From Laurel and Hardy to Strictly, how Christmas Day TV has changed over the past 60 years
More religious content in the 1950s and light entertainment in the 1970sMore repeats, film and drama than ever before in 2012Sir Bruce Forsyth and the Queen remain the enduring figures on our screens on December 25
08:04 GMT, 21 December 2012
A church service in the morning, some Laurel and Hardy in the afternoon, then an evening in the company of Norman Wisdom before being tucked up in bed at 11pm.
Christmas Day television in 1952 was a rather gentler affair than it is now – with a much bigger proportion of it devoted to religious programming.
But some things, reassuringly, have endured, not least the presence of Bruce Forsyth – and the Queen. A BBC survey has revealed exactly how Christmas television has changed over the past 60 years.
Radio Times analysed BBC1 schedules from 1952, 1972, 1992 and 2012, and found that we are watching more drama and more children’s shows than ever before.
But the proportion of religious programming has declined. It will make up just 5 per cent of BBC1’s 24-hour schedule this Christmas.
At 75 minutes, that’s the same amount of time as in 1952 – but then it accounted for almost a fifth of programming, as there were only seven hours of content in total. In 1972, there were 115 minutes of religious programming.
Viewers will watch much more drama this year than in previous decades, with shows such as Call the Midwife and Doctor Who accounting for 13.5 per cent – or 195 minutes – of the Christmas Day output. In 1952 and 1972, drama did not feature in the schedules at all.
Sixty years ago, the highlight of the
channel’s Christmas Day output, which began at 11am, was the Christmas
Party, featuring Frankie Howerd, Norman Wisdom and Petula Clark.
was a far cry from the BBC’s first festive offering in 1936, which
included carol-singing and a turkey carving demonstration. Viewers in
1952 could watch 90 minutes of comedy, including the Laurel and Hardy
film Swiss Miss.
This year, there will be 210 minutes
of comedy on BBC1, slightly less than in 1992, when comedy dominated the
prime-time Christmas Day schedules.
In the 1950s religious shows accounted for almost a fifth of all Christmas programming
In 2012 families will be watching more film, repeats and comedy than ever before on Christmas Day
Sir Bruce Forsyth, 84, is still appearing on our screens after a showbiz career spanning more than 70 years. He will be hosting a Christmas special edition of Strictly Come dancing with Tess Daley on December 25
that year, shows such as Only Fools and Horses, Birds of a Feather and
Victoria Wood’s All Day Breakfast accounted for 260 minutes, or 23 per
cent, of content broadcast throughout the channel’s Christmas Day
There used to be
far fewer repeats on Christmas Day, too. These have risen by 14 per cent
since 1992, to 225 minutes in total. There were no repeats at all in
1952 and 1972.
One man, however, has never been far from our Christmas Day TV screens – Sir Bruce Forsyth.
Along with the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, his Generation Game was one of BBC1’s most popular programmes in 1972, when 14 hours and 30 minutes of television were broadcast.
The programme was back on the schedules in 1992, when almost 19 hours of content were shown. And this year, 84-year-old Sir Bruce, who holds the Guinness World Record for the male entertainer with the longest career, will be hosting the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special.
Not even he, however, can beat the Queen, whose Christmas Day broadcast has been televised since 1957. This year, for the first time, it will be shown in 3D.
Top of the Pops is another perennial fixture of the Christmas Day schedules, featuring in 1972, 1992 and 2012.
Alison Graham, TV editor of Radio Times, said: ‘It’s a delight to know that TV drama is flourishing and is right at the heart of families’ Christmas celebrations.
‘After decades of films, light entertainment and comedies uniting everyone around their tellies, times have changed and there’s a new tradition of home-grown, quality drama bringing us all together.’
Actor and presenter Bill Oddie, whose comedy show The Goodies featured in the 1972 Christmas Day schedule, last night said he believed that big budget drama shows such as Call the Midwife provided perfect family entertainment.
He said: ‘It’s important that programmes shown on Christmas Day are things that the whole family can watch. One of the most popular Christmas shows ever was the Morecambe and Wise Show. People loved that kind of comedy entertainment.
‘I think they still do, which is why programmes featuring entertainers such as Bruce Forsyth continue to be shown at Christmas time.’