There's nothing I like more at this time of year than to sit quietly with a glass of sherry and slowly pore over the contents of the Christmas Radio Times. No, I don't mean pour the sherry over the....I'm not that drunk, yet.
Anyhow, the Radio Times didn't reach the chillier climes of Northern England until the 11th December this year and unfortunately, in a desperate bid to get my peepers on the telly schedules this year I had to resort to buying...oh, I can hardly bring my self to say it...the TV Times. Excuse me, I just need to run a damp hanky over my fevered brow at the mere mention of that publication. You see, it doesn't normally get purchased in the Frank household. I find its layout and editorial stance rather vulgar for my tastes and one would feel that furniture legs would have to be covered up if a copy happened to be brought into the house.
When I was a nipper, when indeed only 'council telly' existed (that's just three terrestrial channels - to all our digital, freeviewed, sky-ed up readers) you HAD to buy both the RT and TVT. If you wanted to know what the commercial channels were showing you had to buy a separate listings magazine. So, you can imagine the purchase of both this Christmas has had an effect on me.
Well, once you get past the rather disastrous design of TV Times (it does look like the office cleaner at TV Times Towers has had a bash at this design lark whilst running a duster over the editor's desk) and start to investigate what broadcasters are actually chucking on the screens this festive season then I'm pretty sure your blood will boil just as much as mine. By the way, the Radio Times is a much classier affair. It feels weightier, as if there really is more inside, and I've always found the layout and design, particularly of the schedules, just that bit more sophisticated. Radio Times snob? You said it.
I'll just munch down another mince pie and pour out my second sherry before we begin. Believe me, it is best to be prepared for the unadulterated cheek of the schedulers this season. I have some damning observations to make as well as what I believe are the highlights of this season of overindulgence.
The afternoon is a desert. The Carols From King's on BBC 2 might be worth a watch just to convince yourself that it is Christmas and all those choir boys aren't just standing there for the good of their health. I wouldn't bother with the rest of the evening until 8.00pm as BBC2 seem to think it's amusing to repeat Dad's Army and Blackadder's Christmas Carol in the vain hope we haven't all gouged our eyes out after watching them for the billionth time in the last five years. But do pull up your bath chair for Arena, Ken Dodd's Happiness which is a profile of said mad, Scouse comedian. Their post midnight offerings are two excellent films: Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes To Town followed by Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man.
BBC1 are offering Eastenders and Pirates Of The Caribbean that evening. If you've not seen that film or bought/rented the DVD then you must have been living under a stone for the last three years.
C4 are offering River Cottage, Jamie bloody Oliver and Deal Or No Deal all of which will no doubt end up being repeated in about three months time. They've scheduled Patrick Stewart's version of A Christmas Carol afterwards and if you really do want to overdose on Dickens, Scrooge et al then C5 have scheduled Scrooge - A Christmas Carol in the afternoon and there isn't a clash so make yourself sick, my dears. You will find lots of unimaginative programming of this sort littering the days ahead. Their evening line-up is Gordon Ramsay for about two and half hours. Oh...was that your telly flying out of the window?
ITV's evening is wall to wall soaps and Heartbeat. Nice.
BBC4 are regurgitating Fanny Cradock Cooks For Christmas at 7.00pm and this has been shown ad infinitum on BBC4 because a)these are the only colour tapes in the archive and b) they think we won't notice if they show them again. They have a certain camp awfulness about them but I've seen them so many times Fanny comes over as a man in drag with such a massive chip on his/her shoulder that you couldn't find a pan big enough to fry it in. Best thing to watch is Legends: Ella Fitzgerald followed by a 1965 performance Ella Fitzgerald Sings
And so to bed with a large gin, muttering something about the licence fee.
You wake up with a mouth feeling like the back end of a sewer and confronted by a morning schedule gone mad. Basil Brush, Meerkat Manor, Friends and Stargate: Atlantis. Pour yourself a gin to get some perspective. Get the pinny on and start making the Christmas dinner.
Dreamworks and Pixar must have shares in the BBC because you get Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo one after the other that afternoon. Rather like a serious bout of gas.
The best you can do is prepare for the real highlight of the schedules on BBC1 that day. Doctor Who: Voyage Of The Damned is on at 6.50pm. You should have sobered up momentarily, taken off your paper hat and be idly scraping gravy off your cardie by the time this gets underway. De rigeur viewing! Avoid the channel then until 9.30 for a supposedly one-off special (naturally - a one-off is a special and vice versa just in case we didn't realise) of To The Manor Born. Now this could be a disaster in the wings or a genuinely good piece of nostalgia. If it crashes and burns then the mooted series will wither on the vine. But hey, it's Penny Keith and Peter Bowles! Catherine Tate wheels out her Christmas Show at 10.30pm. I do hope this is finally it for her comedy career as the joke has now worn thin and her act is looking rather threadbare. Ditch the comedy, Cath. The evening comes screeching to a halt, ironically, with yet another airing of Speed. Wasn't Keanu Reeves in nappies when he made this?
BBC2 seem to have taken it open themselves to re-run Hetty Wainthrop. The mind boggles. But they redeem themselves and the public broadcasting remit with the Royal Opera House production of Freddie Macmillan's Romeo And Juliet. Bit of dancing to go down with the turkey. Or should that be a turkey to compliment a bit of dancing in your own front room? Dragon's Den in the evening, on Christmas Day, is surely a nasty joke and perhaps we should hope the tapes get mixed up with a film of the same name. However, they do have a great double bill of films in the early hours, including Jacques Tourneur's Cat People.
C4 bung on The Simpsons in the afternoon followed by more Deal Or No Deal. And they go for the religious angle in the evening as it's obvious to them that either the soaps or a 900 year old Time Lord are bound to crap all over their ratings.
ITV can only pitch Emmerdale against the Doctor but why not give Harry Hill's Christmas Burp a look at 8.00pm before you skip over to BBC3 at 8.30 for Doctor Who Confidential.
The early morning and afternoon schedules on BBC1 are littered with kids films but that's nothing to worry about because you'll be the epitome of 'Boxing' Day and by now feeling like you've gone ten rounds with Ricky Hatton.
BBC2 brings us Carmen from the Royal Opera House. And Hetty Wainthrop. And if you really are a Hetty fan then why not watch them all over again as they are being repeated in a constant loop on UK Drama. Either that or the continuity monkey is slumped comatose over the controls.
A rather arch Bond film, Moonraker is wheeled out on ITV and racing is the order of the day on C4.
The evening on BBC1 is crowned by a new adapatation of Ballet Shoes. It's all a bit girly so your straight male relatives might prefer the pub. However, worth watching to see how producer Piers Wenger fares with this - he's the new face at BBC Wales and will be producing Doctor Who in 2009. I'm a fount of TV trivia!
I'm afraid that the double bill of films is the only time I'll be bothering the controller of BBC2 on said Boxing Day. Worth watching The Curse Of The Cat People as it is an utterly strange film.You'll be lying partially comatose on the sofa by then so it'll just wash over you.
ITV may be worth a gamble with their adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop. Heck, it's got Sir Derek Of Jacobi in it. Might be worth a titter when Little Nell snuffs it. Mine's a snowball, Nell.
It's House Of Windsor night on C4. Not being a royalist...frankly, I don't care.
Check out BBC3 for The Mighty Boosh Live and BBC4 have trotted out The Red Shoes for us. They're doing a dance season, apparently.
After all that, I'm both exhausted and quite upset. C4 just seemed to have forgotten that it is..y'know, Christmas and and have insisted on showing lots of repeats instead. It might be fitting for them to try and mimic the state of your digestive system over the holiday season but really there's no need. C5...if you want to know which celebrity is having which celebrity then that's just for you. BBC1 are just about keeping their collective heads above water but minus points for BBC2 for the incomprehensible Hetty Wainthrop repeats.
Once I've dashed off a letter of complaint to Ofcom I'll be back with Part 2 and will cast my jaded eyes over the rest of the listings. Put it this way, I'll be watching an awful lot of DVDs on the strength of the schedules so far. If only we could, as Kylie suggests, step back in time to the golden years of the 70s.
Now where's that bottle of port...
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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