…And That’s Christmas – On BBC1!

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1974.

Christmas on the BBC. A time when differences are put aside in tribute to those wartime football matches and everyone takes time to join together and celebrate a vital and vitally creative institution that should be defended with your bare hands if necessary. A time when mad right-wingers stop complaining that woke lefties have cancelled all the repeats of comedy classics and replaced them with repeats of Fawlty Towers and Dad’s Army, woke lefties stop shouting that the existence of a single news story they disagreed with and which they initially pretended ‘the BBC’ weren’t reporting on anyway and then just ignored anyone who pointed that out to them invalidates the entire existence of Just A Minute, shrieking car alarm columnists agree not to follow a tweet publicising an upcoming appearance on a BBC programme with one complaining that the BBC have ‘banned’ them, Jacob Rees-Mogg generously gives up insidiously calling for the abolition of the BBC in a manner that suggests that wasn’t what he was doing and you can’t prove otherwise in apparent blissful ignorance of the fact that it is the only media outlet in the entire world that will give him and his sweaty mates any airtime, men on social media snarling about the licence fee and how they don’t have to pay for their wife to drink Dr. Pepper or something stop and realise that they invariably have an avatar of Doctor Who, Blackadder, John Peel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy or Alan Partridge and feel a bit sheepish, and writers desperate for an introduction for something make up a load of sarcastic sideswipes at a shower of absolute useless bastards.

Still, it’s the season of goodwill, so let’s actually call a truce – apart from with that bunch of pointless fuckers – and celebrate both the BBC and Christmas in the only way we know how; by taking a look at some of the frankly baffling Yuletide replacements for the ‘globe’ that have been deployed over the years. So sit yourself down, grab some Baileys and Matchmakers, pretend The Paul Daniels Christmas Magic Show is on in a minute (or, if raining, Newman And Baddiel Christmas In Pieces), and away we go…!

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1968.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1968.

Given that they weren’t exactly in much of a hurry to keep hold of actual episodes of On The Margin, The Tennis Elbow Foot Game or R.3, nobody at the BBC really gave much thought to preserving anything of any of the frivolous bits of tinselly branding that were in use for a couple of days, and correspondingly not very much exists of – or is even really known about – how festive broadcasting was denoted in the fifties and sixties. Although given that even some of the eighties examples only ‘exist’ in the same sense as Ghost does in Ant-Man And The Wasp, perhaps that should not come as too much of a surprise. 1967 reportedly saw BBC1 whack a couple of stars around the regular ‘watchstrap’ and replace the globe with a circular image of a flickering candle – no doubt ‘burning’ with a not even remotely realistic mock flame – while BBC2 celebrated the arrival of colour broadcasting with what was by all accounts a suitably garish Christmas Tree in extreme blurry close-up, but it’s not until 1968 that any proper evidence in something approaching halfway intelligible quality survives for both channels. BBC1 opted for a huge glittery quasi-psychedelic snowflake that probably caused more than one switched on character staying up late for How It Is to have an ‘episode’, while aware of their somewhat artier obligations, BBC2 instead greeted viewers hoping to catch The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band on Colour Me Pop with a sort of more architecturally refined take on the same concept only rendered in a sort of garish Crayola Caddy red. Doubtless all of those blowhards who keep droning on about how we should be more like everything was in the sixties when there were no ‘snowflakes’ would suddenly go mysteriously quiet about this.

"That can't have been Scott On Xmas!".

Hang on a minute… Parky? What’s he doing here?! Don’t start adjusting your set just yet – unfortunately, despite extensive research, it’s proved impossible to locate any images of the BBC1 and BBC2 festive globe replacements from between 1969 in 1973 in a quality even marginally above that of a chessboard’s passport photo developed on Ryvita rather than photographic paper and enlarged by eight hundred percent in Microsoft Paint and viewed through one of those magnifying glasses you get in Christmas Crackers, so Mr. Parkinson has generously agreed to appear as an illustration in their place. Anyway, that’s the last we’ll be seeing of him.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1974.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1974.

The seasonal continuity embellishments deployed between 1969 and 1973 may well have apparently been recorded over with, well, possibly even Parkinson, but by all accounts – barring a brief BBC1 diversion in 1972 with some rotating carol singers with snow falling on them in the style of The Flying Pickets doing Only You on the Christmas Top Of The Pops over a decade later – they were to all intents and purposes more or less the the same as the ones deployed in 1974. Which is handy, as both of them are available for your festive viewing pleasure. BBC1 didn’t so much replace the globe as slap it in front of an untidy collage of walloped-together tinselly spray-painted cogs left over from a ‘machinery’ prop in an episode of The Goodies, above some Christmas Card-styled lettering rendered in a vivid shade of what chromaticists have come to officially recognise as Monty Python’s Flying Circus Blue. Yes they have. You can’t prove that they haven’t. BBC2, on the other hand, opted for a significantly cheaper and indeed significantly more ludicrous approach, decorating a less than sturdily mounted variant of their regular colour-phasing rotating ‘2’ with a lone bauble forcefully propelling glitter stars of ascending dimensions into all corners of the screen, which – on account of there not really being sufficient space for them to rotate in – juddered alarmingly while introducing Amahl And The Night Visitors.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1975.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1975.

1975 saw BBC1 think they could get away with fooling viewers by slapping on gold lettering and a nominally festively-coloured BBC1 strap and hoisting the globe up a fraction higher, but nobody was buying it and their attempt to wrap up the long-established tinsel-backed globe in slightly different wrapping paper and try to pass it of as a ‘new’ present was roundly seen through. Not seen through at all in either sense of the term, however, was BBC2’s visual wallop of an alternative, presenting a rough early version of the new-fangled ‘stripy’ 2 mounted on a deep red background looking for all the world like it had been attacked by the office joker with some fake snow long after the point where everyone else started saying ‘alright Ian, that’s enough now’. Somewhere between the opening titles of Rubovia, Kylie Minogue’s outfit from when they did Especially For You on Top Of The Pops and a Christmas Card that a primary school child had been allowed to ‘make’, it was simultaneously the grandest and shoddiest sight on television across the entire festive season.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1976.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1976.

‘Cuh, snowflake!’ scoffed an eleven year old Piers Morgan (so roughly at the same developmental age he is still at now, then) in 1976 as BBC1 gave a lick of Christmassy red paint to both the lettering and the ‘cogs’ and replaced the globe with a gleaming – and somewhat finger-endangering looking – ice crystal nucleating around a dust particle in supersaturated air mass while attracting supercooled cloud water droplets, with the resultant pleasant imagery presumably circumventing the possibility of inspiring a series of television kickings-in by way of tribute to that bloke from Manchester who got offended by The Sex Pistols swearing in the London region only. BBC2 on the other hand had recently swapped the rotating ‘2’ for a larger static one formed by lots of spinning discs slamming together from opposing sides, more normally rendered in light blue and slightly less light blue on an even slightlier less light blue background, but for Christmas they slapped it on a black backdrop and doused it in a shimmering multicoloured light show borrowed from one of those bits in a late sixties Swinging London-based thriller where they visit a deeply unconvincing ‘club’ mid-‘freak out’. Wasn’t punk supposed to have got rid of all the hippies?

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1977.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1977.

Although Saturday Night Fever was on a boogie-shoed rampage across cinemas as Christmas loomed in 1977, BBC1 somehow resisted the obvious temptation to replace the globe with a whopping great disco mirrorball, and instead came down hard on the side of a revolving Christmas Pudding complete with concave refractive brandy butter. Emu would later scoff the pudding live on air to the consternation of Rod Hull, who of course ‘tried’ to ‘stop’ him, although the actual non-scoffed prop itself was apparently later given away as a competition prize on Noel Edmonds’ Multicoloured Swap Shop. We can only assume that the lone entrant was a television continuity-obsessed youngster who then used it to – shudder – stage their own ‘mock’ announcements. BBC2 meanwhile experimented with a pale red perspex three dimensional quadruplexed rotating ‘2’ revolving around an unconvincing indeterminate ‘precious stone’, and lettering that was presumably intended as a cheery festive salutation to the sizeable robot community. 01001101 01100101 01110010 01110010 01111001 00100000 01000011 01101000 01110010 01101001 01110011 01110100 01101101 01100001 01110011!

BBC1 Christmas Continuity 1977.
BBC1 Christmas Continuity 1977.

As wildly beyond the point where rationality and explanation were still a viable option as the globe replacements themselves may have strayed, the accompanying straight-up continuity never really tended to wander similarly far off-script and in fact very rarely deviated very far outside snow-topped ‘Festive wishes to all your roast dinners’-type lettering with the occasional smattering of Ye Olde Irritating Animated Children, but occasionally even this would deliver more than a little cause for concern. Take, for example, this 1977 effort, in which that gold key that they never explained from Heroes opens a jack-in-the-box thingy which propels a frankly bastard terrifying puppet Santa directly towards the viewer. Well, it would certainly have made Sylar think twice.

BBC Test Card F (minus 'Girl').

Speaking of direct continuity-derived threats towards unwitting viewers, here’s a little bit of late seventies Test Card season embellishment ‘whimsy’ courtesy of the ‘backroom boys’, featuring ‘Clown’ surveying your pathetic meaningless materialistic gifts with mocking impassive disdain, and ‘Girl’… well where in the name of abject terror is she?!? Making a list and checking it twice, that’s where…

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1978.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1978.

With the pudding having been sent on its way courtesy of the Swap Ten board, BBC1 saw fit to replace it in 1978 it with a frankly alarming revolving Santa head. Everyone may well be resigned to the fact that they have always liked to go patronisingly overboard with the Only Fools And Horses-skewed promotion at Christmas, but substituting the entire world with Buster Merryfield four years before the show even started is taking the piss, frankly. This time next year, Rodney, we’ll be introducing the delayed-due-to-industrial-action broadcast of Rentasanta! BBC2 on the other hand were having no such business with blatant courting of the popular jubbly-loving vote and instead went all artistic and historical with a quartet of medieval trumpeters in their finest pageantry sounding a fanfare for the unveiling of the futuristic new ‘==2==’ logo. They then headed straight to Twitter to telleth off the womenfolk for accidentally typing ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’, methinks.

BBC2 Christmas Continuity (1978).

Some known associates of the merrie minstrels also appeared in animated form in BBC2’s continuity links that year, with their musical ranks bolstered by the addition of a couple of stadium rock-posing lute strummers and a bloke playing a giant chocolate coin. Whatever their rendition of Ye Most Lamentable And Tragicce Ballad Of Hey Nonny No Also To Be Known As Kiss From A Rose actually sounded like, it would almost certainly still have been better than that Laurence Fox record.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1979.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1979.

Taking this musical cue, BBC1 duly whizzed forward a couple of centuries for their 1979 effort, riffing on the popularity of the trumpeters by adding a ‘bawdy Victorian’ slant courtesy of a revolving troupe of lamplit carol singers complete with comically skewiff top hats to indicate ‘merrymaking’, accompanied by the world’s longest Dalmatian. BBC2 in constrast was very much looking to the future with a chunky clear perspex rotating snowflake that periodically caught the light and refracted on the camera lens like Maggie Moone’s dresses used to on Name That Tune. It’s like the television of tomorrow today. Roll on Stars Of The Roller State Disco!

BBC1 Christmas Continuity (1979).
BBC1 Christmas Continuity (1979).

BBC1 also allowed the revolving wassailers to make a rare ‘real boy’ excursion into live action as part of their Christmas Previews trailer, apparently played by cash-strapped stray members of progressive rock outfits who had been financially done for by those pesky ‘punks’, and looked uncannily like the sort of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band fans who if you handed them a map showing the location of the master tape of the studio version of It Was A Great Party Until Someone Brought A Hammer and a signed legal document granting them the rights to arrange a fully funded commercial release for it would simply ask the barkeep for another roaring pint of Oast Rale and hoik out a banjolele to treat you to a song they’d written about Prince Edward’s Drolltop Desk. Not that any of this seemed to especially bother their ‘comedy’ one, who gamely indulged in all manner of instrument-based hi-jinks for the cameras. It’s no wonder Thatcher got in.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1980.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1980.

Rotating pre-Edwardians were once again the order of the day for BBC1 in 1980, upping the Quality Street-esque ‘Victorians Equals Christmas’ ante with a truly terrifying quartet of skaters who spent an entire The Red Hand Gang-heralding festive season whizzing around a dilapidated snowman bearing an uncanny resemblance to something out of a Giles annual that got dropped in the washing up bowl and folded in half to dry on the radiator. The not especially fab four – somewhat ironically given their overall Sergeant Pepper-adjacent appearance – were again later given away as competition prizes on Noel Edmonds’ Multicoloured Swap Shop, and at this point you do have to start wondering whether this was actually somehow cheaper than just chucking them in the bin. BBC2 however were still defiantly pursuing their abstract futuristic slant, albeit with the dosh-saving gambit of dousing the previous year’s snowflake in a sort of faintly purplish glow. Doubtless this helped hold back sufficient expenditure to facilitate the purchase of just the eighteen thousand or so award-winning Czechoslovakian animations.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1981.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1981.

BBC1 finally got with the times in 1981 and quietly dispensed with all that wassail wassail all over the town business, and while not quite getting all Tate Modern on an unsuspecting audience waiting for Parkinson On Comedy just yet, they were nonetheless very much gravitating in that overall direction with a collection of rotating vari-hued globe-themed baubles suspended above a logo decked out in a presumably unwitting Ras Tafari-evoking colour scheme. Possibly not one that the average ident fanatic will be too keen on, frankly, although they aren’t racist and some of their best friends are completely invented. Not about to be beaten at their own game, BBC2 reached straight for some translucent holly and candles in the manner of one of those useless ‘arty but modern’ ornaments you pause by for about twenty seconds in a department store while trying to find something else entirely that might just possibly serve as a suitable gift for that relative that’s all but impossible to buy for before deciding to just get them a couple of books instead. So God Emperor Of Dune and You Can Do The Cube, then.

Ceefax Christmas Joke, 1981.

Prehistoric page-changing precursor to rolling news Ceefax were only too keen to get in on the blocky pillarbox with snow on it meets partridge in a pear tree saying ‘ho ho ho’ for some reason action, and here they are making with the festive MODE 2 witticisms back in 1981. Still funnier than any ‘joke’ a Conservative MP has ever made during Prime Minister’s Questions, though.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1982.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1982.

By 1982, a full on gallery-straddling art war was in full progress, as BBC1 continued to encroach on BBC2’s territory with a squint-inducing spidery mechanical snowflake blasting out steely stentorian glints like something in an exhibition by an artist who uses ‘ordinary found objects from the backs of of shops that nobody realises have a back’ to communicate ‘how the modern world encourages us to see the ugliness in the beauty of ugliness’. The resultant visuals were probably not considered particularly ‘jolly’ by anyone bar Alan Moore. Indeed, Breakfast Time ran a feature demonstrating how the snowflake ‘worked’, presumably in a bid to reassure easily-spooked viewers that it wasn’t going to ‘get’ them after all. BBC2 responded to this by craftily moving the goalposts like some sort of Dear Heart-transmitting Young British Artist, deftly executing a cunning sideways step and aligning their established arty credentials with the sort of sleek-yet-sleazy soft-edged just-too-brightly coloured designs ushered in by the age of home video idents. As tantalisingly ‘adult’ as that might sound, this actually effectively translated as some Christmas Trees in outline calling to mind a robot trying to copy ‘Christmas’ and getting it wrong, and anyone hoping to see Electric Blue 007 instead of Richard Baker’s Christmas Dozen would be going away, erm, empty-handed.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1983.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1983.

As Thatcherism took its economically punitive toll on those who didn’t get on their bicycle and look for ‘Victorian Values’ and where there is no DC Follies let us bring DC Follies or something, 1983 saw both channels redeploying the previous year’s mince pie-accompaniments in the hope of saving a few pennies towards getting both Castle Grayskull and Ram-Man. BBC1 bent a couple of spokes on the snowflake and threw some of those lights that used to get used to ‘brainwash’ Michael Caine on it, while BBC2 adopted a similar approach and shone even more light on the Christmas Trees from a different angle to give them a sort of three dimensional holographic sheen, presumably both of them believing that nobody would notice. Honestly, you’d think the BBC were trying to make sufficient cuts to expenditure to facilitate the launch of a full daytime service or something.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1984.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1984.

1984, and the Day Of Michael Grade is upon us. Ever careful to supervise even the minutest detail of his his chosen channel, Lord Grade took time out from cancelling Juliet Bravo and Pop Quiz to personally oversee the implementation of a flashily-realised trio of rotating cracker-renting asunder snowmen mounted on a pile of Christmas Presents, which he only approved once one of them had been very hastily redesigned as a snowwoman. This, according to far too many people who have far too much access to both the Internet and to words in general, represented the very worst right-on excesses of the ‘pc brigade : (‘. By way of contrast, the Grade-untroubled BBC2 could only be grudgingly bothered reaching for a sorry-looking bauble surrounded by a ribbon bearing an uncanny resemblance to half of the Vision On logo. Corporate branding was on the rise and undergoing a revolution by the mid-eighties, though, and the BBC could not really escape it for much longer. As Bob Dylan once sang, The Times They Are A-Changing. Then he went ‘DOOOOO-ooo-OOOOOO’. You know, like the Test Card tone, only in a Bob Dylan voice. Oh never mind.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1985.
BBC2 Christmas Globe 1985.

As ably and memorably demonstrated by TV’s Kamelion from Doctor Who, the BBC were really getting the hang of this robotics lark by the mid-eighties, and all of those endless Tomorrow’s World features about ‘this clever little fellow – with a silicon chip!’ who could transport a massive grey plastic mug from one side of the studio to very slightly nearer towards the other one gave rise to this brace of scarf-sporting animatronic robins, who fluttered and tweeted in an alarmingly realistic fashion as they cast their awestruck expressions around the brand new BBC1 logo. BBC2 had clearly opted to spend their robot money on a subscription to The Face instead, and treated viewers to a ‘sophisticated booze’ label-esque combination of a neon pink ‘2’ and tasteful blue-and-ice-white arrange into a sort of folding-in-on-itself carousel snowscape. It is entirely possible that the glow that emanated from it was capable of lighting viewers’ front rooms by itself.

BBC1 Christmas Globe 1986.

1986 was the end of an era and the start of another more familiar one, as BBC1 did away with all of the traditional mechanically-driven creakiness in favour of a full-on looping animated sequence depicting marching holly encircling an evidently delighted Christmas Tree/Star double act, setting the tone for pretty much every bit of increasingly computer-generated circular-themed bit of festive continuity that has followed. With this exciting new technology and flashy new design aspiration becoming more and more of a reality even within the duration of an edition of Wogan, BBC2 were bound to be working on something that would take full advantage of these boundless possibilities and reshape the entire way that we thought about television as an art form…

BBC2 Christmas Globe 1986.

Oh fuck off.

The Late Late Breakfast Show (BBC1, 1986).

As Noel prepares to blast the robins into into 1978 Bugler Oblivion, that’s the end of our sleigh ride back through the inter-programme festive silliness of yore. So let’s sign off with an exciting exclusive – the public unveiling for this year’s actual genuine bona fide BBC1 Christmas ‘Globe’…

"That can't have been Michael McIntyre's Christmas Wheel!".

Hang on a minute…

Buy A Book!

You can find many of my Christmas-themed features – some of them including thoughts on festive continuity of yesteryear – 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.

Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Sending a photo of Parky instead will be neither funny nor original, though.

Further Reading

You can find some of my responses to some of Richard Herring’s frankly sometimes disturbing festive posers in Christmas Emergency Questions here.

Further Listening

Find out what it was like to actually see that Test Card without ‘Girl’ first thing on Christmas Day Morning in Looks Unfamiliar with Grace Dent here. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call ‘festive’.

You can also hear about all manner of ridiculous Christmas television specials, including Mr. T’s Christmas Dream, the 1990 Bullseye Christmas Special, Adam Buxton’s Christian Rave documentary God In The House and much more besides, in Looks Unfamiliar with Ben Baker here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.