Why Christmas radio is unmissable this year

From Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere to The Tales of Beatrix Potter radio editor Jane Anderson says 2013 is the best year ever

Gather round your wireless – or your phone/computer/digital television/ MP3 player, if that’s your thing. I have an important announcement to make. This year’s radio offerings are the best that I’ve heard since I started editing these pages back in 1923, or was it 2002?


You simply need to know that there really is something for everyone.

A radio show that will appeal to the whole family is as difficult to produce as it is to stick to a list of New Year resolutions, but Johnny Vegas’s company Woolyback Productions has pulled it off in its sublime reworking of The Tales of Beatrix Potter (Mon 23–Fri 27 Dec, 10.45am/7.45pm R4). It’s set in a contemporary landscape, where familiar characters are having therapy sessions with a human called “Beattie”, but none of the childlike innocence has been lost. Hence, Peter Rabbit’s near-death experiences with Farmer McGregor remain but they’re diagnosed as the first signs of Acute Stress Disorder.

The dialogue is poignant, extremely funny and so faithful to the original tales that even die-hard Beatrix Potter fans will be swept away.

Other highlights for the whole family include a two-part dramatisation of every horse-loving girl’s dream, National Velvet (Wed 25–Thu 26 Dec, 2.15pm R4), with the emphasis firmly on Enid Bagnold’s original novel of a young woman overcoming all the odds to ride a winner in the Grand National.

Meanwhile, a filthy caveman gets his moment beneath the sparkling fairy lights as author David Almond explores the eduring appeal of Stig of the Dump, which hasn’t been out of print since it was published in 1963, in Stig at 50 (Wed 25 Dec, 7:30am R4).

Grown-up listeners are treated to six consecutive nights of Neil Gaiman’s sci-fi masterpiece Neverwhere (Wed 25- Mon 30 Dec, 11:00pm R4) in which a stellar cast, including James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sophie Okonedo, Natalie Dormer and Christopher Lee, takes us to a strange, sinister and violent alternative world that exists beneath London’s streets.

Music is radio’s natural bedfellow and the sheer variety this holiday period proves just how willing melody is to sleep around. Leo Green, Benny’s son, plays some of his father’s recordings with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and others in Leo Green: Hollywood Special (Tue 24 and Thu 26 Dec, 7.00pm R2). There are 12 hours of John Suchet’s Beethoven Marathon (Tue 31 Dec, 7.00pm Classic FM) – it helps if you like Ludwig’s work, of course. And Annie Lennox and Fleetwood Mac both give lengthy interviews to Johnnie Walker (Fri 27 Dec and Wed 1 Jan, 5.00pm R2).

But the best music show on air is This Is Radio Clash (Thu 26 Dec, 1.00pm 6 Music). Topper Headon, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and a “gnome” called Bernie take on the role of DJ.

As for comedy, Nicholas Parsons sets the mood for laughter in Just a Christmas Minute (Mon 23 Dec, 6.30pm R4). And possums, did Christmas Day get you down? Let Barry Humphries blow away any tattered heaps of disappointment in Dame Edna’s Christmas Leftovers (Thu 26 Dec, 10.00am R2). Nigel Farage, Simon Cowell and Vladimir Putin are among those getting a satirical stuffing in six 15-Minute Musicals (Tue 24–Tue 31 Dec, 6.15pm R4). For added laughs, Desert Island Discs (Sun 23 and Sun 29 Dec, 11.15am R4) plays host to Miranda Hart and then Ant and Dec – the first duo to be castaways since 1987. And there’s a spoonful of cynicism in Hugh Dennis’s Christmas Customs (Wed 25 Dec, 10:00am, R5 Live).

New junkies get a festive fix courtesy of the Today programme (Thu 26- Tue 31 Dec, 6:00am R4) with an array of guest editors, including Michael Palin. And Today gets a particularly seasonal visit on Christmas Day from David Attenborough when Tweet of the Day (Wed 25 Dec, 5.58am R4) brings the robin to centre stage.

Other factual and arts gems include a celebration of 90 years of the most famous sound on BBC radio in Big Ben’s Chimes (Thu 26–Tue 31 Dec, 7.58am R4 Extra); a damned fine examination of why we love a baddie in Anything but Banal – the Fascination of the Villain (Sun 29 Dec, 6.45pm R3); a new concept in one-to-one interviews, held during a chess game with Dominic Lawson, in Across the Board (Mon 30 Dec–Fri 3 Jan 1.45pm R4); and a heart-warming report from Afghanistan in Christmas at Camp Bastion (Wed 25 Dec 5.00pm R5 Live).

Finally, for listeners who view this season as the heart of the Christian calendar, Michael Berkeley asks the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to share his favourite Christmas music in Private Passions (Sun 22 Dec, 12 noon R3). Derek Jacobi takes the lead role in The Bethlehem Tales (Wed 25 Dec, 7.00pm Classic FM), which explores the story of Christ from the Annunciation to the Flight into Egypt through the eyes of ordinary people.

And, what better way to lift even the most tired and cynical of spirits than A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (Tue 24 Dec, 3.00pm R4). Those opening bars of Once in Royal David’s City, sung by a solo male chorister, will have tears welling up around the country – but for all the right reasons.


I told you it was good this year, didn’t I?