Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Weeks Fifty One And Fifty Two: Are You Going To Be A Miserable Pain In The Arse This Christmas?

Yes, dear blog reader, the Christmas listings schedule magazine are out in the shops today. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping, of course, being 'a highly respected local radio personality' and all that and everything has had his copy for a few days and recorded a couple of useful little 'stuff to use your recording devices wisely for' for The Afternoon Show earlier in the week. Nevertheless, it's probably about high time that he got his malarkey into gear and sallied forth to lay up you what's appertainin'.

Saturday 17 December
In Catherine Tate: Laughing at the Noughties - 10:00 Channel Four - the actress and, some time, comedienne, looks back at the decade's comedy, combining newsreel footage with 'humorous clips' (allegedly) to contextualise the gags she chooses to share with us in what is described a 'a two-hour romp.' So, it's a clip-show in other words. Her 'journey' (oh God, why is everything a 'journey' on TV these days?) 'provides new insight and revelations' (it says here) and features contributions from Alan Carr, David Walliams, Lee Mack, Rob Brydon, her old Doctor Who mate David Tennant (now, there's a surprise), wretched, unfunny Noel Fielding and Ross Noble, who discuss some of the greatest comedic moments in recent history. So, a clip-show with talking heads. Double bonus. Hang on, this is Channel Four, isn't it? I thought they'd stopped doing those?

It's the final of this year's Strictly Come Dancing - 7:00 BBC1 - tonight. Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly host the grand final live from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where the three remaining couples vie for the glitterball trophy with an array of dazzling routines, allegedly, featuring lifts, tricks and surprises. Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Alesha Dixon give their verdicts on the performances, but the all-important votes from the viewers decide who waltzes off with this year's title. The results programme follows after Merlin and The National Lottery Draw at 9:05.

American: The Bill Hicks Story - 11:00 BBC4 - is undoubtedly the film highlight of the weekend. The American stand-up comedian Bill Hicks tragically died from cancer in 1994 at the age of just thirty two. (Legend has it that after getting the diagnosis he got in his car and demanded a cigarette from his weeping assistant!) At this point we should all probably sing a chorus or two of Hammil On Trial's epic 'Bill Hicks' in his memory. ('But, as Bill would be the first to answer/This is the real world, and he had cancer.') He was, rightly, lauded in the UK with a dedicated fanbase - yer actual Keith Telly Topping, for instance, is a confirmed fan - but he never managed to gain the same kind of success in his own country before his untimely demise. Given that the idiocies and hypocrisies of his home country formed the bulk of his often expletive-laden (although pin-point accurate) repertoire, that's perhaps understandable. This somewhat enlightening documentary traces his development from a strict southern Baptist upbringing - guaranteed to produce more than the occasional rebel - through his burgeoning international success. But details about his personal life and what drove him professionally are lacking - maybe the result of the film requiring the co-operation of Bill's family. Perhaps in the end there wasn't much more to him than his jokes, and those, as the archive footage amply attests, remain as pungently well-observed today as they were twenty years ago. The man was, not to put too fine a point on it, brilliant. If you haven't already got it, go out and pick up Relentless (either the CD or the DVD) today. You won't regret it.

Mankind's fascination with the frozen continent of Antarctica, from the early Twentieth Century race to be the first to reach the South Pole to modern scientific research into the region's geological properties is the focus of the excellent-looking Timeshift Of Ice and Men - 8:00 BBC4. And penguins. We can't, ever, forget the penguins. The programme reveals the story behind the legendary photographs taken by Herbert Ponting on Captain Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated 1912 polar expedition, explores the South Pole's role in famous literature by HP Lovecraft and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and examines the continent's complicated political history. With contributions by Ranulph Fiennes, Sara Wheeler and Francis Spufford.

Sunday 18 December
It might still be a week away, dear blog reader, but know this. The Christmas programmes are already starting, as demonstrated by Lost Christmas - 5:30 BBC1. What's a week among friends, eh? In this rather sweet-looking family drama, written and directed by EMMY and BAFTA winner John Hay, a man called Anthony wakes up in a Manchester street one snowy Christmas Eve with no idea where he is or what he has been sent here to do. But he knows that he has a remarkable gift - the ability to find people who have lost something, and over the course of a single day sets out to help five individuals still paying for the wrong decisions which they made long ago. A children's drama in the classic traditions of the genre, starring Eddie Izzard, Jason Flemyng, Geoffrey Palmer, Christine Bottomley and Sorcha Cusack. Looks terrific.

Much-trailed by the BBC of late, Young James Herriot - 9:00 BBC1 - is a three-part drama following James Herriot's days as a student vet in the 1930s in the years before All Creatures Great and Small started and he regenerated into Christopher Timothy. Arriving in Glasgow to study at the city's veterinary college, the idealistic young man soon falls foul of his professors and is left homeless when his landlady disappears with his rent money. Luckily, fellow students Whirly Tyson and Rob McAloon take him under their collective wing, and he soon acquires his first patient - an ailing dray horse being mistreated by its owner. Iain de Caestecker (from The Fades) takes the title role, with Amy Manson, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Gary Lewis and the great Tony Curran (Vincent van Gogh in Doctor Who last year). Continues tomorrow.

If you're looking for science on telly these days then, it seems, you just can't escape the omniscient presence of yer actual Brian Cox. Not that there's anything whatsoever wrong with that of course. In A Night with the Stars - 9:00 BBC2 - Professor Foxy Coxy takes a celebrity audience through the most challenging concepts in physics from the lecture theatre of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. With the help of fellow scientist Jim Al-Khalili and guests Simon Pegg, Sarah Millican, James May and Jonathan Ross, he shows how diamonds are made up of nothingness, and how one such precious gem in the heart of London is in communication with the largest diamond in the cosmos. He also reveals how things can be in two places at once and why everything that people can see and touch in the universe actually exists.

In many ways it's jolly clever of ITV to schedule Just Henry - 7:00 - to start just as Lost Christmas is finishing since, I imagine, they'll have a similar sort of audiences. This is a good natured one-off drama set in post-Second World War Britain, based on the novel by Michelle Magorian, the writer of Goodnight Mister Tom which ITV adapted so effectively some years ago. Henry's life has not been easy. Having lost his father in the war and seen his mother remarry soon after, the youngster has become troubled, suffering nightmares and taking no interest in his education. But when his father's posthumous medal for bravery arrives in the post, he decides to go searching for answers about his death, leading to a series of surprises. Josh Bolt leads the cast, which includes Ashes to Ashes's Dean Andrews, Elaine Cassidy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Barbara Flynn, Sheila Hancock, John Henshaw and Pooky Quesnel. Another potential little corker, there. Remember, dear blog reader, as we've noted in the past, it truly is clichéd to be cynical at Christmas.

One of the highlights of Christmas TV last year was Sky's extraordinary Little Crackers series, a collection of short films made about broadly autobiographical subjects by some of Britain's best loved comedy figures. The likes of Jo Brand, Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey and - especially - Kathy Burke produced a bunch of little diamonds which quite lit up yer actual Keith Telly Topping's festive season in 2010. Albeit, Victoria Wood did her best to ruin the whole thing. Well, they're back this year, starting with two offerings tonight. The first is Barbara Windsor's Little Cracker - 9:00 Sky1. A young Barbara buys her first bra after the wardrobe mistress embarrasses her by strapping down her chest to make her look ten years old in the West End Show in which she is appearing. At just under four feet eleven inches, the fifteen-year-old is confused by her developing physique. Samantha White plays the teenage Babs, Sally Hawkins her mother whilst the real Babraba appears as the shop assistant. Sounds great and later in the week we've also got shorts from the likes of Alan Davies, Harry Hill, Shappi Khorsandi, Sheridan Smith and Johnny Vegas. A word of warning, however, that awful Horrocks woman is also doing one and, even worse, the second one tonight is by the smug and odious Jack Whitehall. One to avoid at all costs, I'd've said.

Monday 19 December
The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff - 8:30 BBC2 - is a much-anticipated four-part Dickensian comedy adventure, starring Robert Webb as Jedrington Strange-Past, an upstanding member of the community and owner of a little shoppe selling all manner of strange and wondrous things. But with Christmas just around the corner, the proprietor sadly falls foul of the evil lawyer Malifax Skulkingworm (Stephen Fry), who incarcerates his entire family in prison. Jedrington's only way of freeing them is to repay a vast and mysterious debt to Mister Skulkingworm. Katherine Parkinson, David Mitchell, Celia Imrie, Pauline McLynn and Johnny Vegas also co-star in this witty and handsome parody of the Dickens oeuvre. it's always nice to see Stephen getting to play a baddie every now and then!

Cutting Edge delves into the world of 'extreme festive decorations', meeting people whose homes boast some of the most eye-catching, ostentatious and frankly ludicrous Christmas-light displays in the UK in King of Christmas Lights - 9:00 Channel Four.
Paul Toole, for example, spends more than five thousand smackers on his hobby annually, and this year wants to go bigger - by decorating all the houses on his street. Toole by name, it would seem, and ... Northamptonshire computer whizz Karl Beetson is trying to use animatronics to create a spectacular display, while Bristol brothers and next-door neighbours Paul and Lee Brailsford face competition from a rival planning to upstage them. We've got people like that in our street, dear blog reader. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping his very self does his best to just, you know, ignore them.

Live Celebrity Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Christmas Special - 8:30 ITV - with its screamed title featuring three buzzwords which, it seems, ITV can't do without these days ('live', 'celebrity' and 'special' in case you were wondering) might be right up your street. If you're, you know, odd. Oily Chris Tarrant presents the first of two festive specials which see 'famous faces' (allegedly) teaming up to play for their favourite charities, live and against the clock, with half of their total winnings going to one lucky viewer at home. As ever, the alleged celebrities will be hoping for a clear run at the questions but the lifelines Ask the Audience, Phone-a-Friend and fifty-fifty are available to them if they get stuck. Which they probably will because, it's a well-known fact that all celebrities are as thick as pig's shit and twice as nasty.

In Imagine: The Art of Stand-Up - 10:35 BBC1 - various comedians talk to Alan Yentob about their backgrounds and influences in the first of two programmes exploring the serious business of laughter. Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, Jack Dee, Dara O Briain, Frank Skinner (see right) and David Baddiel are among those discussing their passion for making people laugh. Other contributors include Ed Byrne, Shappi Khorsandi and Omid Djalili, along with odious right-wing scumbag Jim Davidson (no longer a Uk resident these days. I dunno, these foreigners, they come over here, they take our jobs...), radically unfunny Simon Amstell, the wretched smug-faced tosser and waste-of-space Jack Whitehall. So, record it on your various recording devices and skip through the bits featuring the latter three, that's this blogger's advice. As, you know, a licence fee payer. And, also, a human being. The second part can be seen tomorrow.

The very Beard of Despair himself, Noel Edmonds, introduces (or, should that be introduced - that's the problem with archive TV, the tenses get all screwed up) Top of the Pops: 1976 - 8:00 BBC4. This is an edition from 23 December 1976, a week in which soul singer Johnny Mathis' only UK number one, When a Child Is Born, rose to the top of the chart. Once described - I think by yer man Shane MacGowan, actually - as 'a great interpreter of some very sub-standard songs' was Johnny. The show features performances by Thin Lizzy, Barry Biggs, Status Quo, John Christie, Paul Nicholas and Liverpool Express, as well as a routine by resident dance troupe Legs & Co.

Tuesday 20 December
Christmas, of course, wouldn't be Christmas without several things. Family arguments, for example. An outbreak of diarrhoea in Boxing Day. And, The Hairy Bikers' Christmas Party - 8:00 BBC2. Si King and Dave Myers plan a festive get-together for the people they have met during their TV adventures - but while promising plenty of food and drink, they decide there will be no turkey and trimmings, focusing instead on the best party food they can prepare. So begins a UK-wide search for canapes, mini-desserts, Thai treats and Indian delights, before they build the ultimate centrepiece for the party - a vodka ice luge - and turn their venue into a winter wonderland ready for their guests to arrive. Hopefully, this year, they'll managed to get it all sorted without Si having a nasty spill off his bike on Salter's Road in Gosforth like he did a couple of years back. Because, let's face it dear blog reader, there's few things worse than spending Christmas in Accident & Emergency.

The Butlin's Story - 8:00 ITV - is a documentary celebrating seventy five years since Billy Butlin opened his first holiday camp, an enterprise that went on to become a British institution. Broadcaster David Jacobs recalls how he was stationed at Butlin's in Skegness during the Second World War, while other famous names such as The Beatles' Ringo Starr (then drumming with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes at Skegness), TV presenter Stephen Mulhern, rock band Status Quo and their forty years of imaginative use of denim, former athlete Kelly Holmes and comedian Roy Hudd describe the contribution the camps made to their careers. Holiday-makers reveal how they met their spouses and honeymooned there, while archive footage brings to life the ups and downs of Butlin's through the decades. Narrated by big fat cuddly Liza Tarbuck.

In the latest episode of Holby City - 8:00 BBC1 - Malick blames himself when Paul's brother dies, but the ordeal is not yet over, and the volatile medic is left anxiously waiting to see whether his ex-lover can recover from kidney failure. Meanwhile, an encounter with a happily married couple prompts Chrissie to contemplate her relationship with Dan again, and Jac takes out her frustration on newcomer Kip Maxwell after losing baby Freya. You always wonder about Holby around Christmas time - they're either doing It's A Wonderful Life-style dream episodes or they're shooting Patsy Kensit with a crossbow. Not that's there's anything wrong with either, of course. Particularly the latter.

The Comedy Annual - 9:00 ITV - sees comedians including Jason Manford, Jason Byrne and Patrick Monahan and impressionist Alistair McGowan deliver their verdict on the brilliant, the ridiculous, the outrageous and the most infuriating moments that made up their 2011. West End star Alfie Boe also makes an appearance in this rundown of the highs and lows of the past twelve months. Presented by Phillip Schofield.

Wednesday 21 December
Downton Abbey has been the hit drama series of the last couple of years. It is the highest rating drama on ITV for a decade. The well-received scripts, characters played by some fine actors and lavish locations have made it event television. Following on from the second series and ahead of the Downton Abbey two-hour episode on Christmas Day, its cast and creators will tell the story of the show from the inside in Downton Abbey: Behind The Drama - 7:30 ITV. The actors talk exclusively about their characters and the gripping storylines across both series. They provide a real insight into the romance and conflict portrayed in the series, how they interact with each other and how they feel filming the crucial scenes for their character. There will be behind the scenes footage at all the key locations, including the historic Ealing Studios in London where all the 'below' scenes are shot, the fabulous Highclere Castle in Berkshire, the site of most of the 'above stairs scenes', and the show is on location for the dramatic opening scene of the second series, set during the Battle of the Somme and shot on location near Ipswich.

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping couldn't stand Gavin & Stacey, dear blog reader. I say that up-front because, whilst I found it about as funny as a testicular wart, I do have a lot of time for one of its creators, the lovely Ruth Jones. Whose third annual 'a seasonal chat show packed full of celebrity interviews, musical performances, and other fun,' is on tonight - BBC2 10:00. One thing I hugely dislike about Ruth, however, is that she seems completely unable to make any TV show without, in some way, involving her Gavin & Stacey mate the odious, unfunny lard-bucket James Corden. And, sure enough, he's present and correct on the sofa with her tonight. Fer Christ's sake, Ruth, have you no pity? Another of the guests in Micky Flanagan, who can be very good in small doses but is in serious danger of over-exposure at the moment, exactly the same thing that, in recent years, has happened to John Bishop and Corden himself. Luckily, Lulu is on-hand to provide a touch of class.

For once, Britain manages to find itself a few weeks ahead of America in the broadcast of tonight's episode of Bones - 9:00 Sky Atlantic - as The Crack in the Code won't be shown in the US until 12 January. Three cheers for our side. A cryptic message penned in human blood is discovered at a national monument. As the Jeffersonian team embarks on a scavenger hunt to solve the case, they realise their tech-savvy suspect (guest star Andrew Leeds) remains one step ahead of them. Meanwhile, Booth and Brennan search for the perfect home for their new family.

Of course, since we're staring down the barrel of Chrimbo we all know what the festive season is really all about. Indigestion. Nigel Slater presents a nostalgic celebration of well-loved Christmas dishes, past and present in Nigel Slater's Simple Christmas - 6:30 BBC1. From a sea bass starter to a roast duck feast and a dazzling party trifle, Nigel demonstrates how special dishes can be made simply, especially when it comes to feeding family and friends over Christmas. Nigel also prepares some winter warmers, inspired by his own festive memories, and gives his dad's annual contribution - the Christmas casserole - a tasty makeover. Plus, there is a bold and bright winter slaw inspired by the Slater festive cheeseboard. Finally, an invitation to a venison supper in a Scottish castle completes the celebrations and gives Nigel a great excuse to create a new cocktail to toast Christmas and the New Year.

Thursday 22 December
Criticised by various people with an agenda for not including any - completely random and token - women on this year's shortlist, the Sports Personality of the Year - 8:00 BBC1 - takes place tonight. Of course, none of these various people with an agenda (and odious Harriet Harman, I'm looking squarely at you), whilst putting forward various women whom they believe should have been on the list have stated which of the ten men selected they wouldn't have on the list. And given that nine of them are world champions in their various sports, that's a conversation I'd really rather like to hear. (The tenth is grumpy tennis loser Andy Murray and yer actual Keith Telly Topping would shed not a single tear if he was to get dumped for some completely random and token lady-girl.) The shortlist is: Mark Cavendish (cycling), Darren Clarke (golf), Alastair Cook (cricket), Luke Donald (golf), Mo Farah (athletics), Dai Greene (athletics), Amir Khan (boxing), Rory McIlroy (golf), Andrew Strauss (cricket) and Murray. The shortlist of ten contenders was put together by a panel of sports editors from national and regional newspapers and magazines and not by the BBC although that hasn't stopped the Daily Scum Mail and the Gruniad Morning Star getting their grubby snouts into the story. Presented by Sue Barker, Gary Lineker and Jake Humphrey, the show will broadcast live from MediaCityUK, Salford, with some of the biggest names in world sport expected to attend. And, of course, as usual it's likely to overrun so subsequent programmes are subject to change. In fact, count on it.

Set in Clapham Junction, London's Burning - 9:00 Channel Four - is a dramatic interpretation of a single night of rioting and looting that took place in August, 2011. Starring the great David Morrissey and Samantha Bond as senior police officers, London's Burning tells how residents, shopkeepers and businesses dealt with the violence that erupted. Over several nights in August 2011, riots broke out all over London. The Metropolitan Police said: 'We have never seen such levels of multi-site disorder in the Capital before.' On Monday 8 August, it was unclear where the rioters would strike next. When over four hundred youths, their minds poisoned by dreams beyond the riches of avarice (or, at least, a new pair of trainers) besieged Clapham on that night, nothing prepared local shopkeepers, residents and the police for the attack. This drama is the story of what happened, based on the testimony of some of those who were there. Using painstakingly-gathered witness testimonies and interviews, the hour-long drama weaves together half-a-dozen narratives. The drama is based on accounts from those who live or work in Clapham: the hairdresser, the party-shop owner, the family man, the music shop keeper. Each of their accounts are fascinating, revelatory and compelling. They are vivid testimonies to the enduring values of humanity: courage, compassion, determination, kindness and tolerance.

And still the cookery programmes come! Lorraine Pascale creates a feast of seasonal dishes, edible gifts and a stunning winter wonderland cake as she prepares for a festive family get-together in Lorraine's Last Minute Christmas - 8:00 BBC2. All of the recipes in the show, it is claimed, can be created in the final countdown to Christmas. There are tips, cheats and ideas that are bound to impress, even if you have left everything until the last minute. She cooks up a spicy yuletide roast lamb as an alternative supper dish. But turkey and all the trimmings is the centrepiece for the family meal, enlivened with herbs and some special wintery ingredients. For anyone looking for last-minute gift ideas, Lorraine has a hamper of edible goodies, including stained-glass-window cinnamon cookies, dark and white chocolate bark and mulled wine sachets. And there is still time to bake a Christmas cake. Lorraine has created a traybake fruit sponge, topped with sparkling meringue peaks. And she shares her secret for the perfect fail-safe glossy meringue. Or, you could just do what yer actual Keith Telly Topping usually does, and ring up for a takeaway. See, easy.

Friday 23 December
Britain's most popular doctor, Martin Clunes, guest-hosts the latest episode of the topical news quiz Have I Got News For You - 9:00 BBC2 - tonight. It's the second last episode of the series but, next week's is a compilation so this is Hislop and Merton's last chance for a bit of borderline libellous effrontery (allegedly) until the New Year. On a similar theme, with one episode being held back until next summer for the Olympic Shakespeare season and with the Christmas episode, bizarrely, scheduled for next week, after Christmas, tonight's Qi is a compilation clip-show of the highlights of the recent series of the popular 'quite interesting' quiz, hosted by Stephen Fry. Of course, it's always worth remembering that one of the single greatest moments of comedy Qi has ever produced came from a compilation clip-show ('they say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is...' and all that). So, it's probably going to be worth setting your recording devices for it anyway. if nothing else, it features Clarkson and that's going to be enough to piss off, on principle, both the Gruniad Morning Star and the Daily Scum Mail. And, let's face it, both of those things are always good for a laugh.

Channel Five, in the mean time, have decided that what the country really needs to pull it out of the weird and feeble state we've got ourselves into is a repeat of The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show. Unfortunately, as all of the BBC ones are held by, you know, the BBC themselves, they've had to acquire one of the later Thames shows, in this case the 1980 special. When Eric and Ernie, whilst still funny, were somewhat past their prime. In this episode, the duo appear in their own, unique, version of Hamlet with guest stars Peter Barkworth and Alec Guinness. It's also the one where Eric presents Ernie with a life-sized monogrammed wallet which he is duly trapped inside, Jill Gascoigne visits the duo for dinner and a Rolf Harris sketch also features. Worth it for them singing 'Bring Me Sunshine' at the end. Nah, come on, let's face it, it's always worth it for them singing 'Bring Me Sunshine' at the end. Daybreak would've been worth watching if Eric and Ernie has sang 'Bring Me Sunshine' at the end!

Tom Cruise talks about his new movie Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol on The Jonathan Ross Show - 9:00 ITV. Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Finlay and Michelle Dockery discuss the Downton Abbey Christmas special and the cast of The Inbetweeners Movie drop by too. With music from Tim Minchin and Il Volo.

Saturday 24 December
The second half of the potentially game-changing story The Sword in the Stone brings to a climax the fourth series of the popular fantasy series Merlin - 8:00 BBC1. Personally, yer actual Keith Telly Topping reckons it still takes itself a bit too seriously, but I will admit that over the last couple of series I've learned to, if not love it exactly then, at least, live with it without domestic squabbling. Morgana and Helios have successfully captured Camelot, and Merlin and Arthur are outlaws on the run, in the last episode in the current series. Trapped in Ealdor with a ruthless army closing in, their situation becomes desperate. Arthur must take control before Camelot is lost forever. But faced with Agravaine's betrayal and the strength of Morgana's force, the young King has lost his conviction. Only Merlin can restore his faith, and only an extraordinary act can prove to the King that he was born to rule. Will the young warlock convince Arthur before his dreams of Albion fall to pieces? Starring Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Katie McGrath, Nathaniel Parker, Richard Wilson, Angel Coulby, Tom Hopper, Eoin Macken, Adetomiwa Edun and Rupert Young. The guest cast includes Terence Maynard as Helios, Ben Daniels as Tristan and [spooks]'s Miranda Raison as Isolde.

You'll have noticed that there isn't a Royle Family Christmas special this year (basically, because Caroline and Craig didn't start writing it until too late in the year!) Nevertheless, weep not you Roylists, because at least you'll have your annual festive fix of Sue Johnston this year. Sue appears in Lapland - 10:00 BBC1 - a big, heartwarming family comedy also starring Stephen Graham, Elizabeth Berrington, William Ash, Julie Graham, Zawe Ashton and Keith Barron. Sue plays Eileen Lewis the mother of the chaotic Lewis clan. A large close-knit family from Birkenhead, they save all year round to make Christmas as special as possible. This year is different - they've decided to go to Lapland on a package tour to see Father Christmas Finnish-style, complete with huskies, reindeer and maybe the magical Northern Lights. But they discover Lapland brings more than they bargained for. It's written by Michael Wynne.

Outnumbered - BBC1 9:20 - is a special Christmas edition of the popular family-based comedy. The Brockmans want to go away for Christmas, but they wonder whether they can go with Grandad in hospital; and whether they should go, when Jane is their house-sitter. Meanwhile, Ben causes trouble with his Christmas present: a metal detector.

Or, you might prefer The Cube Coronation Street Special - 6:30 ITV. Philip Scofield presents a Weatherfield special of the game show, with Corrie actors Ryan Thomas and Julie Hesmondhalgh swapping the cobbles and the Rovers for The Cube. And, boldly taking on up to seven challengers in the hope of winning big for their chosen charities. Because, of course, the do a lot of work for charriddee. They don't like to talk about it, but ... Vile, pox-ridden horrorshow. I hope they all get nothing but i.o.u's in their Christmas stocking. Bah humbug. And all that ...

Sunday 25 December
And, so by process of elimination, we come to the most bloated - and often boring - day of the year which is usually only enlivened by a bit of quality telly. Take Doctor Who for instance - 7:00 on BBC1. It's Christmas Eve, 1938, when Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel as she cycles home, in this year's Christmas Special, starring Matt Smith The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe.
He promises to repay her kindness - all she has to do is make a wish. Three years later, a devastated Madge escapes war-torn London with her two children for a dilapidated house in Dorset. She is crippled with grief at the news her husband has been lost over the channel, but determined to give Lily and Cyril the best Christmas ever. The Arwells are surprised to be greeted by a madcap caretaker whose mysterious Christmas gift leads them into a magical wintry world. Here, Madge will learn how to be braver than she ever thought possible. And that wishes can come true. The guest-cast includes Outnumbered's Claire Skinner, Alexander Armstrong, Bill Bailey and The Fast Show's Arabella Weir. Quality entertainment.

For the first time in five years Doctor Who isn't up against Emmerdale on Christmas Day (that's on a six o'clock). Instead, Moffat and co find themselves facing All Star Family Fortunes on ITV. Earlier this year, you may remember, for one week, the Vernon Kay fronted quiz managed to get a slightly higher overnight audience than the BBC's popular family SF drama and Kay was on Twitter the next morning faster than you can say 'really bad Mick Jagger impersenator' bigging it up like a good 'un (and, misspelling the word 'Daleks' as it happens). Of course, he wasn't anywhere near as big of the gob a week later when the final, consolidated ratings came out and showed that Doctor Who's audience had, actually, been one and a half million viewers higher that his show. Will big Vern to shouting it out from the rooftops on Boxing Day morning, dear blog reader? We'll have to wait and see but, in the mean time, let's just marvel at what All Star Family Favourites has in store for us. Teams from The Only Way is Essex and Benidorm take part in a festive edition of the game show. Nanny Pat, Joey Essex, Mark wright, James Argent and Amy Childs take on ... Oh, who effing cares? Just when you think TV can't get any more lowest common denominator, some glakes comes up with this nonsense.

At eight o'clock there's a choice of viewers between the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special on the Beeb and an hour long episode of Coronation Street on ITV. (Unless, of course, you really fancy watching an episode of Blackadder III on BBC2 for the twenty seventy time.) Last year, of course, infamously, Strictly won the ratings battle between these two - and it's had an even more successful year, ratings-wise, this time around. So ... Let battle commence. EastEnders actress Charlie Brooks is to partner Vincent Simone, while Hi-De-Hi's Su Pollard will pair up with professional dancer Anton Du Beke. Barry McGuigan and Simon Webbe are also taking part. Meanwhile, in Weatherfield, Becky's Christmas goes up in smoke when she learns that Steve has proposed to Tracy, prompting her to hit the bottle and burn photos of him. But, when she drunkenly falls asleep, tragedy strikes. Never fall asleep whilst burning photos of your ex-boyfriend, dear blog reader, it's just one step away from Towering Inferno.

ITV, famously, have never taken Christmas Day all that seriously. Or at least, they haven't for the last few years, anyway. Usually, they've had Corrie and Emmerdale to fly the flag and if they manage - as they did last year - two out of the top ten shows of the day in terms of overnight ratings, they'll be happy. But, this year, they've taken a different tack and stuck a Christmas special of their current shining star in the sky, Downton Abbey on at 9:00 opposite EastEnders. The residents celebrate Christmas 1919 with a lavish party, but tensions are rife and Bates's arrest casts a shadow over the festivities. Mary has to consider her future with Sir Richard Carlisle following a disagreement at a shoot and Violet has concerns about Rosamund, whose new suitor - the dashing but raffish Lord Hepworth - is not all he seems. One-off festive special of the hit costume drama, guest starring Nigel Havers and Sharon Small, with Huge Bonneville, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Iain Glen, Maggie Smith and Samantha Bond That's Downton, of course, just in case you thought they'd gone a bit upmarket in Walford this year. Masood races to retrieve Kamil from Laila's home, but Yusef has one final trick up his sleeve. That's EastEnders, just in case you were horrified to discover that Lord Snooty has introduced some awful 'ethnic types' into Downton.

The second half of the Downton Abbey Christmas special also has to face up to the first of three special episodes celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Absolutely Fabulous. Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley will reprise their roles as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, together with original cast members Julia Sawalha as Saffy, June Whitfield as Mother and that awful Horrocks woman as Bubble. We will join them in the midst of a life-changing experience. Apparently.

Monday 26 December
Arrietty Clock is a head-strong teenage Borrower who is desperate to explore life outside her family home hidden under the floorboards. Her parents, Pod and Homily, are terrified of the world of the 'Human Beans' and are fiercely protective of their daughter in the BBC's latest adaptation of Mary Norton's novel The Borrowers. It's got an amazing cast headed by Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Fry and, sadly, Victoria Wood. Back to the plot. Arrietty sneaks upstairs one night and befriends James, a lonely boy who lives above her in the house with his father, Robert Millman. This leads to a world of trouble when the Borrowers' home is discovered by James's formidable grandmother, and they are forced to venture into the big wide world.
Grandma Driver knows the 'little people' exist; she's always known and is determined to hunt them out of her house. Professor Mildeye also knows of the existence of the 'little people'. Determined to restore his reputation and resurrect his academic career, he'll go to any lengths to capture them and reveal them to the world. Spiller, a leather jacketed tearaway, takes quite a shine to Arrietty. She's not quite sure what to make of this, but when her parents are captured by the evil Professor Mildeye, she is forced to enlist both Spiller's and 'human bean' James's help. They go on a series of daring adventures to try and outsmart Mildeye and return the Clock family to their former home in time for Christmas. Robbie Sheehan, Aisling Loftus, Sharon Horgan and Shaun Dooley also star in this action-packed and charming adventure for all the family.

David Jason stars in the first episode of a new BBC1 comedy series, the first time he's tried being funny for auntie since he last played loveable rogue Derek Trotter in the 2003 Christmas special of Only Fools and Horses. In The Royal Bodyguard – 9:30 BBC1 - Jason stars as Captain Guy Hubble, a lifelong soldier nearing retirement who is working in the Buckingham Palace car park until a single act of bravery sees him mistakenly appointed as head of royal security. 'Hilarity ensues', allegedly, as the hapless captain has to oversee security arrangements every time a member of the royal family makes a public engagement. The problem is, he's totally out of his depth and lurches from one disaster to the next. As with Come Fly With Me last year, the BBC are launching this on Boxing Day. Hopefully, it'll be a bit funnier than Come Fly With Me too (although the presence of David Walliams in this as well doesn't exactly auger well).

Remember back in the 1990s when the BBC scheduled a Christmas special of Men Behaving Badly on Christmas Day and various scum tabloid lice got their knickers in a knot of 'obscenities' being uttered on the Holiest Day of the year (allegedly) paid for by licence fee payers money. One can, therefore, only stand back and applaud the Beeb's courage in scheduling the start of the second series of Mrs Brown's Boys for Boxing Day - at 10:00 on BBC1. Let's see how many of them employ one of their hacks to count the number of swear words in the opening episode. I'm guessing at least four. It's Christmas and all across Ireland, mothers are looking forward to their loved ones returning home. With son Trevor coming back from the missions abroad for the first time in four years, Agnes Brown is determined to make this Christmas a truly special celebration, with her whole family present at last. But, in the Brown household nothing is straightforward. Dermot, recently married to Maria, is under pressure to spend Christmas with his in-laws, the posh Nicholsons. Maria's mum Hillary is doing her best to belittle Agnes's efforts to decorate the Brown family home. And neighbour Winnie needs help finding a job. Dermot's dodgy mate Buster has his own problems delivering the turkey. And to cap it all, there's no sign of any snow.

David Suchet returns to ITV as the famous Belgium detective, Poirot, alongside an exciting cast including Jaime Winstone, Phil Daniels, Tom Burke, Lesley Sharp, Anna Massey, Geoffrey Palmer, Tessa Peake-Jones, Frances Barber and Beatie Edney in the latest television adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Clocks - 9:00. Lieutenant Colin Race is investigating the death of two Navy personnel when a distraught Sheila Webb runs out of 19 Wilbraham Crescent and into his arms. Is she responsible for the murder of the middle-aged man found stabbed on the sitting room floor? Four clocks, frozen at the time of 4:13, are discovered in the room where the body is found and the owner, Miss Pebmarsh, of the house denies having requested Shelia’s secretarial services. Poirot travels to Dover at Lieutenant Race’s behest and observes the mounting complications to the case. Race is determined to find a connection with the recent death of his fiancée and a German mole from within the Navy but in his state of grief he becomes increasingly involved with Sheila. A wall of evidence begins to build against Sheila and the clock ticks for Poirot when another innocent victim is found totally murdered.

Tuesday 27 December
Ray Winstone, Gillian Anderson, David Suchet and Douglas Booth star in Sarah Phelps's bold new adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations starting tonight on BBC1 at 9:00 and continuing over the next three nights. On a cold winter's day, an eleven-year-old orphan, Pip, runs into an escaped convict on the marshes near his home. The convict, Magwitch, orders the boy to steal a file from his Uncle Joe's forge to remove his shackles. The terrified Pip returns with the file and some food - and this innocent act of kindness is set to have far-reaching consequences for them both. Meanwhile, Miss Havisham (Anderson looking so unlike Agent Scully it's almost untrue), the reclusive owner of grand Satis House, has requested a boy be sent to her; Pip is to be a playmate to her adopted daughter, Estella. Miss Havisham encourages Pip to believe that he might be destined for a future beyond the marshes, a future linked to that of beautiful Estella. Pip's hopes are dashed, though, when Miss Havisham pays for him to be apprenticed to Joe as a blacksmith; it seems his dreams of greater things were unfounded. At first Pip struggles to come to terms with a life in the forge but, eventually, he accepts this as his fate. However, everything changes when a lawyer from London, Jaggers, makes a surprise visit. He informs the now adult Pip that he is a young man of great expectations and will inherit a fortune when he turns twenty one. There is one condition. Pip must not enquire into the identity of his benefactor; this will remain secret until that person chooses to reveal themselves. In the meantime Jaggers is his guardian. Pip sets out for London leaving all he knows behind to pursue his new life, with his heart set on seeing Estella again. Come on, you must know the story of Great Expectations by now. Gotta say, yer actual Keith Telly Topping has always considered Dickens to be a bit over-rated, to be honest. If he was around there days, he'd be writing scripts for EastEnders.

Rory McGrath, Griff Rhys Jones and Dara O Briain head to America to join a birthday party flotilla celebrating the one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, in New York harbour in their latest 'messing about in boats' adventure, Three Men Go To New England - 9:00 BBC2. They start in the cradle of American history, New England, and have just ten days to find a suitable vessel and get to New York. Their first stop is America's oldest boat shop. The two hundred and twenty years old Lowell's, in Massachusetts. Its owner takes them to the port of Gloucester on the Twentieth Anniversary of The Perfect Storm. That's the actual storm, not the movie version with George Clooney - that was a bit less than twenty years ago. They end up in the Crow's Nest bar, where they meet local fisherman and a relative of the crew that drowned during the storm. In Boston Dara retraces his youth, by going to visit the house he used to live in. Concludes tomorrow.

Lewis's Laurence Fox, At Home With The Braithwaite's Sarah Smart and Waterloo Road's Jack McMullen star in ITV's big festive drama Fast Freddie, the Widow and Me at 9:00. Mr Billie Piper leads the cast as Jonathan Donald, a wealthy but narrow-minded luxury car dealer whose attitude is challenged when he receives a community service order at a support organisation called The Moonbeam club. There he meets recently widowed Laura Cooper, played by lovely Sarah Smart, who runs the club, and Fast Freddie Copeland, played by Jack McMullen a member who is terminally ill and will be lucky to see in the New Year. Joining them in the cast are Tamzin Outhwaite, Bill Paterson and David Westhead. After a disastrous first day, Jonathan is sent packing by Laura, she and the group have no use for him and his prejudice. But Jonathan is forced to return by an even less impressed Judge, who serves him a longer order. Jonathan’s attitude and commitment begins to change as he gets to know Freddie.

Wednesday 28 December
Various organs of piss-stinking bigotry and hate in the British media will be delighted as Top Gear's India special is broadcast - BBC2 8:00. Because, that'll give those waste-of-space buckets of diarrhoea something to whinge about in tomorrow papers, no doubt. You can always tell when a new series of Top Gear's about to start, by the red-hands a bunch of hacks have from rubbing them together. In this year's special, Jezza, Hamster and Captain Slow set off on another of their episode road races - this time across India in three old British-made bangers. They're on a trade mission with some uniquely British products to flog. Needless to say, their efforts meet with distinctly mixed resulted. And some sniffy, nose-in-the-air disdain from the hippie Communist lice at the Gruniad Morning Star and the jack-booted bully-boys thugs at the Daily Scum Mail. Not that any of that nonsense will affect the ratings for the show, of course. But, that won't stop the trying. Scumbags.

Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller star in Felix and Murdo - 10:35 Channel Four - a one-off comedy set in Edwardian London. A one off, half hour, Christmas studio sitcom, written by Simon Nye, Felix and Murdo is set in Edwardian London of 1908 - the year the Olympics first came to London. Murdo (Armstrong) and Felix (Miller) are 'modern' men and best friends who decide to indulge in a drink and drugs spree while simultaneously competing in the London Olympics Games - with no training whatsoever. How very topical! Armstrong and Miller said: 'Hopefully the time is ripe for an Edwardian sitcom featuring excessive drug-taking, monkey twins, and competitive javelin. And if it isn't, then we had a bloody good time making this show anyway.' The same evening features a 'best of' selection of the pair's eponymous sketches taken from their last series seen on Channel Four.

In It'll Be Alright On The Night - 9:00 ITV - the original ('and best-loved', it says here) out-takes show returns, hosted by Griff Rhys Jones featuring an 'hilarious' collection of slips, trips, bloopers and blunders 'from some of the biggest names in entertainment' including Ant and Dec, Harry Hill, Bradley Walsh, Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, and favourite shows including Doc Martin, Emmerdale and Coronation Street to name but a few. Or, in other words, lots of clips of actors forgetting their lines and, instead of being embarrassed by this, pretending that it's the most thigh-slappingly funny thing, like, ever. Which it isn't. Not even remotely.

Thursday 29 December
Earth Flight - 8:00 BBc1 - sees a breathtaking flight across all six continents to experience Earth's landscape from a bird's-eye view. In the opening episode, snow geeze fly across North America and pelicans glide under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Using cutting edge new filming techniques to show everything in exquisite detail, viewers have a uniquely privileged perspective flying nine thousand metres high over the sands of the Sahara or skimming metres over the Great Wall of China. The birds are shown up-close in flight and interacting with other animals down below, from barnacle geese encountering herds of migrating reindeer, to pelicans plunging into hundreds of nurse sharks. Spycams film right in the heart of the flock with microlights, hang-gliders and wirecams making up the aerial filming arsenal. Slow-motion techniques reveal extraordinary detail such as a swallow plucking a fly from the air while new satellite technology enables a seamless transition from views of entire continents to moving aerial images of the animals that live there. Sequences include flamingoes flying over the soda lakes of Africa and becoming prey for hunting baboons, flocks of waders landing in an invasion of horseshore crabs and Hummingbirds darting through the Grand Canyon. Oh, I like the found of this one!

Made as Christmas episode, quite why the latest Qi is turning up on 29 December - 9:00, BBC2 - is anyone's guess. If you make a Christmas show and it hasn't gone out by Boxing Day at the latest, then you might as well show it in the middle of June. Anyway, tonight sees the long-awaiting appearance of Big Shouty Brian Blessed, along with Ross Noble, Sean Lock and Alan Davies, on the BBC's popular intelligence quiz. Stephen Fry, as usual, asks the questions which, in this episode, concern the subject of ice. The XL edition will be shown tomorrow at 10:00.

In the first of a two-part series, Mark Austin presents a look back at the major stories of the first six months of the year in That Was 2011: The ITV News Review of the Year - 7:30 ITV. This will include coverage of the royal wedding and the death of Osama Bin Laden. Not that the two were related, of course. Oh no, very hot water. Although, there's probably a conspiracy website somewhere which manages to provide a wholly implausible link between the two. The second part is on tomorrow. And that will feature more things that are not, in any way, linked to other things.

Channel Four's highlight of the night is a repeat, but a good one, The Comic Strip Presents ...: The Hunt For Tony Blair - 11:10. If you missed it earlier in the year, give it a shot.

Friday 30 December
Charles Dickens may have created the defining picture of Christmas in A Christmas Carol, but Yuletide in the novelist's own home was sometimes less than festive, as Sue Perkins' discovers in Mrs Dickens' Family Christmas - 9:00 BBC2. Sue explores the often-rocky relationship between Charles and his wife, Catherine. In this sixty-minute film, Sue turns her attention to the woman behind the man, revealing parallels between the female characters he created and changing in his affections for his wife, namely, in Dickens's mind, her transition from innocent virgin to middle-aged frump. Scrutinising Dickens's public defence in a national newspaper of his treatment of Catherine, Sue seeks to set the record straight, revealing her unconditional love to Dickens and support for his career. Along the way, she has plenty of laughs, evokes the realities of Victorian marriage, interviews some of today's leading biographers of Mr and Mrs Dickens, explores Charles's role in creating Christmas as we know it - and gets to follow Catherine's recipe to make a Twelfth Night cake.

You have to hand it to Channel Five, when they think about it and try, really hard, they can't half come up with some utter crap. Most Shocking Celebrity Moments of 2011 - 9:00 - is just such a conceit. A 'countdown of the year's biggest water-cooler stories featuring Charlie Sheen's spectacular and very public meltdown, Ryan Giggs's martial infidelities, Lindsay Lohan appearing in court - again - Cheryl Cole winning a job on The X Factor USA, only to be axed from the show not long afterwards and Kim Kardashian's short-lived marriage.' Christ almighty, what a collection of water-cooler moments, I may shit myself in total and utter, mind-buggering excitement. Or, maybe not. 'Plus, how Pippa Middleton's shapely arse captivated a nation.' It says here. Dear blog reader, if you know anybody who would even think about watching this garbage, disown them at once. If they're a member of your family, get a divorce. If you know them on Facebook, defriend them. Now. If it's you, then you should be sodding well ashamed to show your face in public. Get out of my sight, you sicken me.

On the other hand, there's good news for fans of acerbic TV critique shows - Charlie Brooker’s 2011 Wipe has been confirmed as part of the schedule - 10:30 BBC4. The show, which has become something of an annual tradition, will see the bequiffed broadcaster taking a look back at everything significant (and hopefully funny) that’s happened in TV, films, gaming and news over the past twelve months. Alongside Doug Stanhope, Adam Curtis and Brian Limond, Brooker will be charting the inexorable rise of Pippa Middleton's bottom, the August riots, scripted reality shows, the demise of the Scum of the World and much, much more. 'God knows what we're going to cover in this – as everybody knows, hardly anything happened this year,' said Brooker, presumably with his tongue disappearing between his molars.

And that's yer whack for this year, dear blog reader. Although, I suppose yer actual Keith Telly Topping will be forced to put up 2012: Week One sometime before 31 December, especially as it'll include 31 December.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, a Christmas record that isn't part of the Twenty Two Days of Christmas. It is still, however, thankfully a Greg Lake-free zone. From Soul Brother Number One, the Goddamn Godfather o'Soul, James Brown. Yaoooow!