LIFE AND TV TIMES OF CHRISTMAS PAST
Reporter ROB HARRIES found a dusty collection in his parents’ attic that turned out to be an invaluable slice of social history...
IWAS only looking for a book for my son but I couldn’t believe what I found. In the corner of my parents’ attic I could see three bags full of memories and nostalgia that would transport me back to the magical Christmases of my childhood – 40 years’ worth of Radio Times and TV Times magazines. Every one a Christmas edition, from 1977 right through to 2017; every one with a different memory on its front and a glut of TV gold in its listings.
I spent the following hours poring over what I would have watched on Christmas Day when TV, and life, was less complicated.
There were only four channels (three before Channel 4 launched in 1982), and Christmas was the one day when whole families would sit and watch TV together.
People had one option when it came to planning their festive television rituals. They bought the Radio Times and the TV Times and circled programmes that they wanted to watch.
So, what were you watching on Christmas Day back then? Here are some highlights... 1977 Until the deregulation of TV listings in 1991, the Radio Times only used to publish the listings for BBC1 and BBC2, while ITV listings were published in the TV Times. You had to buy two magazines for three channels.
In 1977, there was a Welsh production called Adre Dros ‘Dolig on BBC1 at 9.40am (there was no S4C until 1982). Noel Edmonds (who probably looked the same as he does now) hosted Top of the Pops on BBC1 at 2.10pm and the Christmas Day family film was The Wizard of Oz at 4.10pm. HTV fought back with a Christmas Sale of the Century, but BBC won the evening battle with a double-barrel smash of the Mike Yarwood Christmas Special and the Morecombe and Wise Christmas Show. 1978 The afternoon was sorted as BBC1 had Larry Grayson’s Generation Game at 3.20pm, followed by The Sound of Music at 4.20pm.
Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’ Em was on at 7.15pm, followed by the Mike Yarwood Christmas Special at 8pm, but HTV really came on strong in the evening with Bond classic Diamonds are Forever at 6.45pm, followed by The Morecambe and Wise Show making its debut on ITV. More than 19 million people would watch their first appearance ‘on the other side’. 1982 ’82 was a big year for couch potatoes with the introduction of a fourth channel called, predictably, Channel 4.
HTV had Journey Back to Oz at 9am and, after the Queen’s speech, The Parent Trap (not the Lindsay Lohan one, she wasn’t born yet).
It was a low-key start for Channel 4 with the silent film The Navigator, followed by the first ever Christmas episode of Brookside.On BBC1 at 6pm The Paul Daniels Magic Show was followed by Last of the Summer Wine and The Two Ronnies. 1983 The year I was born. To celebrate the arrival of their first son, my parents bought the Radio Times, two copies of the TV Times, and a Sbec – the Welsh language TV guide. They really wanted to celebrate Christmas ’83 in style.
As a baby I would have watched The Christmas Raccoons at 8.35am on BBC1, and then switched to HTV for Roland’s Winter Wonderland (yes, Roland Rat!) at 9am. In the evening there was Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right (HTV, 7.15pm), Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (Channel 4, 8.25pm), and Only Fools and Horses (BBC1, 9.35pm). 1985 1985 starts with a real pang of nostalgia as the Radio Times cover has Del Boy, Rodney and Uncle Albert in Santa outfits.
HTV kicked things off with cartoon bliss in the shape of Fraggle Rock and Dangermouse.
Hi-de-Hi! kicked off on BBC1 at 6.30pm, followed by the Only Fools and Horses special (it’s the one where they smuggle diamonds in from Holland) taking on Minder on HTV. 1987 BBC1 went all out in the afternoon with the ultimate Christmas blockbuster – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, followed by the Russ Abbot Christmas Show at 5.45pm.
Channel 4 wins the prize for the most iconic show, however, with The Snowman at 5.25pm.
The Two Ronnies and Miss Marple took care of the evening on BBC1, and before bed, Alf Garnett entertained the 80s adult at 10.05pm with In Sickness and in Health. 1988 BBC offered It’s a Charity Knockout, plus a one-hour EastEnders special at 1pm.
Channel 4 had a feature-length episode of The Waltons and then The Snowman (again).
A big film battle was taking place after Her Majesty as Back to the Future on BBC1 at 3.10pm clashed with The Empire Strikes Back on HTV. This would have been a tough choice.
However, if neither were your thing, you could have tuned in to Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert over on BBC2 at 3pm, which only lasted five hours. The Bread Christmas Special took centre stage on BBC1 at 7.15pm. HTV had a festive fire with London’s Burning. 1990 The dawning of a new decade saw Channel 4 plump for The Snowman on Christmas Day.
HTV opted for Moonraker for the second time in five years, but then redeemed themselves with Ken Dodd at the London Palladium at 6.15pm and then the premiere of Beverly Hills Cop II at 8pm. BBC had Dad’s Army, Only Fools and Horses, Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game, Bread, Birds of a Feather and Yes Minister in an avalanche of classic comedy. 1991 The deregulation of TV listings in 1991 made buying Christmas TV guides much easier.
The day was won with a 6pm network television premiere of Batman on BBC1, which seems a bit early seeing as Jack Nicholson has his face burned off early in the film. 1993 Andi Peters and Emma Forbes kicked things
off in ’93 with Live and Kicking on Christmas Day on BBC1 at 8.30am, before a musical version of Scrooge, a Dad’s Army special and Top of the Pops led us into the Queen’s speech. 1996 Des O’Connor’s Christmas with the Stars on HTV at 7.30pm clashed with the mother of all blockbusters, Jurassic Park, on BBC1.
One must feel a bit for Heartbeat, too. The popular police drama was up against Only Fools and Horses with Del and Rodney dressed up as Batman and Robin, with a TV audience of more than 21 million people. A third of the UK watched that show. 1999 A young (although they probably looked exactly the same) Ant and Dec fronted SM:TV Live on HTV at 9.25am. Later, the Queen on HTV was followed by Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Gladiators: The Final Battle and Who Wants to Be a Christmas Millionaire, which returned for a second part at 10.30pm after a 90-minute A Touch of Frost. 2001 On the big day in 2001, there was a two-hour The Big Breakfast over on Channel 4.
Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression took the prime time slot on BBC1 at 7.40pm, while Only Fools and Horses returned again. 2003 Remember Bob the Builder? He was still popular enough for a feature-length episode on Christmas morning in 2003.
Turner and Hooch was on ITV at 1.30pm, before My Family and Eastenders specials on BBC1 took us into the last-ever episode of Only Fools and Horses, which still had 16.3 million viewers. 2004 On BBC1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone seemed to go on for hours, while 12.5 million people watched The Vicar of Dibley at 9.25pm. 2007 BBC went all Disney with Finding Nemo and Shrek and in the evening the Strictly lC Come Dancing Special and To the Manor Born ITV had Harry Hill’s Christmas TV Burp. 2009 ITV had a two-hour Poirot at 9pm and then Russell Crowe at his finest in Gladiator.
Channel 4 had a Christmas special of Deal or No Deal. BBC opted for The Royle Family at 9pm, Gavin & Stacey at 10pm and Catherine Tate: Nan’s Christmas Carol at 10.30pm. 2011 By now, multi-platform TV and the internet had taken their hold on Christmas rituals and we were watching films and specials at any time, anywhere. The battle for superiority was between Alan Carr: Chatty Man Christmas Special (Channel 4), an hour-long EastEnders (BBC1) and what, for a time, had become a Christmas tradition, Downton Abbey (ITV). 2013 By now we had more TV channels than you could shake a turkey at. Terrestrial TV viewers were treated to Call the Midwife and Doctor Who on BBC1, before Mrs Brown’s Boys and Michael McIntyre’s Showtime clashed with Love Actually on ITV and Man Down and Father Ted on Channel 4. 2015 ITV served up the last ever episode of Downton Abbey, while BBC1 boasted the ever-popular Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Christmas Punch at 9.45pm. 2017 Last year. We were probably all watching Netflix in the bathroom at this point, but in case you weren’t, here are some of the highlights.
BBC1 went all out with Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, Call the Midwife, EastEnders and Mrs Brown’s Boys. ITV had Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at 3.10pm but shunned the night-time blockbuster in favour of Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs at Christmas , Coronation Street and period drama Victoria, while Channel 4 cooked up The Great Christmas Bake Off and Christmas First Dates.
Rob Harries reviews his parents’ collection of Christmas TV guides from the past 40 years