12. Festivities

Jim Shelley square-eyed but proud

Tapehead no 12

Christmas is here and amid all the festivities, all the rampant commercialism, it’s important we sit down and take a moment away form the hurly burly to remember what Christmas is all about: Television.

With all the family gathering around the box, what could be more festive, more cheering, more seasonal than watching Christopher Walken.

Hidden away, between Holiday Season treats like Cliff In Concert and Noel’s Christmas Presents, tonight’s late-night repeat of Saturday Zoo includes the shark-eyed, shark-smiled hard man of King Of New York, True Romance and The Deerhunter presenting his audition for Jackanory.

The Walken hair is, if not normal, then restrained; the suit is upstaged by a psychedelic Jackanory jumper and the Walken-ised version of the Three Little Pigs charming and touching:
“Wolfie sees the three little houses and the three little pigs and he says to himself: Pork City. Buon-giorno salami.” Intense.

Essential taping material for Christmases to come.

Not many hairstyles come close to Christopher Walken’s, but in
A Tribute to Les Dawson there’s some stiff competition.

Vintage Dawson clips include The Royal Variety performance, David Nixon’s Magic Box, Blankety Blank and, best of all, 1973’s Sez Les, where Dawson’s hair and big red velvet bow-tie are surreal, and his sideboards are the size of, well, sideboards.

“She’s very nice, the wife’s mother. She’s got a face like a bag of spanners,” grumbles Les. “I”ve been in show business so long,” he says, collecting a Comedy Award, “I can remember when The Archers only had an allotment.”

We are talking Clip City.

Christmas clips shows abound and In The Hot Seat compiled by Michael Aspel, is worth taping. It’s not a good show, but it has some good moments: Kenneth Williams; Bette Davis; Frankie Howard; a bit of Diana Dors; early Rod Stewart and, a spectacle for posterity, a drunken Oliver Reed belching a heavy metal anthem.

You soon realise that the problem with chat shows is not, as Aspel said earlier this year, the guests. The problem is people like Aspel, the hosts.

Regular Guardian readers (and irregular ones too) will not want to miss Crime Story, which reconstructs the Jeremy Bamber White House Farm Murders. Highlights are the opening shot (a combine harvester) and a re-creation of Wham’s Club Tropicana for Bamber’s caravan holiday.

What’s great about the Crime Story series is the way that every killer or criminal, from Darius Guppy to Jeremy Bamber, looks like Rob Lowe. In this one, Jeremy Bamber’s hair is played by the drummer from Spandau Ballet.

The key breakthrough conversation goes like this:
“I also think he could have been wearing his wetsuit,” says the super sleuth relative. “Oh God,” says Diane Keen, “that’s horrible.”

Christmas comedy includes the proposal episode of that eternal (surreal) sitcom, The Upper Hand, French and Saunders (with Jane Asher), the Christmas Eve kiss between Beth and Margaret on Brookside and a repeat of Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May, screened as part of Reeves and Mortimer’s Christmas blowout, At Home With Vic and Bob.

When his wife takes a pebble from the local beach, her trainspotter husband, Keith chastises her: “And what if everyone did that, Candice-Marie ?”

What indeed.

Also part of Vic and Bob’s viewing selection is Meerkats Utd, an Attenborough classic.

Meerkats are Christmas-cute mongeese (“no bigger than the tassle on a lion’s tail,” whispers Attenborough) that whizz around the Kalahari with their tails in the air, like dodgems.

“Like players in a football team, each one has a role.”

It goes without saying that the Meerkat that nimbly eliminates a scorpion by biting off its sting and then toys with an enormous yellow cobra is a Paul Ince. Look out too for the Eric Cantona Meerkat (the one on its own).

These Meerkats are weird. Weirder than Walken. Happy taping.

Collector’s Tape 16
Saturday Zoo; Sat 18/Sun 19, C4, 3.20am-4.20am
Crime Story: Wed 22, ITV, 9.00pm-10.0pm
A Tribute to Les Dawson: Sun 26, ITV, 7.05-8.0pm
Meerkats Utd: Mon 27, BBC2, 8.0pm-8.30pm
Nuts in May: Mon 27, BBC2, 9.35pm-10.55pm
In the Hot Seat: Fri 31, ITV, 10.30pm-11.30pm
Film: The Fly (the original): Fri 24/Sat25, BBC2 1.05am-2.40am