British Christmas TV Specials – My Best Picks

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Pile of Christmas special DVD's
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Stack of Christmas Comedy DVDs

Ask any Christmas fan to list the things they love most about the holidays and Christmas TV specials will likely feature in that list.

Whether it is a seasonal episode of our favourite TV programme or a one off special, we love them. There are corners of the internet where you can discuss both old and new all year round (Digital Spy Christmas Radio Times thread).

So if you are looking for where to get your next Christmas TV special treat, I’m here to tell you the best ones, read on…

I am a Christmas TV devotee, I have lots and have only selected a few here. We watch them all every year at least once before Christmas, which at one per night means starting around October. But I’m not here to judge if you want a Christmas TV binge on them all. In fact, I positively encourage it.

However, there are some which hold a special place in my heart and these get watched a lot, not only in the run up to Christmas. Having a bad day, being ill or feeling low in Christmas spirit can mean that these top picks get an airing.  They are all guaranteed to pep me up and get me to my happy place in super quick time.

Types of Christmas TV Specials

> Specials of regular series: These are when your favourite TV shows put out a special Christmas episode. To qualify for this list it has to be Christmas related, e.g. there are lots of Only Fools and Horses “Christmas specials”. But very few are actually set at Christmas or have a Christmas based storyline. They may also be a longer length than normal episodes.

> One off treats: Made especially for Christmas time telly, for me these also need to have a Christmas theme or storyline e.g. A Child’s Christmases in Wales.

What Makes a Good Christmas TV Special for Me?

> Set at Christmas: As above and fairly obviously I think, it needs to either be set at Christmas or have a Christmas storyline; they can’t just stick tinsel up and call it a Christmas TV special. That means Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I want to see them.

> Traditions: Tradition is everything at Christmas, the food, the decorations, the gifts and it makes me very happy to see them taking place. Extra points for seeing characters trimming their tree or actually cooking the food.

> Music: Christmas music is essential, I don’t mind if it’s hits or carols, but they have to be in there, it’s essential for creating Christmas cheer.

> Fall-outs: We are not looking for Eastenders level Christmas misery here, but if there is not a minor family fall out at Christmas, then they just are not realistic!

> Quotability: A big indication of how close to a real Christmas experience the special has got to be it’s quotability. If my husband and I are saying the lines to each other on the big day itself, then they have to be pretty close “it’s my Christmas dress” (Gavin and Stacey).

So, below is a list of my top favourite Christmas TV specials, for any time of year

Note: Please note that these are comedies and not all are suitable for family viewing. So, if you are planning on putting one on after the Christmas lunch, vet for your audience first. In this list I have only included my favourite British ones and limited them to comedy specials. I plan to also do lists for animation and food & drink specials, I will link those at the bottom of this post.

Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special

Starting with the best, the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special has it all, Stacey’s Welsh family are travelling down to spend Christmas with the Shipmans in Essex.

The episode takes place over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and has everything on my list. Cooking and eating the turkey (with hats), an announcement and argument after too much to drink, celebrations (the chocolates). Buying, wrapping and even unwrapping the presents and a discussion over what is on TV.  Plus every ones favourite Christmas hits all there in one place.

This one is my top pick for blissful Christmas perfection. If this year’s recently announced reunion Christmas special is half as good it will have been worth the wait.

Quotability: Lot’s, my husband and I often quote this episode; our favourites: Stacey: “It’s my Christmas dress”. Smithy (James Cordon): “I’m making you a snowball” and whilst wrapping his presents in tin foil: “just scrunch and done”. Uncle Bryn: “will you join us, in a mint Baileys for Christmas?” and of course Nessa (Ruth Jones) whilst dressed as Santa “O, O, O, whats occurin”.

Highlights: The whole episode is a joy from start to finish, seriously, watch it now. In fact, just get the whole box set!

A Child’s Christmasses in Wales

This one is a bit more niche; it is a one-off special from 2009 written by Mark Watson. Like Gavin and Stacey, it also star’s Ruth Jones. This hour special is great, and as a bonus, you get three christmasses in one as we get a peek into three 1980’s christmasses of Owen and his family.

The show covers Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1983, 1986 and 1989 when Owen and his family, are hosting his two uncles. Each year plays out the relationship between Owen’s dad and his two brothers, against a background of Owens formative years. Everybody is a bit stressed and not sure they want to really be there, but in the end appreciate each other and enjoy the season together. All the while Owen narrates, questioning his memory and conclusions drawn from the events.

Highlight’s: The retro 80’s Christmas decor, which is tat-tastic. Technology references which show how quickly life has changed; at one point Owen is walking to a phone box and asks why people cannot just have a little phone in their pocket, his father just laugh’s. Ruth Jones, who is brilliant throughout as the put upon mother.

This is definitely worth the effort to seek it out, after the initial showing it didn’t seem to be on every year, but now seems to be a regular of the British Christmas telly schedule.

Merry Christmas Mr Bean

This is the seventh episode of the live action Mr Bean series from 1992. Rowan Atkinson stars as the silent and accident prone Mr Bean and this 30min special has three acts. It shows Mr Bean Shopping for his Christmas decorations and presents, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, including Turkey prep, hanging of stockings and an outdoor Christmas market.

For music it features Christmas Carols, with Mr Bean conducting the Salvation Army band and carol singers coming to his flat door to sing Away in a manger. Obviously, Mr Bean stays almost silent throughout so very little quotability, unless you could when he deals with his Christmas crackers “Boom!”

Highlights: So many, but Mr Bean conducting a great jazz version of God rest ye merry, gentleman is right up there. Also, his utter delight on Christmas morning, skipping around the room when he wakes up never fails to bring me great joy. You can buy it here.

The Vicar of Dibley – The Christmas Lunch Incident

The Vicar of Dibley has several Christmas episodes, but The Christmas lunch incident from 1996 is the one i’m talking about here. In this 60min special Dawn French stars as the kind-hearted Vicar Geraldine who manages to sign herself up for four lunches on Christmas day, all at different venues and with different levels of both insanity and over-indulgence for her to deal with.

I love this one as you get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (big ticks). At the start, we get to see Geraldine struggling with her Christmas sermon “the keynote speech at the party conference”, she dabbles with the traditional nativity and poetry, before settling on a Nativity / Spice Girls comparison piece inspired by Verger Alice’s gift to her. You then get four joyous variations of Christmas lunches, all with turkey, hats and crackers.

Highlights: For 90’s retro fans there are great references in this, from Gladiators to Only fools and Horses “That Rodney, what a plonker”. Another one which is on British TV every Christmas so shouldn’t be hard to find, they even show it during the year on Gold. But the whole series is great, treat yourself to the box set, or put it on your Christmas wish list!

The Good Life – Silly, But it’s fun….

The title is all you need to know about this, Silly, But it’s fun…. In the Christmas special of this 1970’s sitcom, Margo and Jerry, the posh next door neighbours of self sufficiency enthusiasts Tom and Barbara, have a mix up with the delivery of their entire Christmas provisions and are forced to slum it with Tom and Barbara and their cut price, DIY Christmas. But you won’t be surprised to find out that they discover that it turns out this is the best Christmas of all.

Along the way you are treated to all the delights of Tom and Barbara’s homemade Christmas. Decorations are made, crackers are pulled, games are played and jolly good fun is had by all.

Quotes: Margo “and yuletide felicitations to you” (to anyone who wishes you a Merry Christmas).

Highlight: 1970s Decor, love it. Tom commenting on how commercial Christmas has got, in 1977! you can buy it here.

Pile of Christmas special DVD'sSpecial Mentions

So, they were my top 5 recommendations for full on Christmas cheer. But also special mentions to the following which are all worth checking out if the above are old news for you:

> Bottom: Series 2, Ep5 (1992) – Holy

> The Royle Family: Christmas Special 2008 – The New Sofa

> Men Behaving Badly: Christmas Special 1997

> Blackadder’s Christmas Carol: 1988

There, loads of good ones to start with, so start collecting. Or, look them up and make it a new tradition to have these in your life every Christmas.

If you want to see more about British Christmas TV I really recommend this site – UK Christmas TV. A brilliant resource and a treasure trove of information. It also has an excellent page which keeps a list of all Christmas specials planned for this Christmas.

Like this? Check out my list of favourite Christmas animations here.

To really get in the Christmas spirit, check out my post for 50 Christmas activities for your Christmas bucket list.

Also, come over and follow me on Instagram: @joyfullyfestive for all kinds of Christmas related treats.

Have Fun

Caroline

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