A History Of Christmas Specials

Where Did The Festive Favourite Start?

As we approach the festive season we look out for those timeless pieces of TV – the Christmas Special.  With modern sitcoms failing to live up to the standards  of the finest vintage we wondered when did the Christmas Special start?

We’ve done a fair bit of research on this and it’s very difficult to place the first offerings.  Concentrating just on TV, certainly some of Hancock’s stuff in the 1950’s could be classed as the first.

The next entry is the BBC Christmas Night With The Stars that ran from 1958 – 1972, The show was hosted each year by a leading star of BBC TV and featured specially made short seasonal editions (typically about 10 minutes long) of the previous year’s most popular BBC sitcoms and light entertainment programs.

Not to be out done ITV had their version from 1969.  Entitled ‘All Star Comedy Carnival’  that ran until 1973.  It followed a similar theme to With The Stars although it concentrated on comedy.

Till Death Us Do Part

In 1966 a Christmas episode of Till Death Us Do Part pops up entitled Peace and Goodwill, this is perhaps the first full length Christmas episode we came across.

Nearest And Dearest

The next one we found was: Nearest and Dearest, The Ghost Of Picklers Past, this was three years later in 1969.

The 1970’s

Often referred to as comedy’s golden era, Christmas Specials begin to pop up as part of the festive schedule on a regular basis. Indeed Till Death Us Do Part pops up again in 1972, two years before that in 1970 ITV’s On the Buses were on “Christmas Duty”

We believe, in fact Alan Simpson of Hancock and Steptoe fame, told us that it was probably about this time when they were becoming a regular thing.

And in The End…

In 1974, Steptoe and Son had it’s second and final Christmas special.  It would be the last episode.  Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em ended with a Christmas Special in 1978.  Ricky Gervais brought both Extras and The Office to an end at Christmas.

This idea seems to have caught on in more recent years as sitcoms drop off the main stream schedules to pop back up as annual festive editions for example Mrs Brown’s Boys, The Royle Family.

Without doubt the most popular Christmas ending for a sitcom was in 1996 with the first trilogy of ‘Final Only Fools And Horses’  Time On Our Hands ended the trilogy with the Trotters finally making it big.  This pulled in a viewing audience of 24.3 million.

Of course the Trotters returned in 2001 for the first of three episodes shown over three years, the final episode ‘Sleepless In Peckham’ broadcast in 2003 really was the end.