Harry Enfield reckons that The Fast Show (27 Dec 9.40pm BBC2), appeals to a hip, Loaded-type audience. Certainly, judging by the reception he received at the British Comedy Awards the other week, Paul Whitehouse, the co-creator with Charlie Higson, is the hottest thing this side of a sun lamp.
For those of a certain generation, Ronnie Barker - with his landmark appearances in The Two Ronnies, Porridge and Open All Hours - was television comedy. Accorded the honour of a Lifetime Achievement in Comedy award at the BBC's 60th anniversary "Aunties" ceremony last month, he stands out as an uncanny comic character actor. In Ronnie Barker - a Life in Comedy (New Year's Day 8pm BBC1), he gives his first television interview since he retired eight years ago. And it's goodnight from him.
How much would it cost an agent to assemble a writing team consisting of Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart (creator of M*A*S*H)? These writers once all worked for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, America's favourite TV programme throughout the 1950s. They are reunited under the auspices of the Writers' Guild of America and feature in an entertaining Arena: Caesar's Writers (Christmas Eve 9pm BBC2).
I do not believe it. Victor Meldrew is riding the range. In Richard Wilson Way Out West (Sun 29 Dec 9pm BBC1) the star of One Foot in the Grave (right) fulfils a lifetime ambition to become a paid-up cowpoke on a working ranch in Wyoming. Initially, his hardnut trainer doubts his potential: "He has to quit being a gentleman and start being a cowboy." Nevertheless, Wilson eventually manages to drive 264 head of beef cattle to market. At the end of it, he complains in Meldrew-esque fashion: "I've been in the saddle for 18 hours. I don't know if I've got any hip joints left." After Joanna Lumley and Billy Connolly, Wilson keeps up an honourable tradition of celebrity good sports.
Vintage Christmas on Radio 2 almost lives up to its billing of "eight classic radio masterpieces". Among the booty ransacked from the archives is Laurence Olivier in A Christmas Carol (Christmas Eve), Wilde's The Canterville Ghost (New Year's Eve), and Gielgud and Richardson in The Blue Carbuncle (Boxing Day). Better yet, from Hollywood come radio versions of classic films, introduced by their directors and featuring the original stars: on New Year's Day, Bob Hope in The Paleface; on 2 Jan, John Wayne in Stagecoach; and for Christmas Day, James Stewart in Frank Capra's small-town idyll, It's a Wonderful Life. Nostalgia is what it used to be. All programmes at 10.30pm, R2.
Gareth Southgate is not just exorcising the ghosts of that penalty in pizza ads. In Euro 96 When Football Came Home (23 Dec 10.30pm BBC1), he recounts in excruciating detail the miss that sent England out of the 1996 European Football Championships. Also contributing to this comprehensive survey of the month we all went football crazy, football mad for the likes of Shearer (below) and Gazza, are celebrities as diverse as Jurgen Klinsmann and Chris Evans.
Tim Henman's Golden Summer (3 Jan 7.30pm C4). Be honest. Had you heard of Tim Henman before this summer's Wimbledon? All of a sudden, the well- mannered boy from Chiswick was in the quarter-finals, and all anyone could talk about was "Timbledon" and "Henmania". Ian Wooldridge profiles that hitherto most unlikely concept: a world-class British male tennis player.
Among the live sporting highlights on terrestrial TV is a feast of National Hunt racing with One Man attempting to repeat his victory in the King George VI Chase from Kempton (Boxing Day 2.15pm C4), and the Welsh National from Chepstow on 27 Dec (1.55pm BBC2)
Even Steven Spielberg, with his enviable record of box-office smashes, might have been surprised by the amount of attention Jurassic Park (Christmas Day 6.30pm BBC1) grabbed. His version of the bestseller by Michael Crichton is notable for its stunning use of special effects to bring dinosaurs to life and scare the wits out of scientists Sam Neill and Laura Dern. But, being Spielberg, they are employed for a purpose - to give us more thrills and spills than a real-life theme-park.
The Remains of the Day (Christmas Day 10pm ITV, below) is a surprising choice for ITV's hottest festive film slot - you would have thought it was more up Channel 4's street. As always with James Ivory, this reading of the Booker Prize- winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro looks a treat. But it's the performances that really transfix. They may have won Oscars for other, more pyrotechnical displays, but Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson (above) - as the repressed butler and the housekeeper who is the object of his unspoken desire - have rarely been better.
Another Crimbo, another sinkful of grief in soap land. In EastEnders (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day 8.30pm BBC1), the Jacksons are on the brink of tragedy, and sparks fly at the Mitchells' Christmas lunch. 'Tis also the season not to be merry in Brookside, as Ron Dixon gets a bit hot under the collar when his house is the target of an arson attack (23 Dec 8.30pm C4, below). And even in the countryside, the lowing of cattle can't diffuse yet another "explosive" storyline when Dave is forced to choose between his new wife, Kathy, and the scheming Kim in Emmerdale (Christmas Eve 7pm ITV).
Lesley Garrett is becoming our singing superstar equivalent of the Three Tenors. She leads the cast in David Alden's well-regarded production of Handel's Ariodante (Christmas Day 6.40pm BBC2) for the English National Opera. Also on Christmas Day (3.15pm C4), there's a chance to see Alastair Miles as Mephistopheles in the Welsh National Opera's acclaimed production of Gounod's Faust.
Pavarotti was the biggest thing to hit the Llangollen Festival since 1955, when the performance by the great baritone Tito Gobbi inspired the young Pavarotti to go in for professional singing. Last July, he returned to the festival, 40 years to the day since he last appeared there. In Hesin Owen's documentary, Pavarotti Returns to Llangollen (Boxing Day 6.30pm C4), he sings Puccini, Handel and Verdi with his father, Fernando, and the Modena Choir.
Television will eat itself. Yorkshire Television's Cuts (New Year's Eve 8.30pm ITV) has an impeccable pedigree - from the source novel (by Malcolm Bradbury) through the screen adaptation (by David Nobbs) to the first-division cast: Timothy West, Nigel Planer, Donald Sinden and Peter Davison. The story centres on an unemployed lecturer (Davison) who is hired to write a blockbuster drama for the megalomaniac boss of Eldorado Television (West). Based on Bradbury's own experiences, it reeks of the claret-driven world of the TV exec. And - glory be - there's not a bonnet in sight.
There are bonnets and bustles aplenty in The Mill on the Floss (New Year's Day 9pm BBC1) Hugh Stoddart's meticulous reading of the novel by George Eliot, whose Middlemarch prompted the current boom in the costume drama market. Confirming the promise she showed in Breaking the Waves, Emily Watson makes a convincing Maggie Tulliver, the woman whose love for a family enemy, Philip (James Frain), brings her into conflict with her disapproving brother, Tom (Ifan Meredith).
Animation is one of those things - like queuing - that we lead the world in. Brambly Hedge - Winter Story (Christmas Day 4.15pm BBC1), a charming model-animated adaptation of Jill Barklem's stories about the mice of Brambly Hedge, is voiced by, inter alia, Robert Lindsay, Neil Morrissey, Charlotte Coleman, Jim Broadbent and June Whitfield. It comes from the high-class animators, Cosgrove Hall (Noddy, Danger Mouse.)
After success with its animated The Wind in the Willows last year, ITV is following up with The Willows in
Winter (Boxing Day 2.45pm ITV, right), a cartoon version of the sequel by William Horwood. The lively drawings depicting the story of Mole falling through the ice are wonderfully brought to life by Rik Mayall (Toad), Alan Bennett (Mole), Michael Palin (Rat), and Michael Gambon (Badger). Vanessa Redgrave provides the narration.Reuse content