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I've got an eye for the birds

The best thing about Christmas television is rarely Christmas Day television. As with an overcooked turkey, the tastier bits tend to be the trimmings around the edges of the main event.

I might record Doctor Who on BBC1 for later. Then again, since the last few Christmas specials have been distinctly underwhelming, I might not bother.

I'll respectfully ignore Downton Abbey (ITV1), although my wife will be glued to it, while Call the Midwife (BBC1), a programme so twee the characters might as well be made of wool and tweed, doesn't even figure on the Stacey television radar.

As for the centrepiece of RTE1's Christmas Day, the wretched Mrs Brown's Boys, let's just say Killinaskully is gradually beginning to look like a work of unacknowledged comic genius.


The Christmas box on the box I'm most looking forward to this year is the BBC/HBO film The Girl, which goes out on BBC2 on St Stephen's Night. Based in part on Donald Spoto's controversial book, Spellbound by Beauty, The Girl deals with director Alfred Hitchcock's sexual obsession with 'Tippi' Hedren, the star of his 1963 apocalyptic chiller The Birds.

The basic story behind the making of The Birds is well known. Hitchcock plucked Hedren, at the time a model, from obscurity after his wife, Alma Reville, had spotted her in a TV commercial and -- in an echo of the director's own 1958 masterpiece, Vertigo -- set about moulding her into another Kim Novak. For the scene near the end of the film where Hedren's character is attacked by birds in an attic, Hitchcock infamously subjected his leading lady to five days of retakes, during which he had studio hands throw live birds at her. The terrified look you see on Hedren's face is not all down to acting.

According to The Girl's screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes, who consulted Hedren and others who'd worked under Hitchcock on The Birds, this was Hitch's cruel revenge for Hedren snubbing his sexual advances.

Hedren appeared in Hitchcock's next film, the overblown psycho-melodrama Marnie, after which her star dimmed. Hitchcock had tied her to a seven-year contract and, although he never cast her in one of his movies again, he refused to release her to work with other directors, thus effectively destroying her career.

The Girl, which stars Toby Jones, in heavy make-up and a fatsuit, as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Hedren, was broadcast in the US in October. While there was high praise for both Jones and Miller, an actress whose considerable talent has frequently been eclipsed by the UK tabloids' obsession with her private life, the film itself received mixed reviews.


What seemed to upset the critics was the depiction of Hitchcock as an impotent sex pest, which, as far as they were concerned, was tantamount to dancing on the grave of a genius.

To be honest, this sounds a little unfair to both Hughes and the film's director, Julian Jarrold. Hedren has spoken about her fraught relationship with Hitchcock many times before, and Spoto's book wasn't the first to suggest he harboured sexual desires for many of his leading ladies. Also, Hitchcock himself was often remarkably frank about his own personal inadequacies. He was alone among filmmakers, in that he hid his darkest fears and deepest repressions in plain sight, right up there on the screen. All you have to do is look at his movies.

x-pect more This year's series of X Factor was, according to those who watch it every week (and you'll have to rule me out of that discerning club), the worst to date. It was so awful the British public have been voting with their remotes.

In contrast to the 13.1 million that tuned in last year to see girl group Little Mix win, and the 17.2 million that watched Matt Cardle take the top spot the year before, the average audience for Sunday night's final sing-off was a paltry, a measly, a derisory . . . er, 11.1 million.

Or if you want to put it in even more depressing terms, one-sixth of the population of Britain. Regrettably, claims that Simon Cowell's karaoke monster is on its last legs seem, like the reports of Mark Twain's death, to be greatly exaggerated.

love/hate us-style The third series of Love/Hate comes to an end tomorrow night, trailing record viewing figures and with critical superlatives (mine included) ringing in its ears. In a further boost, RTE revealed this week that Stuart Carolan's gritty gangland drama has been optioned for a US remake.

However, Robert Sheehan, who plays conflicted gangster Darren, said that were he to be offered a role in the American version, he'd think carefully before accepting. Given the mess US television made of cloning Life on Mars, The Killing, Prime Suspect and The Inbetweeners, you can't blame him.

same again, rte I was flicking through details of RTE's big Christmas offerings the other day. It didn't take long. One of the highlights is a one-off edition of The School Around the Corner, presented by Ray D'Arcy.

Quite by chance, the following day I stumbled across a website which features RTE's TV schedule for Christmas Day 1963. And what's the centrepiece of the day's viewing? Why, The School Around the Corner -- presented back then, of course, by Paddy Crosbie.

Do you think there's a lesson in there somewhere?