Christmas on the BBC

Festive programming across the BBC this Christmas

Christmas on BBC Television: BBC Two

A selection of television highlights on BBC Two for the festive season.

Arena: Dickens On Film

From the magical films of the silent era to the celebrated work of director David Lean and high definition television, Arena: Dickens on Film revisits films and interviews from the archive to answer the question: Why have Dickens’s novels inspired so many hundreds of adaptations on screen?

This co-production with Dickens 2012 not only encapsulates the history of Dickens’s time but also of the 100 years in which his work has survived most acutely on screen.

It is not only the stories, themes and characters of Dickens’s writing that translate so well onto screen; Sergei Eisenstein argued that there is something essentially filmic in Dickens’s unique prose style.

That Dickens’s rapid ‘cutting’ within scenes and from scene to scene coupled with his seamless mixture of the bizarrely comic with the terrifyingly profound was itself proto-cinematic. Dickens wrote the way a camera saw before film had ever been invented and he remains, to this day, the most cinematic of writers.


Arena: Jonathan Miller

The BBC's flagship arts documentary strand Arena returns with the first-ever documentary exploring the extraordinary life of Sir Jonathan Miller.

A brilliant humorist, a qualified doctor and a practising artist, Sir Jonathan Miller has straddled the great divide between the arts and sciences whilst impacting British culture through the medium of television, radio, theatre and opera.

Arena follows Miller as he reflects on his participation in television and rediscovers his work on the stage, as well as taking him back to his formative years in Cambridge, and giving us a glimpse into his Camden Town house, an enticing wonderland of books and artworks.

Departing London, Arena also observes Miller at work in opera in Florence, a city that has become his second home due to its artistic and scientific heritage.

With Miller himself at the film's centre, Arena will explore his rich life and examine how he makes these connections between the worlds of the imagination and scientific fact.


Armando Iannucci On Dickens

Two centuries after he was born, Charles Dickens stands alone as perhaps the world's most popular novelist. His characters are famous in their own right, his novels endlessly adapted for film and television – and he even has his own theme park.

However, for life-long Dickens fan Armando Iannucci, something has been lost along the way. By turning Dickens into an institution, people have forgotten why he matters as a writer in the 21st century.

Using David Copperfield as a focal point, Armando unpicks Dickens's language and explores the revolutionary development of a master story-teller. Armando also explores Dickens's brilliant use of comedy with the help of comedians Barry Cryer and Phill Jupitus to reveal the emotional truth behind even the novelist's most outlandish characters.

And through encounters with the types of people Dickens wrote about, including a group of lawyers and a debtor, Armando shows that Dickens was not just a writer of the Victorian era - but for all time.


The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff

The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff Christmas Special is the first of a new four-part comedy adventure set in the Dickensian world of Jedrington Secret-Past played by Robert Webb. Jedrington is a fine, upstanding family man and the owner of The Old Shop of Stuff, Victorian London's most successful purveyor of miscellaneous odd things.

The Christmas Special sees Jedrington and his wife, Conceptiva (The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson), on Christmas Eve. The busy yuletide joy of Jedrington and his family is shattered when Malifax Skulkingworm (Stephen Fry), a lawyer with a flinty heart and an evil hat, incarcerates Jedrington’s shop, wife and children in London’s most notorious debtors’ prison, The Skint.

What is behind Skulkingworm’s sinister plan? Will Jedrington rescue his family in time for Christmas? And is there more to the name of Secret-Past than meets the eye? All will be revealed in a tale of hidden wills, brave urchins, giant clocks, misery, joy and treacle.

David Mitchell (That Mitchell & Webb Look), Celia Imrie (Nanny McPhee), Pauline McLynn (Father Ted) and Johnny Vegas (Ideal) also appear in this Victorian comedy adventure written by Mark Evans, who penned the cult Radio 4 Dickensian comedy Bleak Expectations.


Carols From King's


This traditional celebration of the birth of Christ is, for many, the true start of Christmas. The sight and sound of a lone choirboy singing Once in Royal David's City amid the candlelit fan-vaulted splendour of the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, is the beginning of a feast of Christmas words and music.

The Christmas story is told in the words of the King James's Bible and in poems by Robert Southwell, UA Fanthorpe and TS Eliot.

The world-famous Chapel Choir, under the direction of Stephen Cleobury, sing carols old and new, including: Once in Royal David’s City, Sussex Carol, In Dulci Jubilo, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Angels from the Realms of Glory, While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night, Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar, Bethlehem Down, The First Nowell, O Holy Night and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.


Darcey Dances Hollywood

Darcey Bussell steps into the shoes of her Hollywood heroes to celebrate the enduring legacy of classic dance musicals.

In an age where dance is at the heart of popular culture, Darcey Bussell, one of Britain’s greatest living dancers and a Hollywood musical superfan, discovers that the key to understanding where this dance-mad society comes from lies in classic movie musicals.

Darcey will take famous dance routines from her favourite Hollywood musicals and reveal how they cast their spell. She will pay tribute to the legends of the art form and discover the legacy they left.

First, Darcey will pay homage to Fred Astaire in an interpretation of Puttin’ on the Ritz. Then she’ll play Ginger Rogers in a rendition of Cheek to Cheek. She’ll pay tribute to the exuberant Good Morning from Singin’ in the Rain. And she will star in a new routine inspired by the Dem Bones Café number from The Band Wagon.

Darcey will work with leading choreographer Kim Gavin and expert conductor John Wilson, who has painstakingly reconstructed the original scores.

She’ll discover how dance in the movies reached a pinnacle of perfection, and reveal how the legacy of the golden age lives on.

BBC Radio 3 Publicity

Equestrian: Olympia - World Cup

Clare Balding introduces live coverage from the London International Horse Show, where the feature event is the World Cup show jumping qualifier.

The biggest names in the sport will be out in force at Olympia, which is the seventh of 12 legs culminating at next year’s global final in The Netherlands. Last year’s event was won by Englishman Michael Whitaker on GIG Amai.

Commentary comes from Michael Tucker and Andy Austin.


Horse Racing: Welsh Grand National

The highlight of the Welsh racing calendar, the Welsh National, features the top trainers and jockeys competing for one of the most prestigious races of the National Hunt season.

One of four races being covered, the Welsh National, involves two circuits of the famous Chepstow track. The horses must clear 20 fences over three miles and 5½ furlongs – just under 6 kilometres.

Clare Balding will be in Chepstow to present the coverage. She’s joined by Rishi Persad, Mick Fitzgerald, Richard Dunwoody, John Parrott and Gary Wiltshire. Race commentary comes from Jim McGrath.


The Many Lovers of Miss Jane Austen

To mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, Professor Amanda Vickery, one of the leading chroniclers of Georgian England, explores the ebb and flow of Austen’s popularity and the hold her fiction has on us now.

In this 60-minute programme, Vickery considers what it is about her plots and characters that continue to delight, amuse, console and provoke. Her fans insist her current popularity is due to the timelessness of the fictional world Austen created, but for Vickery the question is: Why have her novels gone in, and out, of fashion?

What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well as about Austen. Interviewing a variety of literary scholars, film directors and costumed devotees who attend the Austen conventions, Vickery also views the Sotherby’s sale of an incredibly rare, handwritten manuscript of an unfinished Austen novel.

The Many Lovers of Miss Jane Austen is part of the Books on the BBC 2011.


Mrs Dickens' Family Christmas

Looking at the marriage of Charles Dickens through the eyes of his wife, Catherine, Sue Perkins exposes the lesser-known reality of the Dickens family Christmas - very different from the heart-warming versions he pedalled in A Christmas Carol.

In this 60-minute film for BBC Two, 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 many 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.


A Musical Nativity With John Rutter

This festive programme is a special re-telling of the Christmas story through music. John Rutter, whose immensely popular carols bring pleasure to millions around the world, has curated and conducts the music for this programme. It features some of his most popular music alongside other Christmas favourites close to his heart.

Recorded at Dorchester Abbey, the music includes new arrangements specially written for the programme and the first broadcast of Rutter's most recent carol, The Colours of Christmas, performed by the Children's International Voices of Enfield, of which he is patron.

In conversation with presenter Katie Derham, Rutter reflects on some of the stories surrounding his work, such as the Picasso painting which inspired his ever-popular Shepherd's Pipe Carol, written when he was a teenager. Gerald Finley and Elin Manahan Thomas are the soloists, with the Aurora Orchestra and John Rutter's own choir, the Cambridge Singers.

Extracts from the nativity story in the King James translation are read by Simon Russell Beale.


A Night With The Stars

Professor Brian Cox goes unplugged in a specially recorded one-hour programme from the lecture theatre of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. In his own inimitable style, Brian takes an audience of famous faces and members of the public on a journey through some of the most challenging concepts in physics.

With the help of guests including Simon Pegg, Jim Al-Khalili, Sarah Millican, James May and Carol Vorderman, Brian shows how diamonds - the hardest material in nature - are made up of nothingness; how things can be in two places at once; why everything we see or touch in the Universe exists; and how a diamond in the heart of London is in communication with the largest diamond in the Cosmos.

Weaving stories around mind-bending physics, Brian will be guide, host and ring-master, asking questions we never thought we needed to ask.



Christmas is the busiest time of year for a vicar – and the worst time for a vicar’s wife – as Tom Hollander stars in the final episode of Rev.

Adam is full of ideas for his first Advent in London. However, he soon discovers that Christmas at St Saviour's is quite different to his sleepy Suffolk parish. He's under pressure from the Archdeacon to maximise seasonal profits, the diary's packed with unusual events and he's up at the crack of dawn every morning to cook breakfast at the homeless shelter.

Exhausted, with a permanent hangover and Midnight Mass looming, he's in no mood for a house guest - least of all Alex's cantankerous father, Martin (Geoffrey Palmer)...

Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, Steve Evets, Miles Jupp, Lucy Liemann, Simon Mcburney, Ellen Thomas, Geoffrey Palmer, Jimmy Akingbola, Severn Brand, Katie Males and Eliza Newman star.