There are certain traditions that will forever be a part of British Christmas culture. These range from moaning about mince pies already being available in late October, to buying a copy of the Christmas Radio Times despite coping absolutely fine without one throughout the rest of the year. In terms of televisual viewing over the festive period however, perhaps our finest tradition is the sitcom Christmas special. Practically every UK sitcom has opted to make a Christmas special at some point but only the very best are re-watched every year without fail:
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The Office Christmas Specials
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s brilliant sitcom ended in 2003 with a flawless two-part Christmas special. The first part focused mainly on Brent’s post-Wernham Hogg career and his attempts to keep up his public profile, while the second features him trying to secure a date for the Christmas party at his old place of employment. This party is the setting for the grand finale and packs in plenty of memorable scenes, from David awkwardly waiting for his date, to him finally standing up to Chris Finch (bloody good rep). The finest moment of all though is the culmination of one of TV’s all time great love stories as Tim and Dawn finally get together. That unforgettable moment where Dawn makes her return to the party as Yazoo’s “Only You” plays, will never fail to give me goosebumps.
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Alan Partridge – Knowing me Knowing Yule
Alan’s Christmas special starts off badly and goes rapidly downhill from there. From him incurring the wrath of bawdy chef “Fanny Thomas”, to his ill-thought out giant cracker pull and an awkward interview with a paralysed ex-golfer, nothing goes right for Alan at all. The whole show also takes place under the watchful eye of Commissioning Editor at the BBC, Tony Hayers, who holds Alan’s uncertain future in the palm of his hands. As Alan quite rightly makes clear, “ask the British public whether they’d prefer 40 kidney dialysis machines or an Alan Partridge Christmas special, the answer would be pretty unanimous.”
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Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
Blackadder’s take on Dickens’ timeless Christmas story saw a Victorian version of the titular character breaking with family tradition and being an all-round great guy. Over the course of the special though, the spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane on fine form) shows Blackadder glimpses of his ancestors acting rather terribly and suddenly being bad seems far more appealing. It’s a wonderful homage to a Christmas Carol and is packed full of brilliant lines, including the immortal observation, “Baldrick, you wouldn’t see a subtle plan is it painted itself purple and danced naked on top of a harpsichord singing, ‘subtle plans are here again!’”.
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Father Ted – A Christmassy Ted
A main stay of Channel 4’s Christmas schedule, Ted’s dreams of a nice quiet Christmas don’t quite come to pass in the wonderfully chaotic festive outing. There are countless hilarious moments dotted throughout, with Mrs Doyle’s devastated reaction to being bought a tea-maker and Ted’s impassioned Golden Cleric speech among them. It’s the events that unfold in “Ireland’s biggest lingerie section” that are the true highlight however with Ted becoming the hero of the hour as he takes control of a lost band of priests and leads them to freedom in a wonderfully bizarre turn of events.
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Porridge – No Way Out
This was the first of two Christmas specials for Porridge and it’s a bona fide sitcom classic. Ronnie Barker’s convicted criminal Norman Stanley Fletcher is an all-time great TV character and his interactions with wide-eyed Godber forms a lot of the show’s best moments. In this outing, Godber’s enjoyment of the small glimmers of Christmas that find their way in to prison life, contrast sharply with Fletchers’s hard-worn cynicism. Fletch’s attempts to escape Christmas by being admitted to the infirmary put in motion a series of events which include a trip to a civilian hospital and a failed escape attempt. It’s intricately plotted comedy brilliance and it all ends with a truly classic one-liner.
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The Royle Family – 1999 Christmas Episode
There have been several Royle Family Christmas specials and while on the whole they are a mixed bunch, the 1999 original is exceptional work. Its business as usual for the first family, Jim’s moaning about there being nothing on TV, Denise is phoning her mum from upstairs and Barbara is reeling from the verdict on her turkey. As funny as their usual arguments and chatter are, it’s the episode’s poignant ending which really makes it stand out as a teary Denise goes into labour on the family bathroom floor and Jim is left to comfort her. What follows is a wonderfully sweet moment between the pair that is every bit as touching as the rest of the episode is funny.
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