Marker pens at the ready, TV’s about to unleash its Christmas wonders on us and Julia Raeside’s here to help narrow down your choices.
Harry Hill in The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm
Now the day of days is hoving into view, sleigh bells building to a crescendo, it’s time to plan your TV viewing. Chances are you’ll be sharing the remote and the Radio Times (other listings magazines are available) with several others so you NEED to get this shit nailed down beforehand.
A big circle in permanent marker around a programme title, made in advance, demonstrates your serious intent to view. No one can argue with that. We haven’t much time so I’m going to concentrate on the festive essentials between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. We have much to discuss.
No matter how many Christmases go by, I will never not watch Victoria Wood with all the Trimmings (Christmas Eve, BBC Two, 7.10pm) if it’s on. In this special from Christmas Day 2000, the comedy legend sends up Christmas TV with a stellar cast, including a young Maxine Peake, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston, Hugh Laurie and a ton of others. It’s packed with comic brilliance and daftness and will put you in such a Christmassy mood you’ll want to snog a robin.
Secondly, you cannot miss The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm (Christmas Eve, BBC One, 8.30pm). It’s a gloriously old-fashioned adaptation of Norman Hunter’s famous books about an eccentric inventor who lives in the small village of Pagwell. Harry Hill plays the madcap boffin, looking very much like Professor Heinz Wolf whom older readers might remember from The Great Egg Race in the 1980s. David Mitchell plays the splendidly boorish town councilor trying to get the prof’s workshop shut down so he can make way for a munitions factory. Booooh. See, you’re getting into the panto spirit already. Simon Day of The Fast Show and Vicki Pepperdine of Getting On also star in this delightful comic adventure from the pen of the brilliant Charlie Higson. An excellent way to kick off the family viewing and a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
If you’re settled in for the night, I strongly recommend you switch to BBC Two for Julie Walters: A Life on Screen (9.30pm) in which the BAFTA-winning actor, comedy collaborator of the aforementioned Wood and all-round (yes, I’m going to say it) national treasure is rightly celebrated with a host of clips and reminiscences.
Onto Christmas Day itself now and this is more tricky because you’ll probably be using TV as a buffer/windbreak/oasis from the barely concealed sniping as you have that disagreement over when to start the sprouts. I will probably be using TV around mid-morning to chill out my bouncing-off-the-walls five-year-old and the good-looking movies around then are Back to the Future (ITV, 10.55am) because who doesn’t love Michael J Fox in a time travelling car? And Scrooge (Channel 5, 10.20am) in which Albert Finney plays Dickens’ festive humbugger with an incredible supporting cast including Alec Guinness and Dame Edith Evans.
If the middle of the day is taken up with cooking, eating and at least one enforced session of board game playing because (through gritted teeth) “it’ll be fun”, I’m ready for sofa splurging again by early evening when I’ll be lapping up every second of Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One, 5pm). I’m most excited about the return of Sophie Ellis-Bextor who twirled and hoofed so beautifully in last year’s series. Also back are Rachel Stevens, Lisa Riley and Russell Grant. Should be fun.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Doctor Who time.
Straight after that on BBC One in a nice early slot is Christmas Doctor Who (BBC One, 6.15pm) which is an essential in my house and this year features a more family-friendly plot involving Father Christmas himself, played here by Nick Frost. But should you be in a sci-fi disliking household, the most wonderful Arthur Christmas (6pm) is on around the same time on Channel 4. It stars James McAvoy as the voice of Arthur, Santa’s enthusiastic but clumsy younger son who makes a desperate journey to deliver the one present that his dad forgot to deliver. It’s so full of heart and joy and sherry-scented love that it cannot fail to make you glow inwardly.
If you’re more a sing-a-long round the old Joanna sort of person, I can thoroughly recommend Chas & Dave’s Knees Up! (Channel 5, 7.05pm). It was made in 1982 and, despite a short section involving Jim Davidson, is a surprisingly festive addition to any Christmas Day. No one does communal singing like those boys.
If you absolutely must watch Downton Abbey (ITV, 9pm) then I won’t judge you. The rest of the nation will probably be tuned in and it does involve Hugh Bonneville doing his best slurry drunk acting which is always fun. This year, the family go on a shooting party in Northumberland which they shot in Alnwick Castle, also used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.
On Boxing Day you have to watch That Day We Sang (BBC Two, 9pm) because it’s Victoria Wood’s new musical drama (she’s not actually in it) about a couple reuniting in middle age after singing on a famous children’s choir recording back in the 1920s. It stars Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton in fine voice and features some lovely song and dance numbers and a sweet love story which will swell your heart considerably.
Dame Judi and Dustin Hoffman perhaps actually in love in Esio Trot
On that theme, we jump forward to New Year’s Day when the most delightful of romances comes to your television. Esio Trot (BBC One, 6.30pm) is a beautiful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s tale of two older people living in the same London block of flats and it stars actual Dustin Hoffman and Dame Genuinely Judi Dench. She has never looked more ravishing and twinkly-eyed, Hoffman is adorable and together they have the most glorious, sparky chemistry. They really look like they adore each other and whether it’s acting or genuine affection, it’s truly lovely to watch.
There is so much more happening on your EPG over Christmas but these are just my stand-out things to keep your eyes open for. Have a brilliant, square-eyed Christmas and see you in 2015!
Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.