The centre piece of BBC 1’s Christmas Eve 1974 line up was a final TV outing for Bob, Terry and Thelma. A typically maudlin special, with some out of place obligatory 70s slapstick, its mostly set in the Fat Ox and Bob’s front room. The aspirations of Thelma and the Elm Lodge Housing Estate clashed yet again with Terry’s insistence that inevitably he was just looking forward, at Christmas time, to the past. He’s waiting for that match on Boxing Day lunchtime (Newcastle v Carlisle) to kick off when normality would return…
1.The best TV theme ever written has some extra sleigh bells on it.
Making it better.
Tomorrow’s almost over. (Xmas) Day went by so fast.
2.It has the first joke about the Great Escape being on TV every Christmas.
“Xmas night, all i want to do is sit in an armchair in front of the box and watch it. Is it on ? It usually is”. Bob of course won’t be able to watch it because Thelma is making him go next door to The Nortons to play Charades. Poor Bob.
PS: Bob insists it was on last year (1973). His memory is actually distorted by that nightmare Charades evening. It wasn’t. BBC One had actually wheeled out the tales of Dickie, Steve and James Garner on the first Sunday in December at 7.25pm the year before. The big film for Xmas night 1974 turned out to be Bridge on the River Kwai.
3.Its written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais in their imperial phase.
Not content with producing this in 1974, they also knocked out rivals for the best ever Xmas special with their 2 festive scripts for Porridge in 1975 and 1976.
4.Its prescient about fears that Christmas is too commercial and it starts far too early.
Thelma gets all her Christmas shopping done on, gulp, September 28th. “apart from a few bits”
Of course Linus had already got there, a decade earlier, in the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas Special, with his moving/sentimental speech articulating what Christmas actually means.
Terry of course puts it slightly differently. “Christmas is nothing but a confidence trick by big business and department store owners. Look at people like Thelma. People over eat, over spend and over sentimentalise”
5.Bob’s reluctant domesticity is articulated by nervous Xmas football references
He never quite gets to St James Park.
Thelma: “We’re having people in for drinks on Boxing Day morning”
Bob: “Its just that there’s a match, there always is, its traditional”
Thelma: “But we’d agreed”
6.It has some of the best examples of what a 70s christmas should be.
Bob: “I love those terrible old movies on television, like Son of Sinbad with Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie. I don’t even mind Leslie Crowther in a childrens ward. I can even take Rolf Harris”
Terry: “Good god”
7.The loneliness of Terry, the minicab driver.
Its what christmas is all about. Bob reveals, a year after his wedding, the fragility of his friendship with Terry. He’s not seen him “for months”. There’s a moving moment where Bob is spooked when looking out of the window, and sees him, outside forlorn in his minicab, waiting for the ludicrous fancy dress party to finish. The solitary nature of Terry and Fletch (just starting his stretch in Slade prison) happier alone in their bunks or in a corner of the Fat Ox sipping a brown ale. What British men really think of Christmas.
Bob half heartedly offers to let Terry spend Xmas with them after he reveals that he’ll be spending the day alone. Even his family ‘have their own lives”.
“I’ll have a good lie in, go down the Fat Ox for a game of doms, come back and sit in front of the box, pull a cracker and open a tin of luncheon meat”
The permanently disappointed Brigit Forsyth is terrific throughout. She even kisses Terry.
On the cheek of course.
9.James Bolam and Rodney Bewes.
As with all 27 episodes of Whatever Happened to …and the underrated film adaptation that was to come in 1976, Bolam ensures that Terry is up there with Hancock, Steptoe, Fawlty and the aforementioned Fletch as the archetypal frustrated, angry, bemused and incredibly funny sitcom male shaking off the changing world around them and especially a Thelma who has Christmas done before the clocks go back. But he needs the conflicted, comic acting of Bewes/Ferris, constantly battling with the idea of leaving behind the “people they used to be”.
Like the Great Escape, the Christmas special of the Likely Lads is now on every Christmas on BBC TV. In 2015 it was a key part of BBC Four’s schedule on Christmas Eve.
or watch it in full via that YouTube. Its (still) brilliant.