Saturday 25th December: 8.30 EastEnders Fourth of today's nine visits to Albert Square 9.00 Walking with Dinosaurs It's `Dad's Army' again 10.00 Who Needs It? Christmas television, that is

It's every TV scheduler's favourite time of the year. But, really, why do they bother?

Christmas: the season of goodwill and, with luck, excellent television. What new films? What comedy specials? What light entertainment extravaganzas? It's at about this time of the year that the British population divides neatly into two:

1. Those people who, having bought the Radio Times, go through its pages with a felt-tip pen and encircle all the programmes they intend to watch; and

2. Those who mock such anally retentive behaviour and then, when no one's looking, encircle the programmes they intend to watch with a differently coloured felt-tip pen.

(Of course there are a few people who don't watch much television over Christmas. They go on long freezing walks, and are eventually forced to read the bulky literary biographies cruel relatives have given them for Christmas. They are the sort of people who actually look forward to going back to work in January.)

It's vital, then, to be first to the Radio Times when it comes out. For years the magazine's publishers have marvelled at the extraordinary sales figures they enjoy for their Christmas/New Year double issue. This is because unscrupulous TV viewers go out and buy a second copy, encircle all their favourite programmes and then quietly throw away the first copy. Some households can get through half a dozen.

It's also an explanation for all those Christmas TV schedules most newspapers print in a blaze of excitement at the beginning of December. "Exclusive!" they all scream, which is fair enough as most of them print slightly different listings for each of the crucial days. This is because none of the TV companies has finalised their schedules when the newspapers want to print them, so the newspapers have to fill the gaps with guesses. Oddly enough they forget to mention this to their inevitably disappointed readers.

The real Christmas schedules are concocted by a few brave and tortured souls sitting in small offices in the bowels of their respective television company headquarters. The programmes have been made, the new films have been bought, and the BBC's tape of The Great Escape has been dusted off for its first showing since Easter. Now it's just a matter of putting all these delights in the right order.

Unfortunately this is not as easy a task it may seem. Your audience's high expectations have been built up by years of Morecambe And Wise, which has ensured that, for the next 50 years at least, no Christmas TV will ever be quite as good as it used to be. The fact that in 1971 the only alternative programming was an On The Buses Christmas Special is conveniently forgotten. Those were the days in which terrible old westerns really were the highlight of Boxing Day's viewing. Morecambe And Wise were the only people who kept us sane.

For BBC1, then, there is the unendurable weight of expectation, not to mention Noel Edmonds. An appalling accident of birth gave Britain's foremost light entertainment beardie a Christian name that carries unmistakeable echoes of Christ's own birthday (a coincidence that seems to have struck him from an early age). The BBC1 scheduler has therefore been lumbered for years past with Noel's Christmas Presents, an emetic seasonal Jim'll Fix It that sets the tone for the whole day. These days there's also the double, triple or quadruple helping of EastEnders to wade through, an endurance test so stiff that even the soap's most zealous followers are likely to be comatose by the time Beppe finally decks Phil, or Pauline Fowler is stung to death by killer bees.

One trend that has thankfully passed is the feature-length episode of your favourite sitcom or comedy drama. Remember Birds Of A Feather going to East Germany, or Lovejoy going to America and meeting Cliff Barnes? Huge budgets (for the BBC) but much smaller jokes, stretched beyond imagining by ecologically minded scriptwriters. Again, a couple of glasses of red wine removed all resistance. Whole families could be heard snoring through these contrived japes, which was often the first thing they had agreed about for years. These days the trend is to produce three or four bumper episodes of the same sitcom: three years ago Only Fools And Horses, last year Men Behaving Badly, this year The Vicar Of Dibley. This at least gives a semblance of continuity, although you may end up wanting to murder Dawn French by Boxing Day.

ITV, by tradition, has completely ignored Christmas, as advertisers have no interest in it. The weeks leading up to Christmas, fine, because everyone still wants you to buy things, but the actual Christmas holiday? No money in it, so no programmes in it either. This year, however, the network has made an exception. So anxious is it to maintain its audience share, and so earn bumper bonuses for its top executives, that three episodes of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? have been earmarked for Christmas Day. What chance that the questions will be that little bit easier, the chances of someone winning that million that little bit greater?

True tellyheads, though, will look beyond peaktime, for the real pleasures of Christmas television tend to lie in the margins of morning, afternoon and late night. If you look hard enough you can usually find: several Christmas sitcom specials from long ago, all hopelessly unfunny; carol concerts (always shown several days before Christmas to catch you out); dismal American documentaries about stunts, usually narrated by Lee Majors; at least seven news reviews of the year; an Audie Murphy season on BBC2; an inspired selection of Channel 4's dullest documentaries; Von Ryan's Express; The World's Strongest Man (no longer won by Geoff Capes); the Royal Institution Christmas lectures; Disney Time, hosted by someone much younger than you who is apparently very famous; a recent compilation of Bugs Bunny cartoons with feeble links voiced by someone other than Mel Blanc; Casablanca; and if you're really lucky, a classic episode of Mary Mungo and Midge. Does the mouse press the lift button? You betcha.

Amid all this hullabaloo there is only one certainty: that the two films you most want to tape will be on at the same time. Who'd be a scheduler at Christmas? Or, rather, who wouldn't?

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test