Whistle and I’ll Come to You and When Harvey Met Bob among Christmas TV highlights
John Hurt gest haunted and Domhnall Gleeson becomes Bob Geldof
Quite why ghost stories go hand in hand with Christmas has never been quite clear to me. Maybe Charles Dickens is to blame, but whatever the link is, don’t spooks and spectres not get enough press at the end of October? One of the British classics of the ghoulish genre is MR James’ tale of an academic hanging out at a quiet seaside getaway, finding a conch-type object that he gives a blow, unleashing an unexplained terror.
The story was brilliantly adapted for the BBC by Jonathan Miller in 1968 with Michael ‘Paddington’ Hordern playing the pompous prof who freaks out at a bit of hotel bed linen and in Neil Cross’ new version, John Hurt is the educated man who gets most haunted in Whistle and I’ll Come to You (BBC2, Fri 24 Dec, 9pm). For the most part, Cross has expertly captured the original’s subtly creeping horror featuring a script with more scene changes than dialogue exchanges. But he blows it with the climax, going for imagery which will be all-too familiar to contemporary horror buffs.
Perhaps more scary is how accurately Domhnall Gleeson has captured a fidgety, no-frills Bob Geldof in a drama about the events leading up to Live Aid. The intro to When Harvey Met Bob (BBC2, Sun 26 Dec, 9.15pm) makes it plain that what we are about to see toys with reality and it’s certainly difficult to imagine Saint Bob and promoter Harvey Goldsmith (the magnificent Ian Hart) staring out at a deserted Wembley as 13 July, 1985 comes to a weary close. But it surely nails Geldof’s brazen flying-on-the-seat-of-his-pants attitude. At first, you wonder if the script has got it disastrously wrong when Geldof keeps going on about Live Aid being set for 6 July with Channel 4 broadcasting live, only for the twists and turns to be revealed and showing us just how close history came to being derailed.
Dr David Nott is some kind of mini-Geldof who helped rebuild a one-month-old girl who came out of last January’s devastating earthquake alive in The Miracle Baby of Haiti (Channel 4, Tue 28 Dec, 9pm). Operating on little Landina is one thing, searching for her real family another. When her mother is finally tracked down, Nott has to decide whether Landina can be allowed to return to the family home in a ravaged and disease-ridden Port-au-Prince where the slightest infection could kill her. This tragic tale certainly puts into perspective the privileged childhoods of British celebs such as Stephen Fry, Dawn French and Meera Syal who have written 10-minute shorts about their own memories of Christmases past in Little Crackers (Sky One, Sun 19–Sat 25 Dec, 9pm). The mini-series is uniformly enjoyable but special mention should be made of Catherine Tate and The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd who pen pieces about, respectively, appearing in a school nativity and being continually let down by Santa. In a festive twist, both are generous enough to write about the shame of urinary incontinence.