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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Lessons cancelled for a bit of television history

It’s one of my most vivid memories from primary school and one of those televisual events from the Eighties which, like the Falklands Conflict and the Live Aid concert, gripped the nation.

I was 10 at the time and probably recall it so well because it meant something other than lessons for the pupils at was Holden Lane First and Middle School in Sneyd Green.

We shuffled into the assembly hall to sit in rows on the cold floor in front of the school’s one, large colour TV which rested on a trolley in front of the stage.

What unfolded before us over the next couple of hours was pure drama and kept 120 under-11s amazingly quiet and interested.

It was a scene, I’m sure, that was repeated at schools across the country as archaeology came to the masses.

The first few timbers of the Mary Rose broke the surface just after 9am on October 11, 1982, cradled in the arms of a chunky yellow lifting rig.

For someone like yours truly, fascinated by history, it was a tremendous bit of telly and I can’t quite believe it is 30 years ago this week.

First there was the genuine concern that the salvage operation would not be successful – pioneering as it was.

It had taken years of planning and had been delayed by the fact that a detachment of Royal Engineers, who had been working on the project, had been forced to pull out because they had more pressing business with Argentines soldiers in the South Atlantic.

Indeed, the operation was not without its hairy moments – like when a corner of the frame slipped a full metre and we all gasped in horror and the thought of Henry VIII’s flagship disintegrating.

The commentators filled our heads with doomsday scenarios of the hull snapping or the wood deteriorating with exposure to 20th century air.

We simply crossed our fingers that everything would be OK and wondered what treasures the Tudor time capsule would yield when it was eventually brought ashore.

The raising of the Mary Rose was one of the most ambitious and expensive operations in the history of maritime archaeology.

It was significant in that the people behind the privately-funded project weren’t forced to sell-off bits of their treasure trove to cover their costs and led to the creation of the first historic shipwreck museum in the UK to receive funding from the Government.

Mum and dad took my brother and I down to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to visit the Mary Rose Museum when I was in my early teens and I remember standing on the viewing balcony over looking the great hulk which was being sprayed with salt water.

The great warship had been sailing to attack a French fleet when she sank in the Solent – the straits north of the Isle of Wight – on July 19, 1545.

It was no surprise then that among the 26,000 artifacts recovered were weapons which gave us a window on warfare during the Tudor period – including cannons, guns, longbows and arrows.

But the Mary Rose was a floating community which is why everything from casks containing food and drinks to chests of carpentry tools were also salvaged along with rosaries, musical instruments, navigation equipment, clothing and even medical supplies used by the ship’s barber surgeon.

The silt of the Solent had preserved many of the objects well but the underwater environment which had been their home for hundreds of years had made them sensitive to exposure to air. Thus, for the last three decades, work to conserve the wreck and its artifacts has been unceasing.

Millions of pounds have been spent on the Mary Rose to preserve this Great British treasure for future generations.

The final phase if the conservation process – controlled air drying of the hull – is expected to be completed no later the 2015.

I’m sure old Henry would be proud.

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