Garry Bushell
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Boxing day. This year’s Christmas TV theme was nostalgia. Or as I prefer to call it, plagiarism. The official Fraud Squad term is ‘passing off’. The festive TV listings looked and felt like a 1970s Xmas schedule; unfortunately it couldn’t deliver like one. Laughs were as abundant as council gritters and there was more chance of catching a flight from Heathrow than anything remotely original. We got four versions of Scrooge before Doctor Who got round to it – from Blackadder, the Muppets, Catherine Tate’s Nan, and Alastair Sim’s unbeatable film version. The classic Dickens tale has been re-made by Ross Kemp, Vanessa Williams, George C. Scott and most memorably Daffy Duck (in Bah Hum-duck). What could the Doc bring to it that Mr Magoo didn’t? Umm, a flying shark, Katherine Jenkins in cold storage, and magnificent Michael Gambon as Kazran – another world’s Ebenezer geezer. Steven Moffat packed in energy, exuberance, snow, carols, a sleigh and for no apparent reason the Doc marrying Marilyn off screen. But the episode’s big heart couldn’t fully dispel the so-what factor. We knew the story; there was no real twist, little tension and just a smattering of Jaws-lite behind-the-sofa terror.

BBC1’s The One Ronnie was more frustrating. It was like a Two Ronnies’ tribute act delivering lame forgeries of the duo’s best sketches. It was like watching The Jam without Weller. There wasn’t a joke in it worth re-telling.

Why is Xmas telly an X-Mess? Largely because of TV’s Pol Pot ‘Year Zero’ approach to comedy. From Russ Abbot to Brian Conley, mainstream entertainers have been ruthlessly driven off the box. If you didn’t fit some right-on network nitwit’s idea of what comedy should be, you were out. (Humour snobs thought the Two Ronnies were “old hat” back then too.) Everything had to be cutting edge. The same malaise nobbled British sitcoms. When a good one breaks, like Gavin & Stacey, it’s a complete surprise to them. Nothing comes close to Fools & Horses now. They can fix it by investing in mainstream talent again. The current policy – remake, recycle, repeat, regurgitate – is like Jim Royle, it will never wash.

*THAT freezer box Katherine Jenkins was in, is it where they keep Ann Robinson on ice between episodes of the Weakest Link?

*ON Dr Who, Katherine’s character Abigail soothed the killer shark by singing to it. Just as well they didn’t release Wagner.

*THE episode included a “distress call from the honeymoon suite.” Well, Amy was in police uniform. Rory probably needed back-up.

AMAZING scenes on EastEnders: Stacey turned up at a London airport and got straight on a plane. It’s a Christmas miracle, I tell you. Even this wasn’t the most far-fetched aspect of Walford’s winter woeful-land, though. Phil has gone from useless crack-head to underworld fence in the blink of a blood-shot eye. Three chirpy Cockney killers (Janine, Stacey and Ryan) were playing Murder-Go-Round. And marriage-wrecking ex-whore Fat Pat got on her moral high horse about, um, marriage-wrecking, displaying impressive loyalty to her murdering ex-whore of a step-daughter. Elsewhere desperate Bianca was nicked for thieving, but was home for Xmas no doubt with a pat on the head and a mince pie from Ken Clarke. And adultery addict Max, who looks like a partially bleached baked bean, suddenly remembered he used to have grumpy-pumpy with Stacey. For light relief we got obscene graffiti - it was either a penis or a portrait of producer Brian Kirkwood, whose days must surely be as numbered as an advent calendar for churning out this dismal fare. Next up? Cot death. Happy days.

*COME Fly With Me is an airport comedy, not to be confused with Heathrow, the long-running farce. It’s a parody of those Airport/Airline shows so popular fifteen years ago, so it’s as cutting edge as a pensioner’s gums. But it took off with a cargo of cracking characters all played by Matt Lucas and David Walliams. There are bitchy check-in girls, a groin-groping fake security man, tail-chasing Taj, and Omar the boss of budget airline FlyMo who charges passengers to use life-jackets in emergencies. (Technically, he’s an easyJest.) So far there’s none of the woman-hating grossness that blighted the later series of Little Britain.

HOT on TV: Katherine Jenkins (Dr Who)... Tatiana Maslam (Nativity)... Come Fly With Me... Yellowstone.

ROT on TV: My Family – ho-ho-hopeless... The One Ronnie – wrong Ronnie... Little Crackers – largely knackered... Louis Spence’s Showbiz Xmas – mistle-turd... Vince Cable - biggest turkey on the box.

*THEY missed a trick during that Apprentice task to design a new tipple. Where was Baggs the Brandy?

*KARA Tointon tore a ligament in her lower arm before the Strictly final. By coincidence, many an adolescent boy did the same thing while watching her...

*ALAN Carr on Matt Cardle: “What a crazy week for him. On top of the Xmas charts. On top of the stylist... the make-up artist... the backing singer...”

*ONE Direction? Yeah. To the Job Centre.

*MISSING from 100 Greatest Toys: humble cowboy cap guns, toy soldiers, farm animals, Pass The Pigs, a magnifying glass and a nest of helpless ants... or was that just Frankie Boyle? (PS If Monopoly counts as a toy, why not chess and draughts?)

*FRANKIE Boyle’s upsetting everyone. He’s evil. When C4 want a meeting, they don’t call his agent. They just draw a pentagram on the floor in goat’s blood and chant “We summon thee.”

*ITV gave Paul Burling his own show. Why? He’s great as Harry Hill for five minutes, but couldn’t sustain an hour of weak skits. Paul should have hosted a variety show full of other BGT turns like Escala and the excellent Kev Orkian (currently entertaining the troops in Afghanistan.)

SMALL Joys of Xmas TV: Katy Perry on The Simpsons. Malcolm Tucker on a camel (Nativity). Imagine on Ray Davies. Kat Moon calling Fat Pat “a rancid old caaaw.” Inappropriate Xmas songs – SuBo singing Perfect Day (about heroin), Nigel Slater featuring Geraldine (about suicide).

XMAS irritations: The BBC’s belief that screening old comedy DVDs counts as festive programming. Clip shows lazily masquerading as ‘Xmas specials.’ Soap amnesia – Kevin Webster not reminding Sally of her affairs, Ryan and Stacey not mentioning Janine’s poison spree.

SEPARATED at birth: the Crossbow Cannibal and Tyrone Dobbs – brace yourself, Kevin!

Dec 19. A GLORIOUS episode of The Apprentice as Stuart Baggs was finally brought down to earth like a ruptured zeppelin. It was interview week, and The Brand was publically devalued by Sugar’s merciless attack dogs. “I’m a big fish in a small pond,” Baggs bragged. “You’re not a big fish,” retorted Claude Litner. “You’re not even a fish.” Oh, I don’t know. Something about him has always said pollocks. “Stuart Baggs the brand?” Litner scoffed. “What on earth are you talking about? You’re a 21-year-old kid, not a brand.” “I think I might be,” replied Baggs, who’d started looking like Just William caught outside a broken window with a catapult in his hand.

Bordan Tkachuk, CEO of Sugar’s IT company Viglen, delivered the fatal blow, pointing out that contrary to Stu’s boasts, he doesn’t actually own “a fully licensed telecoms company in the Isle of Man.” More part-time access to a pay-phone in the chip shop next door... You’d think candidates would have worked out by now that the two essentials to survive the interviews are: Don’t lie on your CV, Do learn about Sugar’s business. Joanna didn’t even know what it was called, suggesting “Vidgy-len.”

Most of them had a rough ride. Droning Chris was called “a quitter who can’t hack it”; Jamie was “a loser looking for an escape route” and Stella was dismissed as “just a very good PA.” Margaret Mountford was a joy. She dismissed Jamie’s “third nipple” joke as “puerile”; and said Chris was “fixated” by his (minor) academic achievements. She gave Baggs her famous raised eyebrow treatment, and when he boasted he’d be “24/7 not 9-5”, she added “And no doubt give it a 110 per cent.” The sarcasm was lost on Stuart, but even he couldn’t misread Sugar’s final, righteous verdict: “You’re full of shit, basically.” It’s Chris v Stella tonight. My money’s on her. Chris is smart, but self-starting council estate girl Stella has the sort of back-story Sugar loves. She’s focused, hungry and she gets results. They’re taking on “one of the world’s oldest professions”. Let’s hope it doesn’t involve Katie Waissel’s gran.

*BAGGS almost fooled Margaret with his wild talk of micro-chips that would allow you to “find your lost cat in Bermuda.” If only the US Defence Department hadn’t ripped off his vision by inventing GPS decades ago... That ‘Brand’ in full: Bogus, Rude, Arrogant, Nauseating, Dickhead.

*CHIPS that can track a stray pussy? Liz Hurley’s hubby could have done with one of them...

KEN Clarke says prison doesn’t change people. But have a butcher’s at Ben Mitchell. After just 20 weeks in borstal, Ben has returned a foot taller, with different eye colouring and a longer boat-race. He punched Dad Phil too! Outrageous. The old Ben would have expressed his rage through the medium of interpretative modern dance and finished on a show-tune. They did have one happy reunion though: Glenda Mitchell’s knees were temporarily together again.

*BILLY had launderette sex with Julie. Talk about a service bosh. Is a launderette conducive to lust? Everywhere you look you see the word ‘softener’. But at least they did it in Comfort.

*LAST week in Walford: rows, misery, attempted murder... Yep, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

*DID you see Connor in his pants? What was he doing, auditioning for an X Factor dance troupe?

*NO wonder Kara Tointon won Strictly, she even got Craig Revel-Horrid hot under the collar. Last week he threatened to “dust off my ten” for her, which is a little forward, not to mention extremely boastful.

HOT on TV: McIntyre (Royal)... Apprentice interview week... Amir Khan... Rihanna... Mickey Flanagan.

ROT on TV: the X Factor rejects – flatter than the Freshly Squeezed presenters... One Direction – as tuneful as a wounded bison...Dirk Gently – George Gently is funnier... Take Me Out – no like-ee, all shite-ee.

*SOME fresh faces at the Royal Variety Show, then. Take That – we’d not seen them on telly for at least five days. Ditto Cheryl ‘Calamity’ Cole... The bill had too much music, and very little in the way of variety. Loved Michael McIntyre imagining the Pogues on X Factor, though. Not fussed about Jack Whitehall – that’s one Whitehall student rioters should smash up.

*THE most mind-boggling thing about Elton John, Piers, is that women used to faint at his shows. And not just because 70s venues didn’t have air-con. Despite being ugly enough to play for Man United, Elton was a pin-up! Pop music: getting unsightly men laid since 1960. (And girls, I’m in a band. Don’t all rush...)

*THE Top Five most hideous geezers in rock: 1) Justin Hawkins 2) Shane MacGowan 3) Marilyn Manson 4) Roland Orzabal 5) Any of Kiss out of make-up.

*WELL done Alan Carr, you’ve changed the face of the TV chat show. If only the chat show could return the favour.

*ALAN on Gillian McKeith: “She said she missed her period, yeah, by about seventy years from the look of her.”

*HOPE Carla gets her claws into Peter on Corrie. She needs more than booze in her life. Carla blew in a breathalyser once and it replied: “One at a time, please, folks.”

*THOSE X Factor costumes were very festive. Everywhere you looked it was ’ho, ’ho, ’ho...

*LEMBIT and McKeith are planning a theatre tour. Memo to Matt Cardle – throw in Stuart Baggs and THAT’S what I call ‘Many Of Horror’.

*Barrymore’s House That Made Me? A lot more humble than the house that shamed him.

* STING: Live In Berlin? I wish he did.

SMALL joys of TV: Matt accidentally punching Dannii (X Factor). Harry from Wand Erection telling Matt about the, ahem, minge benefits of fame on live TV. Misfits. Ann’s banter with Ailsa, an obvious transsexual, on Weakest Link. And Harald Glööckler, the real-life Bruno. (And possibly David Gest’s secret love-child)

RANDOM irritations: Corrie conning us over those “four funerals.” Po-faced bores moaning about Rihanna and Christina. Pop has always been sexy – that’s why 1950s TV executives banned groin shots of Elvis. ‘Irreverent’ Robert Webb - irrelevant surely?

SEPARATED at birth: Bruno Tonioli and Frankie Howerd: one a camp buffoon associated with ancient Italy, the other a revered English comedian. More Up Pompeii/Strictly crossovers: Ludicrous (Bruce), Odius (Craig), Ponderous (Len), Tittia (Alesha), Tarta (Cut! – Lawyer).

Dec 12. It was Corrie’s 50th anniversary on Thursday. You’d have thought ITV might have mentioned it... I’m joking of course. There was so much Weatherfield action last week I’m still seeing cobbles. It kicked off on Monday, and you know how it is when you go on a stag or hen night – someone always ends up hammered... poor Charlotte the Harlot. Next came an almighty gas explosion at The Joinery. (Chief suspect, old man Windass). Then the Street’s CGI tram went off the rails as spectacularly as Carla Conner at a wine-tasting. Flaming Nora!

Brilliantly directed by Graeme Harper, the episode gripped like Nick Tilsley enjoying a crafty knee-trembler with Leanne. Shock turned swiftly to panic. We knew three more people would croak, but who? Not Rita – her hair-spray helmet kept her safe. Not the tram driver – he was solid ham. Nor Sunita who must carry on enduring the pain of Dev’s acting. Nope. T’grim reaper came for: Molly, who died as she lived, on her back, moaning and groaning. Ashley, who rather than having the life crushed out of him by Claire’s thumb for thirty years, was marmalised by a girder. And maybe Peter, who looks set to pop his clogs after tying the knot with Leanne. His liver will then be beaten to death with a stick.

Our favourites reacted with horror, grief, heroism (Jason), selfishness (Gail) or an unlikely change of character – Sean, a man with the backbone of a mollusc, suddenly taking charge. Thursday’s live episode a real triumph, with more twists than a blackjack convention: Chucky’s deathbed confession, Charlotte clinging to life, Becky thieving, vile Kylie (the woman most deserving of a fling with John Stape) blackmailing her sister. They finally remembered Rita, but what upset me most was that nobody asked about the cat...

The only note of caution worth sounding is the law of diminishing returns. Today’s soaps over-rely on shock. What made Corrie great was its warmth, and the way it told small truths about small lives. Its cornerstone is still its characters, and from Ena to Blanche our favourites have always been old’uns with attitude. What would Albert Tatlock have made of Weatherfield now? Eee, happen it’s a rum do to celebrate your fiftieth with mayhem and murder.

*WORDS and phrases you only hear on Corrie: 1) Wuzzock 2) Balmpot 3) Gail, you’re beautiful. Please marry me.

*A NEW character threatened to turn up for the live episode. I don’t know who this Al Qaeda fella is but he’s been cutting Fiz’s hair for years.

*THE real Corrie train-wreck came on Come Dine With Me. I loved Ken Morley as Reg Holdsworth, but off-script the guy’s an attention-seeking nightmare. There are chimps with better table manners. Unless his whole obnoxious dribbling, spitting, burping, wind-breaking performance was a cunning audition for the part of McKeith-style irritant in next year’s jungle...

*DOT Branning, a Corrie fan? So presumably she’d have been a little surprised when Tricky Dicky from the market popped up in Liz McDonald’s bed calling himself Vernon Tomlin a few years back. And when Jerry McKenzie turned into murderous Richard Hillman the shock must have knocked her bandy. Dot didn’t blink an eye when Corrie’s Rebecca turned up in Albert Square as Kate, an undercover cop running a nail bar. And she’s clearly forgotten her own stint on the cobbles as Mrs Parsons. (Hubby Jim enjoyed a Weatherfield second life as Ernie Lumsden...)

HOT on TV: Corrie-geddon... Jane Danson (Corrie)... Dara O’Briain... Andy Serkis as a killer cabbie (Accused) – murderous fare.

ROT on TV: Corrie Come Dine With Me – a carnival of desperation... Black-Eyed Peas (X Factor) – cauliflower dull... The Morgana Show – more pants than a Justin Bieber stage.

*CHER got through to last night’s X Factor final, prompting calls to rename the show FIFA Factor. She was as flat as Corrie’s Kabin last weekend, and her attitude is as bad as her skin. Yet Cher survived another week because Simon believed she gave him something money can’t buy - teen street-cred. She won’t be missed. Good luck to Matt and Rebecca, but this whole series has been tarnished by fiddles, fixes and judges who wouldn’t judge. The absolute highlight was Wagner singing Creep.

Far from the hype and hysteria, real musical talent – from Redtrack to Laura Marling via Wolf People – are keeping the flame of genuine creativity alive.

*STUART Baggs told Alan Sugar he was a punt. Tsk. Where’s James Naughtie when we need him? “I am not a one-trick pony,” the Brand continued. No, mate. You’re just pony.

*JAMIE was mocked on The Apprentice: You’re Fired for saying that the Thames was “the second largest river in London.” But technically he was correct. The largest is of course the vale of tears that runs through Walford.

*GLENDA Mitchell: hotter than her daughters? Or just sluttier? She slept with Ian Beale and Phil Mitchell last week. And then besmirched Ian’s sexual prowess. How dare she? Beale can make any woman happy in bed. By leaving it.

*SHOCK scenes on Thursday night, but after sitting through the Royal Variety Show, Prince Charles wished he was back in the riot.

*THERE was terror in poor Camilla’s eyes... and that was just when she saw the bill. Cheryl Cole? Jack Whitehall? Arghhhh!

*THE idiot who desecrated the Cenotaph is the son of Dave Gilmour. So Pink Floyd were wrong, he do need some education.

*ONE good thing came out of Widdy on Strictly, at least Anton knows that when he finally hangs up his dancing shoes he’ll waltz into a new career – as a Smithfield meat porter.

*BRUNO said that Widdy danced like “a Dalek in drag”. Unfair! Daleks move quite gracefully.

*FRANKIE Boyle’s stand-up is merciless, but his ugly, laugh-free sketches suggest Tramadol Nights may have peaked with show one. A shame. Shock-junkie Frank is a comic book fan. Think what he could achieve if he used his comedic powers for good not evil.

SMALL joys of TV: Natalie dancing in her underwear (Strictly). The end of Widdy – not so much hello Dolly as goodbye donkey. Tour guide Jamie (Apprentice). Tupele’s legs (CCDWM). 70s nostalgia in Boy George’s The House That Made Me.

RANDOM irritations: Will.I.Am – Dick.U.R. X Factor rules being more changeable than Louis’s hair colour. Xmas coming earlier and earlier. The way Ed Milliband says his ‘S’s. The fact that we have to call Alan Sugar ‘Lord’ because he sucked up to gormless Gordon Brown...

SEPARATED at birth: Dannii Minogue and ET? One a strange, unintelligible alien who won’t go home... and so’s the other one. One travelled thousands of miles, befriended a young boy, and took on the forces of darkness. But hey, enough about Simon Cowell and Syco.

Dec 5. Frankie Boyle’s humour is as black as a barrel of liquidised crows. He kicked off his new Tramadol Nights series by haranguing the audience like a mad tramp with a compassion by-pass. One poor sod was told he resembled “a cross between Andy Bell and a pickled foetus in a jar” or “a child’s drawing of a dead baby.” Another was accused of having “quantum-leaped to be with us from the Victorian prison system.” Then Frankie started on the Pope who “loved it in Britain as most of his Nazi pals only made it as far as France.” His Popemobile “runs on the tears of abused choir boys”, he said, adding that when the Pontiff met Susan Boyle, “he thought she was there to be cured.”

It was savage, tasteless and extremely funny – almost as if the spirit of Bernard Manning was being channelled by a belligerent university drop-out with a grudge against the world. Except Boyle goes place Manning never would. Bernard would have been rightly disgusted by jokes about the abused and the disabled, or kids with Downs’ Syndrome. The style is similar; it’s just the taboos that have changed.

Tamadol Nights wasn’t just stand-up though. There was an animated George Michael Highway Code: ‘Mirror, Signal, Manouevre, Wank.’ And sketches like the Iranian Loose Women, where the burqa-clad chatter-boxes were immediately hanged and shot (unfortunately coinciding with the real-world execution of Shahla Jahed.) Frankie re-imagined Knightrider’s Michael Knight as a schizophrenic who believed his car was talking to him, and then got wasted - just like the real Hasselhoff. While his take on The Green Mile had John Coffey healing the afflicted by shagging them. (Wasn’t that Matt Ramsden’s excuse on Corrie?)

There are many reasons to dislike Frankie Boyle. Especially if you’re Jerry Sadowitz or the producer of a once unmissable BBC2 panel show. Boyle’s tirades wind up left and right alike; he mocks the weak as well as the powerful, and his soul is obviously as dark and shrivelled as Carla Connor’s liver. And yet I’m ashamed to say the twisted bastard makes me laugh out loud.

*DID we ever find out who Aggro Santos was or why we supposed to care about him? At least Kayla filled out a bikini nicely, when she wasn’t sulking, moaning and stomping about like a spoilt Californian princess. The best thing about Aggro was his afro which made him look disturbingly like Diana Ross.... just as Alison’s five o’clock shadow may have fooled the short-sighted into believing that the late great Barry White had returned from the grave. Babbling birdbrain Stacey Solomon won over the nation with her sunny disposition. Whether munching on marsupial member or dodging more gunk than a German porn starlet, Stacey keep smiling through... which is more than you can say for most of her rivals. McKeith being a selfish, conniving pain in the outback surprised no-one. But who knew Nigel Havers was a bad-tempered snob? Or that Dom Joly was such a wally? Granted he was good in the spy mission (nicked from Big Brother), but most of the time Dom came across as a priggish, controlling bore.

*MY Man of the Match was Shaun Ryder. Good on the British public for putting the two most honest, down-to-earth contenders through to the final. Now how about a Shaun-Stacey single to knock X Factor off the top? A Fairy Tale Of New South Wales would be good: ‘Was Christmas morning, in the gunk tank...’

*SADLY there was no sexual chemistry in the camp. Stacey did enjoy a foot of meat one evening, but disappointingly one that had previously belonged to a crocodile. Kayla was best in the shellfish challenge. Something about her just screamed soft prawn.

*WHY turn Stacey into a pie? Well, Jenny was crustier, but Stace has had a lot more filling.

*JUSTIN Bieber made the “phone me” gesture to Cheryl Cole. What did he want? A bedtime story or the name of a good miming coach? Cheryl will judge US X Factor. It’s a great result. For American Idol.

HOT on TV: Lee Mack... Tramadol Nights... Alison King & Jane Danson (Corrie)... Hayley Atwell... Mad Men finale.

ROT on TV: Morgana – big talent, lousy script... Hairy Bikers Cook Off – my sentiments almost exactly... Tim Westwood... Will Ferrell – as funny as hypothermia.

*KEN and Deirdre shouldn’t be too hard on Leanne over her fling with Wallace lookalike Nick. The girl can’t help it. She’s fatally attracted to plasticine. Besides, between the two of them, they’ve had more leg-overs than a champion jockey. I’m more worried about John Stape. If word of his affair gets out, his marriage will go down the same toilet Charlotte drinks out of.

*RYAN and Stacey bonked on the bonnet of Jim’s Morris Minor on EastEnders. I know the car needed a good servicing, but strewth. It fairness they did it in a quarry where a hard helmet is always required.

*WAKING The Dead: just one letter away from being TV’s most offensive show ever.

*NEW from Wiki-Leaks: the CIA’s code-name for Katie Waissel’s grandmother? The Gran Canyon.

*IS it me, or does Vera Wang Princess sounds more like a drag act than a perfume?

*RUBY Wax is to perform at Rampton. Makes sense. You’d have to be nuts to find her funny.

*MY new TV format for Gillian McKeith: Celebrity Whose Poo – in which the bogus doctor must match stool to celeb on the basis of diet and smell alone. First up, Widdy on an all-prune diet. It could run and run.

*AL Murray’s German Adventure would have horrified the Pub Landlord. Posh softie bigs up a country that thinks it’s socially acceptable to wear lederhosen? Shame on you.

SMALL joys of TV: Jane spraying deodorant on her knickers on EastEnders – Aunt Sal uses de-icer. Morgana as Fearne Cotton. The ever louder sound of the trams on Corrie – let’s pray the big crash takes out Charlotte, Gail, Sean and the Stapes.

RANDOM irritations: The endless tedium of Corrie’s Fishwick saga. The piss-poor narration on Apocalypse. TV satirists’ dismal failure to take on EU corruption. ITV’s never-ending Abba obsession.

*TV mystery: Donald Trump’s hair – is it done by the people behind crop circles?

SEPARATED at birth: Gillian McKeith and the Wicked Witch of the West – one an evil abomination dripping with deceit and self-interest; the other a character in the Wizard Of Oz.

* WHICH deadbeat politician will sell out to reality TV next? Prescott and Bushtucker would go together like FIFA and corruption.