As I write this, I’m bundled in my Christmas sweater, nursing a mug of hot chocolate, watching the snow make a downy pillow on the road outside. On the doorstep apple-cheeked urchins are singing “While shepherds watched…” Presents for my loved ones are piled beneath a shimmering Christmas tree.
Actually, none of this is true. It’s November, it’s raining and urchins are still demanding “Penny for the guy” with menaces, though I am just about to put the brussels sprouts on to boil in time for Christmas dinner. But never mind, just rubbing my hands at the prospect of what’s on the telly at Christmas makes me feel all bubbly inside. There’s nothing like the rosy glow of anticipation as you prepare to unwrap TV treats and get ready to exclaim, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted one of those.”
My TV stocking is already heaving. There’s a tangerine and a bag of nuts in there, of course, but there’s also Mark Gatiss’s dramatisation of The Tractate Middoth (BBC2) by my favourite ghost-story writer, MR James. Don’t let the title put you off: this is a terrifying story of a haunting in a library. Christmas is the perfect time for a vicarious ghostly shiver as we cluster around the television for a supernatural story, so we’ll all be sitting down, too, to The Thirteenth Tale (BBC2), adapted from Diane Setterfield’s eerie bestseller about a young biographer (played by actress du jour Olivia Colman), an antiquarian bookshop and a mercurial novelist (Vanessa Redgrave).
We’ll be decking the halls and probably the entire street too for the return of Sherlock (BBC1) when, at last (I hope), we learn how he survived THAT fall. I’m sure you have already worked it out, in which case you are very clever. Then there’s Downton Abbey (ITV), of course, which last year added to the gaiety of a nation pleasantly sated by festive cheer and too many mixed nuts by killing off a major character in a car crash. Ding dong merrily! The “Christmas special” this year is actually set in summer, at the Crawley family’s lovely London townhouse.
Last year’s Call the Midwife Christmas episode (BBC1) made me weep in public, it was so sad and glum (a derelict old lady, a mass grave, a dead child) so here’s hoping that things are a little more glittery and festive at Nonnatus House when the barnstorming success returns for a special in advance of a new series.
And of course Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an Event, and this year the beloved sitcom Open All Hours returns, briefly, as a one-off called Still Open All Hours (BBC1). David Jason is back as Granville, who now runs the grocery store that was once the gloomy domain of his terrifying uncle Albert Arkwright (Ronnie Barker).