a few old favourites, some half remembered gems and some downright odd programmes from those forty years. He gives each one a write up that varies from a few words (the Gary Glitter-starring The Magic Mirror from 1989 for example) to more detailed listings like the very funny K9 and Company entry or the one covering the first BBC episode of the Kenny Everett Television Show.
Some of the most fascinating entries cover the totally forgotten programmes that went out once and never got another showing. There are some tantalizing archive gems among them, like the Gyles Brandreth presented Child of the Sixties documentary from 1969, or the mid-70s penchant for showing rock musicals such as ITV’s Rock Nativity written by Tony Hatch (responsible for some of the most fondly remembered TV themes ever written). Who knew that in 1969 the Queen’s Speech was replaced by a documentary about record producer- extraordinaire George Martin in With A Little Help From My Friends?
Baker writes wittily but informatively throughout. This is a subject that he obviously knows a great deal about (though he admits defeat on a few of the episodes, where he’s been unable to find out much about them other than original TV listings) but what shines through is a love for the subject. Although at times he’s slightly irreverent about the programmes he’s covering, there’s still a deep love for the subject matter. I particularly liked his overview of each day at the start of a new chapter, and his passage on the misfortune of having your programme’s Christmas episode bumped to the 27th or 28th of December made me chuckle.
So if you’re nostalgic for a time when Christmas TV covered 2-4 channels, when you’d have Gilbert and Sullivan on ITV on Boxing Day or you want to know about how Noel Edmonds became the face of BBC Christmas Day television in the 80s and 90s, then I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Read it over the Christmas period and remember a time when schedulers didn’t play it so safe with their Christmas TV. Like me, you’ll end up creating your own fantasy Christmas schedule via You Tube.
❉ Green-fingered librarian Simon Hart is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.