British TV Classics for All 12 Days of Christmas

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British TV Classics for All 12 Days of Christmas

Remember when you were a kid and literally counted down the days until Christmas? Come the first of December, your dreams would revolve around a sea of presents under a sparkling tree, all the sweet candy you could eat without getting into trouble, and the excitement of your whole family coming over to spend the day together. For most adults, of course, the month brings nothing but nightmares about never-ending shopping lists, the hassle of planning and logistics, and the heavy toll it will all take on the bank account. But there’s one thing you can always rely on to get into the spirit of things: Let Paste help you plan for all twelve days of Christmas with our guide to British TV.

Christmas Day: “Merry Christmas” (The Vicar of Dibley)
Where to watch:   Netflix  

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There are three TV essentials many a British family won’t go without on Christmas Day: the Queen’s speech, the EastEnders special and, of course, a healthy dose of Dawn French’s Geraldine and her mob of quirky Dibley villagers. Over the course of its 13-year run, The Vicar of Dibley has blessed us with many memorable episodes, but none compare to “Merry Christmas.” To celebrate her 10th anniversary as Dibley’s vicar, Geraldine organizes a carol-writing contest, the winner of which will perform the song during midnight Mass. But when the villagers plan their own surprise for Geraldine, things get a tad messy. Geraldine shows up to her party, where Jim (Trevor Peacock) and Owen (Roger Lloyd-Pack) present her with a giant chocolate fountain. She’s able to keep her composure for about 30 seconds before announcing, “I’m going in”—and that she does. She sticks her entire head into the fountain and doesn’t resurface until her face is completely covered with chocolate. Unfortunately, her timing couldn’t be worse, as David (Gary Waldhorn) has planned the biggest surprise of them all: a visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Humiliated, she goes home to get absolutely sozzled, when Alice (Emma Chambers) stops by to remind her she’s due to hold the midnight Mass. Yes, it’s not quite a British Christmas until even the vicar’s pissed.

The Vicar of Dibley should be accompanied by several bars of Curly Wurlys and Smarties swimming in a large vase of white wine.

Boxing Day: “A Christmassy Ted” (Father Ted)
Where to watch: Amazon, Hulu, iTunes

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It’s a widely understood that the majority of the male population loathes shopping, in particular Christmas shopping. So it comes as no surprise this feat would be entirely overwhelming for our favorite trio of Irish priests. After dumping Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly) in the department store’s playpen, Father Ted (Dermot Morgan) and Father Dougal (Ardal O’Hanlon) set off in search of the perfect gifts for their friends. All is well until they find themselves trapped in the store’s lingerie section. Finding several other seemingly panicked priests desperately trying to escape leopard print underpants and killer bra straps, Father Ted heroically steps up and gets them all to safety. The next day, he’s told this brave act has earned him the Golden Cleric award: the best Christmas gift ever, considering Father Ted has always dreamed of his big moment in the spotlight. Needless to say, the award ceremony turns into a fiasco when Ted decides to focus his speech on everyone who’s “fecked him over” through the years, while Mrs. Doyle (Pauline McLynn) has an existential crisis now that her tea-making skills have been replaced by a state-of-the-art tea-maker.

There’s no better way to digest all those greasy sausage rolls and delicious mince pies than sprawled out on the sofa with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Here’s to a well-deserved feckin’ Boxing Day drink!

December 27: “White Box” (Absolutely Fabulous)
Where to watch: Amazon, Hulu, iTunes and more

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If you’re at all familiar with Absolutely Fabulous’ Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), you’ll know she swears by the ultimate hangover cure: Keep drinking! And that’s exactly what I advise you to do as you tune in for the Christmas special “White Box.” There’s no other way to handle so much humiliating fabulousness in a sober state. With Saffron (Julia Sawalha) heading off to Peru to get married, Edwina (Jennifer Saunders) has the perfect opportunity to remodel her kitchen. Again. Though she’s promised Saffron not to turn the whole house upside down in her absence, Edwina and Patsy consult their minimalist designer friends Bettina (Miranda Richardson) and Max (Patrick Barlow), who turn her kitchen into a clinical “white box” inspired by the Holocaust. Not happy with her stair-less, practically non-existent kitchen, Edwina remembers having seen her ideal kitchen in a previous life and calls in the help of a therapist (Laurie Metcalf) to help her channel the image once again. Unfortunately for the middle-aged party monsters, Saffron returns home to find the kitchen in a state and kicks Edwina and Patsy out of the house, as she’s actually the rightful owner. But not to worry—Edwina and Patsy find an even better place to get their festive booze on: the window display of Terence Conran’s shop.

This episode of Absolutely Fabulous is best enjoyed on a purely liquid diet.

December 28: “Seasonal Beatings” (Peep Show)
Where to watch:   Hulu  

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Now that you’ve exhausted your patience for social activities, it’s time to hook up with Peep Show’s Jez (Robert Webb) and Mark (David Mitchell). No matter how awkward or downright painful your Christmas parties and extended-family gatherings may have been, they’ll look like the schmaltzy scenes of a glittery Disney movie compared to “Seasonal Beatings.” The episode opens to an overexcited Jez joining Mark in bed for the ritual opening of Christmas presents. The whole thing turns into a bit of an anti-climax when Jez realizes Mark’s heart isn’t really in it: His family is due for Christmas lunch and he just wants to get the day over with. Mark, ever the perfectionist, is extremely tense, so when Jez, ever the immature joker, teases him about not having bought the turkey, Mark hits the roof. His verbal explosion—complete with crazy eyes and spittle—is the classic portrayal of a typical kitchen-schedule freak-out. Not every family admits to it, but everyone has at least one meltdown during the prepping stages. When Mark’s family arrives, it’s hard to see what he could have possibly been so worried about; after all, “centuries of emotional repression” have made this lot an absolute delight to be around.

“Seasonal Beatings” should be served with shredded ham and a side of cauliflower (or Brussels sprouts) swimming in “tickety-boo” gravy to wash down the bitter aftertaste of a divinely uncomfortable viewing experience. If you should feel so inclined, add a hot knife to the dessert spread for easier preparations.

December 29: “The Love of Three Oranges” (Dad’s Army)
Where to watch: BBC One, DVD

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If this year’s actual Christmas TV schedule doesn’t rock your boat, don’t panic—there are always classic episodes to return to, such as Dad’s Army’s “The Love of Three Oranges.” Dad’s Army, which first aired in 1968, boasts some of the most memorable characters and catchphrases on British TV. It follows Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard platoon as they prepare, under the command of Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Low), to stand on the front lines in the event of an invasion. His troop includes Sergeant Wilson (John Le Mesurier), Lance Corporal Jones (Clive Dunn), Private Frazer (John Laurie), Private Walker (James Beck), Private Godfrey (Arnold Ridley) and Private Pike (Ian Lavender), all of whom are either elderly men or were forced to volunteer their services. Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s superb writing, paired with the brilliant performances, have made Dad’s Army one of the most beloved British TV comedies of all time.

This Christmas special first aired on December 26, 1976 and was the only episode to air that year, since the cast was touring the UK with their stage version of the show. The story follows the troop as they prepare for a church bazaar to aid the Comforts for the Troops Fund. While others organize a tombola (Ed. note: Fellow Yanks, this is a raffle, similar in structure to bingo. You learn something new every day!) and a jumble sale, Hodges (Bill Pertwee) auctions three oranges. Mainwaring is determined to win one of the oranges for his wife, only to find he’s shed a whopping 10 shillings ($27.62) for a bitter orange for jam making.

If this episode has made you hungry for traditional British jam sandwiches, I recommend Chivers Olde English Orange Marmalade. If you’re in need of something savory, a Welsh rarebit will do the trick. Just be sure not to eat too many rarebits prior to going to bed or you might have Mainwaring-style cheese dreams.

December 30th: “A Grand Day Out” (Wallace and Gromit)
Where to watch: iTunes

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My grandpa was fascinated with stop-motion films and thought Wallace and Gromit was the dog’s bollocks. His enthusiasm and appreciation for the craft was contagious, and not a Christmas went by without following Wallace and his dog, Gromit, on one of their adventures. The family favorite is without a doubt the first film, “A Grand Day Out” (1989). It’s a bank holiday, and Wallace is appalled to find he’s run out of cheese. A cup of tea without a side of cheese and crackers is simply unacceptable to Wallace and Gromit, so they decide to fly to the moon in order to source some. (Because everybody knows the moon’s made of cheese.) They build a rocket and take off to the moon equipped with a picnic blanket and enough crackers to keep them going for a while. The moon cheese is unlike anything they’ve ever tasted before, and after filling their basket with enough to get them through the holiday, they happily head back to their rocket—but not before being confronted by the angry “cooker,” a coin-operated robot that seems to be the moon’s equivalent of a parking attendant/moonscape ranger.

The snack recommendation seems pretty self-explanatory here, but just in case you didn’t get it: Go with cheese and crackers, people! If you want to get really British about it, you might even brave a little Branston Pickle) spread, too.

New Year’s Eve: Dinner for One
Where to watch: Daily Motion via Open Culture

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Here’s a funny story for you. Dinner for One is a sketch written by Lauri Wylie and performed by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden in the 1940s. It follows Miss Sophie (Warden), a posh widow, and her loyal butler, James (Frinton), as they prepare for her 90th birthday celebration. The arrival of Mr. Pomeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, Sir Toby and Admiral von Schneider is highly anticipated. Everything has been planned to perfection: Each dish is served with the appropriate drink to further enhance the dining experience. Of course, Pomeroy, Winterbottom, Toby and Admiral von Schneider only attend in spirit: Miss Sophie seems to be the only surviving member of her family and social circle. It’s up to James to impersonate Miss Sophie’s phantom guests and drink to her toasts in their place. By the third course (chicken served with champagne) poor ol’ James is utterly trollied—and there’s still a fourth to come!

Frinton’s unforgettable physical comedy turned this sketch into an instant classic. Since the 1980s, Dinner for One has been an annual highlight on the New Year’s Eve TV schedule in Germany and has reached cult status in Austria, Finland and other countries, yet, it’s virtually unknown in the UK. How such a comical gem never managed to resurface is beyond me!

As for the Dinner for One menu, why, the same procedure as last year: four glasses of sherry, four glasses of white wine, four glasses of champagne and four glasses of port. If you survive all that, you’ve reached Patsy and Edwina’s level of alcohol tolerance, sweetie darling.

New Year’s Day: “The New Me” (Miranda)
Where to watch:   Hulu  

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“I will move on, I will be a new me: get fit, lose weight—a new me shall reigneth.” How many times have you given this speech to your own reflection on New Year’s Eve? And have you ever managed to hang on to this positive determination for more than a day? Exactly. But it’s OK; after watching Miranda’s “New Me,” you won’t feel half as bad about your flailing resolve. Now that her love interest, Gary (Tom Ellis), has left for Hong Kong, Miranda is adamant about changing her life and becoming an adult. She has a very specific idea of what being an adult actually entails, and she tries hard to mimic the motions, but things don’t really go her way. Every time she thinks she has the sophisticated, independent woman act down, something happens to klutz it all up for her again. Miranda is the perfect post-New-Year’s-resolution antidote: if she can score the man of her dreams after several public embarrassments and intimate conversation with fruit-friends, surely you can achieve one of your “New Me” goals by the end of January, right?

The snack choice is yours—if you want to be adult about the whole thing, eat the fruit. If you’re not ready to embrace the new you just yet, you know what to do.

January 2: “Heroes and Villains” (Only Fools and Horses)
Where to watch: BBC One or DVD

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It wouldn’t be a proper British Christmas without a fix of the southeast London boys, Del Boy (David Jason) and Rodney Trotter (Nicholas Lyndhurst), clueing us in on their next moneymaking scheme. Only Fools and Horses is a true cult classic, with its very own appreciation society and even a museum exhibiting the Trotters’ infamous Ford Capri among other props from the show. The series originally ran from 1981 to 1991, but the 1996 Christmas Trilogy were its most popular episodes, with the final installment, “Time On Our Hands,” attracting 24.3 million viewers. Personally, I think the first part of the trilogy, “Heroes and Villains,” is just as cushty, if not better. In it, Del Boy and Rodney are invited to a costume party and opt to slip into the roles of Batman and Robin for the occasion. En route to the party, they have a run in with some villains and walk away from the situation as celebrated heroes. But as they rock up at the party decked out in their finest capes, it turns out they weren’t informed of a change of plans: The host of the party died the previous day, and Del Boy and Rodney are now the only ones attending the wake in full costume.

In honor of Del Boy’s love for strange cocktails, I suggest you mix up a Caribbean Stallion and serve it with a party-platter of mini sausage rolls, finger sandwiches and samosas.

January 3: “Christmas Special” (Gavin & Stacey)
Where to watch:   Hulu  

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Seeing as the Irish priest posse made it onto our list of British Christmas TV essentials, we figured the Welsh crew deserved an entry as well. In Gavin & Stacey’s “Christmas Special,” things finally seem to be looking up for the young couple constantly stuck in limbo somewhere between England’s Essex and the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. Stacey just can’t seem to settle in Essex; she’s becoming increasingly unhappy with their situation and misses her family in Wales dearly. When Gavin announces he’s scored a job in Cardiff, Stacey is over the moon and can’t wait to break the good news to her family. Her mother, Gwen (Melanie Walters), Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) and her best friend, Nessa (Ruth Jones), are due to arrive at her in-laws’, where she’s been crashing with Gavin, to celebrate Christmas together. While Gwen and Bryn are delighted to hear they’ll have their Stacey back home, Gavin’s best friend, Smithy (James Corden), is having a hard time coming to terms with the news. But there’s plenty more occurring in this special episode, so tune in and enjoy the Shipman/West’s cracking rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

If you’ve still got some turkey leftovers in the freezer you may consider whipping up a turkey omelet. A cup of banana Nesquik for dessert—well lush!

January 4: “White Christmas” (Black Mirror)
Where to watch:   Netflix  

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Obviously, Black Mirror’s “White Christmas” is a bit of an odd one out on this list—it’s not exactly jolly! But, as you’re headed into the year 2017, you may want to get a taste of the future just, you know, to be prepared. Charlie Brooker’s dark Christmas special does come with all the features of your usual festive episode—snow-covered fields, carols on the radio, lovely decorations brightening the house—but rather than celebrating the union of happy families, it focuses on human detachment by ways of avant-garde technology. “White Christmas” is split into three separate stories, which (in)directly connect its protagonists (played by Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall and Oona Chaplin). This probably isn’t the kind of Christmas special you’ll invite the entire family over for, lest you want to see your grandmother fall into a deep depression over the future of her children. But if you’re feeling your Blue Monday coming on early, you might as well ride it out with one of Black Mirror’ finest episodes.

Considering Brooker’s serious love for Marmite, he’d probably recommend “pretty much one whole jar per piece of toast. Just smashed on there, glass and all.” If you’re not as “hard Marmite” as Brooker, try Twiglets, a “knobbly” snack with a Marmite-esque taste (for amateurs).

January 5: Big Fat Quiz of the Year
Where to watch: Channel 4

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This is your chance to test your knowledge of all the top trends, miserable failures and greatest triumphs of the year 2016, so be sure to team up with your most news-savvy friends and family members! Even if you’re not really into pub-style quizzes, The Big Fat Quiz of the Year is worth it, if not for its celebrity contestants (regulars include Noel Fielding, David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade) then for host Jimmy Carr’s hilarious, inimitable laugh. This panel game show will make you reflect on the past year in such a comical manner even the Brexit disaster will seem like nothing but a bad joke. Get your pens and notepads ready and prepare to compete against Britain’s funniest celebrity teams!

To wrap up the twelve days of Christmas extravaganza, treat yourself to your last bit of British soul food before committing yourself to whatever trendy New Years’ diet you have your mind set on. A steaming hot plate of scrumptious Shepherd’s Pie should do the trick!

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