Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds at Christmas, Monday 18th December, 9pm, Channel 4
I should never have gone on holiday in the summer. This is partly because we casually meandered into incredibly hot conditions in Italy. We spent a fortnight staggering from one air-conditioned café to another in search of gelato and water. As a result, I can’t tell you a thing about Florence’s historic Duomo, or the Uffizi, but I can talk you through pretty much every flavour of ice cream available in every establishment in Tuscany. The other reason I should never go on holiday is that I missed one of the TV gems of the year.
Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds was a series on Channel 4 in July which brought together a group of senior citizens in a care home and a gaggle of four-year-olds over a period of six weeks, to see if it had a beneficial effect on the older part of the equation. And the results were magical. The smallies were quite the most adorable collection of poppets you could ever wish to meet, and the old people were so superbly sweet and twinkly and warm with them, it was impossible not to be moved. The results, on their mental and physical wellbeing, were striking. And as friendships were forged and bonds formed, one’s faith in human nature, so often battered in this cynical world of ours, burgeoned by the second.
Hurrah, then, for the fact that we are to be given a second helping of the show. This Christmas special is only a one-off, but it’s still got more festive cheer than a Labrador puppy in a Santa hat.
In the opening scene, as the children march excitedly down the hallway of the care home, singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, you can see the waiting adults start to bristle with excitement. Moments later, friendships are resumed, knees are being sat on, cuddles exchanged, and stories excitedly swapped, and all is right with the world.
The plan is to put on a carol concert, and invite other local older people. Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for the elderly. According to one heart-breaking statistic, this Christmas 1.2 million people over 75 will be on their own. Perhaps even more starkly, over 200,000 old people haven’t had a conversation with a friend or family member in a month. It’s a sobering, shaming fact.
All power then, to the gang, and their concert. And, as they reach out to those living alone in the local community, new friendships are formed. David, 90, and Eva, 5, go off to meet another Eva, also 90. A year ago, David had no Evas in his life. Now he has two, and very delightful they both are. I wonder what the collective noun for Evas is. I think a ‘charm of Evas’ sounds about right.
And so to the concert, a joyously happy and inclusive occasion, filled with love and friendship and singing and everything Christmas should be about. The children still sound like they're squealing, but to my ears there are few sweeter sounds in the world.
Saga is proud to be supporting The Silver Line, the only free confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people. Open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, the charity has just taken its millionth call. For information about how you can help visit saga.co.uk/silverline
Joanna and Jennifer: Absolutely Champers, Friday 22nd December, 9pm, BBC Two
Of all the sitcom characters in the last couple of decades, two of the most memorable were Edy and Patsy from Jennifer Saunders’ triumphant Absolutely Fabulous. Hard-living, chain-smoking, narcissistic, utterly infantilised, and selfish to the core, they spent most waking moments hoovering up champagne (‘Bolly’) like it was water and they were particularly thirsty camels.
Ain honour of this iconic duo, BBC Two has decided to send the actresses who played them off to France’s celebrated Champagne region, in this hour-long one-off travelogue, to celebrate its most famous product. It is, let’s be frank, quite the flimsiest pretext for a programme. But, really, who cares? We get to spend an hour in the company of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, as they pootle about in the beautiful rolling hills of Champagne during picking season. What’s not to love?
And that, in a nutshell, is all you need to know about the programme. It is every bit as lovely, charming, funny, warm and beautiful as you would imagine. But I’ve got a column to write, and if I don’t waffle on for a bit longer, I’ll be accused of slacking off. Even more than usual, I mean. So here’s what else you need to know about the programme.
1. Joanna Lumley doesn’t pack light. I mean, she’s off to France for a few days, and she’s brought a suitcase the size of the Louvre. Verily, it is the Jeroboam of suitcases. It’s just as well they’re travelling by Eurostar, as she’d be paying a six-figure excess baggage sum on a flight, and the plane would probably never get off the ground.
2. Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders giggle together. A lot. They start giggling before they’ve even had a sip of Champagne. After they’ve had Champagne, they giggle even more. Basically, they giggle a lot in this programme.
3. Old clips of Absolutely Fabulous are liberally sprinkled throughout the film.
4. If you go grape picking in Champagne, you are given a breakfast at 9am of cheese, pate, baguettes and Champagne. Then everyone has a sing song. Sometimes it’s hard not to love the French.
5. You can buy a Champagne that has been aged for a year 60 metres below the surface of the sea. If you wanted to. Which I do not.
6. There are six kilometres of tunnels below the Bollinger HQ, and 10 million bottles of Champagne. So, if you’re going to get lost somewhere, that’s as good a place as any.
7. This film is an utter delight – light, fruity, dry and bubbly like… like… Oh , I can’t think of an appropriate metaphor.
Read our recent interview with Joanna Lumley
The best… and the rest
Saturday 16th December
Word of the Year 2017, 6pm, Channel 4: One-off special in which celebrities take a look at the words that came to define 2017, before Susie Dent reveals which word has been picked by Oxford Dictionaries as World of the Year.
Strictly Come Dancing – The Final, 6:30pm, BBC One: It seems remarkable to think that, one upon a time, Strictly played second fiddle to The X-Factor, now an embarrassing irrelevance, in the battle for Saturday night ratings. After a triumphant series, lit up by some stunning dancing (and by Susan Calman) events come to a close tonight, and if there is any justice, the simply astonishing Debbie McGee will walk away with the Glitter Ball Trophy. Len who?
Feud: Bette and Joan, 9pm, BBC Two: The stellar, eight-part drama arrives from the US dripping in awards and critical plaudits. Starring Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, it tells the story of the g between the two actresses that began when the pair were shooting Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, Judy Davis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates co-star.
Sunday 17th December
Sports Personality of the Year 2017, BBC One, 6:45pm: The annual celebration of British sport comes live from Liverpool, presented by Gary Lineker, Clare Balding and Gabby Logan. The overwhelming favourite is heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua, and realistically, the only athlete who can beat him is four time F1 Drivers’ Champion is Lewis Hamilton.
Inside Bentley: A Great British Motor Car, 9pm, Channel 4: For the first time in its existence, the company, nearing it 100th birthday, opens the doors of its historic home in northwest England. Watch and learn about the company’s history, as well as its new 4x4 vehicle, yours for a mere £135,000.
Monday 18th December
Birds of a Feather Christmas Special, 9pm, ITV: Sharon, Tracey and Dorien are back for a one-off Christmas special, as the festive spirit arrives in Chigwell, and Dorien has a mystery to solve.
The League of Gentlemen, 10pm, BBC Two: A much vaunted return to the collection of grotesques who inhabit the otherworldly town of Royston Vasey, 20 years after the show first appeared. Depending upon your viewpoint, this is deliciously dark and weird comedy, or freakish, disturbing and incomprehensible. Mrs Brown’s Boys this decidedly is not.
Tuesday 19th December
The Royal Variety Performance, 7:30pm, ITV: The inimitable Miranda Hart hosts The Royal Variety Performance from the London Palladium, in front of members of the royal family. The best bands and pop acts will join musical theatre casts and comedians, plus BGT-winning pianist Tokio Myers, in this uniquely British entertainment extravaganza.
Jamie’s Italian Christmas, 8pm, Channel 4: Filmed in the impossibly gorgeous setting of the snow-covered Italian Alps, this mouth-watering special sees Jamie and his mentor, Gennaro Contaldo, cooking up fantastic festive fare with an Italian twist. (And no, they’re not expecting you to have pasta for Christmas dinner…)
U2 at the BBC, 9pm, BBC One: Cat Deeley presents a one-hour special, featuring live performances of old hits, as well as tracks from their new album, as well as chat, and a look back at a career spanning four glorious decades.
Shamed, 9pm, Channel 4: Excellent, thought-provoking and well-executed one-off drama that begins with a man being kidnapped and shut in a cellar with absolutely no idea why he’s being held. The premise reveals itself bit-by-bit and, satisfyingly, it’s all done and dusted in under an hour.
Wednesday 20th December
Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees, 8pm, BBC One: So, Judi Dench has a passion for trees. Who knew? And now she’s here to tell us all about it. Working on the basis that trees look jolly nice and consume carbon, it’s difficult to argue with her. Besides, it’s Judi Dench. You don’t argue with Judi Dench. You watch her, and adore.
The Real Marigold on Tour, 9pm, BBC One: Sheila Ferguson, Rustie Lee, Paul Nicholas and Dennis Taylor head off to Iceland, where we may finally find the answer to the age old question: Is it Dennis or Paul who is officially the nicest man in the world?
A Night for the Emergency Services, 9pm, ITV: Dance act Diversity’s Ashley Banjo presents a celebration of the heroes behind the uniforms. It’s a strange-sounding format – emergency service workers display their entertainment skills in front of an audience made up of emergency service staff. But what’s beyond doubt is that they deserve their moment in the sun.
Thursday 21st December
Gordon, Gino and Fred’s Great Christmas Roast, 9pm, ITV: The broadcaster doubles down on its support for emergency workers, inviting them to a competitive feast, a cook-off between Gino d’Acampo and Gordon Ramsay. And First Dates’ Fred is there doing something or other as well. You cannot be Sirieix. (It’s his surname… Fred Sirieix… oh, please yourselves!)
Friday 22nd December
Al Murray’s Make Christmas Great Again, 9pm, ITV: The philosopher-publican returns with a Christmas special, in front of a celebrity audience, in ITV’s squillionth light-entertainment programme of the week.