Christmas TV turkeys
THESE days, there are more TV formats and programmes to watch than you can point a remote control at. Yet each festive season we get the same old turkeys on our screens.
But, if we think our festive TV shows are hardly worth the license fee, was it really any better when we were younger? As part of its Genome project, the BBC now has a searchable online database of Radio Times programme listings, going back to the magazine’s launch in 1928. So you’ll be able to compare those Christmas schedules with today’s. You might never moan about repeats again!
1936 – Official BBC TV services started this year. Television was still very much in its infancy – and a novelty confined to those who could afford it. Here’s what most people missed:
At 3pm, viewers were treated to A Christmas Turkey – a demonstration of carving by B.j.hulbert. License payers may well have been tempted to tell the Beeb where to put the stuffing!
After such excitement, things calmed down at 3.15 with a 10 minute News Reel, followed by Ernest Shackleton’s epic, A Lonely Christmas in the Arctic. At 3.30pm, daytime viewing ended with a 20 minute seasonal edition of a show called Picture Page. Then the screen went blank until 9pm – when programmes returned with Christmas Carols by the Singing Boys of St Mary of the Angels Song School.
At 9.10pm viewers were taken on a whistle-stop ten minute Seasonal Tour Through the Empire. Then, at 9.20pm, peak viewing was an offering called Some Unusual Christmases by Commander A.B. Campbell, followed by a five minute news reel. The big day’s viewing ended at 9.35pm with a show called Television Party.
1939 – When war broke out, the Government shut down TV altogether, fearing the enemy might take advantage of the technology. TV broadcasting returned on 7th June 1946. But, with offerings like these, did anyone really miss it?
1946 – Christmas Day programming kicked off at 3pm with The King Speaks to his People – in sound only – followed by Christmas in Children’s Hospital – a visit to Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, Hackney. Then, things went quiet – for four and a half hours – until service resumed with a show called Starlights.
At 9pm, the day’s highlight was Christmas Night – a fantasy based on Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, with a ballet and music by Vaughan Williams. At 10pm the news – in sound only – sent viewers to bed.
1957 – There was more available on the box now, and the Beeb had to compete with commercial TV. If you could drag yourself away from the adverts and switch over, the Queen had her regular 3pm slot speaking to the nation, followed by Billy Smart’s Family Party. At four o’clock Children’s Television kept youngsters amused, then a film, Mrs. Mike starring Dick Powell, took viewers up to the six o’clock news and weather.
At five past six there was just time for ten minutes of sport before viewers settled down to Opera from Munich: Mozart’s Don Juan, Act 1, sung in German.
Then the news, followed by some light relief with: Songs and Dances from the films of Gene Kelly.
At 7.30pm viewers’ patience was rewarded with Pantomania Presents The Babes in the Wood – with a cast of thousands including: Eamonn Andrews, Derek Bond, Kenneth Connor, Sam Costa, Peter Dimmock, Charlie Drake, Tony Hancock, Benny Hill, Sid James, Cliff Michelmore, Jean Metcalfe, Derek Hart, Bill Maynard, Jack Payne, Sylvia Peters, Ted Ray, Huw Wheldon and Peter Haigh.
1962 – As we reach the sixties, things start to look up – with some shows many readers will recall. Youngsters had Watch with Mother – Andy Pandy at 10.15, followed by the Christmas Morning Service at 10.30. At 11.30 Like Music starred Bernard Hermann and the NDO, with the Karl Denver Trio and Kathy Kirby. And at 11.50 Johnny Morris could be seen cavorting in Obergurgl, in the Austrian Alps - in Go Ski-ing.
At just after 1pm – fans of TV western Bronco could enjoy Ty Hardin as “the roving cowboy adventurer, Bronco Layne” in Bronco: Until Kingdom Come. Fans only had ten minutes of their hero as Christmas Music – from Handel’s Messiah followed at 1.10pm.
From 2.05pm until the Queen, at three, there were two Christmas Appeals – one for Wireless for the Bedridden, the other, Meet the Kids, – from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.
After the Queen came Billy Smart’s Circus. Back then, few baulked at the animal acts that were still part and parcel of circus life. At Christmas 1962, apart from the usual horses and performing dogs, viewers saw Californian Sea Lions, Elephants and even Polar Bears.
At 4.15pm came the panto – Puss In Boots – starring David Nixon, Reg Varney and Tommy Field. After this viewers had Hayley in Disneyland – with Hayley Mills’ selection of favourite Disney clips. The evening news was followed by Christmas at Fulham Palace home of the Archbishop of York.
At 7.15pm viewers settled down to Christmas Night with the Stars – Presented by Eamonn Andrews, featuring “stars of TV Light Entertainment” – with sketches from top shows including The Billy Cotton Band Show, The Rag Trade, Kenneth Mckellar’s A Song for Everyone, The Eric Sykes Show and Juke Box Jury - with Sid James, Sydney Tafler, Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd on the panel. Also featured were Michael Bentine’s It’s a Square World, Steptoe and Son and Dixon of Dock Green.
Next up was the big movie – John Huston’s classic - African Queen – starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, followed by Leonard Sachs and Max Wall in The Good Old Days. After the late news, opera buffs enjoyed Puccini’s La Boheme, the weather – and so, to bed.
Just like today, Boxing Day was geared to sports. But, by early evening there were such delights as Whicker on Top of the World – Alan Whicker recalling his “10,000 mile Alaskan exploration for Tonight”. Yes, more repeats!
After the frozen wastelands, came a cartoon version of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Then an eagerly awaited episode of favourite cop show – Z Cars: Search.
The one where Fancy Smith (Brian Blessed) and co hunt for a missing child on Christmas Day. After the drama, “Benny Hill in a new series of unlikely situations” – Benny Hill 5: The Secret of Planet Seven.
Then, the big movie – John Huston’s version of Moulin Rouge – with an unlikely pairing of Jose Ferrer – and Zsa Zsa Gabor. After the late night news at 11.05pm, Dancing Club – with Victor Sylvester Jr – provided the sequins and glitter ball essential to the All Britain Dancing Contest and other demonstrations of nifty footwork. At 23.50pm came the all-important Weather and Close Down
By 1967 TV was moving into the modern age – now there were three channels – and you could watch BBC2 in glorious colour! But as many of us still had black and white sets, Christmas Day highlights on BBC 1 included: 9.55am – The Sooty Show 12.30pm – Z Cars 2.05pm Top of the Pops 3.10pm – Billy Smart’s Circus
4.10pm – Disney Time, with Dick Van Dyke
5pm – Cinderella - starring Jimmy Tarbuck, Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd.
9.40pm – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – classic John Ford western starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Edmond O’brien – and Lee Marvin as old liberty bodice himself.
Visit: https://genome.ch.bbc. co.uk/schedules/bbctv to see listings of more shows from Christmases past.
TVS were expensive to buy - so renting a set was very popular
The Z Cars Annual from 1963
Bronco Layne played by Ty Hardin