The best radio for Christmas 2016 – from Sir David Attenborough to Desert Island Discs

Radio Editor Jane Anderson shares her festive tips and tipples


In the words of Garrison Keillor, the loveliest thing about Christmas is: “It’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” So gather round your radio this season for the most splendiferous output for many a year.


Drama lovers will be intoxicated by the variety on offer. Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (Sat 18 Dec, 2.30pm and Sun 19 Dec, 3pm, Radio 4) is a magical, romantic fantasy adventure and marks singer Tori Amos’s radio debut as an actress, albeit playing a tree. And, unlike the 2007 movie, the ending has not been changed for schmaltzy effect. Jane Austen’s funniest novel, Northanger Abbey (Mon 19–Fri 30 Dec, 10.45am and 7.45pm, Radio 4), is worth the ten-part commitment, with her most overtly feminist character, Catherine Morland, displaying a feisty resonance with contemporary women. And it’s not a proper Christmas without a ghost story: Between the Ears: The Shepherd (Christmas Eve, 9.15pm, Radio 3) provides the requisite hair-raising moments, along with superb sound effects of a small plane in desperate trouble.

Those in need of a laugh will be happily sated by Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! (Sun 18 Dec, 7.15pm, Radio 4). In his funniest ever episode, the Count goes on a double date with an old army friend. The restaurant scene surpasses even those in The Meaning of Life and Fawlty Towers. In The Meow Show with Ed Reardon and Elgar (Christmas Eve, 9am and 7pm, Radio 4 Extra) Ed is miserably supplanted as the “star” by his cat Elgar as they play out comedy feline clips from the BBC archives. The widespread corruption in international sport has a new superhero when Dave “the Pod” Podmore decides to confess all to a national newspaper in Dave Podmore Cleans Up for Christmas (Boxing Day, 11.30am, Radio 4) and Lenny Henry pushes the boundaries by playing a migrant of restricted growth in The Rogues’ Gallery at Christmas (Wed 28 Dec, 6.15pm, Radio 4).

There is a broad range of musical delights on offer, with a humorous double whammy
at 8pm on Friday 23 December that sees Mark Gatiss playing Ebenezer
 Scrooge in Friday Night Is Music
 Night (Radio 2) and David Sedaris
in full sardonic flow in Radio 3 In 
Concert (Radio 3). Three artists – 
Natasha Khan, Laura Marling and
 Annie Nightingale – whose collective 
pop knowledge is gargantuan, play the
 music that inspires them in Wise Women (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, 6pm, 6 Music). The men get their chance – well two do – in Shaun Keaveny: The Life of Brians (Boxing Day, 7am, 6 Music), when the two Brians, Cox and May, celebrate music, science and discovery.

Laura Marling plays the music that inspires her in Wise Woman on 6 Music (Getty)

World music devotees have never had such a prestigious host – Sir David Attenborough shares his collection, compiled over 60 years and inspired by his travels in Sunday Feature (Christmas Day, 6.45pm, Radio 3). And Bowie fans have their hero recalled by the likes of Lady Gaga and Noel Gallagher in David Bowie: The Day That Changed the World (Boxing Day, 6pm, Absolute Radio).

Lifestyle and current affairs are covered with the annual guest editors for Today (Boxing Day to Fri 30 Dec, 6am, Radio 4). This year’s takeover includes the actress Carey Mulligan and the first female Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies. And Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain invites listeners to slice and dice with her in Nadiya’s Festive Family Feast (Wed 21 Dec, 8pm, Radio 2).

Celebrity superstars living and dead are acknowledged in style by both Desert Island Discs (Sun 18 Dec and Christmas Day, 11.15am, Radio 4) and Desert Island Discs Revisited (Sun 18 Dec and Christmas Day, 10.15am and 9.15pm, Radio 4 Extra). Bruce Springsteen and Gareth Malone represent the living, while DID Revisited gives us an opportunity to hear the voices of Terry Wogan and Victoria Wood once more.


And finally, it would not be a proper Christmas without some carols and inspirational music. Classic FM is the first to get us in the mood with their Great Ormond Street Christmas Carol Concert (Thu 22 Dec, 8pm), with readings from Derek Jacobi and Diana Rigg. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, gives a poignant insight into his extraordinary and challenging life in Private Passions (Christmas Day, 12 noon, Radio 3) and then, of course, there’s the one programme that truly signifies the official start of Christmas for so many families – A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (Christmas Eve, 3pm, Radio 4 and Christmas Day, 2pm, Radio 3). Hark, the Herald Angels Sing! And a merry Christmas to all my fellow radio lovers.