Not all modern Christmas traditions are as unwelcome as Black Friday. In recent years, the BBC has hit a rich seam of family entertainment with its adaptations of David Walliams’ children’s books, which sell in their millions and have seen the Little Britain star anointed as the natural successor to Roald Dahl.
Billionaire Boy is Walliams’ take on a classic rags-to-riches tale. When it opens, 12-year-old Joe Spud is so poor, his only Christmas present is a rocket made out of cardboard tubes – the one measly perk of dad Len’s job at the local bog roll factory. Then, as he prepares their Christmas lunch of a single frozen burger, Len has a eureka moment: loo paper that’s dry on one side, moist on the other. The result is Bumfresh – “the biggest thing to hit the toilet roll world since Aloe Vera!”
But are the Spuds going to let fame and fortune change them? You bet they are. Len acquires a mansion, an ill-fitting toupee and a supermodel girlfriend (well, super hand model, anyway) while Joe gets his own go-kart track, a 24-hour doughnut dispenser and a celebrity butler in the form of Warwick Davis.
But, of course, the youngster soon learns that money can’t buy you happiness, and it’s not long before all he really wants is a normal life and – the one thing his Bumfresh billions can’t give him – a friend.
In that sense, Billionaire Boy is a very simple-hearted morality tale. But Walliams – who co-wrote the screenplay with Kevin Cecil – ensures it never gets too saccharine with a ready supply of silliness, ranging from genuinely witty gags (“Go to your rooms!” Len orders his son) to the sort of crowd-pleasing snot-and-bums fare so beloved of Dahl and his readers.
John Thomson is perfectly cast as Len, a good father who starts to lose sight of what really matters in life, and Elliot Sprakes is hugely likeable as Joe. Rebecca Front and James Fleet add further value, but the real star turns are Warwick Davis as… Warwick Davis, and Catherine Tate as the gold-digging Sapphire Diamond. While Davis is content to send himself up (we hooted at him hovering the snooker table), Tate has clearly taken inspiration from a certain Geordie X Factor judge, which might be a tad awkward should they find themselves in a green room together any time soon. Not to be outdone, Walliams himself puts in a scene-stealing performance as the world’s most revolting dinner lay-deee.
RT’s seven-year-old co-reviewer absolutely loved it – once he’d reconciled himself to some significant diversions from the book (including a bolted-on opera sub-plot that appears to exist purely to provide well known kids’ favourite Bryn Terfel with a musical cameo).
He also wondered why Joe wasn’t “short and fat” like he is in the book. The BBC’s version of Mr Stink also recast its plain, chubby heroine as pretty and slim, which seems like a slightly odd message to send out to children. That quibble aside, though, Billionaire Boy is right on the money.
Billionaire Boy is on New Year’s Day at 7pm, BBC One