Old Square Eyes' festive telly and radio picks

With so many channels on telly and radio nowadays, it can be hard to sift out the highlights. However, there's not an immense amount of vintagey stuff on over the holidays this year. Here is my pick of the
offerings over Christmas, and most of it is on the radio.

Len Goodman's Big Band Bonanza
BBC4, 23 December, 9pm
Len's back! I loved his history of the British dance halls and dance bands, though I didn't watch his series on the history of dance with Lucy Worsley because my husband has a limit to how much Lucy he can put up with, and that's 'a trailer'. This is Len solo, and this time he's taking a closer look at big band music's place in British culture. American music and film has had a massive influence on the world but it's nice to see exactly how it affected the UK, in detail, with footage of the bands and the fans of the day.

Can't wait for Len on big bands? He also presents Glenn Miller: 70 Years of Mystery at 10pm on the 22nd on Radio 2, while if it's the music you're hungry for, Fearne Cotton is presenting Big Band, Big Man, a programme on her great-uncle, Billy Cotton, at 10pm on the 23rd on Radio 2.

If you like swing with pictures, BBC 4 is the channel to watch. Sunday 21st there are documentaries about, and performances by, Sammy Davis Jr, while on the 23rd at 10pm there's a BBC Proms performance recreating the bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. On the 24th at 8pm there's Happy Holidays With Bing and Frank, and just after midnight – 35 past midnight, so on the 25th – there's Swingin' Christmas, some swingy Christmas music to welcome in the big day. Want your music sooner and don't need visuals? Try Clare Teal's A Swinging Christmas on Radio 2 at 9pm on the 21st.

I can honestly say most of the channels have nothing for me (though I will, inevitably, end up watching Doctor Who, and I'm looking forward to a couple of modern things, the Bond film Skyfall and the comedy-thriller series The Wrong Mans among them). I think a lot of fans of vintage-set stuff on telly will be looking forward to the Christmas specials of Call the Midwife on BBC1 and Downton Abbey on ITV1, but I can't abide either show I'm afraid! The shows I like don't make feelgood festive viewing. (Can you imagine a Peaky Blinders Christmas special?!)

Radio highlights 
Radio 4 Extra's highlights start early – tomorrow, in fact. The Goon Show 'Operation Christmas Duff' is on at 2pm on the 20th December, and there's a five-minute vignette from The Scarifyers, Mr Crowley's Christmas, at 6.55pm. Annoyingly, that Goon Show clashes with Radio 4's dramatisation of A Christmas Carol, which starts at 2:30. I guess it's a case of iPlayer or Tivo it. For a more serious Christmas story, Radio 4's series Home Front, following characters in the UK and in Europe during the First World War, carries on over Christmas.

The Skool Days of Nigel Molesworth
Radio 4, starts 22 Dec, 10:45am
Quite how the magnificent misspellings of the 1950s Molesworth books will translate to radio – without the drawings of Ronald Searle, too – remains to be seen, but any Molesworth is good Molesworth. If you're unfamiliar with the Curse of St Custards, and his musings on foopball, skool sossages and GURLS, take the chance to become acquainted as Radio 4 broadcasts a series of 15-minute dramas over the festive season.

Good Omens
Radio 4, starts 22 Dec, 11:00pm
Okaaaay, it's not vintage. But The Omen was made in the 1970s so that qualifies for coverage on this blog, and this is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's screamingly funny spoof of that story. The antichrist is born, but owing to a mixup at the maternity hospital, is not the child given to the American ambassador and his wife. No, he grows up in England, far from the influences of devils and angels. Though they are looking for him. Also featuring a witch, the Four Horsemen, and other marvellous misfits.

The Big Boadcast
Radio 4, 24 December, 2:15 (ep 1), 25 December, 2:15 (ep 2)
I have to confess I don't know much about this play set in a radio theatre, or how much is storyline and how much is singing, but the fact that the words and music are by silent film enthusiast Neil Brand was enough to pique my interest. Episode 1 is set in 1932, episode 2 in 1933, and you can bet your boots that if the story and music aren't actually from those years, it'll be done well enough to make you believe it was.

Poirot: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
Radio 4 Extra, 25 December, 11:15am
Got some cooking to do? Find some anyway, and shut the family out of the kitchen so you can enjoy Poirot in peace!


  1. Oo some things I wasn't aware of here, we have watched hardly any telly the last month or so, so thanks for the tips!! I will watch Downton on Christmas Day, but other than that we hadn't planned anything in particular. Poirot on the radio sounds like a good choice. x

  2. Thanks for the heads up about Len's Big Band Bonanza, won't miss that! And I love the idea listening to Agatha Christie's Christmas Pud on Xmas morn!

  3. Thanks for the tip about Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank, I'd have missed that otherwise. Hope you have a fab Christmas!

  4. I'm looking forward to the Prof Brainstawm adaptation this year! I hope it's as funny as the books.

  5. I missed Len but will catch up with him on iplayer. I am very much looking forward to Downton and Call the Midwife. Have series 2 of Peaky Blinders on DVD to watch too. Merry Christmas.


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