Nine unmissable Christmas radio treats

Radio Times's radio editor Jane Anderson selects the nine programmes you must tune in to

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1. Book of the Week: The Etymologicon
Monday 19-Friday 23 December 9:45am FM/12:30am Radio 4

Strange but true: the word “biscuit” is only two etymological links away from “masochism”. And you’ll never be able to eat an avocado again without recalling that its name comes from a physical resemblance to a large, green testicle. As for sausages, would you be surprised to learn they’re connected to both botulism and Botox? Hugh Dennis will explain all this and more as he muses on the extraordinary connections between everyday words.

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2. Kylie on Blossom
Thursday 22 December 10:00pm Radio 2

The little-girl-lost tones of jazz singer Blossom Dearie were such an inspiration to Kylie Minogue that she named Dearie as a major musical influence two years before the singer died in 2009. Now Kylie sings Blossom’s praises in this affectionate tribute.

3. Jon and Miranda’s Secret Santa
Friday 23 December 12 noon Radio 2

“It’s our Christmas gift to the nation,” say Miranda Hart and Jon Holmes, “although we have kept the receipt.” Their themed show is all about what to give, what you’d most like to receive and the ideal Secret Santa presents for celebrities who’ve made the headlines this year.

4. Open Book: Funny Books Special
Christmas Eve 8:00pm Radio 4

To get us in the mood for a comedic Christmas, Jo Brand, Tony Parsons, AL Kennedy, Christopher Brookmyre and John Sessions reveal the books that crack them up.

5. Private Passions
Christmas Day 12 noon Radio 3

Unlike the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who famously picked seven of her own recordings when she appeared on Desert Island Discs, Andrew Lloyd Webber is much more modest in his musical selections. There’s not a single ALW composition. Instead, his choices illustrate a love for Russian music — Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich are all there — as well as two belting numbers from South Pacific and West Side Story.

6. England, Their England
Christmas Day 2:00pm Radio 4

An adorable feel-good drama, with Rufus Sewell, Alfred Molina and Ioan Gruffudd playing three of the richly comic characters who inhabit this tale. Most noteworthy of all, though, is Ian Hislop, who makes his radio acting debut as — what else? — a cricket-crazed Fleet Street hack.

7. French and Saunders
Christmas Day 2:00pm Radio 2

After a wobbly start last year (you can’t just jump ship from television to radio without learning a whole new craft), Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are entirely comfortable in their lovely, fluffy wireless slippers, and can chat as if we were in the room alongside them. Their top-notch guests include Michael Palin and Tracey Emin.

8. Strictly Christmas with Len Goodman
Christmas Day 10:00pm Radio 2

Radio 2’s dance season comes to a cha-cha-cha close with two programmes by Strictly favourites Len Goodman and Russell Grant. Russell helps usher in the new year on 30 December, but Len is on hand for anyone stable enough to try out a tango on Christmas night.

9. Oh No It Isn’t… the News Quiz
Friday 30 December 6:15pm Radio 4

Yes, it’s panto time, and a terrible crime has been committed — someone has stolen the Greenwich Pips. In an attempt to spare the sanity of all devoted Radio 4 listeners, Sandi Toksvig and Andy Hamilton go on a quest to recover them, aided and abetted by Kirsty Young and Jeremy Hardy, among others…

Illustration by Paul Moyse

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This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 7 December 2011.