The bbc.co.uk/archive pages are always worth skimming through as they contain plenty of interesting clips. Today I think I’ll be entertaining myself with Blue Peter’s makes through the ages – from 1963 to 1999.
There’s no reason why Christmas specials have to be set at Christmas – even though most of them are. Roy Clarke, who established a mild anti-festive tone in his previous LOTSW festive special, has his (Christmas) cake and eats it in this one – there’s plenty of Christmas talk, even though the setting is late summer.
It’s always a little jarring to revisit these early episodes and witness our three heroes doing their own stunts. The sight of Sallis, Owen and Wilde indulging in a spot of plastic bag sledging is a joy though – especially since even the normally reserved Foggy seems to be enjoying himself for once.
It’s not long before Foggy’s normal character clicks back into gear though. Back at Clegg’s house he – with typically military precision – inflicts a slide-show on the other two. Neither are exactly delighted. Compo hopes that it’s not Foggy’s holiday snaps again whilst Clegg is slightly anxious, re his curtains (“I hate drawing my curtains during the daytime. Suppose the neighbours start sending flowers”).
Foggy’s pictures reveal a dismal picture of last Christmas – after taking Compo’s advice all their Christmas shopping was carried out on the 24th of December, with the result that they had no trimmings and a rather paltry Christmas dinner (a fish finger and a chip). But the attentive viewer will know that their previous Christmas as transmitted on television wasn’t like this at all, so clearly time in LOTSW land runs in a different way to the rest of the country.
Determined not to be caught napping a second time, Foggy decides the time is right to start their Christmas shopping (but finds that festive cards and treats are thin on the ground in August). Things get no better later on after he buys himself a bargain (100 Christmas trees for just £10). The Forestry Commission are having a summer sale you see.
It slowly dawns on Foggy that he’s been had (but then if you exchange money in the pub with someone called Big Eric, what do you expect?). Poor Foggy is eventually brought back to reality when the three trek over to see his purchases – since each tree is 100 ft high, they’re going to be a tad tricky to cut down ….
Brian Wilde rather drives this episode. I love Foggy’s wistful shake of the head when Compo asks him whether MI5 had attempted to recruit him. “I dropped hints that I was available when me time was up in the army. I watched for the postman every morning since, but nothing”. The final scene – which plays over the end credits – of Foggy left alone also rather tugs at the heartstrings.
Elsewhere, Ivy and Nora enjoy a cup of tea and swop notes about the sex-pest in their lives – Compo. Over the years, as the regular female cast grew, these interludes would become a regular fixture. This one, despite being a two-hander, is still good though – Ivy advising Nora to take a spoonful of sugar occasionally (“you might find it might relax you. Keep your hands off your airing cupboard”). The mundanity of their conversation (“troublesome as men are, their old vests make for lovely dusters”) is delightful.
They then plot to stop Compo in his tracks. Nora advises Ivy to drop the chip pan down his trousers (“the sooner it gets covered in batter the safer it’s going to be”). Ouch! In the end they elect to just forcibly remove his trousers, but maybe – for the moment – it may have done the trick.
The 1979 TOTP Xmas Special has an unusual opening. There’s no cheery greetings from that year’s R1 jocks, instead we go straight to Boney M – a vision in furry white – who give us Mary’s Boy Child. An odd way to kick off proceedings, especially since the song was a hit from the previous year.
No matter, once they’ve departed up pop David ‘Kid’ Jensen and Peter Powell to get things started for 1979. Like previous years, the songs are a selection of some of the top-selling Number 1s and 2s of the year. Will that mean that some of this new-fangled New Wave music will start to appear? Let’s see ….
Hurrah! Up first are Ian Dury and the Blockheads (who’ve clearly come straight from the building site) to entertain us with Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Christmas trimmings for this first performance are fairly modest (a smallish tree popped on the piano). Let’s see if things pick up later.
Next is Janet Kay with Silly Games. Christmas trimming watch – there’s a few sad looking Christmas tree twigs dotted about the stage (complete with a handful of baubles). As Janet does her thing, it becomes clear this is another of those audience free shows. Although since Peter and the ‘Kid’ are lurking rather noticeably in the background (looking down upon Janet from on high) it means she has a small (but appreciative) audience.
The good songs keep on coming with Gary Numan and Cars (performing on a tinsel free stage). He makes way for Roxy Music with Dance Away. This is a little smoother than I generally like my Roxy, but it’s always fun watching Bryan Ferry, who’s come dressed for the occasion (as has Gary Tibbs). On the other hand Phil Manzanera looks like he’s just rolled out of bed and grabbed the first clothes that came to hand.
Ding Ding! Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell is danced to by Legs & Co. They have plenty of small bells to ring, so make something of a racket as they cavort on top of six chimney pots.
The ‘Kid’ is particularly pleased to see this next song – The Buggles with Video Killed The Radio Star. Christmas trimming watch – Camera 7 is covered in tinsel, the stage less so. This song, their debut single, did pretty well for them – topping the charts in sixteen countries. Their debut album – The Age of Plastic – is also jolly good, an ideal Christmas present in fact.
We’re getting into this Christmas spirit now as B.A. Robertson (Bang Bang) has turned up. He’s wearing a Father Christmas coat (although he clearly drew the line at the beard) and is accompanied by two attractive young ladies who bang big drums at regular intervals. Pity the rest of the band though, who must have been deemed less photogenic than the two drum ladies and were shuffled off to an adjoining stage.
TOTP certainly seem to be getting into the New Wave swing as Blondie give us Sunday Girl and M (“New York, London, Paris, Munich”) then appear with … Pop Muzik (what else?).
After all this excitement it’s time to relax with one of my favourite Legs & Co performances (they’re dancing to Tragedy dressed as sad-faced clowns).
Disappointingly, Elvis Costello hasn’t come dressed as Santa Claus (and the stage is a Christmas free zone), but he and the Attractions are performing Oliver’s Army, so I’ll let them off.
For those who have been missing their middle of the road musical entertainment (compare this show with Christmas 1977 and 1978 for example) there’s salvation at hand with Lena Martell and Once Day At A Time. I always thought she was American, so it came as something of a shock to learn she actually hails from Glasgow. She’s put her glad rags on – a glittery jacket and dress – which fits in nicely with the Christmas tree stuck at the back of the stage.
First live vocal of the show comes courtesy of Chris Difford (nice cap, sir) as Squeeze gives us Cool for Cats. It’s a rather truncated performance though (even by TOTP standards) clocking in at under two minutes.
Dr Hook (When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman) are the next act. It’s obvious who the star turn is – the eyepatch wearing, maraca shaking Ray Sawyer. No matter that the maracas must be empty (as no sound comes from them) he shakes them like there’s no tomorrow whilst mugging at the camera like a good ‘un. Now that’s entertainment.
There’s a quick return for Blondie. Debbie’s taken off her sunglasses as the tinsel comes pouring down (hopefully she didn’t swallow too much of it). Dreaming is the pop platter they serve up. Gary Numan also returns for an encore. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that nobody dared to release the tinsel on him – which is fair enough as it wouldn’t have fitted in with the moody tone of Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
Racey entertain Peter and the ‘Kid’ with Some Girls. Throughout their performance a barrage of clips featuring Legs & Co down the ages are spliced in (which allows the viewer to boggle yet again at some of their more interesting costumes).
Sir Cliff of Richard closes the show with We Don’t Talk Anymore. Sporting a natty pink jacket and a sprig of tinsel in his buttonhole, Cliff – always the trouper – gives a typically polished performance.
Musically, TOTP Xmas 1979 was very strong. A pity that there wasn’t an audience yet again, but then a surprising number of seventies TOTP Christmas shows suffered the same fate. Unlike previous years there were no performances played in from promo films – which helped to make the show feel just a little more special.
TOTP Christmas 78 is somewhat running on reduced power. Due to strike action, Noel Edmonds is forced to link the show all on his lonesome from a fairly cheerless office (although the Christmas tree looks nice). With the music pre-recorded there’s not a great deal that’s festive about this one, but let’s press on anyway.
Darts open the show with The Boy From New York City. It’s jaunty retro fun. Equally jaunty is the next song, Rasputin (who was Russia’s greatest love machine, you know) sung by Boney M. This performance is, of course, all about Bobby Farrell, who flings himself about with wild abandon. He’s going to do himself a mischief if he carries on like that.
Legs & Co (and some male friends) dance to Summer Nights and then the tempo slows down a little with Wings and Mull Of Kintyre. Until Band Aid, it was the UK’s top selling single (the first to exceed two million). Like last year, we have the video rather than a studio performance (so expect to see once again an unconvincing grassy knoll, plenty of mist and the Campbeltown Pipe Band wandering through the shot at exactly the right time).
Next up are the Brotherhood of Man with Figaro. Looking very coordinated (gleaming white trousers and red jackets) the foursome give their all. Like most of the studio performers they don’t have an audience to bounce off (but given that TOTP‘s audience members could sometimes border on the apathetic, this isn’t too much of a problem). I can understand why some find this sort of middle-of-the-road fare unpalatable (when I mentioned on Twitter that I’d be covering TOTP Christmas 76 there were grumblings that the punk era was long overdue) but personally I love it. Well most of it ….
Father Abraham and the Smurfs with The Smurf Song is a step too far, even for me (but it does have a strange hypnotic quality after a while). Following the Smurfs, there’s Legs & Co in shorty nighties, dancing to Night Fever. Hang on, nighties = Night Fever? If the decision to deck out Legs & Co in nighties was due to a fairly poor play on words, then I for one won’t complain too much.
Cloth caps are to the fore as Brian and Michael give us their one and only hit (Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs). A number of songs featured in last year’s Christmas show (including the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band with The Floral Dance) were given another airing in 1978. It’s another of those tracks which won’t earn me any street cred if I admit to liking it (but then I daresay my street cred days are long over).
We then briefly dip our toe into current musical trends with Kate Bush and Wuthering Heights (although this track does have a sort of novelty disc element which makes it fit in nicely with the rest of the show). After that, Showaddywaddy (a group who surfed the fifties nostalgia wave better than most) make an appearance, and they give way to Boney M with Rivers of Babylon. This song gives far less opportunity for Bobby to fling himself around like a madman, which is a mark against it.
Legs & Co go all classy next, with The Commodores’ Three Times A Lady. Then it’s ABBA on video with Take A Chance On Me. Noel Tidybeard, still marooned in his office, introduces the next song (Rose Royce – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore) with a sad sniff, telling the audience that no doubt its tragic tone caused an awful lot of problems this year. Not quite the vibe you want for a (hopefully) jolly Christmas afternoon.
Never mind, the tempo soon picks up as Legs & Co (working hard today) and their male chums give us another song from Grease – this time it’s You’re the One That I Want. By this point I’m reeling in a slightly punchdrunk fashion from all these festive treats, but let’s crack on as we’re nearly at the end.
Returning for a third(!) time are Boney M with Mary’s Boy Child. And that’s your lot, apart from James Galway who is heard but not seen as Annie’s Song plays out over the end credits. Studying these credits, it looks as if the recent BBC4 repeat has been jiggered about with a bit (replacing the clips from Grease with performances by Legs & Co) but apart from that everything seems to be intact.
As touched upon before, TOTP Xmas ’78 is going to disappoint those who find it difficult to stomach seventies LE, but I found it slipped by rather nicely. However, the winds of change were blowing and even TOTP eventually began to reflect that. Next time, we’ll see those changes in TOTP Xmas ’79 ….
Stuck in between Holiday on Ice and It’s A Christmas Knockout, part two of the 1977 TOTP festive retrospective was hosted by DLT (don’t expect to see this on BBC4 anytime soon then) and Tony Blackburn.
We open with Boney M and Ma Baker. Good news, we have an audience and even better news – the M are singing live. Considering that Bobby Farrell apparently never sung on any of the records, how does he do? Hmm, well his performance is interesting to say the least (plus DLT pops up as the mid song radio reporter). The curious can check it out here.
Rod Stewart tackles The First Cut Is The Deepest (the clip lifted from a television special, it seems) before making way for Heatwave and Boogie Nights. It’s a playback performance, which given the amount of jigging about the lead singer – Keith Wilder – does is probably just as well.
Legs & Co dance to David Soul’s Silver Lady. They’re dressed in silver (which is one of the more logical costume/song interpretations). After they’ve shimmied off, we get Joe Tex on video with Ain’t Gonna Bump No More. This leaves me with the feeling that we’re being fobbed off with post Christmas leftovers. What we need are a few more memorable TOTP studio performances.
Ah, here come The Brotherhood of Man riding to the rescue with Angelo. Even though I find it difficult not to substitute their lyrics with the Barron Knights’ pastiche version, this is still good fun. The group have been provided with some simple Christmas staging – a tree and balloons – whilst a few members of the audience are wearing party hats. And as ever, the TOTP audience are always entertaining even when the song isn’t (in this case, it’s the chap in the front row who spends part of the song turned away from the stage and gawping into the camera who naturally catches the eye).
There’s a touch of class next with Billy Ocean and Red Light Spells Danger. Possibly played in from an earlier edition, since I can’t see any Christmas trimmings, it’s nevertheless top notch – thanks to his live vocals and the TOTP orchestra going for broke.
Billy gives way to Julie Covington and Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. With no Julie in the studio, the song plays out over a series of photographs of Eva Perón. Film again for the next clip – The Floaters with Float On. This is one of those songs that I’ve attempted to block, but once you hear it again the memories just come flooding back. Those suits! Those spoken word lyrics!
Legs & Co return, dancing to I Feel Love by Donna Summer. Their choreography choice mainly consists of them twirling around and shaking their long skirts. Frankly all their energy is beginning to tire me out.
Back to film with Queen and We Are The Champions and ABBA with The Name of the Game. For a change we then go onto tape with The Jacksons (Show You the Way to Go). Not surprising that they couldn’t be bothered to fly over to London (well it was Christmas) but this recycled clip (along with all the others) does give the show something of a half-hearted feel. Maybe it would have been better to just have had the one ninety minute show this year, mainly sticking to new studio performances.
At least Elvis Presley had a good reason for not turning up in person. The montage of photographs and film clips set to Way Down was a little bit touching I have to say.
Showaddywaddy have ditched their glow in the dark suits for something more subdued (white jackets and trousers, brown shirts). They treat us to Under The Moon Of Love, which seems to go down well with the audience – well they’re vaguely clapping in time and looking at the stage, which are both good signs.
And that’s it – apart from watching DLT in his horrible cardigan attempting to punch balloons away whilst the end credits roll. Not a classic then, since most of the best stuff had already been included in the Christmas Day show (Boney M, Brotherhood of Man and Billy Ocean are the ones unlucky enough to have been relegated to this division two fixture).
Sandwiched in between a repeat of Are You Being Served? (The Father Christmas Affair) and HM The Queen was the 1977 TOTP Christmas shindig. As with some previous years it was split into two (the second installment popping up on Boxing Day). Since I’m a glutton for punishment I’ll be watching both (wish me luck). Let’s tackle the 25th first though ….
David ‘Kid’ Jensen (velvet suit, ruffled shirt, dicky bow) and Noel Edmonds (blue suit, stripy wide tie) are your hosts today. But they’ve barely time to exchange yuletide felicitations before up pop Showaddywaddy with You Got What It Takes. The sort of group designed for colour television (pity those still watching in black and white as they’re denied the full glory of the Showadd’s stage outfits) the group do their retro rock’n’roll shtick as well as ever. And not only do they manage to sing and play, they also pull a few crackers and tuck into some Christmas nosh.
Denice Williams, with Free, is next. Sorely lacking in Christmas trimmings, she has to get by with just the power of her song. Luckily it’s a good one and – singing live – manages to hit the warbly high notes without embarrassing herself.
1977 has seen lots of new names in the charts, the ‘Kid’ tells us. The ears prick up at that – could this be, at long last, one of those new-fangled punky bands? Things seem promising when he goes on to say that the next act were one of the most outrageous. Hurrah! Who could these anti-establishment types be?
Ah it’s the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band.
I’m not too disappointed though, as I do love this version of The Floral Dance (so much so, it’s one of the tracks on my ‘favourites’ playlist in Spotify). In fact, I love it so much I think I’ll listen to it again. Excuse me a moment ….
Noel and the ‘Kid’ are reunited for some torturous banter, which is their way of introducing Legs & Co dancing to Fanfare for the Common Man by ELP. Legs & Co are looking mighty fine today it has to be said. There’s plenty of Christmas trees and dry ice too (for those who like that sort of thing).
Leo Sayer, presumably wearing the jumper his mum bought him for Christmas, is next on with When I Need You. Unfortunately no-one seems to have needed him, as the audience are conspicuous by their absence. Keeping the ambiance at a fairly soporific level are the Manhattan Transfer with Chanson D’Amour (rat de dat de dah). It’s almost like I’ve switched on to an episode of The Two Ronnies.
Hot Chocolate and You Win Again are wheeled on next. Not a very jolly song for Christmas Day, but Errol attempts to leaven the tone of the lyrics by smiling throughout – which sort of works. The set decoration (balloons) also helps to raise the party atmosphere a smidge, although by now the absence of a studio audience is becoming rather noticeable.
David Soul (Don’t Give Up On Us) and ABBA (Knowing Me, Knowing Me) are both on film and both continue the downbeat relationship feel of the show. At least David seems hopeful that things might work out (he’s probably deluding himself though) whilst ABBA are certain it’s the end. Hey ho. Let’s hope for something cheerful next.
Ah, that’s better – it’s Space with Magic Fly. Things then settle down again with Johnny Mathis and When A Child Is Born (one for the mums I think). Sitting amongst a pile of greenery in a director’s chair, it’s one of the odder TOTP staging decisions. Couldn’t they have popped a few baubles on the trees to make them look just a little Christmassy?
Legs & Co (dressed as Reindeers) are joined by a black Father Christmas, no doubt to reflect the fact that they’re all dancing to Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder. Yes it’s as bonkers as it sounds, thank goodness.
The maudlin tone of the show returns with Kenny Rogers and Lucille on film. Fair to say that if you’re feeling a bit down this isn’t the TOTP Christmas show to lift your spirits. Luckily Baccara jolly things up with Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.
We close with the UK No 1 – Wings and Mull of Kintyre. Paul, Linda and Denny were already booked for The Mike Yarwood Show, so appear here in video form (complete with an unconvicting grassy knoll, plenty of mist and the Campbeltown Pipe Band walking through the shot at exactly the right time).
Would things cheer up for the Boxing Day show? Give me a few days and I’ll let you know.
DLT and Noel Edmonds are your hosts for this year’s Christmas show. They wish the viewers at home seasonal greetings in a short CSO-tinged pre-credits sequence, most notable for the way Edmonds stumbles over his few words. Couldn’t they have afforded a take two? And as the show wears on it’s noticeable that the pair seem to be marooned in a CSO bubble, well away from the audience ….
Slik are on first with Forever and Ever. It starts moodily enough but once the lights come up the song transforms into more of a chugging sub-Bay City Rollers sort of track (understandable really since the song had originally been written for the Rollers). It’s cheesy fun, with little Midge giving his all.
Elton John & Kiki Dee then pop up on video with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart before Legs & Co entertain with Dancing Queen (which judging by the way DLT starts to froth at the mouth, gained his approval).
It was a canny piece of scheduling for J.J. Barrie (No Charge) to appear next. All those dads (and DLT) who had got just a little hot under the collar watching the six young ladies of Legs & Co jigging around could now cool down with J.J. Somebody (well many bodies) obviously loved this as it made the UK Number 1 (J.J.’s only Top 40 hit). Alas, his 1981 collaboration with Brian Clough (You Can’t Win Them All) failed to trouble the scorers. As for No Charge, it’s a bit grim really ….
Let’s raise the tempo with Laurel & Hardy who (obviously enough) are appearing on film with The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. A surprise hit this year, there’s some interesting background to the song’s re-release here.
Tina Charles, wearing a nice scarf, belts out Love to Love (a live vocal!). That’s quite exciting, but even more exciting is the fact she performs the song from a gantry high above the studio floor (which means we get a rare birds-eye view of the studio). It’s a bit grim and grimy up there, but that all adds to the charm.
I love The Wurzels (in a totally non-ironic way). The Adge Cutler era is obviously closest to my heart, but post Adge they still came up with a few gems (such as today’s Combine Harvester song). Another performance featuring a live vocal, it’s ideal Christmas Day fare. The audience (some of whom have been given pieces of straw to chew) seem to be enjoying themselves.
Tip top Cliff Richard with Devil Woman. It’s easy to mock Cliff, but give him the song and he could deliver. Decked out in a nice pinkish shirt (which is cut quite low to show off his medallion collection) he gives full value during this performance – pointing dramatically throughout whilst half-hearted flame effects are overlaid onto the screen.
ABBA entertain a handful of audience members with Mamma Mia. The ABBA foursome are decked out in silky blue suits, although clearly they couldn’t afford to buy stage clothes for their two additional guitarists and drummer, who are forced to wear their normal clothes.
Most of the performances in this show have been pretty basic, but the boat’s pushed out when Hank Mizell turns up with Jungle Rock. We get a jungle set (of course), Hank stuck in a cooking pot, Legs & Co gyrating around and a load of extras dressed as elephants, crocodiles, etc. With so much going on it’s no surprise that the camera rarely focuses on Hank (who nevertheless would have been pleased to see Jungle Rock finally becoming a hit – some eighteen years after it was first released).
Pussycat (live vocals!) do Mississippi. The instrumental backing is a little off, so it’s one of those instances when playback might have been the better option. But they gave it a go, so deserve a thumbs up for that.
We’re coming towards the end of the show, but first there’s the substantial hurdle of Demis Roussos to leap over. If I was watching the show for pleasure no doubt I would have skipped this – but since I’m in review mode I felt it was only fair not to take the easy way out. But since I’ve made the sacrifice, if you wish to wind him on then I quite understand.
Queen close proceedings with Bohemian Rhapsody. Given that it first hit Number 1 at the end of 1975 (although it held the top spot until early 1976) the song probably would have seemed a little old-hat by December 1976. It would have been nice to see them in the studio, but they no doubt had better things to do, so sent the video instead.
And that’s it for 1976. Punk may have begun exploding, but it had yet to reach the Christmas TOTP studio ….
It’s panto time in the Street (Cinderella). This means several things, firstly that poor Miss Nugent is an absolute bag of nerves. Mr Swindley, cast in his familiar role of impresario, is implacable though – giving her, and the rest of the players, a very stirring speech before the curtain goes up.
Arthur Lowe was, of course, so good at this sort of comic business. And speaking of comic business, it’s easy to imagine that the way Swindley recoils after almost bumping into Ena following his impassioned homily was an unscripted extra.
Ena’s not been called upon to tread the boards and neither has Minnie. But Minnie does have a vital role – she’s the prompt. I love the fact that she’s spent all night memorising the play from start to finish, meaning that she can now recite everyone’s lines perfectly. Another nice moment is the tender way Ena wakes up the slumbering Minnie – for all her bark, there’s clearly a caring side to Mrs Sharples.
The regulars have a packed hall of children to play to. The camera often cuts away to their rapt faces and it seems like they were genuinely enjoying themselves (either that or they were very good actors). The panto is a real time capsule of the period, with numerous pop culture references dropped in (most notably The Beatles and Ready Steady Go).
Both Elsie (Prince Charming) and Miss Nugent (Dandini) display fine sets of pins whilst Dennis is endearingly gormless as Buttons (not much acting required then) and Lucille makes for a winsome Cinders.
Any guesses who’s playing the fairy godmother? Mrs Walker of course. There’s a nice moment early on when Annie asks Jack to serve her a crème de menthe (to steady her nerves before the show). Jack slyly enquires if she intends to pay for it, or whether he should simply make a note!
Also stocking up on Dutch courage is Albert, who seems to find the prospect of playing Baron Hardup more terrifying than living through two world wars ….
It’s not a highbrow sort of panto, but nobody wants highbrow at Christmas. We want to see Len get a custard pie in the face, don’t we boys and girls?
The sixth and final 1964 script by Tony Warren (he wouldn’t return to the series until 1967) it’s an episode very low on drama. This isn’t a criticism though – in recent decades it’s become de rigueur for Christmas soaps to ramp up the drama and excitement (and misery).
Today’s episode is a reminder of a simpler time, when all that was required during the festive period was a bit of indulgence on the part of the viewers as we watched our Coronation Street friends letting their hair down and enjoying themselves.
It’s a pity that the telerecording is so grotty, but it’s better to have it in this state than not at all.
Favourite exchange of the episode. Mr Swindley and Minnie are standing in the wings, admiring Lucille’s performance.
Mr Swindley: I wouldn’t mind adding my signature to a letter recommending her for the Royal Society of Dramatic Art.
Minnie: Last time I spoke to her she said she wanted to go on’t buses.
Following on from the Glam-tastic treats of Christmas 1973, the 1974 TOTP Special does feel a little pale in comparison. Still, let’s press on ….
Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Savile are on presenting duties (which of course means that the chances of this one ever receiving another television airing are slim to zero).
Ignoring as best we can the spectre of Savile, first up are Mud with Lonely This Christmas. Sincerity oozes out of Les’ every pore as he recounts this sad, sad tale. Not quite the jolly start to the programme you might have expected, and this early feeling of mild gloom is only enhanced by the fact that Mud are performing to an empty studio.
Tony chats to the Rubettes (well he asks them one question) before introducing the Osmonds on VT. Then it’s Sweet Sensation and Sad Sweet Dreamer which is quite jolly – and those purple suits are very impressive. Still no sign of the studio audience, so maybe this was one of those strike-bound years where things had to be done in a rush.
Pan’s People dance to You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me by The New Seekers. PP always favoured very literal song interpretations, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that they’re all sporting red noses like very sad clowns. The whole sequence has to be seen to be believed – dignity at all times, girls ….
Thing are looking up, both on the Christmas and also on the music front. Cheeky little David Essex, surrounded by tinsely Christmas trees, treats us to Gonna Make You A Star. This gets the thumbs up from me.
Paper Lace with Billy Don’t Be A Hero shuffle on next. This tragic story (war is hell and it’s best to never volunteer for anything) has always been one of those seventies novelty songs that I’ve never been able to forget (whether this is good or bad I’m not sure). Possibly there were live vocals on this performance or maybe they were miming to a re-record. Either way it helps to make it a little more interesting.
The Three Degrees, performing on a set with plenty of tinsel, give us When Will I See You Again? Like the rest of the show it’s far from cutting edge, but perfectly pleasant and undemanding – ideal Christmas afternoon fare in fact.
Throughout the show, Messrs Blackburn and Savile hobnob with the musical acts, asking them inane questions or (as with David Essex) forcing them to read Christmas cracker jokes. This does manage to raise a titter from the crew though – I guess it’s the way you tell them.
Everything I Own by Ken Boothe is another somewhat soporific hit, but the pace picks up about 75% with Waterloo by ABBA. It’s early days so their clothes don’t look ridiculous, but the song remains a cracking one.
After that bouncy interlude, we once again slow down the pace to a crawl with Charles Aznavour and She. Plonked in front of the same artificial Christmas trees as David Essex, Mr Charles certainly gives the song his all. A great favourite of grannies everywhere no doubt.
A double dose of Pan’s People today. They’re back to jig about to a Barry White song, You’re the First, the Last, My Everything. It’s a classy little dance, they keep their clothes on and everything.
We close with Slade and Merry Christmas Everybody. Like everyone else, Noddy and the boys don’t have an audience to perform to, but at least they amble off the stage towards the end of the song and join all the other acts who are still hanging about the studio. This does mean that a little bit of atmosphere is generated.
Not a classic Christmas year then, but not totally devoid of interest. I wonder what gifts 1975 will bring?
Unsurprisingly, the message of Silly, but it’s fun is that you don’t have to spend a fortune in order to have an enjoyable Christmas – all you need is the company of good (no pun intended) friends.
The Goods, of course, have no other choice than to economise (Tom scavenging a Christmas tree – or at least part of it – from the greengrocers, Barbara using her craft skills to make a yule log with a rather substantial Robin). But on the plus side, it does mean that this year’s Christmas has only cost them fifteen pence!
But next door, commercialism is rampant – with Margo railing against tradesmen. David Battley is the tradesman in question, offering a wonderfully phlegmatic performance which was something of a trademark of his (a similar turn in The Beiderbecke Tapes immediately springs to mind).
Margo’s unhappy that her tree – part of her Christmas delivery – is slightly under the required height, so she decides that everything will have to go back (it’s all or nothing for her). Given that it’s Christmas Eve this seems a little reckless. I know that the seventies was another era, but surely nobody would have been expecting another delivery on Christmas Day? And yet, this is the crux of the story.
Suspension of disbelief also has to come into play when pondering the question as to why Margo’s left it so late to take delivery of all her Christmas provisions – not only the tree, but the food, drink and decorations. A severe lack of forward planning? Or maybe back in the seventies, Christmas really did begin on Christmas Eve and not – as it seems today – in late November ….
The upshot is that when no fresh delivery is forthcoming, she’s forced to ring up all her friends and fob them off from coming around (claiming that Jerry has chickenpox and therefore is out of bounds for the duration). Jerry’s “political” chickenpox cheers him up, as he wasn’t looking forward to spending yet another Christmas with all their friends, mouthing the same pointless trivialities at the same round of endless parties.
I daresay his wish (which came true) to simply have a quiet Christmas at home would have struck a chord with many ….
So Margo and Jerry spend Christmas Day with Tom and Barbara. It may just have been the especially potent peapod burgundy, but Jerry does get rather frisky with Barbara (although you can’t really blame him). The same sort of sexual tension doesn’t crackle with Tom and Margo (the mind boggles at the thought of that) but they do share a rather intimate scene in the privacy of the kitchen – although this is more about Tom forcing Margo to unbend a little, and embrace their silly Christmas revels.
It’s rather touching that Margo confesses that she’d like to, but simply doesn’t know how. But it doesn’t take long before she’s completely warmed up and throwing herself into all the party games with gusto.
Some sitcom Christmas specials, especially from the eighties onwards, tended to offer something more expansive than their usual fare. Silly, but it’s fun revels in the fact that nothing much happens except that the Goods and the Leadbetters have a jolly enjoyable Christmas day. The way it’s content to embrace the joy of simple pleasures may be one of the reasons why this episode always seems to strike a pleasing chord whenever it makes a Christmas appearance.
Following on from the original BBC run during the early sixties and an abortive BBC attempt in the early seventies to revive the series via an unscreened pilot, The Rag Trade finally returned to television during 1977 and 1978 thanks to this LWT series.
Although only Peter Jones (Fenner) and Miriam Karlin (Paddy) reprised their roles from the BBC incarnation, all of the new characters weren’t terribly dissimilar to the old ones – which made sense, as some of the LWT scripts were directly recycled from the BBC originals.
Christopher Beeney, as Tony, stepped easily to the role vacated by Reg Varney whilst Diane Langton (Kathy) had something of the vague air of Carole, Sheila Hancock’s character (although Kathy was much more pneumatically enhanced). One interesting conundrum is whether Anna Karen’s character is meant to be the same Olive from On The Buses. She certain looks and acts like her and since both series were written by Chesney and Wolfe it does seem likely, although it’s never directly confirmed.
The Christmas Rush (tx 24th December 1977) finds a typically harassed Fenner attempting to chivvy the girls (and token male, Tony) into finishing up their latest order. But of course, they’re much more interested in planning for Christmas …..
There’s a few different story threads in this one. The first concerns Fenner’s annual dilemma – what to buy both his wife (played by Rowena Cooper) and Paddy for Christmas? For the last fifteen years he’s abdicated this responsibility by asking Paddy to shop for his wife and his wife to shop for Paddy. That Paddy elects to buy a smart handbag for Mrs Fenner but then pockets the accessories (purse, manicure set) is characteristic. Mrs Fenner seem equally contemptuous about Paddy as she decides to give her one of her old presents (a manicure set!). Fenner reacts in horror, since this was yet another gift selected by Paddy for his wife …..
The set piece comedy moment occurs after Tony bemoans the fact that he’s getting nowhere with Lyn (Gillian Taylforth). His constant attempts to catch her under the mistletoe haven’t gone the way he planned, so Paddy suggests that if he waits until Lyn’s alone in the rest room and then switches out the light, he could embrace her in the dark. Paddy tells him – and the other girls agree – that a woman shouldn’t be asked her consent, in fact quite the reverse (they like to be dominated).
Although Paddy later arms herself with a jug of water – all the better to pour over the randy Tony – it seems that the girls weren’t entirely lying when they suggested that the role of the female was to be submissive (although this is undercut in some of the dialogue). You probably won’t be amazed to learn that things don’t go the way Tony planned since he ends up groping the unfortunate Mrs Fenner instead.
In today’s climate, it’s hard to imagine any scene being deemed less appropriate for broadcast (so don’t expect to see this popping up on ITV3 any time soon). Mrs Fenner might be a little traumatised by her experience, but everybody else laughs it off and even Fenner doesn’t seem too concerned (telling his wife that Tony looks more upset than she does).
Whilst this scene, like most of the episode, is played very broadly, there’s one quiet moment – which closes the show. With one dress ruined from an important order, Fenner needs to knock up a replacement quickly, but all the girls are keen to leave – all except Paddy. Despite their combative relationship, she can’t bring herself to walk out (telling him that he was always a rotten machinist). This is a beautifully played scene by Jones and Karlin which sees Fenner and Paddy share a drink in the peace and quiet of the workshop before she gets on with the job. It certainly leaves us with the suggestion that this isn’t the first time they’ve shared a quiet moment together ….
Back in those far off, pre-internet days, Telly Addicts was required viewing since it offered brief, tantalising glimpses into a television past that was otherwise pretty much off limits (look! A clip of Arthur Haynes …). Today, of course, the archive clippage is less compelling, but it’s still an entertaining quiz.
As was usual, the Christmas special is something of a celebrity fest. The Crackers (Graeme Garden, George Layton, Liza Goddard, Frank Carson) find themselves locked in a bitter battle with the Clowns (Chris Tarrant, Barry Cryer, Jessica Martin, Jim Bowen). For some reason (self indulgence maybe) Noel Edmonds dubs each of them with a fictitious soap opera name. Cryer is gifted the moniker Hugh Jampton, and no doubt he – and the older members of the audience – would have immediately understood the reference.
Memorable rounds include Guess Who, which sees ordinary members of the public stopped in the street and asked to describe a television favourite. This sounds fair enough, but pretty much everyone picked looks a little, well … odd. You have to assume that the television crew let the ordinary looking people pass by – it was the nutters they wanted ….
Sing the Sig is also good fun, whilst a clip from the Golden Girls seems to demonstrate that nobody on the Clowns team ever watched it. We also get to see just the mildest amount of needle between Chris Tarrant and Noel Edmonds whilst Frank Carson (for him) is fairly subdued – although his exasperation in the final round (“why ask me? What’s wrong with them?”) is a joy.
Paul Daniels notched up fifteen consecutive Christmas Specials on the BBC between 1979 and 1993, a staggering feat which no other performer has come close to matching (unless I’ve missed someone blindingly obvious). Daniels’ sometimes abrasive performing style (forged in the white heat of the Northern Working Mens Clubs) and his outspoken opinions on numerous subjects always ensured that he seemed to be as loathed as he was loved, but there’s no denying the influence he had on modern magic.
Following his death, most of the great and good of the magic world queued up to pay tribute – although it’s also fair to say that many were equally as fulsome when he was alive. This clip from Penn and Teller: Fool Us never fails to bring a smile to my lips, not least for the obvious respect that both Penn and Teller – but especially the ebullient Penn – had for Paul.
Rewinding back to 1980, this was Daniels’ second BBC Christmas Special and the first to be transmitted on Christmas day itself (surprisingly he’d only manage this feat a further three times – in 1981, 1982 and 1985). It’s the early days of the series, so the lovely Debbie McGee has yet to appear on the scene. Daniels’ assistants here are equally as attractive – and sport some remarkable costumes – but are never allowed to speak. Paul’s wig is still very much in evidence (as is, in the opening few minutes, a remarkable red velvet suit).
Another feature of these early series was “the jury” – a group of handpicked members of the studio audience who were allowed to get up close and personal (their job was to try and work out exactly how the tricks worked). But it was also useful in another respect, as it meant that Paul didn’t have to trudge out to the wider studio audience in order to find his next hapless victim.
The first trick – involving Peter and his watch – is typical Daniels. He borrows Peter’s watch in order to do a clever trick which inevitably goes wrong. All appears lost and Peter seems resigned to losing his precious timepiece, until Paul miraculously pulls it out of the middle of a Christmas cracker (well this is a festive show). Although Paul gives his victim a slightly hard time, you know that everything will work itself out in the end, so the joshing never seems particularly cruel or unkind.
I like the mentalism trick which he performs with a rather attractive young woman from the jury. It’s another neat piece of close-up magic and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. Paul’s next turn – in the Christmas Bunco Booth – is possibly the most memorable part of the show. Not because it’s a decent trick (in fact, there’s no trick at all) but simply because it demonstrates how some things never seem to change …..
Paul opens by bemoaning the fact that since the economy is going through something of a rough patch, plenty of people are feeling the pinch (which plays equally as well in 2017 as it did in 1980). But then he tells us his solution – separate Scotland from England and give the Scots their own currency. Eerily prescient stuff. As I said, there’s no trick here – just a clever piece of number juggling which allows him at the end to turn to camera and tell Mrs Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe that’s how they should be running the country!
Guest-wise, Lilly Yokoi’s bicycle act is very impressive (a pity it wasn’t a little longer). Whereas during Michael McGiveney’s quick change act I did wish it was a little shorter. There’s no denying the ability of McGiveney (acting out a scene from Olivier Twist, playing all the characters) but after you’ve seen one quick change you’ve seen them all (and it’s fair to say that McGiveney’s a better quick change artist than he is an actor). Compagnie Philippe Genty offer diverting, but not riveting, puppet fun.
Paul never seemed threatened by other magicians, as the appearance here of Harry Blackstone suggests. Blackstone performs the sawing a woman in half trick – although by using a circular saw it creates a heightened sense of anticipation. It’s the one major illusion in the show, which makes it all the more surprising that Paul didn’t perform it – but he was obviously happy doing the smaller stuff. Other illusionists might have been tempted to throw in blood and screams, but Blackstone – possibly mindful of the Christmas Day audience – keeps it clean. The camera’s close enough to see the saw apparently slicing through flesh though, so it’s still slightly disquieting.
Paul ends the show by pulling out a bewilderingly large number of Christmas presents from a very small box. It’s a cute ending (although I’m not sure that they’d get away with using live animals today) and although there’s no staggering illusions in this 1980 Special it’s still a very convivial way to spend fifty minutes.
Originally Transmitted – 24th December 1975
Christmas is approaching in Slade Prison and Godber, for one, is getting into the spirit. He’s encouraged by the number of cons who have congregated around the Christmas tree to sing carols, but Fletcher has to break the bad news to him.
They’re singing in order to drown out the noise of a tunnel that’s being dug in order to allow Tommy Slocombe to escape (“Yeah, that’s the big occasion around here. It’s not the coming of our Lord, it’s the going of Tommy Slocombe”). Genial Harry Grout (Peter Vaughan) is behind the escape, so everybody will have to play their part, as Fletcher so memorably puts it “If we are asked to assist, we are in no position to refuse are we? Otherwise, we’ll wake up one morning and find two more things hanging on the Christmas tree. Us”.
Fletcher plans to go away for Christmas by wangling a stay in the comfort of the prison infirmary. But the doctor (Graham Crowden) is having none of it and packs Fletch off to the local hospital for some tests instead. This allows somebody to slip Fletcher a package containing a blank passport, which is another piece of Grouty’s puzzle, but he still needs something else – a bicycle. “Certainly” says Fletch. “What colour?”.
Fletcher, Godber and Warren are able to relive the unfortunate Mr Barrowclough of his bike and Fletcher then professes ignorance when Mr Barrowclough asks him if he knows where it is (“Let’s get this straight. You are saying that you came to work this morning as a cyclist and will be leaving as a pedestrian?”).
But all of Grouty’s plans seem to have come to naught after some petty pilfering means that the screws declare that Christmas will be cancelled. This seems to scupper the escape plan but Fletcher has an idea. Why don’t they let the screws discover the tunnel and whilst they’re busy congratulating themselves, Grouty can quietly spirit Slocombe away by another route?
Grouty agrees and Fletch is delegated to reveal the tunnel to Mr Mackay. He wants to arrange that Mackay will literally drop right into it. Unfortunately, it’s Fletcher who drops into the tunnel, right before the astonished eyes of Mackay, but this does mean that Fletch will be able to spend Christmas in the infirmary after all.
Mackay has one unanswered question and promises Fletcher a bottle of scotch if he’ll answer it. What did they do with all the earth from the tunnel? Fletch’s answer (“They dug another tunnel and put the earth down there”) is a killer final line.
The first of two Porridge Christmas specials, No Way Out adds another ten minutes to the normal running time, which allows for a few more gags but isn’t so long that it begins to feel drawn out. That’s one of the problems with Christmas editions of sitcoms when they started to be produced in a 90 minute format – what works in 30 minutes doesn’t always work when extended to 90. Thankfully, Porridge didn’t go down that route.
Harry Grout is probably the role that Peter Vaughan is most associated with, which is a little surprising when you consider that Grouty only appeared in a handful of episodes. He is mentioned in a number of others though, so that his presence is always felt (even when he’s not actually seen). Vaughan’s ability to play everything deadpan and calm is one of the reasons why Grouty works so well – he doesn’t have to raise his voice, just a word or a snap of his fingers will do the trick.
No Way Out is a hardy Christmas perennial, usually to be found each year on BBC2 and certainly receiving several airings on Gold. Its familiarity might have dimmed a little of its power (and it’s difficult to rewatch it now without hearing the man with the irritating laugh in the audience) but it’s still a Christmas treat.