Monday, December 15, 2014

Ghosts of TV Christmas Past

Ah, it's that time of year when they start running trailers for those exciting special Christmas editions of regular TV programmes, in which we see what an exciting Christmas all our favourite characters are going to have. As I've said before, wouldn't it be more surprising if, one year, they all had the same sort of uneventful festive season that most of us enjoy in real life? But, of course, that probably wouldn't generate the kind of ratings TV companies expect over Christmas. So, instead, we get trailers for EastEnders which involve blazing rows, threats and, most intriguingly, cars skidding, on their sides, through the market. Personally, I put it down to the arrival of Linda Marlowe in the Square. Clearly, she really is in character as Harriet Zapper, gun-toting lady private eye from The Big Zapper and Zapper's Blade of Vengeance. I know that she must be in her seventies by now and that her character in the soap is meant to be suffering from dementia, but I still harbour hopes that she's going to pull a .357 Magnum out of her handbag and cause mayhem, as it turns out that she is Harriet Zapper, hired by Ian Beale to solve his daughter's murder and operating undercover as Shirley's long-lost mum. How else do we explain that car crash in the trailer? Maybe on Boxing Day she'll have a sword fight with Nick Cotton?

But I yearn for those TV Christmases of Yesteryear, you know, the one's when Val Doonican would spend Christmas Eve in his rocking chair, strumming his guitar and singing about Paddy McGinty's bloody goat. To be fair, he did that every Saturday night, but you could tell it was a special Christmas edition of his show because there was some tinsel on the set and they wheeled on a children's choir to sing a couple of saccharine seasonal songs with Val. They all had similar Christmas specials back then - if it wasn't Val Doonican it was the Black and White Minstrels or Des O'Connor. Singers weren't the only ones getting seasonal specials back then: every gameshow and sitcom had a Christmas edition, not to mention comics like Morecombe and Wise and the Two Ronnies. And they were all recorded during the Summer, usually as part of the regular recording blocks for each series. They just stuck some tinsel on the set, slipped in a few seasonal references and there you had it - a Christmas Special! The Two Ronnies even used to shoot alternate versions of the 'special', to replace the tinselly bits and Christmas-specific sketches with more generic material, so that the 'special' could be repeated out of season as part of the regular rerun of the series it was recorded with. Come to think of it, perhaps those TV Christmases past weren't so great. In fact, they were pretty crap, with the same old stuff warmed over and disguised as seasonal fare. Bah, humbug!

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