Breathing new life into an Eighties Christmas classic

The cover of the 2012 festive edition of the Radio Times showing artwork from the new The Snowman and The Snow Dog animated film.

The cover of the 2012 festive edition of the Radio Times showing artwork from the new The Snowman and The Snow Dog animated film.

The season of goodwill officially begins at chez Tideswell household not when our tree goes up (that happened on December 1) but when yours truly brings home the legendary, festive double issue of the Radio Times.

Then follows the time-honoured tradition of leafing through the pages, glass of port in hand, circling the good stuff and planning our TV watching from Christmas Eve through to New Year’s Day.

This year’s cover is a gem which took me back 30 years.

It features new interpretations of Raymond Briggs’s wonderful snowman character which has become instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen Christmas telly in the UK over the last three decades.

At 8pm on Christmas Eve a sequel to his animated tale The Snowman, will be screened by Channel Four.

The £2m, 24-minute programme was given the thumbs-up by the pleasingly eccentric Briggs, now aged 78, as it has been hand-drawn rather than computer-generated.

The Snowman And The Snow Dog will doubtless attract a new generation of fans while leaving big kids like myself basking in a nostalgic glow.

The original The Snowman is one of our most played DVDs. My children love it and it takes me back to its first airing on Boxing Day, 1982, when I was just 10 years old.

Based on Briggs’s children’s book without words, which was first published in 1978, the television adaptation – supported by an orchestral score and the wonderful Walking in the Air, sung by St. Paul’s Cathedral choir boy Peter Auty – was a sensation.

Nominated for an Academy Award, The Snowman has been a staple of Christmas in British homes ever since.

The release of the single Walking in the Air several years later by Welsh chorister Aled Jones made him a household name.

There is something incredibly evocative about the simple, rather clunky animation of the Eighties original, which tells the story of a boy who lovingly crafts a snowman one winter’s day.

At the stroke of midnight the snowman comes to life and he and his young creator have a memorable adventure involving a flight over land and sea and a meeting with Father Christmas.

When I first watched the film one particular moment captivated me.

A little girl is looking out of her bedroom window on Christmas Eve and sees The Snowman and his maker flying through the sky, hand-in-hand.

Her mouth opens in surprise and she looks to a nearby Christmas card which shows Santa Claus and his reindeer, wondering what she has seen on this most magical of nights.

That could have been me who spent so many Christmas Eve’s peering out of the window of the bedroom I shared with my younger brother Matthew looking for that elusive sleigh and listening out for bells.

The Snowman’s genius, however, is that it actually ends on a melancholy note when the boy of the story goes outside the following morning, wearing a dressing gown and slippers, to discover his creation has melted.

Wondering whether or not the events of the previous night was just a dream, he discovers that he still has the scarf given to him by Father Christmas.

It is both sad and uplifting at the same time.

The success of The Snowman owes much to the creativity of team who brought it to the small screen.

In Briggs’s original book the boy does not visit Father Christmas and there is no Christmas tree in his house.

Indeed, all of the festive elements were added for the TV version and, to my mind, it is these ingredients lift it beyond simple make-believe and make its accessible to so many.

There are several versions of the tale.

An alternative introduction to the television film is sometimes used which shows David Bowie reciting the introduction to the story rather than author Briggs.

There is even a stage version of The Snowman which has no words other than the song Walking in the Air.

However, the original is still my favourite and I’ve got a feeling that the sequel, made with love and due respect for this Eighties masterpiece, will be equally charming.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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