Jyane Dowle: Festive TV more a turkey than a box of delights

CHRISTMAS is a time for nostalgia. And nothing brings back the memories like the double editions of the Radio Times and TV Times. How exciting it was when mother came home bearing these weighty tomes.

The Queen's Christmas message is likely to be one of the most watched programmes on Christmas Day.
The Queen's Christmas message is likely to be one of the most watched programmes on Christmas Day.

I can’t think of any other time of year when we indulged in the purchase of magazines specifically designed to tell us what was on the box. These 
were considered a festive 
luxury on a par with the accompanying big tin of Roses chocolates.

How my sister and I would pore over the pages, marvelling in delight at who would turn up for the Royal Command Performance – would it be Rod Hull and Emu? – and making notes in the margins about Mary Poppins and Upstairs Downstairs.

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Fast forward to 2016 and we’ve had Mary Poppins on a loop in the living room for the last week now. My daughter Lizzie downloaded it from Sky Movies and is diligently aiming for word-perfect on every song before she goes back to school in January.

On Christmas Day, when 
the rest of her family finally crack at one more rendition of A Spoonful of Sugar, she will probably retire to her bedroom for an hour or so to watch it 
in peace. Meanwhile, her brother will dismiss all television unless it involves Liverpool FC. Instead, he will be on the PlayStation attempting to spend all his Christmas money on “points” for his FIFA 17 football game.

And me? With the absence of any kind of Downton Abbey special this year, I can only rustle up proper enthusiasm for one thing; the promise of the full and complete box set of Game of Thrones to dip into when all the washing up has been done and the bottle of brandy is beckoning.

I will however be setting “record” to catch To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, on BBC1 between Christmas and New Year, when we are going away for a few days. It will probably be February before I get round to watching it.

This is the state of Christmas television for most of us. A mish-mash of catch-up TV, half-watched films and, with the exception of the Queen’s Speech, the absence of any one show that will have the whole family sitting down together for anything resembling “event television”.

How out of touch are those in charge of programming? Switch on your set and you will see. If nothing else, it brings the licence fee debate home to ordinary families.

Despite the fact that we are put down as a nation of couch potatoes, the draw of the box at the festive season simply isn’t what it was. Yet to hear about the extravaganzas promised by the channels, you’d think we were all Jim Royle.

There are too many demands on our time, too many other distractions and, quite frankly, too many repeats and re-hashes of things that are on throughout the year for it to hold our attention in the way it once did.

Gone are the days when half the country – literally – tuned in to EastEnders to watch Den and Angie Watts rip each other to shreds in the Queen Vic in 1986.

Last year, Downton Abbey’s farewell episode was the most-watched TV show on Christmas Day with 6.9m viewers, although the Queen’s Speech topped the charts with 7.2m people tuning in across BBC and ITV.

I suppose this proves that quality will win the day itself. And, at a time when so much of the world seems uncertain and unnerving, there is a great deal of reassurance to be found from knowing that the Queen is there to mark Christmas with us for yet another year.

The dignity and gravitas she represents is in woefully short supply elsewhere. Mary Berry in a sparkly jumper on the Great British Bake-Off Christmas Special doesn’t come near, frankly. I know lots of people 
will watch it, but it’s on at 4.45pm on Christmas Day, so “watching” will probably only involve one half-closed eye. It also follows a showing of the animated children’s film Frozen.

This is being billed by the BBC as a massive highlight of the Christmas schedule. I despair.

There can’t be a child in the country who hasn’t seen this film already. Does the Beeb really think that the chance to watch it all over again is going to hold the attention of the nation’s under-12s, hyped up to hysteria on Christmas sweets and distracted by a pile of toys?

I propose a radical solution. Next year I think that all the terrestrial channels should accept that things are no longer what they were and not bother with promises as hollow as a chocolate reindeer.

After all, my mother no longer comes home bearing the bumper editions of Radio Times and TV Times in fervent anticipation of festive entertainment. Les Dawson will not be gurning at the Queen, nor will Morecambe and Wise be dancing with Angela Rippon. No family will be stunned into silence by the showing of a Christmas Day film which is already three years old. And Christmas television will be accepted as the turkey it really is.