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

Advertisements

The sorry state of the UK’s dumbed-down TV is forcing me to watch period drama

That’s it then. There’s nothing for it. I guess I’m going to have to watch Downton Abbey.

Having set my stall out long ago against costume romps, the latest viewing figures for British TV are so depressing that they leave me with no choice but to cave in.

How did it come to this? Well, the sad truth is that ITV’s flagship period drama – the most successful since 1981’s Brideshead Revisited – is actually the only proper programme in the top 10 most-watched shows of 2011.

According to figures just released by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb), reality TV and ‘talent’ shows account for six of the top 10 slots.

The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent each grab two places while Strictly Come Dancing and I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here) also chart.

Now, as a staunch supporter of our very own Stoke’s Top Talent, I’ve got nothing against variety competitions. If they do what they say on the tin, that is.

But the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent aren’t anything of the sort.

They are, first and foremost, entertainment programmes and anyone who doesn’t understand that simple conceit is being emotionally mugged.

Let’s face it: If they were genuine talent competitions then the likes of Jedward and Wagner would never have got anywhere near a television camera.

They were put through to the finals in order that we would all sit around asking each other why they had made it to the finals.

As one of the few people in the UK not under the spell of PJ and Duncan – sorry, I mean Ant and Dec – I have to say I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out Of Here) also leaves me cold.

Morecambe and Wise they are not and if I want to watch people eating a kangaroo’s testicles I can observe the queue for pies at any League Two stadium that Port Vale visit.

As for Strictly (I’m told you’re supposed to shorten the title) I have no real objection other than the fact that it seems a tad self-indulgent of the BBC to throw its own presenters into the mix with the so-called celebrities.

For example, no sooner had Alex Jones finished fawning over the latest guest on the unfathomably random One Show than she was all sequins and cleavage doing a rumba.

When you take out the boring annual Coronation Street set-piece and the yearly Eastenders misery-fest that leaves only Downton and the Royal Wedding – which topped the chart with an average of 13.59 million viewers but doesn’t really count as it’s a one-off event.

I’m afraid to say that, had it not been for William and Kate’s nuptials, Simon Cowell’s empire would have reigned supreme once again.

What a depressing thought.

Granted, I’m not your archetypal television watcher: If a programme doesn’t contain space ships, the supernatural, an archaeological dig, cricket, Port Vale or Bon Jovi then it’s unlikely to be on my radar.

However, once in a while a fine piece of drama or a brilliant new comedy will grab my attention.

For example, programmes such as the excellent Band Of Brothers or current hit shows such as Boardwalk Empire or Game Of Thrones made the cut.

Of course, the aforementioned sweeping epics were made by U.S. network HBO because neither the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 nor Channel 5 have the resource or the gumption to pull off anything so cinematic.

The truth is I haven’t watched terrestrial telly for a long time and so I have to ask: Did IQs drop sharply while I was away?

Along with the shows I dismissed earlier there is even more vacuous tripe to avoid like Big Brother, Geordie Shore and The Only Way Is Essex.

I’ve clearly turned prematurely into a curmudgeonly old git because it seems to me that warm and engaging family programmes (Auf Wiedersehen Pet/The Darling Buds Of May) and non-offensive and clever comedies (Only Fools and Horses/Blackadder) are now considered too bland.

Meanwhile brainless is the new mainstream as we continue to worship at the cult of celebrity.

We’ve got more channels to choose from than we’ve ever had yet the only time the nation properly comes together is to watch warbling non-entities or Z-list celebrities wretching over a plate of cockroaches.

It’s so bad I’m almost looking forward to the Olympics. Yes, OK, and Downton Abbey.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

1982: The year I realised there was life beyond Sneyd Green…

Let’s turn back the clock 30 years. Yours truly was tubby, aged 10, and at infant school.

I was still happily playing with a tin of toy soldiers and nipping over the railings for a game of footie on the high school playing fields of a weekend (goalkeeper, obviously, because this asthmatic didn’t do much running about).

Then things changed. This was the year I looked beyond Sneyd Green and started to take notice of, well… other stuff.

I think this was because 1982 was a momentous year – for all sorts of reasons.

Indeed, I’m convinced it was the events of those 12 months which switched me on to current affairs.

No, I’m not talking about the arrival of the BMX or the ZX Spectrum home computer – I had neither.

Nor did I go in for Deely Boppers, ra-ra skirts or leg warmers – which all made their bow in ’82.

I’m not talking about the launch of Channel 4 with its first edition of Countdown, either.

No, what struck me when I watched the evening news was the crushing misery of real life.

Unemployment hit three million for the first time since the Thirties and I learned what a dole queue was.

Of course, there was no bigger story than the Falklands Conflict – which unfolded before our eyes on television from April to June.

For a starters, my mum suggested we stop buying Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies because of their country of origin. She only suggested it, mind.

As a 10-year-old I recall being worried as Maggie’s Task Force sailed off but I didn’t really know why.

The Falklands Conflict was the first ‘war’ which us Brits witnessed via nightly updates on the TV news.

For anyone who saw them, even a youngster like me, there are certain names and images which will be seared into your mind.

Mirage fighter planes, Exocet missiles, Harrier jump jets, Goose Green, Mount Tumbledown, the blazing Sir Galahad, the sinking General Belgrano.

For the 74-day duration of the conflict pictures were beamed into our living rooms every teatime – exposing for the first time the full horrors of war to us back home.

In the end, we won, but the cost was steep: 255 British military personnel, almost 650 Argentine military personnel and a handful of Falkland Islanders died.

Last year I met Simon Weston OBE – the remarkable survivor of that fire on the Sir Galahad – at a theme park in Cornwall of all places. He remains an inspiration.

Television also provided other vivid memories of that year for me.

In October I was one of more than 120 pupils at Holden Lane First and Middle who huddled around the school’s only beast of a TV and watched as King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose was raised from the murky depths of The Solent.

This was history at its most exciting and I was hooked for life.

I also watched virtually every game of the World Cup in Spain and very nearly completed the Panini Sticker album for the tournament – eventually giving up on a couple of Hungarian midfielders.

It was a year to be Italian and I recall the Boys’ Brigade lads playing football on the grass up at Wesley Hall Methodist church (trees for goalposts) all wanting to be Paolo Rossi.

1982 was also a year of contrasting royal stories. There was joy for the House of Windsor when Diana, Princess of Wales, gave birth to her son and future heir to the throne Prince William in June.

But a month later I remember being horrified that the Queen had spent 10 minutes chatting to intruder Michael Fagan when she woke up to find him sitting on the end of her bed.

Ten-year-old me was genuinely concerned about Her Majesty’s safety for several days after that.

Thirty years later and our Liz is approaching her Diamond Jubilee so I guess I needn’t have worried.

Happy anniversary, your Majesty.

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