TELEVISION / Stubbing out the butt of another year: A Christmas broadcast from the nation's first family and the Queen's Speech: Andy Gill on Christmas viewing

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In a tradition whose origins are lost in the mists of time, the first family of television made their annual Christmas appeal to the nation following a depressing year. Indeed, so bad had things been down Peckham way since the last Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special (BBC 1, Christmas Day) that vast quantities of the nation's surplus stock of art treasures - 150 Bros albums, 250 Free Nelson Mandela T-shirts, and a particularly nice line in Chas & Di wedding plates - were to be found choking up the Trotters' spare room. Rodney's improving sermon regarding the fortunes of a friend of his who had made a mint despite the recession with a combination garden centre / organic food shop did little to inspire Del-boy. 'That's like the Parable of the Lucky Git,' he grumbled, not without justice.

Coming but once a year, however, allows for much greater swings of fortune than the series previously countenanced, and this year Del finally found his forte, flogging tapwater to yuppies - though, as the programme closed on a luminous bottle of highly toxic Peckham Spring, it seems likely that that the company's subsequent collapse will be every bit as calamitous as its rise had been meteoric.

The murmur of republican sniggers was hard to repress as The Queen (all channels, Christmas Day) attempted to deflect attention from her own family's calamitous year by focusing on the example of Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC. Cheshire's great virtue, she explained, was that he was tireless in pursuit of his charitable work for others but reticent regarding his own problems, which may have been a dig at certain members of the Royal Court: the Parable of the Silent War Hero, perhaps. For herself, the Queen acknowledged that '1993 will undoubtedly bring new challenges.' Such as, presumably, the mystery of how to fill out a tax return form.

By strange coincidence, at the same time as BBC1 featured the Queen in a wood-panelled room beside a Christmas tree decked out in elegant red baubles and ribbons, BBC2 had the nation's monarch of the track, Nigel Mansell, sitting in a virtually identical room by what appeared to be the very same tree, lamenting his own year. The champion's characteristic parade of complaints and aspersions continued unabated despite his triumphant season. It was a very British, very 1992 performance: the Parable of the Whingeing Victor. Nigel should have minded the karmic lesson of Robert, one of eight impeccably middle-class children bussed in to increase the already dangerously high emetic power of Christmas Blind Date (ITV, Christmas Day). After he had admitted that what he liked about Blind Date was when the wall drew back and you could tell the lucky couple didn't like each other, his face was a picture as he was himself confronted with the diminutive Melanie. Asked whether he liked what he saw, Robert struggled with his conscience. 'Nice,' he offered, then, as if realising this wasn't the most fulsome praise, 'Her shoes are nice.'

'Sunny Stories', a Bookmark special (BBC2, Boxing Day), featured Maureen Lipman in a semi-animated biopic about Enid Blyton that attempted to cover far too many presentational bases without actually revealing much of the author's inner character. We did learn, however, that as a grown woman she retained the underdeveloped uterus of a 12-year-old girl, a bizarre physical metaphor for her own refusal to grow up.

The statistics were astonishing - over 700 books written, over 85 million copies sold - but the fondant colours were wearying, as were some of the techniques: as we heard her daughter's voice telling us of the desolation she felt when she said goodbye to her daddy on a station platform, we saw a toy train chugging away.

This intimation of bitterness encroaching on a child's world was entirely contrary to Blyton's own method, which used story-telling as a refuge from harsh realities. Motherhood was found wanting, despite Blyton's apparent adoration of children. And when her dog Bobs, subject of dozens of doughty adventures, eventually died, she refused to allow his grave to be marked, because to her, Bobs lived on in her books. Fleeing from the real, she used her imaginative powers to ensure there was always honey and cake for tea and that coppers were always cheery and helpful. Her first husband, it came as no surprise to learn, degenerated into a lush who played the drums alone for comfort. Better, perhaps, than playing second fiddle to Noddy.

Victoria Wood's All Day Breakfast (BBC1, Christmas Day) featured the new-look, slimline - virtually glam - Victoria in a spot-on spoof of daytime telly the best lines of which were reserved for an Eldoradate soap set in a shopping mall. From the cumbersome expository dialogue to the gay French cafe proprietor perpetually polishing his tables as an endless succession of double entendres shuffled by, this was devastatingly accurate. At its conclusion, the mall residents met their latest neighbour, that saintly doyenne of the Bath bun, Mrs Overall, there to run a mall outpost of Acorn Antiques.

Saint Mugg: the Making of a TV Saint (C4, Christmas Day) attempted to persuade us of Malcolm Muggeridge's saintly qualities, without much success. In his own youth a free-love adherent who by all accounts put it about a bit, he later became one of the sternest critics of Sixties permissiveness, like the reformed drug-addict pop star who spends all his time telling others not to indulge as he did. It took a clip of Alan Brien tackling him to bring home Muggeridge's essentially class-ridden world- view: he didn't mind toffs and profs indulging themselves, suggested Brien, only railing against something when it appeared the franchise on its enjoyment was about to be extended to the lower orders. Caught bang to rights, Muggeridge had no answer. He was, on this showing, little more than a hypocritical, curmudgeonly old bore whose appeal nowadays seems limited to other curmudgeonly old bores.

Quite a few of those reformed druggie pop stars appeared on Thirty Years On - A Tribute to the Music of Bob Dylan (C4, Christmas Day), the highly abbreviated recording of the concert thrown at Madison Square Gardens by his record company to celebrate their 30-year association with the bard. For some reason, they believed we'd prefer a bunch of lesser lights performing Dylan's songs, rather than Dylan himself, in direct contravention of their own 1968 marketing campaign, which stated bluntly that 'Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan'. It's a truth that hasn't withered with age, despite his present shaky form, but to get to a couple of roughly croaked songs by an uncomfortable, uncommunicative Dylan, we had to endure the likes of John Cougar Mellencamp hoping for a little of His Bobness's genius to rub off on them.

The result was the event's upstaging by Sinead O'Connor. Appearing shortly after her notorious appearance on Saturday Night Live she was booed by some of the audience, and wouldn't let her musicians play until there was perfect quiet, which didn't happen; eventually, she bawled out an a cappella rendition of a Bob Marley song before stalking tearfully off. It was great theatre. The great music, though, came from Neil Young and Stevie Wonder, who tried to squeeze in more notes to each syllable of 'Blowing in the Wind' than had ever previously been attempted. Never mind how many roads a man could walk down, there was enough time to traverse the nation's entire motorway network before Stevie could call himself a ma-a-ay-a-an.

Less than household names were on hand to hymn Linda McCartney's photographic talents in a poor Arena (BBC2, Boxing Day): a rock journalist called Danny Fields, a photographer called Ralph Gibson, and an artist called Brian Clarke, whose connection to the matter at hand seemed tenuous at best. Even then, Clarke didn't seem so sure about Linda: 'If you ask me whether her pictures are great, I'd say that's not for you or me to say', he non- said. 'If you ask me whether they're interesting, I'd say yes.' Yes, and so are my holiday snaps, sometimes.

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