By Cassie Waters
One of my favourite parts of Christmas is getting to watch Christmas specials without the nagging sense of guilt that accompanies watching what, without a doubt, are the best episodes of sitcoms any other time of the year. You may have barely glimpsed an episode of the Royle Family but I bet you know the Christmas special where Dave has a bath with the defrosting turkey. Or when Del Boy and Rodney dress as Batman and Robin. Or when Patsy eats for the first time since 1974.
But not all Christmas special are created equally. Here are three of the best British Christmas specials to remind yourself of this year. So as Nessa would say ‘oh, oh oh, Merrry Christmas’.
Vicar of Dibley: The Christmas Lunch Incident
This has to be my favourite Christmas episode ever and is a strong competitor for the title of my favourite sitcom episode in general. No matter how many times I watch it I still find myself laughing just as hard as I did it the first time and quoting it for the rest of the day. Under pressure from her parishioners (‘if you didn’t come I’d probably kill myself’) Geraldine agrees to go to three different Christmas lunches and somehow stumbles into a fourth. Apparently the parishioners of Dibley have extremely large appetites as Geraldine is forced to eat turkey and 16 different types of vegetable, an entire Christmas pudding and a family sized portion of pasta as a starter. The episode contains the infamous sprout eating competition between Geraldine and David, which is probably the most memorable scene of the entire series. Alongside the obvious humour, there’s something about following Christmas in a tiny village which always puts me in a cosy Christmas mood. Just don’t watch it when you’re stuffed after your third helping of Christmas dinner!
Gavin and Stacey: Christmas Special
I think everyone can see a little bit of their family in the Shipman Christmas Day, from Mike’s obsession with perfecting his Nigella turkey to Stacey’s controlling of the present unwrapping. Normal events happen but it’s the exaggeration of the events and ordinary characters mixing with the bizarre characters that make it so funny. Gavin and Stacey’s surreal exaggeration is summarised by its funniest and most memorable character Nessa. In the special, Nessa’s latest cash making scheme is being Father Christmas in a dingy marquee of a grotto manned by Dave Coaches (or ‘Rudolph’). Despite Dave’s lack of costume except for a Comic Relief nose and Nessa’s trademark black bob sticking out from underneath her Santa hat, the couple take their roles very seriously insisting that Gavin pays to speak to Nessa and sits on her knee: ‘don’t worry, I’m not on the register.’ The ordinary Christmas takes an extraordinary turn after Gavin and Stacey reveal their plans to move to Barry Island, after which there’s a punch up, a midnight conversation about The Fishing Trip, an old lady passed out behind the bar, a gift of a single Celebration and a proposal. It’s time to spend Christmas in Essex again!
Royle Family: Christmas Special 1999
The Royle Family is synonymous with their Christmas special. The iconic specials all started in 1999 where once again the Royle’s are sat in front of the telly. The surreal mirroring effect of watching the family watch their Christmas programmes reminds you of the banalities that take up so much of Christmas day. It’s these banalities that make The Royle Family so funny. Their son Antony tells everyone about Christmas day at his girlfriend Emma’s house and no one can understand why they would want to play parlour games rather than watch telly: ‘it’s the one day we all get together to watch the box’. The family’s lethargy is suddenly broken when Denise goes into labour and Dave isn’t there. Jim finally shows how much he does care about his family when he’s forced to get off the sofa and comfort the sobbing Denise. It’s all go to get Denise to the hospital and the television is finally turned off, marking the end of the programme. It’s the Royle Family’s understated humour, with all the long silent pauses, moaning and disinterest, that makes it contrast so strongly with the drama of Denise’s waters breaking. The combination of such opposites is what makes it such a memorable Christmas special and what set the benchmark for all the specials that followed.