Tv Review: The Secret Story of The BBC Christmas Tapes

There’s been tv programmes showing bloopers and outtakes for decades now, ever since the first It’ll Be Alright On The Night in September 1977, but because tv viewers were sensitive sorts back then the really great fuck ups never made it to the screen. At least not our screens, for the men and women in the BBC video editing suites put together tapes of all the rudest outtakes and saved them for the annual Christmas party.

They’ve circulated for a while now and some can be seen online (links are below) but if you’ve ever wanted to know why they existed Rhys Thomas has directed this documentary that tells the story of how they came to be, which is basically that ITV used to do some with lots of rude sexual footage and the BBC lot thought they could do better without resorting to nudity. There’s a bunch of talking heads who tell the story with Angela Rippon, Phillip Schofield and Bill Oddie all trying to make it sound more exciting than it really was, but the best part of the whole enterprise is the chance to see your favourite actors, newsreaders and presenters swearing a lot and mucking around in general. Phillip Schofield is especially annoying and pointless as he tries to make it sound far more dramatic than it really was, but some of the other commentators are more interesting thankfully with those involved in the making of the tapes presenting most of the interesting snippets of info, like how actors started screwing up on purpose so they’d feature in the Christmas tape and why it all came to an end.

I’ve seen a few of the tapes and to be honest a lot of it is fairly bland stuff, perhaps it was groundbreaking in the seventies and eighties but in this era of dvd and blu-ray extras you’ll have seen material like this countless times. But thankfully Rhys Thomas has been able to cherry pick the very best of the tapes and as the documentary is only thirty minutes long most of his selections are pretty funny. So if you’ve ever wanted to see Tom Baker’s Doctor Who angrily rant at K-9 “You never know the fucking answer when it’s important”, Fred Harris assaulting the Play School dolls, a re-edited interview making it seem like Princess Anne was saying salacious things, Robin Day calling a politician a c**t, Hitler doing the weather, the infamous fake episode of Rainbow and a whole host of well known individuals swearing their little faces off you’ll enjoy this a lot.

If you’re under thirty you’ll probably not recognise many of those involved and a lot of the best bits rely on the nostalgia factor of seeing those famous from forty years ago messing about and trying to make others laugh when they screw up a line, but the story itself is fairly interesting and it’s just a shame they included some of the talking heads and it wasn’t just all footage from the tapes. It’s definitely worth watching though as many of the clips are enormously amusing, and despite my minor complaints it’s a shame such tapes aren’t being made to this day.

Alex Finch.

Related Links:
You can watch the documentary on BBC iPlayer here.
You can watch the 1978 Christmas Tape in full here.
You can watch the 1979 Christmas Tape in full here.
You can watch the 1989 Christmas Tape in full here.
And you can watch the 1995 Christmas Tape in full here.

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