The 1984 Christmas Show comes front-loaded with celebrities as Clare Francis, Anneka Rice, Bonnie Langford, Val Doonican and Larry Grayson are brought on for a spot of banter and magic. All receive a warm reception from the studio audience but it’s Grayson who generates the most whoops and cheers by far.
Both Bonnie and Anneka are very eye-catching (Bonnie sports a silver pair of trousers whilst Anneka has a sparkly top and a very short skirt). Paul was never slow in appreciating female beauty, so it’s no surprise that he seems a little smitten with Anneka (“lovely leg, shame about the other one”). Although I’m not sure whether his mispronunciation of her first name was deliberate or not ….
This is a nice, relaxed opening to the show – allowing the likes of Larry Grayson to camp it up a little (unsurprisingly). He’s also selected to wear a bag on his head (in order to check that when Paul puts it on, he can’t see out of it). Given that Paul’s still wearing the wig, I was slightly concerned they’d be an accident, but everything passes off without a hitch (although it’s noticeable that when Paul removes the bag, he does instinctively check that everything’s still in place).
There are two speciality acts on the show. Both are perfect for Christmastime viewing (maybe one day somebody might decide that a variety show on Christmas day would be a good idea – stranger things have happened). First up is Kris Kremo. I love a juggler, and they really don’t come any better than Kremo – who not only juggles with his hands but also his feet to begin with. His act climaxes with the juggling of three cigar boxes – a familiar sight, but Kremo’s dexterity is something special.
George Carl has to slowly work the audience – his style of silent clowning proves to be something of a slow burn – but by the end he seems to have won everybody over (at the start, laughter is more sporadic – meaning that it’s possible to pick out several very distinctive hearty laughing types).
Debbie is now a part of the show. She doesn’t have a great deal to say, but it’s plain that she’s higher up in the pecking order than Paul’s previous assistants (she appears in one of the six picture boxes on the end credits).
When I wrote about the 1980 special, I mentioned that there were no big illusions. That’s redressed here, as Paul contrives to vanish one million pounds under the watchful eyes of Owen Rout (the general manager of Barclays Bank) and Robert Maxwell. Maxwell’s later misdeeds gives this whole illusion something of a bleak irony. It certainly proves hard to take your eyes off him.
When Paul announces that the money is shortly to enter the studio, it’s impossible to miss the way that Maxwell’s eyes light up. Maxwell also can’t prevent himself from getting involved every step of the way (instinctively reaching for the safe key, constantly wanting to touch the money, etc). And then there’s the moment when Paul refers to Rout and Maxwell as men of integrity ….
As an unashamed television geek, one of the reasons I love this part of the show is that the cameras are allowed to shoot off the edge of the set. So we get to see the studio cables, monitors and doors as well as the orchestra (who rarely, if ever, appeared on screen). The money arrives in the studio to the strains of The A Team (no, me neither) and then the long process begins – opening the safe, extracting another safe containing the money, checking that the money is genuine, moving the safe with the money into a clear Perspex container.
This is one of those illusions where you know right from the start what’s going to happen (and also that it’ll only take a few seconds) but in order to have any impact the whole thing has to build very slowly. Therefore some twenty minutes (the climax of the show) is spent on this trick – a considerable amount of time, but it never feels drawn out. Luckily, after all the preamble it turns out to be a baffling mystery – no doubt if I searched hard enough I could find the solution, but discovering how tricks work is much less enjoyable than wondering how it was achieved.