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Here's to a gunge-free Christmas

The Christmas Zone (Monday December 23, 3.55pm, BBC1) is the star at the top of the Children's BBC Christmas tree this year.

This live, hour-long light entertainment special will be "a cross between Tiswas and Rowan and Martin's Laugh In", according to producer Martin Hughes. The fact that only the fairly mature will remember either programme may tell you something about the aims of The Christmas Zone.

The show is a children's version of Christmas Night with the Stars, which dominated many a Christmas past. With its 10-minute titbits from popular comedy series and galaxies of stars and live variety sketches.

Martin Hughes says the The Christmas Zone will herald a return to "more homely, fun-based games".

He says: "There will be no gunge-game element. Gunge works very well in lots of shows and children love it. However, there is no point in doing it again unless you can do it better."

One game involves children seeing how many socks they can put on each hand in the space of a minute.

Martin Hughes says hearing the laughter and seeing the children's faces convinced him the programme would work. The BBC plans to reincarnate the show in a weekly slot in the new year.

The Friday Zone will run on Friday afternoons from January 3, kick-starting the weekend even earlier than Live and Kicking does on Saturday morning.

Animation unlimited is, of course, the rule on all channels throughout the festive season. But Channel 4 seems to lead the way. Its big-hitter is Famous Fred (Christmas Eve, 6.10-6.45pm), the Posy Simmonds cat who is a family pet by day and a feline superstar by night, brought to life by TVC London, producer of the Raymond Briggs classics.

One of these, The Snowman, is Channel 4's most repeated commission. It is being honoured with yet another repeat, at 12.55pm on Christmas Day - giving mothers a chance to roast the potatoes and make the gravy.

On Christmas Eve, from 2.00-3.00pm, Channel 4 is showing The Adventures of Toad, with the voices of Richard Briers, Hugh Laurie and the late Paul Eddington.

Last year's Kenneth Grahame animation, The Adventures of Mole, is repeated, also on Channel 4, on Christmas Day at 11.00am.

Don't change channels, because at 2.25pm Nigel Hawthorne narrates The Happy Prince, the animated opera based on Oscar Wilde's story of the friendship between a magnificent statue and a swallow. Commissioned for primary children by Channel 4 Schools and first shown this autumn, The Happy Prince is now deservedly finding a wider audience.

Should you happen to wish for a kind of hush to fall among the children amid the frenzy of Christmas, this season's wall-to-wall animation may provide the answer.

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