It’s Christmas in Call the Midwife – but what were we watching in 1960?

How has television changed in the last 55 years?

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It’s Christmas 1960 for Call the Midwife and the team are thrilled with their seasonal issue of Radio Times and its woodcut cover by acclaimed illustrator Eric Fraser.

Inside is an indispensable guide to a festive feast of enter- tainment: the Home Service, the Light and Third Programmes on radio, and the BBC’s single television channel. (To see what was on ITV you would need another magazine.)

Some 55 years later we have BBC2, BBC3 – for one last time before it goes online – BBC4, Channel 4 and Channel 5 and a gazillion digital channels beyond.

Yet much hasn’t changed. TV still requires a fiendish crime to be solved by a man smoking a pipe and wearing a hat. In 1960 it was French detective Maigret, with trilby and briar. This Christmas it’s Benedict Cumberbatch as a Victorian Sherlock complete with deerstalker.

And our love of variety endures. In 2015 Bruce Forsyth fronts the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Day special; in 1960 the BBC offered Christmas Night with the Stars. There was no Brucie – the then 32-year-old entertainer was presenting Sunday Night at the London Palladium on ITV, but Carry On Constable star Sid James was on hand with his filthy laugh.

Six decades on, The Archers remain in Ambridge. Back then the men were going to the Bull for a pint, now the women are taking all their clothes off for fun – see page 32!

Yes, we still like to snigger at the naughty bits, provided this year by David Walliams’s Billionaire Boy, inheritor of the Bum Fresh toilet paper fortune. An improvement, perhaps, on BBC television’s 1960 Christmas offering, a Brian Rix farce featuring “saucy gnomes and jesters”, called Boobs in the Wood. Over which it may be best to draw a festive curtain.  

Call the Midwife is on Christmas Day at 7:30pm on BBC1

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