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The best of yuletide telly from yesteryear

By Frances Burscough

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without any telly. But nothing comes close to the TV of Christmas past, when there were only three channels, no remote controls and everyone watched the same things at the same times.

Here's my favourite highlights from the festive schedule of days gone by.

If you're aged 40+ you're almost certain to remember them all...

Blue Peter make their Advent Crown: John Noakes, Peter Purvis and Valerie Singleton all joined together in festive cheer to make the tackiest, most dangerous fire hazard of a decoration known to humanity combining coat hangers and candles wrapped in (highly flammable) tinsel. Imagine a children's programme nowadays instructing children to tinker with wire cutters, screw-drivers, candles and matches! 

The Royal Society Childrens' Lectures: As much of an institution as midnight mass, this series of three consecutive lectures was televised in Christmas week on BBC2 during the Seventies and had been doing so since telly was invented (and still does today). Despite being both educational and informative, these programmes were actually very entertaining and parents everywhere breathed a sigh of relief as their kids were engrossed for an hour a day during the holidays watching something actually worthwhile.

Festive cheer across the three networks: You always knew when Christmas was around the corner because newsreaders, presenters and characters suddenly became cheerful and almost human all of a sudden. Even the serious newscasters would succumb to festive spirit with holly boughs on their desk and mistletoe hanging above their autocue. As a kid I always wondered what would happen if the Queen Mother died and there was a sombre newsflash from a man in a flashing bow-tie...  

It's A Wonderful Life: One of the many movies that you always waited for and always -but always- sat down to watch in the true spirit of the season. This 1946 melodrama was produced and directed by Frank Capra and starred the incomparable James Stewart as a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his Guardian Angel, Clarence.

Despite being nominated for five Oscars it didn't win any, although the film has since been recognised by the American Film Institute as the most inspirational American film of all time. And quite rightly too, if you ask me!

White Christmas: Christmas Eve afternoon meant only one thing in the good old days of yuletide telly: White Christmas, the 1954 musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney as vaudeville performers putting on a show in a Vermont cabin. Oh, the schmaltzy storyline!

Oh the corny characters! Oh the continuous crooning! Oh how fantastically Christmassy!

A Christmas Carol:  'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse; because they were all sitting in front of the telly mesmerised by the greatest cartoon adaptation of all time - A Christmas Carol, based on the timeless Dickens short story, directed by Richard Williams and the master animator of his generation, the brilliant Ken Harris. It starred Alaister Sim as the voice of Scrooge and Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley while Michael Redgrave narrated the story. Almost always the last thing we watched on telly before climbing up the stairs on Christmas Eve.

The Snowman: After dinner on Christmas day - in my childhood memories at least - the Queen's speech wasn't even considered as viable entertainment. Heck no, not when the Snowman was almost certainly on the other side! What a timeless, perfect, immaculate piece of television that is, was and always will be. I challenge anyone of any age to watch it and emerge with their handkerchiefs still intact. Altogether now: "We're walking in the air...!"

Sam Cam declares herself a fashionista

When you think of Samantha Cameron, what springs instantly to mind? Well, for me it's the fact that she wore some really horrible outfits during her time as our "first lady" Which is why I found it quite extraordinary to discover that she's launched herself a fashion label. In an interview in next month's Vogue, no less, she describes how there's a gap in the market for her type. Her type being failed prime ministers' wives, I wonder? So now she's found something to dedicate her spare time to, joining the ever-growing bandwagon of celebs who think fashion design is a doddle which requires no training whatsoever. No surprise, then, that the outfit she wore to publicise her new collection fitted in very nicely with the rest of her questionable clothing. Fashioned from grey checked linen, the two-piece skirt and top combo is quite literally shapeless, ie. straight up and down and sleeveless too, with a fabric tie belt at the waist -so it's something anyone could throw together. In fact, come to think of it, you could make it very easily from a packet of kitchen tea towels. The overall look is appropriately wishy-washy, but I'm guessing the (undisclosed) price tag isn't.

This week I'll ...

This week I'll mostly be taking my dogs to visit Santa. Yes, you read that correctly, my dogs. Now that both my kids are grown adults who tower above me, I am transferring all the Christmas traditions to my other two dependants, Walter the Bichon Frise and Heidi the Schnauzer, whether they like it or not! And this year, pampered pooches are queueing up in a shopping centre near you to meet Father Christmas. For me that means the Assisi Charity shop on Bangor Main Street this (Saturday) afternoon. I just hope they behave themselves accordingly and don’t simply run amok and pee on one of the elves.

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