One of the generally accepted universal truths is that ITV Can’t Do Christmas Telly. This reasoning was probably more true than ever a few years ago, when the only noteworthy addition to ITV1’s Christmas Day line-up was a South Bank Show special on… Little Britain, a BBC show that itself wasn’t considered big enough to be included in BBC One’s Christmas Day schedule.
But: was this always the case? To celebrate the bumper double Christmas issue of the Radio and TV Times hitting the shops (aah, remember the days when you had to buy both?), it’s time for the first of an occasional series where we look at what aired on The Light Channel over festive breaks past. First up: Christmas 1977, with cover stars Harry Secombe, Yootha Joyce, Brian Murphy and Bonnie Langford.
Note that the calendar hasn’t helped make for a proper Christmas Double Issue, with the listings starting on Saturday 24th December 1977. As everyone knows, part of the fun comes from seeing a ‘normal’ television schedule gradually transform into something more Christmassy. Seeing current affairs programming make way for a repeat of a fondly remembered sitcom, the appearance of the occasional Christmas special thrown on several days before the big day itself, as the channel had long since disowned the series it came from, but it’s paid for and recorded now, so it might as well go somewhere. Once the BBC Six O’Clock News becomes just ‘BBC News’, and is thrown into the listings at 5.40pm just after a film, and is followed by a mere ten minutes of ‘news where you are’, you know the Christmas schedule has really kicked in, and you’ll well within your rights to open that box of mince pies.
But here, we’re thrown straight into the programming on Christmas Eve. All wrong. Still, we’ll press on. We’re nothing if not tenacious.
12:30pm Christmas Eve: WORLD OF SPORT
We’re off to a cracking start. While there might not have been any Tiswas for kids in the Tyne-Tees region to enjoy (though they did get Custard Pie Parade with Leslie Crowther), half-noon sees a special edition of World Of Sport, where Eric Morecambe pops up to wreak his special blend of mayhem and mischief between coverage of snooker’s Dry Blackthorn Cider Cup and Wrestling From Wolverhampton.
In fact: here’s some of it, thanks to the wonder of YouTube:
4:40pm Christmas Day: EMU’S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE
Dropping our veneer of unconvincing world-weariness for a moment (we’re the Shaun Keavneys of TV blogdom, we are), one real highlight of recent ITV Christmas schedules has been the annual Christmas panto. Running from 1998 to 2002, it’s true to say they were never going to go down as bona fide TV classics, but seeing stars like Paul Merton, Julian Clary, Griff Rhys Jones, Richard Wilson, Ed Byrne, Leslie Philips, Frank Skinner, Ronnie Corbett, Harry Hill, Lee Mack, Morwenna Banks, Peter Serafinowicz and Jessica Hynes putting out some genuine family entertainment (including, of course, a few jokes for ‘the mums and dads’) was really quite lovely to see. Shush, it was.
Admittedly, Emu’s Christmas Adventure may actually have been more sketch-based, but we really hope this show took a panto-style approach. If nothing else, the cast of Arthur Lowe (as Old King Cole), Henry McGee (as Santa’s foreman), Lesley Duff (Bo Peep) and Jack Douglas (as ‘Jasper’) would hopefully have provided adequate entertainment for any kids abstaining from the big film on BBC-1 that year.
12:35pm Boxing Day: STAR SPANGLED SOCCER
“Ian Woolridge looks at the phenomenal growth of soccer in America.” Quite famously, the NASL died on it’s arse a few years later (as explored in the brilliant documentary film Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, which quite criminally can be picked up on DVD in our local Home Bargains for a quid), though we always find NASL coverage interesting to watch, if only because most of the matches seemed to have been played on carpet.
We’d guess that, unlike Once In A Lifetime, ‘Star Spangled Soccer’ doesn’t feature any nude photos of well-endowed goalkeepers taken for pornographic magazines.
7:30pm Christmas Tuesday: MAX BYGRAVES
Sure, this is pretty trad Christmas fare for the late 1970s, with guests including Jim Nick Nick Davidson, Sandra Dickinson, Lena Zavaroni, Charlie Cairoli & Company and The Nigel Lythgoe Dancers. But never mind that, what fact do the TV Times pick out about old Singalonga to use in the caption? The size of his tax bill from the Inland Revenue. Er, so not worth going carol singing at Chez Max that year then?
7.0pm Friday 30th: MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
“Gloriously politically incorrect – nowadays you can’t even have a Pakistani character wobbling their head while they talk, thanks to Brussels. I wish Vince Powell wrote every television show ever. Yours, John Englandnoteurope, Spain.”
Never mind the first ever episode of Mind Your Language though, one of those programmes which idiots like to claim could never be repeated nowadays, even though it’s been repeated loads of times on ITV3 and Granada Plus. We like the way the people who’d originally owned this copy of the TV times have written “watched” next to all the programmes they’ve, well, watched. Not, like BrokenTV’s parents do, using a highlighter pen to mark out programmes they want to watch, but programmes they’ve watched. We really hope this is because they were BARB diarists, and that was the method used for calculating TV ratings in those days.
10.25pm New Year’s Eve: The Paul Daniels Show
There’s even a separate ‘front page’ for the second week of programming, on which this programme is featured. Paul Daniels has decapitated a lady. How much of that woman’s body has he left? Not a lot! A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.
7.35pm Tuesday 3rd: DAVE ALLEN
Stephen Fry in America? Dave Allen did it first, in a thirteen-part series which saw the Irish comedy genius travel the USA meeting unusual people in interesting places. “A team of tough-guy cops in drag with revolvers in their tights”? “An aviary of Hollywood budgerigars learning how to imitate Mae West”? With Dave Allen waxing wry on it all? Dear Network DVD, please can you fix it for this to be made available somehow? (The same question to uploaders at UKNova, of course.)
This is one thing that annoys us about modern-day ITV. There are untold wonders that must surely still exist in their archives, yes it’s almost as if they’re ashamed of them. ITV3 plays host to an endless cycle of Wycliffe, Lewis, Heartbeat, Poirot and The Darling Buds of May and seemingly little else. It’s fair to say that on an advertising-led platform in an increasingly fragmented digital marketplace there’s a need to maximise figures, so the most mainstream shows ought to dominate the schedules. Well, it’s fair to say that if you don’t mind sounding like a dribbling cockhole.
The web, then – just look at the bazillions of wonderful shows made available on 4OD. But nope, ITV have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory there, too. There was a time when the ITV website was home to streaming episodes of some genuinely exciting programmes from the network’s past – Metal Mickey, Catweazle, Press Gang, Whicker’s World, even 1957’s The Army Game, but now? We shit you not, the “ITV Classics” page contains just fifteen shows, and they include Jack Osbourne: Adrenaline Junkie, Katy Brand’s Big Ass Songs, and Vinnie Jones Toughest Cops. Way to piss a fifty-plus year legacy up the wall, guys.
Where were we? Ah, right. So, there are some of the highlights from Christmas 1977 on ITV. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow when the update will probably only be a YouTube video of something, because this took ages.