Back to Christmas 1985 (25th December 1985)

Merry Christmas everybody. A packed schedule today, kicking off with the Top of the Pops Christmas Party. It’s the usual rather rum mixed bag, but there’s entertainment to be found if you dig deep enough.

The second of two All Creatures Great & Small movie-length specials (which bridged the gap between the original series and the revival in 1988) is also on my list. And BBC1 dominates the rest of the evening with Hi-De-Hi!, Only Fools and Horses and The Two Ronnies. That’s quite the line-up ….

Hi-De-Hi! is an hour long special and even though we’re into the post-Fairbrother years (which means that the series has lost a little of its sparkle) it’s still well worth a watch.

The front covers of the Radio Times and TV Times made it plain that the big Christmas battle would be fought by Del Boy and Arthur Daley (both were given today’s prime 7.30 pm slot). In the event Del would win the ratings war and he’s my choice as well – not least because as he’s part of such a strong lineup it would be a shame to switch over (that was always the BBC way – especially on Saturday evenings – if you hook the viewers early then they’ll tend to stick with you).

To Hull and Back was a bit jarring at the time, thanks to the lack of a laughter track and its all-film nature, but it was the first hint that Only Fools wouldn’t always be content with remaining in a thirty minute format. 

As happened a few times, The Two Ronnies show at Christmastime was part of a series rather than a one-off special but although the festive quotient is fairly low it still ticks all the boxes that you’d expect. The Two Rhanis (the Rons browned up and essaying broad Indian accents) isn’t their finest moment but the rest of the show is on firmer ground. I especially like the reworking of an earlier WW1 sketch which is a typical example of the Rons’ wordplay.

Over on ITV I’ll be taping Moonraker and Minder on the Orient Express. It’s ironic that when Only Fools & Horses began in 1981 it was compared unfavourably with Minder (especially the wheeler-dealer similarities between Arthur and Del) but five years later you have to concede that the pupil has eclipsed the master.

Minder on the Orient Express is still an excellent way to pass a few hours though – it might be a world away from the gritty tone of the early stories but if the odd outrageous coincidence doesn’t bother you, then I’d just sit back and watch the tip top guest cast do their thing.

9 thoughts on “Back to Christmas 1985 (25th December 1985)

  1. I don’t think I watched the Top Of The Pops in 1985, but I do remember watching Hi-De-Hi! followed by Only Fools & Horses in the evening. I saw that Hi-De-Hi! episode for the first time since then the other day, and can report that it’s really good. Certainly the best for me of the four extended episodes that got shown at Christmas time, and also curiously the longest. The other three are all 45 minutes and fall a little flat, feeling like extended versions of ordinary tales, but at one hour the cat burglary plot feels as though it makes good use of being twice as long as usual.

    I did enjoy ‘To Hull & Back’, though in a different (less immediate, I think) way to the pleasure that I had taken from OFAH before. I haven’t seen it for about 35 years, but I got the new blu-ray, so should be returning to it again next year.

    Working out how to watch this day’s viewing again as an adult is a campaign that requires military planning! Presupposing that I have a video recorder, then I would watch; Top Of The Pops, Hi-De-Hi! and Edge Of The Wind (the Don Webb play with John Mills on BBC2 at 8.20). I would video Coronation Street and Minder On The Orient Express. I probably wouldn’t have the stamina for All Creatures Great & Small as well and would make a note to watch it if it was repeated (and I would be confident that OFAH would turn up again).

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  2. The Only Fools & Horses ‘To Hull & Back’ is the first feature length Christmas Special and the start of a what would become a long running tradition on BBC1 Christmas Day. It is an unusual entry to the OF&H’s series as it was shot on film (even the scenes in the flat were done on film instead of video) and this was only one of two episodes where it wasn’t recorded in front of a live audience. It does feel bizarre watching it without the background laughter.

    Minder on the Orient Express is my preferred choice for Christmas Day this year. At this point, Dennis Waterman and George Cole decided to take a break from Minder, and it would remain on hiatus for three years.
    Ironically, Minder’s return would be another Christmas Day installment titled ‘An Officer & A Used Car Salesmen’ which was a bit of a farce.

    Sadly for me, post 1985, Minder lost some of his magic – becoming far less gritty and much more comedic. Minder on the Orient Express does serve as potentially a nice ‘farewell’ for Minder – back in 1985 there was every chance the show may not have returned.

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    • I’ve got a feeling that Minder on the Orient Express was touted at the time as the series’ final bow. Personally, I’m very fond of series 7 in 1988, which whilst it ramped up the comedy still had the odd darker moment.

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      • It felt like there were half a dozen final episodes of Minder over the years! ‘Minder On The Orient Express’ gets better each time that I see it. When you initially see it as part of the run, it is something of a culture shock to see Minder on 35mm film, abroad, with incidental music.

        Watching it is a tonic after the sixth series, which – despite being mostly written by Tony Hoare and Leon Griffiths – has a rather tired and sour feel to me, with only ‘Return of the Invincible Man’ consistently hitting the heights of the show at it’s best. Although the team largely came back for the money in series 7, that series feels a lot lighter on its feet, and there’s something pleasing about watching them walking around the starting-to-look-different London of 1988.

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      • Yes, I’d agree about the tone of S6 – which was probably why many felt the series had run its course by the mid eighties. I’d always found that run of stories to be fairly heavy going (though having said that, on my last rewatch I did find myself pleasantly surprised – possibly because I’d gone in with such low expectations).

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    • There were a lot of episodes of Only Fools and Horses that were supposed to be the last one.

      Speaking of the battle of the spivs. That picture you put on Twitter of George Cole and David Jason reminds me of the story of Roy Wood shaking hands with Jimmy Lea when Slade beat Wizzard to the Christmas number one slot, and Roy Wood said “The best song won.”, and Jimmy Lea replied “Actually I think your song was better.”

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  3. Radio Times had a splash of colour for the Christmas Day listings.

    There was no Play Chess on Christmas Day. I never did see a Christmas Day edition of Play School. And Christmas Day seems an odd day to show the Children’s Royal Variety Show (although in previous years they did show Billy Smart’s Circus at that time on Christmas Day).

    BBC2 often showed late night foreign language films on Christmas Day, and this year it was Diva, which later got shown in the first season of Moviedrome. I’m sure Citizen Kane was shown a couple of months earlier when Orson Welles died. Channel 4 showed a Marx Brothers film. Quentin Tarrantino’s New Beverley Cinema opens on Christmas Day, and this year they showed a Marx Brothers double bill of Monkey Business and Duck Soup

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