Broadcast on the 25th of December 1973, The Glories of Christmas boasts a host of familiar faces. John Bluthal, Dora Bryan, Patrick Cargill, Diana Coupland, Les Dawson, Arthur English, Gerald Harper, Kathleen Harrison, Melvyn Hayes, James Hayter, Gordon Honeycombe, John Laurie, Alfred Marks, Bob Monkhouse, Pat Phoenix and Patrick Troughton were amongst those making an appearance (although some were very brief). But the undoubted star of the show was Princess Grace of Monaco and it was a considerable coup that Yorkshire Television were able to recruit her.
We open with the Beverley Sisters and the Batchelors taking it in turns to sing excerpts from Christmas favourites. If you can keep a straight face as the Batchelors sway their way through Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer then you have more self control than I do. This sets the tone for the show – a selection of middle-brow entertainment that in some ways seems a lot further back than 1973.
The music hall setting of part one reinforces this – in quick succession we see the Scottish tenor Kenneth McKellar, Francis Van Dyke and his violin, Janet Baker singing Cherubino’s Aria from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Rostal & Schaefer tickling the ivories. Let’s stop for a moment and consider that ITV decided this was just the sort of thing audiences wanted to watch on Christmas Day afternoon. You certainly wouldn’t see anything like it today (especially the young boy blacked up as a golliwog) which makes it a window into a vanished television age.
Much more worthwhile is part two – The Glories of Literature – in which the cream of the British acting and entertainment profession make fleeting appearances as some of Charles Dickens’ immortal characters. John Laurie is a perfect Scrooge, Gerald Harper is a fine Mr Jingle whilst Les Dawson is an interesting Mr Micawber (for some reason he chose to play it as W.C. Fields). Dora Bryan has an amusing few lines as Sarah Gamp and Patrick Troughton reprised his role as Mr Quilp (albeit for twenty seconds or so). It’s a great pity that his original turn as Quilp (from the 1962 BBC adaptation) is wiped – maybe one day it’ll return from a dusty overseas archive. We can but hope.
Part three sees Princess Grace read the story of the nativity, which serves a reminder that The Glories of Christmas was produced by ITV’s religious department. The visual representation of the story is either charming or shoddy (depending on how forgiving you are). Everything is studio-bound and very false-looking, but maybe they were aiming for the slightly unreal feeling of a school nativity play. Or it could just be that they lacked the budget to shoot on location.
The Glories of Christmas is a real curio that’s certainly worth a look (if you want to track it down it’s on the Les Dawson at ITV – The Specials DVD).