Christmas With BBC Records And Tapes

RESL124 Orville's Song/I Didn't - Keith Harris And Orville (December 1982)

Although a TV regular since the mid-sixties, ventriloquist Keith Harris’ career didn’t really take off – ironically – until he introduced bashful luminous green duck who couldn’t fly Orville into his act in the late seventies. By 1982 he, or rather they, had landed a prominent variety slot on BBC1 with The Keith Harris Show, although he remained a popular and enthusiastic stage performer, which gave rise to this single written by pianist and former talent show winner – and old friend of the ‘duo’ – Bobby Crush. Taking the form of a dialogue between Harris and his puppet charting the latter’s inability to take to the skies, Orville’s Song is certainly cloying, sentimental and delivered by a gratingly-voiced character that not all of the target audience found quite so loveable, but is in its own way an effective and endearing composition that in no way deserves the deluge of ‘Worst Record Ever’ accolades that have been heaped upon it since. Certainly record-buyers at the time didn’t seem to agree, sending the single to Number Four over Christmas 1982.

RESL138 Come To My Party – Keith Harris, Orville And Dippy/Thank You For Telling Me ‘Bout Christmas – Keith Harris And Orville (December 1983)

A seasonal outing for Keith Harris and his many puppets, with the a-side again written by Bobby Crush. Although the single did enjoy some minor chart action, climbing to number forty four over the festive season, it surprisingly failed to corner the lucrative Christmas market and ultimately caused few worries to Paul McCartney and David Essex.

RESL162 The Box Of Delights/The Carol Symphony - The Pro Arte Orchestra (December 1984) 

Marked out by top-drawer acting and pioneering video effects, BBC1’s 1984 adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 festive children’s novel The Box Of Delights – something of a favourite with the BBC, having been adapted seven times across several media – was rightly fanfared as a landmark production and remains held in high regard by audiences and critics alike to this day. For theme music, the production team elected to use an extract from the third movement of Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s 1927 Carol Symphony, an extended piece based on orchestral arrangements of themes and motifs from numerous traditional Christmas Carols which had in fact originally been written as a contribution to an early BBC radio broadcast. The extract featured a variation on The First Nowell, and was taken from a 1966 recording of The Carol Symphony for EMI by The Pro Arte Orchestra; it was, however, subjected to minor manipulation by Roger Limb of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to make it more in keeping with the mood and style of the serial. Limb’s modifications were frustratingly absent from the direct edit featured on this single, which featured another excerpt from the movement, this time based on a segment of the Coventry Carol, on the b-side. Selling in small quantities at the time, and one of only a handful of pieces of official The Box Of Delights-related merchandise, this is now one of the most eagerly sought-after BBC Records And Tapes releases.

RESL179 The Ballad Of Sandra Claus/The Goulash Break – Bryan Joan Elliott and The Elf Service (December 1985) 

American comedian Bryan Joan Elliott was something of a minor star in the UK in the mid-eighties, largely thanks to her regular appearances on the ITV game show Punchlines. This unusual attempt at cornering the Christmas market for 1985 came about as a result of some recent well-received appearances on high profile BBC chat shows, notably BBC2’s The Bob Monkhouse Show.

RESL234 Christmas Is Here Again/Awake Zion Awake - Bryn Coch Primary School (December 1989)

The first release after a gap of almost a year – suggesting that all was not well at BBC Records And Tapes in the new John Birt-led regime – was a Yuletide-themed offering from the pupils of a Welsh primary school accompanied by harpist Glenys Lightfoot, recruited by the label following popularity with local radio listeners, in an attempt to create yet another school-sourced singing phenomenon and indeed to secure a hit in the lucrative Christmas market. Sadly, this single fell short of expectations on both counts.

RESL236 Christmas Past And Christmas Present/Christmas Past And Christmas Present (Festive Fun Mix) – Euphoria (December 1989)

Seemingly determined to corner the Christmas market for 1989, BBC Records And Tapes put out a staggering third Yuletide-themed single in the form of this choral effort based on Kings College Cambridge’s traditional Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols service. Unsurprisingly, this one didn’t sell very many copies either. The ‘Festive Fun Mix’ fails to live up to its title. RESL237 was set aside for yet another Festive-friendly single – Glory Be To God On High, a re-recording of the EastEnders theme with yet more new lyrics by Simon May, performed with a choir of children and premiered on BBC1’s Songs Of Praise. Contractual difficulties saw to it that this was instead released by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful label; however – perhaps mercifully – it still failed to make the charts. This all took place, however, late in 1988, suggesting that some or all of the preceding singles may have been in the works since the previous Festive Season – a sure sign that the writing was on the wall for BBC Records And Tapes...

This is an extract from Top Of The Box - The Complete Guide To BBC Records And Tapes Singles, which is available as a paperback here, or from the Kindle Store here.