ITV 59 - All Your ITV Favourites (And Roland's Countdown To Christmas): Christmas Special!


Merry Christmas! If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may well remember that, earlier in the year, we ran a special series of articles looking at ITV's inter-programme iconography of years gone by, which took in startup sequences, IDEANTS, MORE IDENATS, EVEN MORE IDENEATASF, Oracle, Children's ITV, The News, Schools And Colleges, TV-am and Channel 4, and - but of course - Continuity Slides. You may also recall that the previous year, we ran a similar series about the BBC, ending with a Christmas Special that opened with an impassioned plea to defend the BBC against the machinations of politicians and media moguls with your bare hands if you have to.

This corresponding look at ITV's old-skool festive trimmings will thus correspondingly open with an impassioned plea to, um, watch ITV every now and then when some thing that you think looks quite good from the trailer but then turns out to actually be a bit boring when you see it though it used to be good when they had Spitting Image and The Equalizer or something is on. Yes, there's not really that much shouting to do, so instead let's get straight on with the utterly respectful and thoroughly technically detailed celebrating of the golden age of TV continuity...


Needless to say, it was pretty much par for the course for the regional ITV companies to add a bit of seasonal snazz to their all-too-familiar idents (NO THIS MU ST NOT RTEMBER THE REAL REASONS WE CELEBNRATE CHRISTHMAS IT IS NOT BECAUSE NELE). Up at the top there you can see Yorkshire's bird-tastic 'Chevron' caught in a sudden downpour of snow, LWT's bing-bonging racially dubious sitcom-bookending letters caught under a deluge of, erm, snow, Granada at least having the gritty northern integrity to use a bit of frost instead of all that snow them namby pamby Southerners are all wearing now (yes, we know Yorkshire isn't in the 'South', but try telling that to a born and bred Granadalander), Central going overboard with the satin and tat and inadvertently turning their famed 'world' into something resembling a sought-after ancient artefact with mystical powers in a mid-eighties post-Indiana Jones adventure movie, and finally those inverterate scrooges at Ulster casually adorning their usual insignia with the sort of lazy colour scheme and iconography that you'd more normally find on a generic sharp-cornered Christmas Card sent to you by a local business that you'd briefly spoken to on the phone back in February but they've forgotten to put your name in it anyway. Yeah, Deck The Halls.


One peculiar offshoot of this was that the regional companies became bizarrely obsessed with using their idents (DONT FEED THE NELE DONT LET HIM KNOW ITS CHIRISMTAS TIME AGAIN) as putative wrapping paper patterns. At the top we can see a particularly HTV-obsessed Teddy, doubtless hoping that Santa has brought him a DVD of a celebrated HTV-sourced supernatural children's serial which comes with a book about all those sort of shows written by someone not a million miles from here, and below that Central breaking out the lavish opulence to suggest that all manner of lavish blockbusting high-spectacle programming was bursting to get out from beneath that paper. And exactly what lavish blockbusting high-spectacle programming did they have in store for us that Christmas...?

Oh.


If you were lucky, the continuity announcers in your region would similarly make an effort and loosen their ties by, ironically, straightening their ties a bit. Here's Granada's top levity-merchant Colin Weston bidding viewers a jolly Yuletide...


...and Charles Foster's getting nattily in on the act too...


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 an image of fellow Granada anchor Jim 'Beardy Man' Pope doing his trademark 'refreshed' fivedollarsgedouddahere late night bit to camera, 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.


Some regions were so giddy with Advent excitement that they'd even stump up the readies for a full-on animated Christmassy trailer, which makes it all the more ironic that this particular example from TVS should be so breezily fanfaring the company that would later buy the rights to their archive then promptly trash all the paperwork so that nobody could repeat or release any of the programmes even if they could navigate all the labyrinthine rights clearances and disproportionate licensing fees surrounding forgotten videotaped studiobound nonsense from the past that only about three people on The Mausoleum Club would be interested in buying on DVD in the first place anyway. And if that bastard mouse has been anywhere near The Boy Who Won The Pools with a big magnet, it'll be Song Of The South, The Story Of Menstruation and Nazi Supermen Are Our Superiors on a loop on Christmas Day next year

Anyway, what festive delights from the TVS archive are Walt's boys currently blocking access to...?


Oh.


ITV as a whole would even sometimes fork out for its own generic one-size-fits-all Let's Get The Regions Together overarching animated promos, such as this one featuring a dilapidated Santa apparently played by a melted TV 'Ernie' (Sesame Street), and the below slightly more classy one which appears to feature the houses from the Rainbow title sequence being visited by Peter Petrelli and Sylar after they'd acquired that 'light' power that was in the Volume Three publicity material but then never featured in the show itself. Put a sock in it, 'Mohinder'.


And from three wildly disparate years (well, sort of), here are a couple of examples of how they routinely introduced their programming on the three Festive Big Guns. As you can clearly see, the ITV scheduling cards were somewhat slightly bigger on razzle-dazzle, iconographic tradition and indeed overall coherency than the equivalent offerings from the BBC.


Until, that was, the late eighties, when they suddenly got all abstract and computer graphical and subsequently never quite managed to recapture that lost impact, as can be seen above with the rather inappropriate choice of present for an ITV viewer of the BBC Globe, and the Swatch-esque counterpart to the Oh Fuck Off-era BBC2 logo. Can we move on to the next bit now? Thanks.


Those zany funsters at ITN were always first to jump on the Christmas bandwagon, as can be seen from their logo's wanderings in a giant snowflake-bedecked Winter Wonderland which perhaps didn't sit too comfortably with the latest updates about industrial unrest and hostage dramas, and from the year that one of their 'backroom boys' learned how to do a SCREEN$ on the ZX Spectrum. BONG Ninja steals computer disc from Research Centre BONG Blue Head On Legs evades Park Keepers for third day running BONG An attempt to attack Thorin with the Troll's Path is prevented by Not Being Able To Fucking Type BONG Can we stop now? BONG Alright pack it in or I'll start repeating my claim to have once finiBONGshed Bugaboo The Flea by hitting all the keys in frustration BONG right you fucker I'm BONG pulling the power supply out BONG yeah, not so Robot Voice now, are you?


Surprisingly, given how obsessed they were with the glitz and glamour (albeit glitz and glamour affixed to shoddy makeshift studio walls that fell over while someone cued up the wrong camera) all year round, TV-am were bafflingly subdued when it came to Christmastime, usually with just a tree and couple of decorations up in the studio and a couple of festively-themed items and caption card-trimmings per day. As you can see, the average late December schedule wasn't exactly overflowing with bluntly-named Holly And Ivy-evoking programme subdivisions, though hands up who initially misread that as 'Christmas Cockney'. Though of course there was the year that they put on Roland's Countdown To Christmas, a whole twenty four days' worth of Nyeh-Hehhhhh-fuelled advent calendar opening with nary a cricket bat in si*SMOOOSH*


Oh Channel 4. How well you started, with even the standard issue snow on the logo somehow managing to look arty and new and vital, but then you had to get all low-key and 'tasteful' and... well, we don't even like to think about the later years. But there's one thing we just can't help but mention...


Yes of course, it's 1987's 'Yes Of Course - Christmas On 4!' robots! Quite what possessed anyone to headlight the Festive Season with a bunch of smug trapped-finger-inviting sub-CP & Qwikstitch rickety Royal Bank Of Scotland-esque animated automatons playing a game of charades in which they were apparently required to guess the identity of specific generic times of year on overall channels rather than programme titles is anyone's guess, but they introduced those omnibus repeats of Dick Spanner like nobody's business. And let's see just what Christmassy fun Channel 4 had in store for us that year...


Oh.

Anyway, overall, this has been rather a fun trip through the outer reaches of the archives, if not quite as enjoyable nor indeed as funny as the BBC one was, and if that's not a metaphor for something very pertinent then frankly we don't know what is. And sorry about those intrusions into the text earlier. The IBA inform us that normal service has now been resumed.

Saint Etienne Presents Songs For A London Winter


If you haven't been following the 'Saint Etienne Presents...' series of compilations, then you really have been missing out on something special. Put together by Bob, Pete and Sarah from their massive collective collection of forgotten popular beat waxings, with assistance from their longtime associate and genre-inventing crate-digger extraordinaire Martin Green, each one aims to evoke a specific time and place, from Central Park to a Lyons Corner House, using nothing but the sort of little-remembered pop discs you might have expected to hear in the designated venue. What's more, they're mostly drawn from pop's formative years, pulling in hits that have been hiding in plain sight since the late fifties and waving a jazzy two fingers at the tedious insistence by the mainstream rock press that everything started with Love Me Do.

This time, they've turned their attention to Christmas, which will hardly surprise anyone familiar with Saint Etienne's back catalogue; after all, they've released a Christmas EP every year since 1993 (kicking off, of course, with the glorious I Was Born On Christmas Day), and even released a full album of Christmas Songs. But being Saint Etienne, and indeed being their 'Presents...' series, this isn't just any old 'Christmas'. It's Christmas in London in the long-lost days of black and white TV, when festive shop window displays were a dazzling new thing, home entertainment barely existed, and people were as likely to pile into the local carol service as they were the office party. This of course involves rifling through the surprisingly large volume of Yuletide-themed chart contenders in the days before we came to associate the Festive season even with Glam Rock Santa-hattage and Phil Spector emulation, let alone X Factor winners and, erm, Rage Against The Machine. So there's some familiar names, some not so familiar names, and some rescued from well-worn nigh-on-sixty-year-old discs in the absence of master tapes, which occasionally makes listening on headphones a bit haphazard but let's face it, who cares when this stuff actually is on CD, in many cases for the first time ever?


Songs For A London Winter, it turns out, are a mixture of rinky-dink singalongs, politely furious instrumentals, skiffled-up carolling, cheapo cash-in supermarket own brand covers, and the odd bit of Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth thrown in for good measure. Johnny Keating turns in a ramble through We Three Kings in the style of his more familiar Z Cars theme, John Barry rattles through a Shadows-aping rewrite of When The Saints Go Marching In that bizarrely threatens to turn into incidental music from Mr. Benn at one point, and brother-and-sister singing child sensations Elaine and Derek - 'Derek' of course growing up to become Charlie in Casualty - try their hardest not to sound like they're trying to sound like Anthony Newley while listing the sights and sounds of advent. Meanwhile, Zack Laurence, who would go on to become both Mr Bloe (as in Groovin' With) and the theme composer for Treasure Hunt and Interceptor, engages in a bit of piano tinkling in honour of the humble snowman. There's even what sounds like it could be an early electronic instrument on the aptly-titled Sounds Like Winter by Dusty Springfield's backing band The Echoes.

Where the the real surprises lie, though, are with the songs and artists that you sort of half-knew at the back of your mind. Even aside from Billy Fury's original of My Christmas Prayer, as later of course covered by Saint Etienne, you'll find The Beverley Sisters getting a touch funky on Little Donkey, and Ted Heath doing quite nicely on Swinging Shepherd Blues, even if his definition of 'Swinging' might pose some problems under laboratory conditions, while the piano-rattling of Russ Conway - so often the target of 'naff' jokes, sometimes even in person, in latterday comedy shows - turns out to be very pleasantly produced and arranged, Lionel Bart being Lionel Bart - oh what a surprise, he's asking for a 'kiss' - is never not welcome, and Adam Faith's Lonely Pup (In A Christmas Shop) isn't quite as annoying as you'd assumed it was on the very fringes of your consciousness. Alma Cogan can still keep that laugh-in-her-voice to herself, mind.

This is more than just a look at a prehistoric age of pop music, though - it's literally a glimpse of a lost world. This is the sound of the sort of Christmas you see in ancient Pathe News films, where massive crowds turned up to watch trees being unveiled on the high street, where queues for department store Santas snaked around the block and the youngsters only left with a cheap plastic doll where the hair came off when you washed it, and indeed where The Beatles put together their very first Christmas Fan Club records, and, believe it or not, even appeared in panto. See, it didn't quite all change with Love Me Do.




Higher Than The Sun - the story of Saint Etienne, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, My Bloody Valentine and Creation Records' first attempt at taking on the world - is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.