The Christmas Edition of the Radio Times
For those outside of the UK, The Radio Times is one of the most popular TV guide magazines in the country. It was the world's first broadcast listings magazine when it was founded in 1923 by John Reith, then general manager of the BBC. It used to exclusively cover only BBC TV and radio content but over the years has expanded its listing to cover all terrestrial, satellite, cable and internet TV channels. As well as printing the various TV schedules it also contains articles, reviews and interviews associated with most forms of UK media. It is broadly deemed to be in good standing with the population and still boasts a high standard of journalism. However, over recent years The Radio Times has suffered a decline in readership the same way that all traditional print media has. Hence the bulk of its current readership are mainly those who have grown up with it and have a strong bond with it.
Which leads me nicely on to the point of this post. Every year, The Radio Times publishes a double edition that spans the Christmas and New Year period. It naturally has a seasonal cover and for many people, marks the imminent arrival of Christmas itself. For as long as I can remember, I have always bought or at least had access to this bumper festive publication. Pawing over it, checking the remote and obscure reaches of the TV schedules for hidden gems has always been a Christmas ritual for myself and many others. The significance of this process was especially important during my youth in the seventies. As I have mentioned in previous posts, watching TV as a family, especially films were a major part of our leisure time. It nurtured my love of cinema, film making and broadened my cultural horizons. The Radio Times Christmas edition exemplified this as it represented a two-week period in which I was off from school, most of the shops were closed and the days were cold and short. This presented an ideal opportunity to curl up on the sofa and watch TV (which consisted initially of just three channels).
It’s difficult to convey to a generation that is used to having access to a wide variety of content across multiple platforms and devices, the excitement brought about by the Christmas TV schedules in seventies Britain. There was a far greater quantity and variety of content aged at children as the broadcasters new the schools were closed. Hence you could often start the day with a Disney Classic such as The Aristocats or The Love Bug. There would also be frequent classic films throughout the days, often with a seasonal flavour, such as Alistair Sim as Scrooge. It was also more likely that fantasy films would make the schedules, so movies such as Jason and the Argonauts or At the Earth Core were warmly welcomed. Then as I got older and TV expanded into late night and twenty-four hours programming, I frequently found that my taste for seasonal supernatural content was catered for, with repeats of classic MR James adaptations or by actors of note such as Tom Baker or Christopher Lee reading a spooky tale. For decades, this time of year was also the only chance you would get to see various Laurel and Hardy shorts.
Sadly, the march of time and progress has changed the TV scheduling landscape and the very way we consume television. Gone are the days were the Christmas Special episode of a popular sitcom or variety show would garner audiences of over 20 million viewers. The other major change with respect to films, is that I’ve seen most recent releases long before they reach terrestrial channels in the UK. Unfortunately, the Christmas Edition of The Radio Times, no longer holds any substantial surprises or hidden gems. Naturally there are some new shows of merit to look forward to, but it doesn’t require me to circle titles in the magazine itself anymore. Nor do I have to write a detailed list and program multiple VCRs. If I now miss anything of note I simply watch it via an on-demand player. Or if I see that The Devil Rides Out is showing in the small hours of a commercial station, I simply put on my Blu-ray copy and enjoy it in high definition, in the right aspect ratio and without the annoyance of adverts every ten minutes. Times change and there comes appoint where tradition and ritual are abandoned. I have just read through the latest Christmas Edition of The Radio Times, but the process now serves as an exercise in nostalgia rather than practical necessity. However, I’m not quite ready to let go yet (mainly due to Talking Pictures TV). Perhaps next year or the one after.