Tuesday, 30 November 2010

First Day of Advent

- December 1st -

In 1969, while the Carry On film series was at the height of its popularity, Thames Television invited Carry On creators Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas to bring their comedy franchise to British TV screens for the first of what they hoped would eventually become a Christmas viewing tradition.

Although only four would be recorded and screened over the following five years (1969-73) they would all prove immensely popular with the British public, pulling in an audience of between 17 - 20 million viewers (with the 1969 special even being the most-watched programme of the entire Christmas week).

I first discovered these Carry On Christmas specials when a couple of them eventually found there way onto VHS in the mid 1990s. Although I’ve always been a huge fan of the Carry On film series since I was a child I’d never actually seen any of the TV Christmas specials as none of them had been repeated on British television until after the videos were released.

Cinema Club released both the 1972 (Carry On Stuffing) and 1973 (Carry On Christmas) specials in their budget range in late 1996, completely ignoring the first two entries in the series. I only managed to add the 1969 special to my collection when it was repeated on BBC2 in the late 90s and I was able to record it.

As with Eric & Ernie, or Messrs Corbett & Barker, the Carry On Christmas specials have become an essential part of my traditional comedy festive viewing, and since the entire collection were released on DVD in 2005 I have now managed to add the ’missing’ 1970 special to that list.

It’s always difficult choosing a single favourite moment from a series or collection that you love, particularly when there’s so much to choose from; not to mention the fact that one of the specials is based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and guest stars Frankie Howerd - probably the finest solo comedian Britain has ever produced.

Yet, despite this, the clip I have chosen is without doubt my favourite sketch of the lot - probably the single best thing the Carry On team has ever produced.

It’s Christmas Eve 1917 on the front line and as the snow falls silently onto the British trenches a sudden and unexpected truce falls between the British and German soldiers…

Carry On Christmas (1973)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Countdown to Christmas

In just two short days it will be December and the countdown to Christmas will begin in earnest. And I shall be celebrating such by counting down the days of Advent on this here blog!

Every day from December 1st up to and including Christmas Day I shall be sharing with you some of my own personal favourite Christmas moments from literature, film, music and television.

To get us in the mood I thought I'd get the ball rolling with a (very) brief look at what this business of Advent is all about.

A Brief History of Advent

Taken from the Latin word Adventus, meaning “Coming” (itself a translation from the Greek Parousia, meaning “official visit” or “arrival” - more commonly used in reference to the Second Coming of Christ) and marks the beginning of the Christmas season.

The actual focus of Advent has shifted somewhat over the last two thousand years. It began life as the Western Christian Church’s preparation for the Epiphany (various key events in Christ’s life, such as the coming of the Magi [wise men], baptism, performing of miracles, etc) as far back as 300AD, but less than three hundred years later had shifted focus to become more about anticipating Christ’s Second Coming.

It wasn’t until a further 1000 years after that that the more popular and well known tradition of expectation and preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ was finally added (arguably what Advent is solely known for in the present day, largely due to its increasing popularity as a secular celebration).

The original six week duration of Advent had been shortened to four weeks sometime in the 9th Century by the then Pope St Nicholas, although it wouldn’t be for another 1000 years (some time in the 19th Century) that the Advent Calendar would find its way into the myths and traditions of the season.

The original idea for the Advent Calendar came from German Lutherans who, starting on December 1st, would mark their doors every day with a line of chalk. This inevitably lead to other, more elaborate, forms such as the Advent Clock - the lighting of twenty-four candles in sequential order (with each candle usually appropriately numbered).

Although the first recorded case of an Advent Calendar as we know it today being used was as far back as the mid 19th Century, it wouldn’t reach popularity until after 1903 when the first printed versions began to be produced.

And the love for the humble Advent Calendar hasn’t waned since…apart from during the Second World War when the need to conserve paper for the war effort saw the tradition die out…

…until Hitler’s defeat, at any rate.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Happy Birthday Doctor Who

On a cold, dark Saturday evening at 5:16pm in 1963, the screening of Doctor Who’s first ever episode was somewhat overshadowed by the assassination of U.S president John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas the evening before.

Because of this, coupled with a series of blackouts across the country, it was decided to repeat the first episode again the following week immediately prior to the transmission of episode 2. Ratings were good, pulling in an average of 6 million viewers.

But what began as a modest little family Science Fiction show would explode into a national phenomena some four weeks later with the arrival of the Daleks. Audience figures virtually doubled overnight and now, 47 years later, Doctor Who still occupies that coveted Saturday Tea-Time slot, and is more popular than it ever was.

And as we move ever closer to the programme’s Fiftieth Anniversary, Doctor Who is enjoying it’s second Golden Age, in the hands of Matt Smith and Steven Moffat.

How it all began - An Unearthly Child, Episode 1

Every year my fiancee and I celebrate the programme's birthday by sitting down to an episodic marathon based around a particular theme. Last year, for example, we watched one episode per 'classic villain' (Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Ice Warriors and The Master), while the year before we watched one episode for each of the (then) 10 incarnations of the Doctors.

This year we have chosen six of our favourite companions, and the evenings viewing will consist of :-

Ian & Barbara - The Romans, episode 1

Jamie - Evil Of the Daleks, episode 2

Jo Grant - Curse Of Peladon, episode 1

Sarah Jane Smith - Death To The Daleks, episode 1

Leela - The Horror Of Fang Rock, episode 4

Peri - The Trial Of A Time Lord, episode 4

And amongst all these birthday celebrations the BBC has also released the first full-length trailer for the 2010 Christmas special - A Christmas Carol

So, Happy Birthday Doctor Who. 47 years old today and looking as good as ever. And roll on December 25th for what looks like a fantastic brand new episode!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Idaho Statesman Newspaper Article

After Knock 'Em Dead's opening performance on Friday kicked off their run in style their production was covered in the entertainment section of their local newspaper, The Idaho Statesman.

The link to the online edition of the newspaper recently plopped into my inbox. Not only does it give the theatre company a much needed shout-out but it also, rather kindly, gives me a nice little name-check.

Thanks to Mary McGreaham, not only for keeping me updated on how the production is coming along, but also for printing up my message to the cast and crew and posting it in their dressing room for all to read.

"Holiday entertainment around the Treasure Valley
Area theaters deck their stages with fun.
By Dana Oland

Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like the ghosts in “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ eternal Victorian tale of the miserly Scrooge, whose icy heart is melted by three visiting ghosts who help him redeem his loveless life.
It’s a story that never misses its mark, and as a play it’s popular holiday fare. Though there is no standing traditional production in Boise, one of the area theater companies usually puts it on during the season.
Last year, a touring production came through. This year, it’s Knock ’em Dead Dinner Theatre rattling Marley’s chains.
Director Mary McGreaham chose Scott Harrison’s 2003 theatrical adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” at Knock ’em Dead. It opens this weekend.
This is the first time KED has produced the show. Because the company’s usual fare is musicals, expect this straight play to be peppered with caroling, fiddlers and other musical elements, she says.
It plays Thursdays through Saturdays Nov. 19 through Dec. 18.

Actor Ben Clegg as Ebenezer Scrooge

Friday, 19 November 2010

Christmas Has Begun

Tonight is the opening performance of my play in the U.S, and I couldn't be more excited. Curtain up is at 8:00pm in Boise, Idaho which will be 3:00am in the UK.

I'm so disappointed that I can't be there to watch it live, but they are videoing one of the performances for me and hopefully sometime before Christmas I will recieve a copy of the DVD in the post - which will be a wonderful Christmas treat.

If you live in the U.S and you still want to catch the play it's still not too late as it will be running until December 18th.

For tickets either visit their website at : http://www.kedproductions.org/ or visit or call the theatre itself at:

415 East ParkCentre Boulevard, ParkCentre Mall, Ste. 110, Boise
Tel : (208) 385-0021

If anyone is planning on going please can they drop me a line and let me know how the evening went.

On a related subject, as of December 1st I shall be counting down the days of Advent by posting an entry every day up to, and including, Christmas Day, sharing with you some of my favourite Christmas moments from literature, TV, music and the movies. So please make sure you visit my blog every day.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Knock 'Em Dead's A Christmas Carol Flyer

This piece of beautiful promotional artwork plopped into my email inbox recently, sent to me by Idaho-based theatre company Knock 'Em Dead. This wonderfully Victorian looking flyer is their first piece of production literature, and provides all the essential information you'll need to plan a fantastic night out with their forthcoming production of my stage play this Christmas; dates, ticket prices, theatre contact details and curtain-up times.

Perfomances begin in just twelve days time on 19th November, so get booking those tickets now!

The illustration used in the flyer is suitably evocative of the original John Leech plates seen in all the illustrated editions of Dicken's classic novel. They've even given me a wonderful name-check in the descriptive blurb to the right of the illustration, which massages my writer's vanity enormously.

Naturally I can't wait to see what the poster artwork will look like. Hopefully I won't have long to wait.