Who will win the Christmas TV ratings battle? Well, the internet these days, obviously, but we can still, for now, ask the question. For traditional telly it’s usually the BBC with some blockbuster of an EastEnders episode (like when Dirty Den Watts served his divorce papers on Angie in 1986), and this year, I can reveal, Max will be taken down by Stacey’s mobile phone somewhere between 9pm and 10pm, just after Corrie has resolved a literal cliff-hanger with Billy, and at a safe distance from Emmerdale’s go, which is all about someone waking up to a different reality. We all know that feeling, come Christmastime.
Directly up against the antics in the Queen Vic on Albert Square, ITV have scheduled Prince Albert’s antics with the not-so-square Queen Victoria in a seasonal edition of their monarcho-soap Victoria, and if by that stage of the holidays you can still remember how Princess Gertrude of Mecklenburg-Strelitz is related to the Duke of Kent, then you have my admiration.
I do think ITV are in with a chance for the post-Queen audience with their choice of movie – how can you not win with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (no matter how many times everyone’s seen it)? The BBC has the much fresher live-action Cinderella starring Helena Bonham Carter, Lily James and Cate Blanchett (and directed by Kenneth Branagh), which may not be up to all that wizard cobblers on the other side. Dumbo flies onto the scene on Channel 4, though, and I think is much the best offer all day. Where, I wonder, are the Bond movies?
If anyone out there wants to experience what a British telly Christmas used to be like, BBC2 has arranged to screen The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show 1977. This is the one that pretty much set the record for a Christmas Day audience – some 28 million viewers, or about half the British population. A half! There were, in those days, only three channels, not everyone had a colour television “set”, as they were called, and this was what was called a “shared national experience”, something everyone would chat about when they next met at work, at school or in the pubs and clubs. Vanessa Redgrave, Penelope Keith, Elton John were the butt of Eric and Ernie’s gags. Eric, Ernie and Me, by the way, dramatises the story of the man behind so much of Morecambe and Wise’s success – the man who wrote a good deal of their best material, Eddie Braben, a name even then pretty obscure.
Our Friend Victoria, at Christmas is a sad reminder of anther lost comic talent, Victoria Wood, whose work stands up well to the test of time. So, as matter of fact, does Whatever Happened to the likely Lads?, a fairly timeless story of aspiration and thwarted ambition – and a nice tribute to Rodney Bewes, who died this year, and of course James Bolam, still going strong – in the Christmas edition of 1974. And that’s enough looking at the rear-view mirror.
Four past winner get back into the tent for ‘The Great Christmas Bake Off’ (Channel 4)
I suppose Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some Bake Off, so Channel 4 obliges with The Great Christmas Bake Off, in which four past winner get back into the tent. Maybe they’ll have a few freshly baked yule logs ready to emerge from their ovens. We can only hope. Another entirely predictable staple is the Strictly Come Dancing special, which, like the cold remains of the turkey and the stuffing, is there if you want it.
You would, though, have to be quite starving for entertainment to be tempted by Mrs Brown’s Boys, which do mention because it is likely to attract a vast audience, though some of us find the appeal quite unfathomable. And that is all I am prepared to say about that.
I’ll confess that ever since I heard that Alan Partridge, Brexit supporter and recovering Toblerone addict, is to return to the BBC next year I have been in the sort of state of excited trepidation Alan used to suffer when attempting to get a second series of Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge. Anyway, Monkey Tennis, Inner-City Sumo and Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank never really came off, and Alan was left to present Mid-Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital, which was a terrible shame for someone who was, in a very real sense, bouncing back. Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How and Whom? celebrates the career – so far – of one of Britain’s finest all-round broadcasters. Don’t forget, by the way, that Terry’s Chocolate Oranges are available from Rawlinsons in Norwich. Somone called Steve Coogan has something to do with all this. Ask Michael.
Maybe if this wasn’t the end of Peter Capaldi’s tenancy of the Doctor Who franchise the BBC might have made more of it, but it still gets a decent slot on the big day, and we find the Doctor bumping into an iteration of an earlier iteration of himself, plus the ubiquitous Mark Gatiss, who deserves his cameo for doing so much to revive the dear old show.
Christmas Eve, by the way, looks better than it usually does. There’s Carols from King’s, as usual, and, more novel, this, I quite like the look of Ratburger, written by and starring David Walliams, with Sheridan Smith and Nigel Planer joining in the rat-in-a-bap fun. Rowan Atkinson, I think, hasn’t put a foot wrong in the best part of half a century in showbiz, and Maigret may be one of his best efforts yet. There’s an excellent full-length feature edition, for when you’ve finished your ratburger, and, to my mind, represents a convincing alternative to Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show or the Gogglebox 2017 compilation.
A few of the case of the marvellous ‘Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants’ (BBC)
I’m not sure I can quite fit in a double helping of Miranda Hart next week (Call the Midwife on Christmas Day and Miranda Does Christmas on Channel 4), but I’m certainly ready to consume as much David Attenborough as you’d like to pile onto the plate, and Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants is the natural history highlight of the season, a fitting sequel to Blue Planet II (also available this holiday in an abridged compilation edition). Snow Bears, a sort of real-life soap featuring some polar bears, is a pretty dull sort of watch by comparison. Yet not so dull as Little Women, which is best left to its fans, of which there are I am sure very many. Call me a dinosaur, but I’ll be sticking with Jurassic World on ITV.
Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How and Whom? (BBC2, Wednesday 9pm); EastEnders (BBC1, Christmas Day 9pm); Coronation Street (ITV, Christmas Day 8pm); Emmerdale (ITV, Christmas Day 5.50pm); Victoria (ITV, Christmas Day 9pm); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (ITV, Christmas Day 3.10pm); Cinderella (BBC1, Christmas Day 3.10pm); Dumbo (Channel 4, Christmas Day 4.30pm); The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show 1977 (BBC2, Christmas Day 5.35pm); Eric, Ernie and Me (BBC4, Friday 9pm); Our Friend Victoria at Christmas (BBC1, Christmas Day 9.30pm); Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (BBC4, Christmas Eve 8.15pm); The Great Christmas Bake Off (Channel 4, Christmas Day 7.40pm); Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1, Christmas Day 6.30pm); Mrs Brown’s Boys (BBC1, Christmas Day 10pm); Dr Who (BBC1, Christmas Day 5.30pm); Carols From King’s (BBC2, Christmas Eve 5.45pm); Ratburger (Sky 1, Christmas Eve 6pm); Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show (BBC1, Christmas Eve 8.30pm); Gogglebox 2017 (Channel 4, 9pm); Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants (BBC2, 9.30pm); Snow Bears (BBC1, Boxing Day 6.30pm); Little Women (BBC1, Boxing Day 8pm); Jurassic World (ITV, Boxing Day 6.40pm)