Happy, sad, fat. Whatever wavelength you're on, the radio is the real place to be this Christmas, says Laurence Alster
Christmas being a popular time for making lists, it's interesting to speculate on the most-used phrases of the festive season. At or near the top will be "Oh, how nice!" (on unwrapping an unwanted present) followed by "What's on the television?" "What's on the radio?", though, comes nowhere. This is a shame, given the quality of the programmes over the holiday period.
A good place to start could be December 19 at 8.02pm on Radio 4 with Archive - Christmas Gander. With its combination of cheerfulness and sentimentality, Simon Fanshawe's review of past BBC Christmas programmes - through interviews with bright-eyed kids and misty-eyed wrink- lies - is just the thing to set the seasonal mood.
Not that it's a season to suit everybody; some people get more depressed at Christmas than at any other time, if only because everyone else is (or looks) so damn jolly. If you're a Christmas dissident, those discussing How to be Happy (December 21, Radio 4, 8pm) - scientist Susan Greenfield, novelist Wendy Perriam and others - might ease the Yuletide blues.
Radio 3 later that evening could have the same effect with Postscript - Rainer Hirsch's 20th Century, a hilarious series of spoof documentaries on Schoenberg and Horowitz, plus other virtuosi (sample discussion topic:
"Serialism: Music or Cobblers?"). The series starts at 9.40pm, with other programmes throughout the week.
Served more straight is Boxing Day's Opera on 3 - Live from the Met (Radio 3, 6.30pm) with three and a half hours of Mozart's The Magic Flute, sung in German.
Christmas is a time for presents; at least that is its primary function as far as children are concerned. Annual Delights (December 22, Radio 2, 9pm) examines this tradition with a particular look at the seasonal vogue for annuals. Hundreds of thousands of annuals will be given this year by what publishers call "granties" (grannies and aunties), many of them to kids probably longing for Tomb Raider III. That's granties for you. Lots of nostalgia here, with Rupert the Bear, Billy Bunter and the boys from Bonanza prominent.
While size and squeal ("Yarroo!") would probably make Bunter politically incorrect nowadays, there are no such problems with Pollyanna, the doughtily cheerful eponymous character of Edith Porter's 1913 novel. First in a trio of family treats, Radio 4's three-part dramatisation of our heroine's triumphs over adversity begins on December 22 at 11.30am. A bit of a weepie, this, unlike treat number two, Cinderella, which goes out on Radio 4 on Christmas Day at 11.02am. A terrific cast, including Robbie Coltrane, Peter Capaldi and Angus Deayton, should set you up nicely for the big blow-out.
You have to wait, though, for the last and perhaps the best of the three. The first instalment of Radio 4's five-part Peter Pan and Wendy is read by Alan Bennett at 9.45am on Bank Holiday Monday. No preview tapes, alas, but Bennett's customary dry, semi-sly delivery makes Never-Never Land one of the season's select destinations. A great one to tape for lessons, or to quieten the kids during long car journeys.
After that, the sole meaningful option is to go cold turkey with Case Notes (December 29, Radio 4, 9.02pm), in which Dr Graham Easton examines the likely effects of your past few days' gobbling. Looking at options for the overweight, Dr Easton visits a farm for "fat" kids, and the latest research on clinical obesity is reviewed. We scarcely need reminding of the programme's central, terrible truth: the better the Christmas, the more the bathroom scales take their revenge.