Forgotten Christmas TV classics – on demand!

Forgotten Christmas TV classics – on demand! Half of the main channels’ festive shows are repeats… but there are so many lost favourites available. Settle back for this alternative schedule – from a kids’ Christmas Carol to Rod Stewart in all his pomp

What’s on telly tomorrow? Oh, let’s face it, we’ve had better years — many of them. 

And thanks to the marvel of online catch-up technology, you can enjoy the pick of all those years at once.

Which is just as well because new shows are in short supply, thanks to the immense logistical difficulties of making TV during a pandemic.

According to a report published by digital game designers Marmalade today, 50 per cent of the programmes this Christmas on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 will be repeats. 

The big five channels are showing 403 shows across Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day — and 202 of them will be repeats.

But what does that matter when you’ve got the riches of Christmases Past at the touch of your remote? 

It is now possible to feast on family classics, from the moment when the children first get up till Auntie Maureen finally passes out.

Here, we have constructed for you an hour-by-hour schedule for a Christmas telly blowout on streaming services (Netflix, BritBox and Amazon require a subscription, the rest are free).

4.30pm: Gavin & Stacey, Christmas Special 2008, iPlayer

5.15am: CBeebies Presents A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker, iPlayer

The children are awake. You’re not, even though you’re out of bed. Stick these two lively plays on to keep them happy. Not too loud.

6.45am: The Madagascar Penguins In A Christmas Caper, 2005, iPlayer

The giraffe is lit up like a Christmas tree, the chimps have broken into the six-packs and the penguins of Central Park Zoo are doing what they always do — planning an escape. Bucketfuls of gags, and fish.

7am: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Christmas Special 1975, BritBox

Anybody too young to remember Michael Crawford as the overgrown man-baby Frank Spencer has a treat in store — a department store, where Frank is working as a pixie in the grotto. The comic timing is as sublime as ever, and the outrageous stunts still make your hair stand on end.

7.45am: Christmas Highlights from Talking Pictures Encore

The classic movie channel set up by enthusiast Noel Cronin in Watford now offers a free streaming video service.

Feature films abound, such as Scrooge with Alastair Sim. But treat yourself to half an hour of vintage shorts — Fifties Christmas Round Nan And Grandad, a look at Australia’s celebrations in Christmas Under The Sun and the wartime Christmas In 1942.

6.45am: The Madagascar Penguins In A Christmas Caper, 2005, iPlayer

8.10am: ‘Allo ‘Allo Christmas Special 1985, BritBox

This farcical French Resistance sitcom never sets its sights too high. How could it, with characters called Mimi Labonque and Fifi Lafanne?

Gorden Kaye and his co-stars would never get away with those outrageous accents now.

9am: Call The Midwife Christmas Special 2015, iPlayer/UKTV Play

The snow is falling and Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) goes missing in this shamelessly nostalgic story, with the classic line-up of nurses Trixie, Patsy and Barbara (Helen George, Emerald Fennell and Charlotte Ritchie).

10.15am: Alfie Boe’s Christmas Carols On ITV, 2017, BritBox

The singer leads the congregation at St Elisabeth’s in Greater Manchester, with guest Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud.

11am: Frasier, Perspectives On Christmas, 1997, All4

There’s no shortage of Frasier Christmas specials but this is one of the most satisfying as Niles, Daphne, Frasier and Martin look back on their celebrations. Touching and clever.

11.30am: Father Christmas, 1991, All4

Everyone loves The Snowman, but this animated spin-off by artist Raymond Briggs is just as charming. Santa is a bit of a grump, aching to put his feet up — but he has a heart of gold.

12 noon: 2Point4 Children Christmas Special 1992, BritBox

Belinda Lang and Gary Olsen as Bill and Ben, from nearly 30 years ago. That long — surely it’s not possible?

12.30pm: Top Of The Pops Christmas, 1978, iPlayer

12.30pm: Top Of The Pops Christmas, 1978, iPlayer

Noel Edmonds introduces Darts, Abba, Boney M, Brotherhood Of Man, the Bee Gees and Wings. Who’d have guessed this was the high point of punk rock?

1.30pm: Friends, The One Where Rachel Quits, Christmas Special 1996, Netflix

Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) isn’t quitting the show, of course — just her job at Central Perk coffee bar. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) is selling Christmas trees, which offends Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and her notions about the season of giving.

2pm: Miranda Christmas Special 2014: The Final Curtain, BritBox

When Miranda Hart announced she was not going to make a fourth series of her sweetly slapstick sitcom, the Beeb persuaded her to tie it all up with a ribbon in two festive episodes. The second one is almost heartbreaking.

2.30pm: Birds Of A Feather: Christmas In Dreamland, 1994, UKTV Play

What’s Christmas Eve without a schooner of sherry? And a Tia Maria, a Baileys and a rum punch? Sharon (Pauline Quirke) has had so much that she’s nodded off — into a delirious fantasy world. Co-starring Linda Robson as Tracey and Lesley Joseph as Dorien.

3.15pm: Porridge 1975 Christmas Special, iPlayer

3pm: Quentin Crisp’s Alternative Christmas Message 1993, All4

With a caption proclaiming him to be ‘Quentin Crisp the Queen’, the actor arrives waving from a horse-drawn carriage and delivers a perfectly bonkers fireside address. ‘Women have now decided to become people,’ he laments. ‘This is a change for the worse. Women are nicer than people. Life will become faster, louder, harsher. The loudness is already here. No one seems to mind.’

3.15pm: Porridge 1975 Christmas Special, iPlayer

Fletch (Ronnie Barker) discovers his fellow lags are planning a break-out, with carol singers to disguise the sound of digging. But where are they hiding all the earth? Just watch the face of Fulton Mackay, as the tyrannical prison officer, when Fletch tells him.

4pm: Only Fools And Horses: Christmas Special 1982 (Diamonds Are For Heather), BritBox

There are 16 Christmas episodes of this great sitcom with David Jason, and this early one is a gem. Del Boy falls in love, after chatting up a woman in the Nag’s Head: ‘I’m an importer-exporter of quality merchandise. I tell you what, if you’re interested, I’ve got some very cheap washing powder.’

4.30pm: Gavin & Stacey, Christmas Special 2008, iPlayer

Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) has his mistletoe primed, so it’s going to be a lively celebration as the family and friends from Barry head to Essex to join new bride Stacey (Joanna Page). Many viewers were slow to catch on to this rom-com by co-stars James Corden and Ruth Jones — it just gets funnier with the years.

5.30pm: The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes: The Blue Carbuncle, 1984, BritBox

To many Holmes fans, Jeremy Brett is the finest actor to take the role — finicky, precious, witty, sharp, maudlin and explosive, often all within the space of a minute. This festive episode, involving a Christmas goose, is not his most fiendish mystery but it’s one of the funniest. With David Burke as Watson.

6.20pm: Morecambe & Wise: Late Night Line-up, 1966, iPlayer

6.20pm: Morecambe & Wise: Late Night Line-up, 1966, iPlayer

No Christmas is complete without Eric and Ernie, but their classic BBC specials are hard to find on streaming services. Enjoy a different angle, with this black-and-white interview by Michael Dean. ‘Are you going to ask intelligent questions?’ worries Ernie. ‘We’re going to be in trouble here.’

6.30pm: The Vicar Of Dibley: Winter Special, 1999, BritBox

Praise be! A heavily pregnant Alice (Emma Chambers) is playing the Virgin Mary in the parish Nativity play. ‘It’s weird, she tells vicar Geraldine (Dawn French). ‘I can feel it moving around. You’ve never had anything moving around inside you, have you?’

7.15pm: Poirot’s Christmas, 1994, BritBox

David Suchet is at his incomparable best, mocking Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) as they investigate the murder of a poisonous old patriarch in his locked bedroom: ‘Ah, Chief Inspector, you have been thinking again. I have warned you of this before.’ Stylish, sinister costume drama.

9pm: Downton Abbey, Christmas Special 2011, BritBox

It’s 1919, and the aristocratic soap has never been more dramatic. Mr Bates the valet (Brendan Coyle) has survived World War I only to be accused of murdering his former wife, Vera. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is being blackmailed into marrying a caddish newspaper magnate (Iain Glen), her father Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) wants her to wed ‘a cowboy . . . to shake us up a bit’, but cousin Matthew (Dan Stevens) has other plans for her happiness.

10.30pm: Doctor Who, The Runaway Bride, Christmas Special 2006, iPlayer

You might argue there have been better Doctors than David Tennant this century but, of course, you’d be wrong. This feature-length episode, written by Russell T. Davies, arrived as we were wondering how the show could possibly replace Billie Piper as Rose. A woman in a wedding dress bursts into the Tardis as it hurtles through space, that’s how. Catherine Tate has come aboard and she’s not happy. What an entrance.

4pm: Only Fools And Horses: Christmas Special 1982 (Diamonds Are For Heather), BritBox

11.30pm: Smack The Pony Christmas Special 2002, All4

You can always rely on Channel 4 for some festive outrage. Sally Phillips, Doon Mackichan and Fiona Allen star in a sketch show so saucy it makes the Benny Hill Show look like Songs Of Praise. Their first Christmas special includes a skit on women’s football, as Sally celebrates a goal with her shirt pulled up over her head . . . until she realises she’s forgotten her bra. That will bring a blush to Santa’s cheeks.

Midnight: Father Ted Christmas Special, 1996, BritBox

Comic perfection as a group of priests on a shopping expedition wander into the lingerie section of a department store and panic. Ted (Dermot Morgan) goes to the rescue in the style of a war movie. And Father Dougal (Ardal O’Hanlon) does his first funeral, which goes about as well as you’d expect.

1am: The Avengers, Too Many Christmas Trees, 1965, Amazon Prime

Every episode of this surreal spy thriller is as camp as tinsel on an inflatable reindeer, and this one surpasses itself. Secret agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and his high-kicking partner Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) are at a party in pursuit of a murderous Santa Claus, but they face enemies with telepathic powers. Festive trivia: did you know Emma Peel’s name is a pun? It’s M. Appeal — for Man Appeal.

2am: The Old Grey Whistle Test, Rod Stewart Live, 1976, iPlayer

If you haven’t succumbed to the sherry trifle, sing-along-a-Rod in this marvellous Christmas concert from the Olympia stadium in West London, 45 years ago. Tonight’s The Night, This Old Heart Of Mine, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, Maggie May, Sailing — go on, you know all the words.

1am: The Avengers, Too Many Christmas Trees, 1965, Amazon Prime

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