The best radio shows to listen out for this Christmas

Jane Anderson's festive tips and tipples on the wireless include Mary Berry: At Home for Christmas and The Hunting of the Snark

I really enjoy watching television. Fear not. The radio editor has not been imbibing sherry by the bottle to get into a suitably festive frame of mind. It’s just the truth. A weekly fix of Casualty suits me well. But I love, adore and treasure radio, and it’s at this time of year when its quality really shines through – no fairy lights necessary.

Christmas morning on Radio 4 is family-friendly with bells on. The velvet-voiced Jeremy Irons reads TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (Christmas Day, 8.30am and 12.15pm R4), bringing to life the likes of Mr Mistoffelees, Growltiger, Rumpleteazer, Skimble-shanks and, of course, Macavity. It was on Christmas Day in 1937, two years before the book was published, that five of TS Eliot’s Practical Cats poems were first broadcast, prompting Radio Times to write: “These poems are not the kind that have been usually associated with his name.” Seventy-eight years later, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical means the opposite is true.

The poetic theme resumes with a magical imagining of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (Christmas Day, 2.15pm R4), with a motley crew of characters on a chaotic quest to catch the elusive beast – the Snark. Young fans of the Gruffalo will be enchanted and Tony Robinson’s enthusiastic narration will keep older listeners on side, too.

Paul Merton, Derek Jacobi and Catherine Tate star in an adaptation of John Antrobus and Spike Milligan’s post-apocalyptic surrealist piece The Bed-Sitting Room (Boxing Day, 2.30pm R4 FM). The laughs are there aplenty but the subject matter is bleak.

Meanwhile, in The Archers, Lynda Snell’s hopefuls make their bid for thespian stardom in Calendar Girls (Sunday 27 Dec, 7.15pm R4, repeated Monday 28 Dec, 2.15pm R4 FM).

Siân Phillips steals the show by a country mile and I hope that she joins the cast on a regular basis. You can see exactly what naked radio looks like on page 32!

Five guest editors take over the Today programme (Monday 28 Dec to New Year’s Day, 6am R4). Actor Michael Sheen is first to put his personal stamp on radio’s biggest current affairs show, focusing on the plight of Syrian refugees from the perspective of a teenage girl.

Musical offerings range from the deliciously traditional A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (Christmas Eve, 3pm R4, repeated Christmas Day 2pm R3) and the Strauss-athon that is the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna (New Year’s Day, 10.15am R3).

Don’t miss the choices of two very different guests on Desert Island Discs the retired astronaut Chris Hadfield (Sunday 20 Dec, 11.15am R4, repeated Christmas Day, 9am R4) and actress Patricia Greene, better known as Jill Archer (Sunday 27 Dec, 11.15am R4, repeated New Year’s Day, 9am R4). And Alan Bennett gives a truly heart-warming insight into his favourite pieces of music in Private Passions (Sunday 20 Dec, 12 noon R3). The saddest Christmas song ever written – Fairytale of New York – is up for discussion in Soul Music (Tuesday 22 Dec, 11.30am R4) and it’s left to pop’s pixie princess to raise any flag- ging spirits in Christmas with Kylie (Christmas Day, 2pm R2). Then listen to What the World Needs Now… Is Burt Bacharach (New Year’s Eve, 12 noon R2). Just how many huge hits has this man written?

And finally, three grande dames make their mark as Joanna Lumley interviews her Absolutely Fabulous co-star in June Whitfield: 90 Not Out (Sunday 20 Dec 7.15pm R4, repeated Christmas Day, 12.30pm R4) and the queen of cakes gives us an insight into her slightly dubious musical choices (Shakin’ Stevens and Wham!) in Mary Berry: At Home for Christmas (Christmas Eve, 12 noon R2).

Happy listening, happy Christmas and pass me that schooner of sherry! 

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