The Ninety Seventh Annual Academy Salute To Two Hundred And Fifty Three Million Years Of The BBC: Christmas Special!

Earlier this year, we ran a quite popular series of articles that celebrated ninety years of the BBC by, basically, making fun of their old continuity. This was primarily inspired by the fact that the BBC - despite what rentaquote hot air-blatherers like Anne Widdecombe might have to say on the subject - have never really been that good at blowing their own trumpet, choosing instead to mark such momentous milestones by, say, commissioning Damon Albarn to play Beagle 2 on one of those roll-out squeaker things you get in Christmas crackers.

Since then, however it's become obvious that all this was a huge double-bluff and they had something up their sleeve all along, and are celebrating their near-century of existence in fine style by dismantling themselves from the inside out, with a side order of pointlessly butchering an entirely independent and non-BBC funded DVD release of a nigh-on-twenty year old sketch show to boot. Party on, dudes!

Still, while we're all busy sleepwalking into Cameron and Murdoch's wank fantasy, let's take a moment to remember that no matter how many mistakes it makes, no matter how easily it capitulates to pressure from the right-wing press, no matter how much certain of its 'creatives' seem to put petty personal point-scoring over the good of the corporation itself, and yes, no matter how many sketches they may pointlessly yet let's face it inconsequentially insist on removing from ancient minority interest cult comedy shows, the BBC really is something to be proud of and to fight to defend against the attentions of self-interested parties at all costs, with your bare hands if necessary, and it has produced and will continue to produce works of art, works of entertainment, and works of screeching puppet rats calling everyone 'sassenachs' that will be remembered and appreciated long after here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians and power-obsessed media moguls have fucked off unmourned.

Anyway, we're here to celebrate Christmas and the BBC, and celebrate Christmas and the BBC we shall, in the only way we know how... by taking a look at some of their frankly baffling Yuletide replacements for the globe over the years. So sit yourself down, grab some Baileys and Matchmakers, pretend The Paul Daniels Christmas Magic Show is on in a minute (or, if raining, Newman And Baddiel Christmas In Pieces), and away we go...!

Our first port of call - mainly because nothing much really seems to exist from before then - is 1974, and on BBC1, the globe doesn't seem to have so much been 'replaced' for Christmas as it has been slapped in front of an untidy collage of walloped-together spray-painted cogs left over from a 'machinery' prop in an episode of The Goodies, and indeed atop some Christmas Card lettering thoughtfully rendered in a lighter frost-evoking shade of Sam Tyler Blue. It's interesting, and it's evocative, but there's not really much there that you can get humorous capital out of. Ho hum, this is clearly going to end up as something of a dry and descriptive affair...

Or perhaps not. For while BBC2 opted for a similar approach in 1974, they did it a lot more cheaply and ludicrously, embellishing a slightly-less-than-sturdy-looking variant of their standard globe-counterparting rotating colour-phasing cubic '2' with a silver bauble forcefully spewing tinselly glitter stars of ascending size into the infinite vacuum of continuity space, which vibrated alarmingly on air due to the overstuffed contraption not really having sufficient room to rotate properly in.

Meanwhile, this 1975 offering from BBC1 is... well, it's hardly any different at all, is it? You're not going to fool us with gold lettering, a nominally festively-coloured BBC1 strap, and a very slightly higher positioned globe. Honestly, this is just like they've wrapped up the tinsel-backed globe you gave them last year and given it back to you as a 'new' present.

Hang on a minute... Parky? What's he doing here?! Don't start adjusting your set just yet - unfortunately, despite extensive research, it's proved impossible to locate any visual evidence of what BBC2 may or may not have done to mark Christmas in inter-programme linking devices in 1975, nor indeed any kind of a description of what form the long-lost rotating '2' replacement may have taken, so Mr. Parkinson has generously agreed to appear as an illustration in its place. Anyway, that's the last we'll be seeing of him.

It's 1976, and BBC1 have deceptively given a cunning lick of festively red paint (well, whatever the electronic colour generation equivalent of 'paint' is) to both the lettering and the 'cogs', but nonetheless spared themselves a spate of television kicking-in tributes to that bloke from Manchester who got offended by The Sex Pistols swearing in the London region only, by temporarily replacing the globe with a gleaming - and rather finger-endangering looking - rotating snowflake. Come on, it's progress. Ish.

That said, by this time, BBC2 had swapped the rotating chameleonic '2' for a larger static one formed by lots of spinning discs slamming together from opposing sides. Normally this was rendered in light blue and slightly less blue on even slightlier less blue background in a gigantic clash of ocular irritation, and as everybody knows there's only one way to 'Christmas' this arrangement up - by swapping the background for a standard issue black one and then dousing the '2' in a nightmarish shimmering multicoloured light show borrowed directly from one of those sequences with an unconvincing psychedelic beat combo 'playing' at a club in a mid-sixties Swinging London-based thriller. And there we were thinking that punk had got rid of all the hippies.

1977 may have been ‘the year punk broke’ if you believe the 100% Official And Authorised American version of cultural history, but more importantly, it was the year in which the BBC started investing more care, attention and indeed money in their Christmas continuity. For this was the year in which the regular BBC1 globe was first sent on Christmas holiday, replaced on this occasion by a revolving pudding, complete with concave refractive brandy butter. Though subsequently scoffed on screen by Rod Hull & Emu, the actual pudding prop was later given away as a competition prize on Noel Edmonds’ Multicoloured Swap Shop, presumably won by some eager young continuity enthusiast who used it to – shudder – stage their own live action ‘mocks’.

Meanwhile, BBC2 temporarily ditched the cylinder-formed '2' - and the psychotropic colours they had seen fit to drench it in the previous year (after all, the 'punks' had by now put paid to all that leftover hippy trippy nonsense, and the poor old Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association had probably given up all hope of ever having another hit) - and replaced it with a classy-looking arrangement of quadruplexed pale red rotating '2' positioned around a rather cheap-looking green 'precious stone', and some lettering that can surely only have been employed as a means of extending seasonal inclusivity to the UK's sizeable 'robot' community.

We're concentrating mainly on the stand-in 'globes' here, as frankly a lot of the accompanying seasonal continuity involved little more than snow-topped 'Festive wishes to all your roast dinners' type lettering with the odd smattering of ye olde twee animated children, but sometimes they'd do something that just defied all explanation. Take this 1977 one, for example, where That Gold Key They Never Explained About From Heroes opens a jack-in-the-box thingy to propel a bastard terrifying puppet santa screenwards. Well, it probably would have made Sylar think twice.

And if you're not scared enough yet, here's a late seventies bit of Test Card-embellishing whimsy from the 'backroom boys', with 'Clown' surveying your pathetic 'gifts' with mocking disdain, and 'Girl'... well, where the fuck is she?!? Making a list, and checking it twice, no doubt...

Meanwhile, back in Globe-land, and continuing the seasonal-spherical theme, 1978 saw BBC1 opting for a frankly terrifying revolving Santa Head, suspiciously bearing more than a passing resemblance to latterday permanent Christmas Day resident Buster Merryfield. We all know they liked to go overboard with the promotion for Only Fools And Horses, but this is ridiculous. Not least because it was four years before the show actually started.

BBC2, on the other hand, opted for a quartet of rotating trumpeters heralding the soon-to-be-launched brand spanking new '==2==' logo, but unfortunately we can't really see what they looked like as there's no known recording of their antics in existence. All we have, courtesy of the great TV Ark, is this latterday 'Telesnap', apparently developed on Ryvita rather than photographic paper. Still, at least it stops Parky from making another appearance.

The merrie minstrels did also appear in continuity-derived animated form, however - musically bolstered by a couple of rock-posing lute strummers and a bloke playing a huge chocolate coin - so we do have a marginally-slightly-less-vague idea of what they were all about. And what they were all about was the never quite explained 'olde worlde Christmas' thing that was about to consume BBC Christmas continuity for the next couple of years...

As you might have already surmised, this emergent theme was expanded on by BBC1 in 1979, who whizzed forward a couple of centuries from the archive-averting minstrels to add a 'bawdy Victorian' slant (i.e. comically skewiff top hats to represent 'merrymaking') for a troupe of rotating lamplit carol singers accompanied by the world's longest dalmatian.

And here's those selfsame wassailers making a 'real boy' excursion into live action as part of BBC1's Christmas Trailer gambit, apparently played by leftover members of cash-strapped prog rock bands who had been financially done for by those 'punks'. Not that any of this seems to bother their 'comedy one', who gets up to all kind of instrument-based hi-jinks for the benefit of the camera. It's no wonder Thatcher got in.

The legendary stripey '2' first came to BBC2 in 1979 - if you don't count its aforementioned archivally-challenged flag-mounted cameo alongside those pesky buglers, that is - and what better way to celebrate its first Christmas on air than with a chunkly clear perspex revolving snowflake that periodically catches the light and refracts on the camera like Maggie Moone's sequinned dresses did on Name That Tune? Whereas the parent channel was still keen to denote Christmas by revelling in ye olde nostalgic imagery of days gone by, the artier offshoot was, true to form, pursuing a more arty and modernist bent. Roll on Stars Of The Roller State Disco!

1980 saw BBC1 up the Scary Rotating Victorians ante to truly alarming levels with the genuinely terrifying skaters, who spent an entire Red Hand Gang-heralding festive season whizzing repetitively around a dilapidated-looking snowman. The four errant members of Early Torchwood were later given away as competition prizes on Noel Edmonds’ Multicoloured Swap Shop, presumably won by some eager young continuity enthusiasts who used them to – shudder – create their own army of miniature ident-faithful evil Victoriana micro-bots.

That selfsame better-days-seeing snowman would continue the established theme of weird zigzagging between reality and hyperreality by appearing in animated form in BBC1's Christmas trailers, seen variously chewing the festive fat with his old pal 'moon', posing atop the studio set from Doctor Who And The Dragonfire, enjoying some varisized cups of tea with assorted Snowpals, and walking a high wire for no very readily obvious reason at all. The One They Called The Bishop from Play Chess was not available for comment.

Meanwhile, defiantly and doggedly pursuing their own abstractive futurist slant, that bunch of cheapskates at BBC2 simply bathed the previous year's snowflake in a sort of faintly purplish glow. Saving all their money for buying in award-winning Czhechoslovakian animations, no doubt.

Here's Ceefax making with the Festive MODE 2 witticisms back in 1981. But we've already covered that in a previous instalment, and you can read more bewilderment at Ceefax's never-explicable Yuletide antics here.

1981, and BBC1 finally gets with the times and dispenses with all that wassail wassail all over the town business in favour of a few tentative footsteps along BBC2's chosen path, not quite getting all Tate Modern on an unsuspecting audience just yet, but definitely gravitating in that general direction with this choice of a quintet of rotating vari-hued Globe-themed baubles, suspended above a possibly unwittingly Rastafari-evoking colour scheme. You don't really get your right-wing ident fanatics mentioning that, do you?

Not about to be beaten at their own game, BBC2 reached straight for some translucent holly and candles, resembling the sort of useless ‘arty but modern’ ornament you pause by for about twenty seconds in an upmarket department store while trying to find something suitably expensive-looking for that relative that’s impossible to buy for before deciding to get them a couple of books instead.

By now, there's a full-on gallery-scorching 'but is it art?' war in progress, and 1982 sees BBC1 close in on BBC2 with this squint-inducing spidery mechanical snowflake bedecked with steely stentorian glints like something out of an early eighties dystopian sci-fi thriller. Probably the only person who would consider this 'jolly' would be Alan Moore. Not for nothing did Breakfast Time run a feature on how the snowflake worked, no doubt with the same aims as those behind-the-scenes features that showed how Doctor Who monsters were just people in costumes for the benefit of easily-spooked youngsters.

Time, then, for BBC2 to move the goalposts like some sort of The Adventure Game-transmitting Young British Artist, deftly executing a cunning sideways step and aligning their arty leanings with the sort of sleek-yet-sleazy soft-edged colourful designs ushered in by the age of home video. Hence these Christmas trees in outline, looking for all the world like a robot had tried to copy ‘Christmas’ and got it wrong. Anyone hoping to see Electric Blue 007 on their televisions over the Festive season, however, would be going away, erm, empty-handed.

Possibly as some sort of ironic comment on Thatcherist economics, 1983 saw both channels' mechanical mince pie-accompaniments remain more or less the same. All BBC1 did, for example, was bend a couple of spokes of the snowflake and redeploy those Michael Caine-brainwashing lights from the 1976 BBC2 effort. Humbug indeed...

...while BBC2 just threw more light on last year's Christmas Trees from another angle and made them sort of holographic and three-dimensional. Honestly, anyone would think the BBC were trying to save money to fund the launch of a daytime service and were about to launch a series of cost-cutting measures that would include cancelling Doctor Who or something.

Yes indeed, the era of Michael Grade is now upon us, and change is very much afoot as he takes time out from cancelling Doctor Who to encourage the BBC as a whole to adopt a slicker and more unified and designer-aping approach to its visual presentation. Hence this flashily-realised trio of rotating cracker-pulling snowmen atop a gaggle of Christmas presents, which he personally approved but only after suggesting that perhaps one of them should be female. This, according to too many people who are allowed too much access to the internet and to words in general, in some way represents the worst excesses of 'the pc brigade : ('.

Those curmudgeonly gits at BBC2 are, however, grumpily refusing to do much in the way of moving with the times, and could only come up with this sorry-looking bauble surrounded by a ribbon that may be saying 'Vision On' before it turns into half of a grasshopper thing but nobody's really quite sure. But as Bob Dylan once sang, The Times They Are A-Changing. Then he went 'DOOOOO-ooo-OOOOOO'. You know, like the Test Card tone, only in a Bob Dylan voice. Oh... please yourselves.

BBC1, on the other hand, were really getting the hang of this robotics lark by 1985, and dazzled mid-decade Yule-seekering viewers with this brace of scarf-sporting animatronic robins, who fluttered and twittered in alarmingly realistic style as they rotated around gazing with awe and wonder upon the brand new BBC1 logo. Just like TV 'Kamelion' (Doctor Who) [SATIRE].

By now even BBC2 were waking up to the post-Live Aid shock-of-the-new possibilities of silicon chip-controlled visual chicanery, coming up with this 'sophisticated booze' label-esque combination of neon pink '2' and blue-and-ice-white revolving folding-in-on-itself carousel-like snowscape elaborateness. It is entirely possible that the emenating glow was capable of lighting your front room on its own.

In 1986, BBC1 went one better, and did away with all the traditional mechanical creakiness in favour of a full-on looping animated sequence, depicting some marching holly encircling a clearly delighted looking Christmas Tree/star combo, setting the tone for just about every Christmas since and paving the way for 2012's 'Matt Smith Looking Through A Circle And Trying To Get People To Remember That He Was Actually In The All-New Amy Pond Show'. And with the exciting new world of computer-assisted animation looming so close on the horizon, you can bet BBC2 - that traditional supporter of all things visual and cutting edge - will be taking full advantage of the fresh possibilities and coming up with something that will change the way we view television as an art form forever...

Oh fuck off.

And as Noel prepares to blast the Robins into 1978 Bugler Oblivion, that's the end of our not particularly brief look back at the festive inter-programming silliness of yore. There's just enough space left to admit that the Matt Smith thing was one of those 'jokes' that they have now, unless it wasn't, so instead, let's sign off by giving the first ever public unveiling for this year's actual genuine bona fide BBC1 Christmas 'Globe'...