Should all those howlers be forgot

It’s a very Scottish thingummyjig, celebrated with enough booze to float a fleet of battleships and a cake that lodges in the stomach like a depth-charge called black bun. But for TV, the age-old problem of "how to Hogmanany" has become the equivalent of the black spot.

Pickled presenters, comedians who tell old jokes, singers who miss their Bill McCues. This is the stuff of Auld Year’s Nightmares for the producer brave or foolish enough to take on the task.

Hogmanay can ruin reputations in TV, but TV doesn’t get much sympathy from long-suffering viewers who remember the night Chic Murray lunged at the cameras and cried: "This is total chaos!" Stuck indoors while the rest of the world seems to be having a much better time elsewhere, they want TV to bring the swell party into their living rooms. They do not want to be squinting through a glass darkly at Jackie Bird’s breasts, below.

Last Hogmanay, Bird - and the dress she was almost wearing - sparked a national stooshie. BBC Scotland were extremely grateful for this: her boobs deflected attention from the rest of the show and ensured the channel grabbed all the headlines. And S TV were pretty pleased, too.

S TV went traditional with the Alexander Brothers. Or were they trying to be ironic? Managing director Sandy Ross denies this, saying Scots of all ages like the teuchter twosome. Hogmanay audiences are difficult to please, he insists, and on this point maybe he deserves sympathy. "Whoever said that you can’t please all of the people all the time might have had Hogmanay TV in mind. I remember one year we went very modern with our show and got Muriel Gray and Jimmy Mulville to present it. A Scottish tabloid slagged off the programme without having seen it - their New Year’s Day first edition hit the streets well before midnight. The following year we went traditional again and got even more pelters."

Up to date or stuck in the past? Village-hall ceilidh with an audience of bufties propped up on hay-bales or trendy West Endy, with bright young things trying to look simultaneously bored and cool? Crivvens, Trainspotting or Brigadoon? But the question that’s almost guaranteed to drive the Hogmanay producer to distraction or drink, or both, is this: live or ... no, not dead exactly, pre-recorded?

The live show benefits from immediacy, pre-recorded reduces the risk of clangers being dropped but trying to whip up Hogmanay spirit in September is difficult.

In view of all these imponderables, as prickly as the spikes on a plastic thistle, and what Ross calls the "poisoned chalice" of Hogmanay, Scottish TV are not putting on a show to bring in the new this year (hijacking Edinburgh’s street-party for 15 minutes doesn’t really count).

Instead, they’re being big enough to admit to their past mistakes in a compilation of kiltie kitsch and tartan tat. This show is called How To Make A Hogmanay Show but a more apt title would surely be How Not To …

The megamix starts back when Hogmanay TV began in 1957, as the world was thrilling to the space race. A silver-foil Sputnik was supposed to zoom into the Glasgow night sky from a launch-pad in George Square, but, at the key moment, the cameras jammed. This set the standard for the next four decades. There’s footage of Johnny Beattie telling a joke during one Hogmanay, and cracking the same gag eight years later. And so on.

Is Hogmanay TV worth preserving, and worth trying to do better? Social historians burying time-capsules of the way life is lived in Scotland might answer yes, but Ross believes the show as we know it has "run its course".

The job of producing How To Make A Hogmanay Show has fallen to Ken Neil. It’s a doddle compared to last year’s pre-recorded knees-up, which he produced, and for which he was awarded a trophy for services above and beyond the call of duty. It’s hewn from a lump of coal presented by the late Donald Dewar when he first-footed the station.

At this most Scottish time of year, says Neil, a Scottish audience is at its most critical. Any producer who assumes the nation will be too pissed to pass critical judgement is a balloon. For the Scot is not just wrestling with a stubborn ring-pull, he’s grappling with issues of identity, personal, cultural, national. "He’s schizophrenic," says Neil. "He wants to tap to the music with one foot and kick in the TV set with the other."