THE BBC, having, in pursuit of populism and mass appeal jettisoned its founder Lord Reith’s stern high-mindedness in virtually every aspect of its operation, rigorously cherishes one feature of his legacy. Reith determined that the Christian religion should be central to its output, but it was Christianity of a specific stamp: it was unbendingly Protestant. And so we find that Christmas Day Eucharist (BBC1, Christmas Day) was, in fact, a gospel service from the Church of God of Prophecy, in Birmingham.
There was nothing wrong with this deep-hearted worship, of course, but it was not a communion. Is there no one left at the BBC to recall that Christmas Day is a day of obligation; that the faithful — so many of whom are, this year, for the sake of their neighbours’ health, remaining at home rather than attending whatever divine worship might still be offered locally — will long at least to witness a televised celebration of the sacrament, to make a spiritual communion?
Do none of them know that their non-sacramental Sunday Worship (BBC1, 27 December), in which the excellent clergy of Llandaff do the best they can with cobbled-together back numbers from Songs of Praise, is, in these days of raging pandemic, simply nothing like good enough for the nation’s spiritual well-being?
And, if they don’t, then why isn’t the full majesty of the Church of England telling them so?
The Nativity of our Lord meant that there were special editions of favourite sitcoms, the season of good will honoured by even weaker jokes than usual. The Goes Wrong Show: The nativity (BBC1, 22 December) brought a cheerful adult level of blasphemy to time-honoured tropes of collapsing scenery, recalcitrant donkey, and the Archangel Gabriel channelling a pantomime dame.
A star-studded cast, held together by Olivia Coleman’s sublime fairy godmother, presented Cinderella: A Comic Relief pantomime for Christmas (BBC2, Christmas Eve), all appearing from home via Zoom. In Upstart Crow: Lockdown Christmas 1603 (BBC2, 21 December), David Mitchell’s curiously believable William Shakespeare denounced his neighbours’ failures to follow the anti-transmission laws while bending them himself. Ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas (BBC1, 23 December) offered heaped portions of sentimental redemption that, somehow, just managed to avoid derailing its comedy.
But the week’s best programme was Worzel Gummidge: Saucy Nancy (BBC1, Christmas Eve), a new yarn for Mackenzie Crook’s wonderful realisation. Dame Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Blessed shared in the return of a ship’s figurehead to her seaside home. Its simple innocence achieved mythic resonance, and, as we realised that foul-mouthed Nancy was actually St Agnes, complete with her lamb and martyr’s palm, perhaps we have here this Christmas’s best religious TV.