Tuesday 20 February 2018

Festive nostalgia-fest - best TV Christmas specials of all time

Father Ted Christmas Special
Father Ted Christmas Special
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

“Christmas” and “special” – two wonderful words, on their own. Now put them together and what do you get? Often, a dispiritingly cynical attempt by programme-makers to ride the festive cash-cow for all it’s worth.

But not always. Here are some Christmas specials that worked well:


Father Ted

Well, we had to start here, didn’t we? A classic extended episode of the all-time greatest Irish sitcom. The fall-of-Saigon style scene in “Ireland’s largest lingerie store” alone will bring a guaranteed Yuletide smile to your face.


The Podge and Rodge Show

Ballydung’s dirtiest – and most psychopathic – bachelors had not one but three festive specials from 2006 to ‘09: A Frightmare before Christmas, Podge and Rodge’s Christmas Craic and Late Night Lock Inn. All three were as stupid, and hilarious, as those titles would suggest.

Morecambe and Wise

For over a decade the legendary twosome produced a Christmas Day special, which became part of tradition across the Irish Sea throughout the 1970s. Their 1978 show pulled in 28 million viewers – half the entire population of the UK.

The Simpsons

“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is notable for being the first ever “proper” episode, as opposed to short inserts on The Tracy Ullman Show. Homer buys a useless greyhound and thus saves Christmas. (It makes sense when you see it in context, honestly.) Not their best Christmas episode, incidentally: the one where Bart steals a videogame contains the funniest, cleverest sight-gag in the history of anything.

Dr Who

I’ve never particularly got the whole Dr Who phenomenon – but a phenomenon it has been for half a century, so what do I know? They’ve done more than one Christmas special (ten alone since the show was revived in the noughties), and the most recent saw the Doctor, currently played by the great Peter Capaldi being reunited with the lovely Clara (Jenna Coleman) to battle dream crabs. Dream crabs? Eh, this is beyond me.

The Office

Ricky Gervais might have proved to be a one-trick pony, but it was a hell of a good trick at its best. The Office is one of the finest British comedies ever, and this two-parter at Christmas 2007 was the perfect send-off: bittersweet, thoughtful, painfully believable and very funny. And Brent gets the girl! And even better, tells Finchy to fuck off!

Only Fools and Horses

Like The Office, another stone-cold British comedy classic. And like Doctor Who, another show I just never really got. Still, their 1993 Christmas Day special was pretty decent – and 19 million viewers proved the point. Luvvly jubbly, my old china.

Wallace and Gromit

Ah go on, we all love a bit of Wallace and Gromit. This 2008 special, entitled A Matter of Loaf and Death, saw the plasticine duo solving a murder mystery involving, eh, bakers. Better bread than dead, wha’?

Steptoe and Son

Aired in 1973 – presumably to commemorate my arrival on the planet that year, as well as Jesus’ birthday – this episode of the seminal comedy saw the titular rag-and-bone men squabbling, bickering and generally being profoundly miserable at Christmas. Just like the rest of us, then.


An underrated entrant in the sitcom annals, in my humble opinion, Roseanne was refreshing because she – and her brood – weren’t the usual picture-perfect family we tended to see on American shows back then. They were loud, obnoxious, rude…and proudly White Trash. But they were also good-natured, loyal, loving and funny, and this Christmas episode gave us the best of both.

Read more: Top 10 TV box sets to binge-watch this Christmas

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