The TV channels take Christmas very seriously indeed. After all, by Christmas afternoon, they have a huge captive audience of people who have long since tired of having to talk to each other. During the early part of November, the Yuletide TV schedules are guarded with the sort of secrecy usually reserved for nuclear-weapons technology.
Details are now beginning to emerge, however. Among the jewels in the BBC's crown will be an hour-long spin-off from The Fast Show of Ted and Ralph (played by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson), the painfully awkward aristocratic landlord who loves his faithful Irish retainer. Their relationship becomes more complicated when Ralph is obliged by a will to marry a woman in order to keep hold of his estate.
Meanwhile, ITV will be treating us to a lavish reading of Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie, with Juliet Stevenson as the mother, and C4 boasts a two-part profile of the American composer, Leonard Bernstein. It sometimes seems as though Christmas is becoming as much a televisual festival as a religious one, doesn't it?
Whatever Happened to...?
Brian Cant, the presenter of 13 series of Play School and 10 series of Playaway, is still held in awe by a generation of twenty- and thirtysomethings. He says he was once at a petrol station when "a young guy approached me and I thought `oh, no, this is trouble.' But he said, `I'd just like to thank you for my childhood'." Also the voice behind Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley, Cant has attained the sort of cred usually reserved for black-clad indie bands. At Hull University there is the inevitable Brian Cant Appreciation Society - which, it is claimed, boasts 200 members.
Having done a spell as The Vicar in Michael Bogdanov's touring production of The Canterbury Tales, Cant is presently preparing for a run as Baron Hardup in a version of Cinderella at the Anvil Theatre in Basingstoke. He is also much in demand doing voiceovers for children's animations such as Dappledown Farm and commercials - including a send-up of Camberwick Green for a brand of bread in which, Cant recalls, "a man ate some bread that wasn't baked by Windy Miller and his head fell off."
Perhaps the easiest ad he ever had to do, though, was one for a beer which depicted a raging bush fire. All that was required of Cant was to call out the fire brigade from Trumpton - "Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub" - the mantra which everybody from the ages of four to forty has learnt at their mother's knee. "I was in and out of that ad in two minutes," Cant reveals. "It was lovely."