It was The Vicar of Dibley that was the final straw. On BBC1, at 10.45pm, on Christmas Eve. That golden moment when the last present has been wrapped, the children are in bed and there is still at least an hour to while away before hanging up one’s stocking and going to bed. That golden moment, in fact, when one might reasonably expect the UK’s finest broadcaster to pull out the big guns and give everyone a pre-Christmas treat.
Instead, it chose to screen a “vintage” episode of Richard Curtis’s ecclesiastical sitcom. And not even a recent one, but a Christmas special which premiered in 1996. There were jokes about the Spice Girls and David Ginola that were so old I had to Google them to understand the punchlines. And they still weren’t funny.
Of course, complaining about Christmas television is an age-old festive ritual, as ingrained in most households as stealing the icing off the Christmas cake, leaving all the caramels at the bottom of the Quality Street tin and going through the bumper festive Radio Times with a marker pen and head full of slothful intentions. But this year there was nothing for the marker pen to mark. It has been the worst year in memory for Christmas television.
There are statistics to prove it. The EastEnders Christmas special was the most watched but it drew its smallest audience in a decade – just 9.4 million viewers. Emmerdale and Coronation Street also lost half a million viewers, while the usually bankable specials of Doctor Who and Downton Abbey were down by 1.6 million and 1.3 million viewers on last year, respectively.
This is not surprising when you consider what was on offer. A heart attack and ruined wedding in Albert Square. Two hours of plotless aristoballs, swiftly concluded with a car crash and the cynically tearjerking exit of a favourite in Downton Abbey. Elsewhere there was Call the Midwife and The Royle Family, but since I’m neither a pensioner nor a teenage boy nor living in 1999, I didn’t watch them. The daytimes were even worse – Channel 4’s Christmas Cookalong with Gordon Ramsay offered turkey with a side order of ADHD, wonky satellite link-ups and The Hoff for four hours. No one wants that on Christmas morning.
There were some bright spots – Fabrice Muamba’s joyous salsa on Strictly Come Dancing; The Snowman and the Snowdog; and Miranda, who finally won me over with a daft half hour of slapstick which seemed to be the very essence of Christmas family viewing. Restless, too, has been a quality affair, though for some reason the BBC saved its classiest offering for after Christmas.
This has been a fine year for television – just look at The Thick of It, The Hollow Crown, Parade’s End or Fresh Meat. But as soon as Christmas looms, programmers panic. They revert to repeats – 49 per cent of the programmes shown on the four main channels last week were repeats; on BBC2, they accounted for 127 out of 155 programmes. A weird patriotism grips them as all the finest imports of the year – Homeland, Girls, The Killing – get swept off the schedules to make way for larky, home-grown “entertainment”.
Why not revisit the Twenty Twelve team to see how the famous legacy is panning out? Or reveal, finally, what happened when Sherlock jumped off that roof? Or give us a new episode of Rev rather than an ancient one of The Vicar of Dibley? Or, even better, why not screen the opening ceremony of the Olympics and Super Saturday all over again? As family entertainment goes, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Life’s too short for YOLO. Just sayin’
The American magazine The Atlantic has compiled a list of 2012’s most irritating words, which makes for perversely enjoyable reading. Hashtag (as a proper noun), artisanal (as applied to everything from pizza to mineral water) and YOLO (You Only Live Once, abbreviated for people who don’t want to waste their lives saying actual words) are all feted for their ability to set teeth on edge. Ditto curvy, hipster, meggings and, a late but unavoidable addition, fiscal cliff.
I’d like to make a few additions to the list. The suffix “-shambles”, having done sterling work in 2012, must retire graciously in 2013, because once politicians find something funny, it’s officially not. The time is up, too, for all puns on Fifty Shades of Grey, and, while we’re at it, the yucky phrase “mummy porn”. “Mansplaining” must go. So, too, “reaching out” as an alternative to emailing. The Olympics were wonderful but “to medal” and “to podium” are grammatical aberrations that must never again darken our commentary boxes.
More television terrors to consign to the dustbin: Mary Berry using “bake” as a noun, Darcey Bussell’s “Yah” and everything the Made in Chelsea cast says but particularly “totes”, “adorbs” and “blates”. In a similar vein, the heinous abbreviations KMiddy and “SheBu” for Shepherd’s Bush will just not do. And finally, in 2013, can we please have a moratorium on any sentence that includes the words “Sally Bercow tweeted”. #justsayin’! Happy New Year!