So, 2018 has finally arrived! And on this 2nd day in January, I thought I’d pick out a few personal highlights from the Christmas & New Year TV & Radio schedule that’s just gone. Here’s some of my favourites:
Mary Berry’s Christmas Party (BBC1)
This was a great way to warm up for Christmas. Not only a chance to salivate over some divinely inspired recipes from the great lady herself, but the inclusion of a couple of famous faces helping her in the kitchen – even baking some of their own recipes – made me feel like I could actually attempt some of these festive delights myself. Nothing encouraged me more in this belief than seeing Alex Jones (The One Show) squirting some ketchup and mashing some tinned corned beef to make her Welsh Rissoles!
This was a fantastic thriller in the run up to the big day. A timely story given the recent sexual harassment scandals, in which a woman (Faye Marsay) seeks revenge on two male holiday reps for their part in her public shaming some years ago. Disturbing and gripping in equal measure, the narrative slowly and painfully unravels, before wrapping everything up a little too quickly. An extra half hour would have done nicely. Very Black Mirror-esque.
The Story of Fairytale of New York (BBC4)
A repeat from 2005, this documentary does exactly what it says on the tin. A fascinating insight into the making of The Pogues‘ festive hit. It cemented the song as a true classic.
Jo Whiley (Radio 2)
A Doctor Who special, going behind the scenes on the Christmas episode. It featured some great interviews with the cast and crew. Whiley’s genuine inquisitiveness as a bonefide fan of the show gave them an added (or should that be forth!) dimension. Some interesting song choices from the outgoing Doctor, Peter Capaldi, in an extended second hour interview.
Celebrity 5 Go in Search for Santa Claus (C5)
Taking inspiration, no doubt, from the BBC’s Real Marigold Hotel, this travel doc saw five celebrities head off to Lapland in search of the “real” Santa. An entertaining 90 minutes of lighthearted fun with panto regulars Christopher Biggins and Joe Pasquale, along with (perhaps more randomly) Sue Holderness, Richard Coles and Rustie Lee. If nothing else, it sells the experience – the log cabins they stay in look so warm and inviting, tucked away in the silence of snow-covered forests.
Our Friend Victoria at Christmas (BBC1)
Hosted by Anne Reid, this was a great half hour reliving some of Victoria Wood’s best festive moments. Her observations on the age-old custom of Christmas Day family gatherings are hilarious. And the final sketch, where she dresses up and sings as Ann Widdicombe, is a stroke of comic genius. The song stayed in my head well into Christmas Eve!
Pen Pals (Radio 4)
I’ve only listened to the first two episodes so far, but Fi Glover’s introduction was enough to convince me that this series is worth a listen. Stripped across a week, each 15 minute episode features a well-known figure writing a letter to an unknown “pen pal”. Glover’s was to a lady in America. Their conversations back and forth were candid and revealing, touched with everyday experiences but also discussing opposing and conflicting ideologies. There is something beautiful about the length of time between each letter. It certainly inspired me to do something similar (Note to self: New Year’s Resolution right here!)
The Missing Hancocks (Radio 4)
In recent years, some lost episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour have been recreated using their still-intact scripts. Featuring Kevin McNally in the title role, this particular episode, The Trial of Father Christmas, sees Hancock as Santa Claus. Whilst out delivering presents, the white-bearded man is stopped and called to stand trial in a heavenly court after being accused of neglecting the happiness of children. It is a well-written episode full of lightly jovial moments. A really enjoyable half hour that would stand up alongside some of the best of today’s comedy.
Miranda Does Christmas (C4)
Miranda was the perfect host of this lightly festive chat show. Joined by David Tennant, Prue Leith, Susan Calman and Sam Smith, she whisked her way through their particular traditions, likes and dislikes of the festive season without going too heavy on the detail. Highlights included Susan Calman receiving her school jumper, and her and David Tennant playing Scaletrix as the credits rolled.
Attenborough and the Empire of Ants (BBC2)
After the success of Blue Planet II, the world’s top naturalist descends below ground to uncover the secrets of an ant colony defying the laws of evolution. Using the latest in camera technology, we were able to see the workings of these tiny creatures like never before. This was a fascinating and quite remarkable documentary with some extraordinary insights into animal behaviour. Could the super-colony featured be giving humans a run for their money in their attempts to live in peace with one another?
A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong (BBC1)
I would highly recommend going to see The Play That Goes Wrong. The team behind this award-winning stage show are back on the telly after last year’s disastrous production of Peter Pan. Banned by the BBC, they manage to infiltrate the set of an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, with hilarious consequences. Featuring slapstick, wordplay and ingenious usage of props, this is guaranteed to blow away any post-Christmas blues.
Shane Richie (Radio 2)
I had to get some country music in here somewhere! I didn’t think I’d enjoy this show, but Eastenders‘ Alfie Moon was joyous company across two hours of some of the best in modern country music. A great playlist for New Year’s Eve.
Sue Perkins and the Chimp Sanctuary (BBC2)
Like the ants mentioned above, I felt like the chimps featured in this documentary were putting humans to shame, particularly in the context of this terror-fearing, hate-filled world. There were far more emotionally stable brain cells in the alpha male chimp Pierre than in Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un put together. Sue Perkins was the perfect host. Passionate, caring, and funny, as well as wholly and personally invested in a programme that, at times, made for uncomfortable viewing. Examining the use of animals in medical testing, whatever your view, it would take a pretty hard heart to not fall for the lovable chimpanzees featured here. A moving and inspiring hour of telly.
50 Years of Just a Minute: Nicholas Parsons in Conversation with Paul Merton (Radio 4)
Can you believe that Nicholas Parsons has been hosting this show for half a century?! Here, he talks to regular panelist Paul Merton about the history of the show. Fellow panelists Sheila Hancock and Gyles Brandreth pop by to share their memories, with archive clips featuring the likes of Kenneth Williams and Peter Jones making for a humorous trip down memory lane.
I could have picked more for this list, but had to limit myself, so the above is akin to one programme a day between December 19 & January 1. It gives a snapshot of 2017’s festive viewing. Enjoy!