Christmas Crackers

Christmas Crackers

by Patrick O’Connor

WHAT do the British do best when the dark nights creep in?

Why sit in front of the telly of course with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit!

And never is that more true than on Christmas Day.

Many generations have found pleasure in watching stalwarts such as The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show or an Only Fools And Horses Christmas special. A good belly laugh is perfect for relieving indigestion after all that turkey and those mince pies.

Magazines and newspapers go to great lengths in the build-up to the festive season to highlight the main Yuletide offerings on the box.  And us Brits like to stick to something familiar and in 2008 that meant revelling in the joys of moulded plasticine!  Wallace And Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death on BBC1 attracted the top Christmas Day viewing figures – 14.4 million.  The 29 minute animation ‘short’ created by Nick Park continued the story of the inventor/baker/cheese enthusiast Wallace and his faithful beagle dog Gromit. All the characters are made from moulded plasticine.  Wallace and Gromit have previously been seen in other shorts and full length feature films and the pair’s success lies in their very traditional British setting.  Wallace is a homely chap whose voice is provided by the 87 year Peter Sallis, star of the long-running TV comedy Last of the Summer Wine, which is set in Yorkshire.   Apparently Nick Park was inspired by 1950s Wigan in neighbouring Lancashire for the Wallace and Gromit location – typical Northern working class.  Wallace is often kitted out in a green knitted pullover and red tie and loves cheese -especially Wensleydale – and crackers, Lancashire hotpot and, of course, a cuppa.

The plots usually see Wallace embroiled in complicated but humorous situations – the Christmas Day show had him engaged to Piella Bakewell, who turned out to be a serial killer and was herself killed by crocodiles whilst trying to evade capture.  Gromit is the traditional ‘straight man’. His main role is to react to Wallace’s predicaments but because his character has no visible mouth, he expresses himself through facial expression and body language alone.   This ‘claymation’ duo are a very lovable combination and their ratings success was the highlight of an impressive Christmas triumph for the BBC over their commercial rivals.

They had the top five spots – the others being two episodes of the soap EastEnders, a Doctor Who special and a one-off return of their popular and distinctive sitcom The Royle Family.   The Royles are a working class Manchester family and all the activity is set in a typical council house home.  Created by Catherine Ahern, who plays the Royle’s daughter Denise, it is very much in kitchen sink drama territory. A lot of the action focuses on the family members – and various visitors – loafing on a settee watching television.  Nothing much ever happens but it is a wonderful observation of human behaviour. And it also says a lot about us as a nation that on Christmas Day we revel in watching on our telly other people watching telly.

Maybe we should get out more!

Image by – crackers