Brian Monteith: When did Christmas TV become such a turn-off?

This year's Doctor Who Christmas special was clearly conceived as an international money-spinner
This year's Doctor Who Christmas special was clearly conceived as an international money-spinner
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I cannot say with any certainty when it started, it probably was not in any one year, but there can be absolutely no doubt television at Christmas is rubbish.

There was a time when, even as a kid, I would buy the Radio Times so that I could plan my two weeks of school holidays knowing when some of the great classics of cinema would be on, when the comedies would be broadcast and what was coming up at New Year so I could work out where and when to first foot.

Christmas specials from the likes of the Two Ronnies were must-sees. Picture: PA

Christmas specials from the likes of the Two Ronnies were must-sees. Picture: PA

Watching all the Beatles, Elvis Presley or Tarzan films in the morning; the Christmas Top of the Pops, the Hogmanay Old Grey Whistle Test and the many comedies were circled with a pen so I wouldn’t forget them.

This year I bought my Radio Times but could find hardly anything I wished to view and some I did fancy did not always appear as published. More importantly though, there was a dearth of decent original entertainment.

I did have high hopes for the Peter Kay show on the BBC but it was a very poor compilation of old material, some of which just did not work when edited down to short clips. It was effectively a repeat showing, much of which was below average by Peter Kay’s own standards and yet it will no doubt be repeated itself in due course.

In the end I resorted to the movies that I had been gifted and the latest Billy Connolly DVD bought at a supermarket.

How let down by our broadcasters are those that don’t have visitors to chat to or can’t switch to purchased movies. Public service broadcasting simply does not exist at Christmas, for if it did there would be a stream of original material showing significant investment from the licence fee poll tax.

There was a time, especially in the seventies but continuing through the eighties, nineties and most of the noughties, when we could be guaranteed some old-fashioned variety shows and extended situation comedies that were memorable for their shocks, surprises and laughs galore.

Even though it might be days before we were back at school or in the workplace the first conversation on meeting friends would immediately turn to what had happened on the Morecambe & Wise Show or The Two Ronnies.

The two or three most popular sitcoms of their day would have Christmas specials and these would often be so good as to bear repeating later in the year without complaint. Now we are being served up repeats of Christmas specials from Dad’s Army that were made more than 40 years ago – before we joined the Common Market!

The likes of Absolutely Fabulous and The Vicar of Dibley continued the good work of Only Fools and Horses and were a Christmas “must-see” – but where are such programmes now – where is the quality of content and the investment that creates it?

I caught the Mrs Brown special but that only caused mixed emotions for it is no Father Ted. While there were moments that were funny and I get the context of it being set in Ireland, where the milieu is for regular swearing, I cannot abide gratuitous swearing on television when I spent all my parenting trying to keep it out of the household. I imagine that many viewers share my view on this matter.

The BBC in particular has a duty to provide programmes for a British audience but instead sees a Christmas episode of Dr Who as an international money-earner rather than provide something that can appeal to the whole family (and I say that as someone who has been watching the Doctor from the first days of the Daleks).

The irony is that television contributed to the loss of the art of conversation between families and friends, or the ability to create our own entertainment by playing games that brought us together and made us laugh. Having achieved that evisceration of the festive communal spirit, television is now so appalling that we are left with a vacuum.

All it will take to reverse this process of decline is some high quality home grown comedy – is that too much to ask?

Best thing on the Gogglebox

As we retreat into our own individual Christmases, with kids playing computer games in one corner or toying with their mobile phones in another, while incommunicable adults fall asleep from being bored out of their skulls, we have ended up with the best viewing being Gogglebox – a programme about other people commenting on what they have seen on television.

On paper it should not work but the humanity of the participants and commonality of their views despite their wide variance in backgrounds makes it compelling – a condemnation on the poor standard of writing that television offers in today’s bitmapped era.

Accentuate the positive

One could be forgiven for thinking that 2016 has been the year of death, such has been the roll call of the famous and infamous, remarkable and exceptional personalities, celebrities, sporting heroes and politicians that have died over the last 12 months.

Some people have wondered out loud if it means something, as if there is a conspiracy or rational explanation behind it. Such is the age range and variety of backgrounds or professions that I put it down to no more than happenstance.

For me I look at 2016 differently; it was the year I became a grandfather, Hibs won the Cup and we made history by voting to leave the European Union before it was too late. Although I lost a few of my own heroes, friends and relations that is the nature of life; if 2017 offers up as many personal positives I shan’t be complaining.