Christmas Television. A time of treasured memories of ‘Dirty Den’ serving Angie with divorce papers, David Bowie talking about building a snowman once while apparently in character as the narrator of We Are Hungry Men, that Only Fools And Horses that they never repeat in full because viewers were upset that Del Boy was depicted as a vain selfish arrogant conman who frequently used Rodney at his own convenience, and Morecambe And Wise hoisting Michael Parkinson up on a windmill or something. The conflation of tinsel-festooned festive cheer and big budget scheduling razzle-dazzle always seemed to make a more substantial impact on viewers’ memories than at any other time of year – even to the extent of certain late eighties youngsters getting excited about watching the omnibus repeats of Dick Spanner because they were on a mere five days before Christmas – and in Ben Baker’s Christmas Box, writer and broadcaster and all-round Festive Season obsessive Ben Baker invites a guest to talk about something that they saw on television once and which has always meant ‘Christmas’ to them ever since. Yes, including that ‘BBC1’s Gotta Lotta Fings On’ trailer.
On this edition of Ben Baker’s Christmas Box, I join Ben for a chat about BBC Schools show Watch and its celebrated retelling of the story of The Nativity. Originally shown in 1977, the Watch Nativity was repeated dozens of times – often as a standalone programme in its own right – and the combination of a quest for historical accuracy in the Holy Land and lo-fi paper puppet-based New Testament re-enactments in the studio doubled as a reassurance to generations of primary school children that the Christmas Holidays were in sight. As well as revisiting the thrill of getting to watch television at school – especially on one of those big televisions with the shutters on – and why the ramshackle nature of educational broadcasting was especially exciting if you were interested in how television worked and liked it when you could see the rougher edges, we also touch on such subjects as what to do with location film that looks like it’s been stored down the back of a radiator and then dragged out with a coat hanger, which is the worst Quality Street and why Richard Osman is wrong about this, who would ‘win’ out of Louise Hall-Taylor and Lieutenant Kije, and the World Record for how many biblical onlookers can fit behind a single bush. So fingers on lips – or if you’re feeling disobedient, pretend to shoot ‘the dots’ on the countdown clock – because Watch Follows Shortly…
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There’s lots more about festive television – including a feature on Chorlton In The Ice World, the little-seen Christmas Special of Chorlton And The Wheelies, and a more in-depth look at the Watch Nativity – in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
You can find the story behind the Watch album – which includes the ‘Nativity’ in full – in Top Of The Box Vol. 2, the story behind every album released by BBC Records And Tapes from Play School Play On to Russell Grant’s Zodiac Jukebox. Top Of The Box Vol. 2 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Hold the frankincense, please.
If you’re looking for more chats with a festive twist, you can find Ben on Looks Unfamiliar talking about Mr T’s Christmas Dream, There’s Something Wrong In Paradise, God In The House, To Hell With The Devil, Highway, The Flint Street Nativity, the 1990 Bullseye Christmas Special, Adam And Joe’s Fourmative Years and TFI 1998 here, Bernard And The Genie here and the unsurprisingly long-forgotten original version of Now – The Christmas Album here. You can also find me talking to Ben and Phil Catterall about A Christmas Lantern – the bizarre half-remembered ITV variety show that I mention in Ben Baker’s Christmas Box – in a collection of highlights from Looks Unfamiliar here.
You can find a feature all about Watch: The Nativity as part of a series on Christmas With Children’s BBC here. Watch‘s BBC Schools And Colleges contemporary Music Time also presented a much-repeated late seventies festive module based around Lieutenant Kije, which you can find out more about in There Was A Gentleman From Way Up North, And Kije Was His Name here.
© Tim Worthington.
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