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What? No Santa?! Christmas Radio Times cover illustrations from years gone by

John Escolme

History Manager, BBC

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When the Christmas 2011 front cover of the Radio Times (below) was released to the press at the beginning of December, there was deep shock - there wasn't a Santa Claus to be seen.

We live in lean times went the argument, and a well fed Santa on the front cover was considered something of an overindulgence.

The front cover of the 2011 Christmas Radio times

Some have come to expect Santa's face beaming out, tempting us to tune in to two solid weeks of family viewing, and we have begun to think it's his rightful place. However, looking back though nearly 90 years of Radio Times covers at Christmas, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Santa is a relative newcomer to the scene.

It's where he doesn't feature that the Radio Times at Christmas becomes even more interesting, and where the creative festive flow of the illustrators cranks up.

The earliest Christmas covers from the 20's and 30's are the most striking.

Take the Christmas RT for 1926 (pictured below left), no Santa that year, instead a prominent yellow star perches above an alarmingly modernist lightning strike. Is it the communists or the fascists running Christmas that year?

Covers from the Christmas Radio Times in 1926 and 1929.

1929 (above right), and Santa still doesn't get a look in. Instead, something heavenly is definitely going on, but there's a sinister air, and storm clouds are brewing.

By 1931 (below left) things had calmed down a bit with frolicking angels taking centre stage - much more reassuring. However, it's not to last.

Covers from the 1931 and 1933 editions of the Christmas Radio Times.

Snow engulfed transmitting stations and an iced-up Broadcasting House makes one wonder if the BBC, during Christmas 1933, wasn't quite certain of getting on air at all, 'due to adverse weather conditions'.

Edward Ardizzone, Val Biro, Eric Fraser, Anthony Gross, Ralph Steadman and Rex Whistler have all illustrated for the Radio Times over the years, contributing their fair share of abstract and traditional designs. This years' Santa-less front cover by Kate Forrester takes us back toward tradition, a wavering green Christmas tree, decorated in gold and red, but it's no less impressive than the perceived to be all important tubby Father Christmas.

The cover of the 1988 Christmas Radio Times.

Forrester follows a long tradition of producing successful non Santa covers. After all it was the 1988 Christmas edition (above) that netted a record 11,220,666 editions sold, and Santa was nowhere to be seen that year either.

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