WITH the spot-on timing that’s made him a favourite with children everywhere, Bad Santas arrived just as Father Christmas was making some unfortunate headlines.
Channel 4, Monday and Tuesday, 9pm
The Christmas No 1 Story
BBC2, Wednesday, 9pm
Sky Atlantic, Monday, 10.05pm
In Airdrie a 69-year-old Santa was recovering after having bricks hurled at his sleigh, while at Harrods the man in the red fat-suit was being warned about the new rules, post-Jimmy Savile child abuse revelations: no kids on the knee without parents’ permission, hands always visible, elves monitoring along with CCTV.
Who’d be a Santa in 2012? This documentary found five unlikely candidates – total convictions: 100, including armed robbery and assault – who were pretty desperate for the gig, all for different reasons, after top Santa booker James Lovell looked back to when the grotto gave him a break as an out-of-work actor and decided to help out blokes down on their luck.
Lovell runs the Ministry of Fun agency which supplies Harrods. No mention of Airdrie but an extra helping of plum duff for me for getting the posh people’s store and yon Lanarkshire toon into the same paragraph, surely a first. First to drop out of Santa school was Tiny Tim who’d neglected to tell Lovell about an upcoming court appearance. Then Johnny Sausage went, the hippy in the van having turned up smelling of booze and fags once too often. This was a shame as he’d been doing well – “The last time anyone complimented me? Can’t remember, to be honest” – but Channel 4 had to press on (mustn’t let the kids down).
Brian, who’d hated Christmas, hadn’t celebrated it for 30 years, since the death of his father, turned out to be the star pupil. Steve also graduated and got gigs, prompting his estranged daughters to get in touch, and this was all the more remarkable given the trouble he had remembering the reindeer names (Rudolph, obviously, and, er, Grumpy? Derek? …Osama?). And Frank made it too, becoming the Ministry of Fun’s first black Santa. “Now my boy can know me as Santa Dad rather than Dad the robber,” he said. And of course there’s probably now an opening in Airdrie as well, if any of these guys fancy it.
Jimmy Savile is causing extra work in editing suites. If the stories hadn’t come out, you’d imagine he’d have rated a mention in last week’s Wrestling’s Golden Age: Grapples, Grunts And Grannies, given his brief career in the “sport”. He’s thrown the sequencing, and the future, of BBC4’s Top Of The Pops reruns into disarray, given some of the dodgy presenting and not just by Savile (Legs & Co chased off the dance-podium in a mock-lecherous manner, girls from the audience gripped rather too tightly). And maybe, in any other year, he’d have turned up in The Christmas No 1 Story, a documentary about all the festive chart-toppers there have been and we’ve cared about (which rules out any in the last few X Factor-dominated years).
Slade, we were told, recorded Merry Xmas Everybody in the blazing heat of a New York summer. I think I knew that. But I didn’t know that during the video-shoot for Mary’s Boy Child in Commie-era Moscow, Boney M had to rub what vodka they didn’t drink on their feet in a bid to keep out the extreme cold, and that when ordered to perform for the Politburo later that night they were paralytic. Then there was the revelation from Rolf Harris that he thought Two Little Boys was rubbish until it came to the line “Did you think I would leave you dying?” Richard Coles, the electropopper-turned-priest who was good value throughout, said: “I still can’t listen to that song without crying. It’s not just the message of Christmas but of the entire Christian salvation.”
It’s true that some lines from Christmas No 1s resonate deeply. Who can forget how Sir Clifford of Richard manipulated “Christeeyan” so it made Mistletoe And Wine scan, much like how he manipulated his year’s recorded output to target the yuletide market (“It was purely business,” said pop’s pre-eminent God-botherer).
Who can forget, too, Bono’s “And tonight thank God it’s them instead of you?” Actually, great open-shirted emoting and all, but my favourite moment from the video for Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? has always been Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet holding his chin meaningfully while singing. Not an easy trick, but then he does possess an almighty foghorn. “It was purely vanity,” he might admit now.
Just enough room to say how much I enjoyed Girls, which ended with this great line among many, Adam to Hannah: “Is this the game: you chase me like the Beatles for six months until I finally get comfortable and then you just shrug?” It’s back early in 2013, when you’ll next be hearing from me. «