It used to be as much a part of the Christmas Day tradition as turkey and mince pies. In an early '70's edition of 'Steptoe & Son', Albert said he admired the participants for generously giving up their Yuletide holidays to entertain the public. Harold pointed out that the show was in fact recorded in October.
Whereas now on Christmas Day we have to make do with someone getting stabbed in 'Eastenders' or an underage cast member of 'Coronation Street' ( I do wish they'd stop referring to it as 'Corrie'. It sounds like an illness ) announcing a pregnancy, in years gone by entire families would gather round the idiot's lantern for some good, old fashioned entertainment. 'Christmas Night With The Stars' consisted of specially written sketches based on top sitcoms of the day, musical items, and introduced by a host ( in this case Jack Warner of 'Dixon Of Dock Green' ). It gave the B.B.C. the opportunity to puff out its chest and say: "blimey, what a good year we've had! And here's the proof!". The 1964 edition is particularly interesting for several reasons. My copy is an edited repeat from the early 90's, slimmed down from 90 minutes to a more digestible 60, losing along the way 'The Black & White Minstrels' ( oh what? ), Roy Castle, and 'Meet The Wife' with dear Thora Hird and Freddie Frinton.
But what's left is still a lot of fun. 'The Likely Lads' had only been on air a fortnight when it was featured here, and as many had yet to see B.B.C.-2 this was their first encounter with Terry Collier and Bob Ferris. The lads are getting ready to go out on Christmas Night, when they get sidelined into a discussion about characters in 'Rupert Bear' annuals. So heated does it become they forget to go out. Not Clement and La Frenais at their best, but seeing how 2entertain neglected to include it on their 'Likely Lads' box-set D.V.D. I'm not complaining.
Dick Emery's contribution consists of one of those vox pop sequences he used to do each week - an interviewer asks various Emery characters questions, in this case what Christmas means to them. No spinster, skinhead, vicar, or farmer sadly, but Mandy ( didn't Emery look great as Mandy? ) makes up for it.
'Hugh & I' starred Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd in John Chapman's take on Laurel & Hardy. The sketch here is quite amusing - Terry has guests round and insists they play a parlour game, which involves slapping their knees and thinking of words with linked meanings. It does not give Scott and Lloyd much chance to interact, but the presence of Mollie Sugden ( whom we lost this year ), Jack Haig and Patricia Hayes keeps it buoyant.
'Marriage Lines' starred Richard Briers and Prunella Scales as newly-weds 'George' and 'Kate', and was scripted by middle-of-the-road comedy maestro Richard Waring. I have not seen much of the show, and this did not impress, much less amuse. It was sad to see Briers and Scales saddled with such bland material. Fortunately, 'The Good Life' and 'Fawlty Towers' were a decade or so away.
The comedy highlight, for me, was a Benny Hill skit entitled 'The Lonely One', a spoof documentary concerning a teenage tearaway named Willie Tredder. Hill played every character, including an obnoxious big-toothed twit who talked like John Major: "No! No! I've got to disagree with you there!". Anyone who associates Hill with 'Yakety Sax', Sue Upton in stockings, and bald men getting slapped on the head should be made to watch this. It really is remarkably funny. And puts paid to the absurd notion that the spoof documentary is a recent invention.
Right, that's the comedy covered. What about the music? Well, there's Billy 'Wakey-Wakey!' Cotton, Kathy Kirby, Andy Stewart and Ralph Reeder's 'Gang Show'. A pretty eclectic bunch then. Oh, and 'Top Of The Pops' was there too, dominated by 'The Barron Knights', whose cheeky song parodies were often better than the originals ( to this day, whenever I hear Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick In The Wall', I mentally slip in a 'Hey Santa! What? Leave the booze alone!' ).
So something for everyone then. 'Marriage Lines' aside, this was a decent Christmas show, unashamed to put a smile on the face of its audience. Corny? No more than The Queen's Speech. Should it revived? Impossible. What on Earth would they fill it with?
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