TV: Christmas Documentaries

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TV: Christmas Documentaries

Brian Donaldson trawls the schedules for some intriguing documentaries concerning Santa, shrinks and songs

There used to be a programme on Channel 4 about the worst jobs in history. These tended to be dodgy careers forged in medieval or Roman times, but the modern day equivalent of leech collector could well be the department store Santa. Chris Diamond has been stepping into the big red suit and strapping on a fluffy white beard for a decade now, and in I’m a Santa Get Me Out of Here! (BBC1, Tue 23 Dec, 10.35pm ●●●), he insists that it’s not as easy as it looks. He may have a set list of five questions that each child is asked, but he can never be fully prepared for the answers that come back. ‘Total world domination’ was one girl’s wish but she eventually had to settle for a doll. And each year, Chris vows never to return to the grotto again, but somehow he can’t break that bond.

Maybe he can’t resist the sound of ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ being played on a constant loop. For musicologist Howard Goodall, those Christmas standards have a deeper meaning than you might think. The Truth About Carols (BBC2, Thu 25 Dec, 5pm ●●●) is a peculiar story featuring pagan beliefs, anti-Catholic sentiment and some really, really nice tunes. He may look like Santa Claus now, but there’s very little giving going on in this one-off ‘special’ of Pamela Stephenson’s Shrink Rap: Billy Connolly (More4, Sat 13 Dec, 10pm ●). Sure, he talks freely of the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his father and aunties, and on recalling the memory of seeing Pete Seeger play live in the early 60s, he breaks down (they all do eventually, and in this heavily-edited programme there’s no way they’d be leaving that out). But the experience of watching a happily married showbiz couple talk about their world is just as you’d imagine it to be: insular, cosy and full of bellowing laughter.

Britain’s Weirdest Phobias (ITV1, Tue 30 Dec, 8pm ●●●) is inadvertently giggle-inducing, but how else are you supposed to react when someone is so terrified of knees or peas or pylons that they nearly throw up at the mere mention of the word? Therapist David Allison does his utmost to make sufferers confront their nightmares head on and appears to be outlandishly successful. Robert Llewellyn’s task is to work out which of the major religions is the richest of them all. Sounds like a tricky task and Who’s Got God’s Millions? (Five, Mon 29 Dec, 5pm ●●) proves to be the case. So much so that the actor formerly known as Red Dwarf’s Kryten wields his massive calculator while uttering phrases such as ‘now this is just an estimate’ and ‘I’m making an educated guess here … ‘ If this had been someone researching a newspaper article, it would most likely have been spiked at an early stage, but because it’s a TV documentary which no doubt had lots of cash pumped into it from the off, the project simply had to be completed come hell or high water.

Thank the Lord then for Justin Lee Collins and his nonsensical celebrity reunion show. Bring Back Fame (Channel 4, Sat 27 Dec, 9pm ●●●●) is an absolute blast from start to finish as he dashes about the States trying to track down the surviving members of Fame (poor Leroy) from both the TV and film version. And it doesn’t matter whether they are sitting in a café or working out at the gym, JLC and his crew are going right in there. What a guy. Though he should really make it his new year’s resolution to cut out the devil horns finger sign whenever a camera points at him.

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