Christmas Emergency Questions

Christmas Emergency Questions by Richard Herring (Go Faster Stripe, 2017).

Christmas Emergency Questions is the name of a book by the comedian, Ftone Clearer and TV’s Percy The Shepherd from Servants Richard Herring. Technically, it’s actually one of three almost identically titled books by the comedian, Ftone Clearer and TV’s Percy The Shepherd from Servants Richard Herring, but you can read more about the background to Emergency Questions and my answers to some of the questions posed in the original book here. Christmas Emergency Questions is as the title somewhat heavily suggests a new set of questions with a festive twist – well, this may depend on what your definition of ‘festive’ actually is in certain instances – and a while back I had a go at answering a different random one for each day of Advent. It’s fair to say that some responses were more popular than others, but here they all are regardless, with new additional detail and links to some bits and pieces where I expanded on much the same question and answer scenario in much greater detail. Yes, including the one about who you were in the school Nativity. How’s about that, then?

Richard has published three books full of Emergency Questions – the original one available from hereChristmas Emergency Questions which is available here and the big swanky coffee table gift book version which you can get from from Ian Amazon here (though see below for details of a fantastic deal involving all three, which you can use to create some sort of Emergency Questions Multiverse by, I don’t know, arranging them at slightly different angles on your bookshelf or something), although if you already have all of them, you can get the new spin-off book Would You Rather? from here. Incidentally, if you want to hear me chatting about Lee And Herring‘s Radio 1 Christmas Show from 1995 – along with the Christmas Specials of On The Hour and The Chris Morris Music Show – then you can find that here. Anyway, what’s behind the first door…?

3. What is the best Christmas that you remember?

On purely superficial terms – as more personal associations with Christmas are arguably an entirely different issue – it would have to be 1991. The On The Hour Christmas Special, phone call from someone I had recently met and was very keen on in the afternoon, and I got four albums by four indie bands released in the same month by the same label. I believe I may have mentioned them once or twice.

I’m not on any kind of a quest to discover the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas – which apparently seems to involve having to put on a Father Christmas suit for narrative reasons and being asked by an underprivileged youngster if you are the ‘real’ Santa – so on superficial terms it must stay and, narrowly beating out 1986 (and you can read more about what I wanted for Christmas that year here), it’s still 1991. Those four albums were of course Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne, Screamadelica by Primal Scream, Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub and Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, an astonishing quartet of almost inadvertently interlinked albums that have such a fascinating story behind their equally fascinating contents that I ended up writing a book about them – Higher Than The Sun – which you can find more about here. The phone call was about meeting up on Boxing Day – it’s very strange to think back to how we communicated back then and how phone calls days apart seemed… fine – and also involved one of those albums in particular, but you can read more about that here. I still think the On The Hour Christmas Special is one of the greatest examples of radio comedy ever broadcast and you can hear me enthusing about it – along with the Christmas Specials of The Chris Morris Music Show and Lee And Herring – in Looks Unfamiliar here. This was also the Christmas Day when Channel 4 broadcast Malcolm McLaren’s musical historical oddity The Ghosts Of Oxford Street, which Garreth Hirons joined me on Looks Unfamiliar for a chat about here, and when much fun was had at the expense of Nintendo World Cup as recounted with bemused fondness here; presumably these were not mentioned due to lack of character space on Twitter. Also there was a repeat of Chorlton In The Iceworld very early one morning, as was recounted in Looks Unfamiliar with Grace Dent here. I must have been standing on some sort of festive ley lines that year.

Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne, Screamadelica by Primal Scream, Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub and Loveless by My Bloody Valentine.

10. What is the most bizarre or overrated Christmas Pop Song?

Let’s go for something that’s both – A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris De Burgh. Tedious sword and sorcery nonsense bearing an ‘uncanny’ resemblance to the Electric Blue theme. Erm, as I understand it.

I’m not really sure that we should honestly expect very much else from a song where the chorus literally says “aaaaaaaahhhhh!”, but there really is a sense that this song thinks it is so much cleverer than you are. It is also emblematic of that early eighties fusion of sword and sorcery and modernity that nobody asked for as found in varying degrees of tolerability in Robin Of Sherwood, The Riddle by Nik Kershaw, Jessie Rae’s ‘Celtic Pop’ chicanery, Black Angel, Krull, Dark Side Of The Sun, that William Tell series and indeed the Electric Blue theme. If you don’t know what that is, I’d suggest tactfully keeping it that way. Anyway you can find more of my thoughts – and that’s putting it charitably – on A Spaceman Came Travelling in The Greatest Hits Of Outer Space here and in Looks Unfamiliar with Ben Baker looking at the quietly forgotten original iteration of Now – The Christmas Album here.

17. Who is the best actor or actress in any Christmas film?

I’m going to go off at a tangent here and say Anna Nicole Smith is absolutely brilliant in her few scenes in The Hudsucker Proxy. She had a sad life so let’s celebrate what we can

I don’t have much to add here. While I’m sure many will respond to this with weapons grade whataboutery regarding alleged aspects of her personal life, it really is sad that we make these pathetic undeserving targets for all of our ridicule and hatred while the actual villains still swan around making the actual decisions about everyone else unencumbered. I’d rather have had her in the White House than a certain other ‘celebrity’, frankly. The Hudsucker Proxy meanwhile is a great film although it is difficult to decide what is more annoying out of its apparent disappearance from circulation because of critics who can’t be bothered to find anything to say about it so just hum and harr about it being an ‘overreach’ or something, and the individuals that tell you very very loudly and at considerable length that they are best at liking Coen Brothers and here is why. Personally I choose to see a bewildered Carol Danvers picking up a VHS copy of The Hudsucker Proxy in a smoking demolished branch of Blockbuster in Captain Marvel as a symbolic two fingers to both parties, although you can find me going on about Captain Marvel at, well, considerable length here.

18. Did you ever appear in a Nativity play? What part did you play?

I was definitely variously both a shepherd and a wise man. Also in a panto version of the Nativity… I can’t say who I was. But he urged Mary and Joseph to ‘go by train’..

Well, if you’ve not worked that out from the incredibly unsubtle hint, you can find the full embarrassing story in Looks Unfamiliar here. Oh my goodness me.

25. Apart from Die Hard, what is the greatest Christmas film of all time?

If I can’t have all six episodes of The Box Of Delights edited into one big two hours thirty minutes epic, I’m saying Scrooged. But only because I can’t have Iron Man 3.

My own personal preference of course would be the sixties Michael Caine movies that BBC1 always seemed to show late each night in the week before Christmas – a sort of unofficial season invariably heralded by the legend ‘Michael Caine appears in Pulp‘ on Tuesday’ – at the foot of the Radio Times listing, but we have to stick to the rules here. I did once see The Box Of Delights in a cinema in this exact format – you can hear more about that, and my love of The Box Of Delights in general, in Looks Unfamiliar here – and there is some considerable resistance to the idea that Iron Man 3 is a Christmas Film despite it being set at Christmas and using Christmas cliches as part of the storyline; presumably Ken Loach has been put in charge of deciding what constitutes a Christmas Film. Anyway, this is why Bill Murray wins on points, although you can hear me very strongly arguing the case for Iron Man 3 here.

Iron Man 3 (2013).

70. Which toy advert most made you want the toy being advertised?

MB Games Star Bird. I asked for it again and again and never got it. Years later I spent a fortune on one on eBay, and pointedly sat and played with it at my parents’ kitchen table.

Star Bird was a post-Star Wars spaceship that had flashing lights and made interactive engine sounds due to some calibration thingymajig when you ‘flew’ it. Steve Berry told a very similar story about the Star Blazer Electronic Space Command Belt on Looks Unfamiliar here.

Star Bird (MB Games).

84. What’s your favourite Christmas Number 2?

Wonderwall by The Mike Flowers Pops. No contest. So many joyous memories of that Christmas in particular and it turned a song I hated into one I loved.

Dancing to the Mike Flowers version of Wonderwall at midnight on New Year 1995 into 1996 is one of my fondest memories and hearing it always takes me straight back there. I also loved the b-sides Theme From Memory Man – a very serious and convincing attempt at an early seventies film theme pastiche – and the second division rock opera-styled Son Of God. It was quite the single really, and yet now seems to be only remembered as a ‘novelty’ hit. Anyway I had more to say about it while talking about something else that was released in December 1995 here.

96. Christmas is a time of goodwill to all men. But is there any man or woman who you wish no goodwill to?

Even at the end of a fairly rotten year, it’s still Donald Trump. I wish him humiliation in an orange jumpsuit. And it’s coming.

I still believe this. Bigly.

123. What do you consider to be the most offensive subplot of the terrible film Love Actually?

I’m not that mad on Love Actually but don’t tend to give it too much thought as I need to save my wrath for The Boat That Rocked. I detest that film to a terrifying degree.

Let’s just say that – even though I am generally quite forgiving about movies and television shows set in a specific year using pop records from a year or two either side – using The Who’s 1971 single Won’t Get Fooled Again in a story set in 1966 is the least of this abhorrent and unfunny film’s crimes.

137. Who’s looking forward to the Christmas Doctor Who now that The Doctor is a woman?

Me. I am. I’m looking forward to it like you would not believe. I had wanted it for so long and it’s been everything I hoped it would be.

Never mind the first actual Christmas Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker, the one from the year before where she first appeared, a grin spreading from ear to ear as the wedding ring slipped off her finger and she looked in a mirror and beamed “aw, brilliant!”, was about as exciting as Doctor Who has ever got for me. You can read more about my reactions to Jodie as The Doctor – and the ensuing battles I had with cement-head cry-babies who wanted their big manly man back but not because they were sexist oh my goodness me no but still managed to bring somehow bring ‘remoaners’ into it regardless – in my review of Doctor Who And The Rosa here. You can also find some thoughts on Jodie’s departure from the role here.

Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: Rosa (BBC1, 2018).

139. Would you support the elves if they went on strike in an attempt to earn minimum wage?

Put it this way, I always supported the mice in Bagpuss whenever they went on strike after one patronising demand too many from those hectoring bores Madeleine The Rag Doll and Gabriel The Toad, so the answer is clearly yes.

Gabriel and Madeleine may have been ‘just dolls’ but they were clearly Leave. And no Yaffle wasn’t, as he would have had one eye on his research funding. Anyway, you can find many more of my not necessarily quite so politicised thoughts on Bagpuss here.

Bagpuss (BBC1/Smallfilms, 1974).

142. What is the most difficult film, book or TV show to represent in charades?

I’m going to say Koyaanisqatsi. It’s not even easy to do as syllables.

Beloved of mid-nineties students who had those ‘Only After We Have Catapulted The Last Alan Into Space’ mugs and frowned at you for not drinking Fairtrade coffee it may have been, but I’d like to see them try.

153. What is the latest date you have still been eating the Christmas Turkey?

This is disputed but I can vividly recall being sent to school with leftover turkey sandwiches, which would have been almost two weeks later.

Like a baffling number of seemingly innocuous Emergency Questions, this was jumped on by the ‘didn’t happen lol’ boys, some of whom posted all kinds of nonsense graphs about particle contamination and accused my parents of child neglect amongst other tedious flights of fancy. All I can say is that they are welcome to hop in a fucking time machine and swap my early January lunches for theirs.

171. Which regular childhood Christmas gift do you miss receiving as an adult?

I miss how ‘sophisticated’ Matchmakers felt. I can’t explain what’s changed but they’ve definitely lost some of that classy mystique. Having to share them was a crime, but they would always be ‘handed around’ and come back empty.

There used to be a whole exclusive subset of snacks, chocolates and fizzy drinks that were tacitly promoted as too sophisticated – and expensive – for the likes of you. Matchmakers, Flake, Caramel, Milk Tray, Black Magic, Turkish Delight, Bitz, Orangina and even Ferrero Rocher at first – and that wasn’t even the most aspirational Ferrero line, as you can find out here – and although you are not more likely to find them all in the reduced bulk buy aisle at your local supermarket, for a certain generation they never quite lose that allure and mystique. Well apart from Matchmakers.

187. What is the best Christmas episode of a sitcom ever?

If I can’t have On The Hour as it’s a radio show and technically a sketch show, then narrowly beating close contenders from 30 Rock, The Monkees, Frasier and and Rising Damp, it’s the Community special Regional Holiday Music. Savage and inspired and how do they cram so much into twenty minutes?

As you might have gathered from the above, it is difficult to describe Regional Holiday Music – and Community in general – to anyone who hasn’t seen it. Fortunately there’s a seasonally-themed edition of Looks Unfamiliar where Phil Catterall joined me to do just that here.

200. What was your most depressing experience of working over the Christmas Holidays?

DJing when Office Parties shamble in. Always the same. They nag for records you wouldn’t play, ignore it when you play it, then complain you haven’t played it.

“Nah nah mate, just put it on, everyone will dance, I promise you, just put it on after the next one, for me mate over there whose a good lad, after the next one, just put it on, for Christmas, yeah?”. Merry fucking Christmas to you too.

210. Would you rather be able to shoot tinsel out of your wrists like Spider-Man or have a £5 Gift Voucher for WH Smith?

I’d rather be Star-Lord, so I’ll take the voucher and get the Doctor Who Magazine Daleks Special. No big chocolate bar though.

Well this dates this answer a little. I mean imagine just being able to walk in to a branch of WH Smith at your leisure. Also there has been a whole new Spider-Man movie since then, and you can hear me chatting with Gabby Hutchinson Crouch about it here.

212. Do you remember what Christmas was like before the invention of social media?

Was it better or worse? OK, strap yourselves in to the sleigh, this is going to require quite some response…

Indeed it it, and it later evolved into this feature here.

214. What would you send your true love on the thirteenth day of Christmas?

A mono vinyl copy of 1966 masterpiece The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators. Whoever gets that is ‘the one’, frankly.

Surprisingly, I didn’t put any 13th Floor Elevators on a CD that I made for an auditionee for the post of ‘the one’ shortly before dating became impractical due to world events. Though more about that here.

The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators (United Artists, 1966).

228. Which is the best racing car based game, Scalextric or TCR (Total Control Racing)?

Neither, it was Tyco Grand Prix.

That’s the one I asked for and the one I got and is therefore the best. Argument closed.

238. What’s the most inappropriate thing you have ever done in a grotto?

Kissed an elf on her lunchbreak. And brought her an ‘Irish’ coffee.

I appreciate this has all the makings of a Netflix Original Christmas romantic comedy, but as far as I can recall we just met up again at five o’clock and went window shopping slash present buying and as far as I am aware she did not do any whiskey-fuelled swearing at children. Well, any more than usual.

250. Do you think they have Christmas in America?

Yes, and I have always been in love with the whole Candy Cane/Skating Outside The Rockefeller Center/Rockettes Christmas Spectacular razzle-dazzle of it. It’s my version of a real-life acid trip.

Well it sure beats miserable blowhards fuming that a small group of perfectly pleasant people saying ‘h’ray!’ at some lights on 21st December are “starting Christmas earlier every year!!”, doesn’t it.

251. What is the most Christmassy flavour?

A tie between Coffee Matchmakers, Mint Baileys and the entire contents of an old-skool Mars Selection Box complete with stylised spiral-eyed reindeer on the packaging. Even the ones I never ate.

Given that they have been mentioned twice, Coffee Matchmakers should probably take the title here, especially on account of that phenomenally strong and evocative of ‘adult’ delights flavour of the sort that people just don’t seen to want any more.

843. What’s the best Christmas food you have ever made yourself and not just bought from a shop?

Most things I make aren’t specifically Christmassy, though I do knock together a spectacular Mudslide if that counts?

You will need Kahlua, Five Farms Irish Cream and Bournville, and you can choose the other constituent elements at your discretion. You can thank me later. If you can still type.

845. If you could travel backwards or forwards in time to any Christmas, which one would you visit?

1965, to see the long lost Christmas Day panto episode of Doctor Who with William Hartnell toasting the viewers at home. Shown once then lost, and one of the biggest mysteries in its history.

If there really is a Father Christmas, then how come he hasn’t found this? Anyway, there are reconstructions of it out there, and phenomenally good still extant Doctor Who Christmas Specials like The Runaway Bride (which you can hear more about here) so pour a Mudslide, open some Coffee Matchmakers, put down that Star Bird and enjoy. I hear there’s been a woman Doctor Who now.

Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride (BBC1, 2006).

Get Emergency Questions

You can get both Emergency Questions books together with Christmas Emergency Questions as a stupendously cheap three-book bundle from Chris Evans (not that one, or the one from the Captain America films) at Go Faster Stripe here. If you would rather Would You Rather?, you can get that from here

Buy A Book!

You can find many of my Christmas-themed features – many of them even more ludicrous than that one about sneaking some whiskey to an on-duty elf – 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. Or Coffee Matchmakers if you can find any.

Further Reading

Dear Father Christmas, I Would Like The Following (In 1986) is a look at the presents I really, really wanted at the height of Alternative Comedy and the ZX Spectrum; you can find it here. You can also find my responses to some non-seasonal Emergency Questions here. With These Pocket Coffee You Are Spoiling Us is a quest to uncover the mystery behind those huge big trays of Ferrero with other exotic non-Rocher chocolates in them and you can find it here.

Further Listening

You can 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, and some slightly less ridiculous ones with Ben on Bernard And The Genie, Darrell Maclaine on Rutland Weekend Television, Emma Burnell on The West Wing, Phil Catterall on Community, Paul Abbott on The Peter Serafinowicz Show, me on Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride and Garreth Hirons on Futurama here. Ben also joined me for a chat about the original now conveniently forgotten version of Now – The Christmas Album here while Phil also joined me for a look back at the Christmas specials of On The Hour, The Chris Morris Music Show and Lee And Herring here.

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