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Sunday, 31 October 2010

The calm before the storm

OK, so we've had the first wave of Christmas commercials, with the very nicely done IKEA musical number appearing on high-rotation, but this is just the beginning. Usually everything kicks off soon after November 11th, once Remembrance Day is out of the way, and we still haven't seen M&S and Tesco (amongst others) play their hands yet.

That's a good enough pretext for a bit of nostalgia, isn't it? Here's a selection of ads from 1983. There's a bit of everything: booze, chocs, presents, and rounding off with a Woolworths Christmas ad the like of which we haven't seen from them for decades, nor will we do so again post-administration.

Bliss music channel goes all-Christmas tomorrow!

Bliss music video station (Sky channel 372) is due to switch over to wall-to-wall Christmas music tomorrow from 6am if you believe the Sky EPG. Yikes. Surely one for the channel hoppers out there and for those who want a quick shot of festive music to put them in the mood for Christmas shopping.

Or something.

Still, there are a few festive songs out there which lean towards being more season-neutral. Flying Pickets' "Only You", for instance, plus Paul Young's "Love Of The Common People" - I didn't realise that was a Christmas track until I caught the music video a few years ago, which made me appreciate it even more due to the brass instrumental bit in the middle. But I'm struggling to come up with other low-festive Christmas tracks.

Although it does give me an excuse to indulge in a guilty pleasure - I love this track, and I really shouldn't: Bo Selecta's "Proper Chrimbo". Enjoy...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Channel 4 used to be able to do Christmas presentation

It's been a few years since Channel 4 had a stab at Christmas presentation. Sure, they'd put on festive shows, films and specials, but the bits in-between - the idents and trailers - share the style that is used throughout the year.

It's a shame, because even though Channel 4's budget is much lower than its competitors, it used to punch above its weight in terms of presentation. What do you think?:

And even though few people would watch their closedown - this was back in the days before 24-hour broadcasts - they'd come up with the odd gem:

Thursday, 28 October 2010

SONY doesn't quite get it right

A bit of an oddity with SONY's Christmas advert - sure, it's a re-telling of a Christmas Carol, it gets the imagery right, and the script's not bad, but it doesn't seem to hang together very well and it's not entirely imaginative. Here's the full two-minute version:

Class under "appropriate, but not great".

1991 Flashback: Drop The Dead Donkey

Another trip back to 1991, this time to an iconic Christmas special. Channel 4's Drop The Dead Donkey was a satirical comedy set in a newsroom, and for the first two or three series was scripted and acted 24 hours before transmission. It kept the comedy sharp and the satire fresh,
making it a must-watch for anyone looking for something a bit more substantial than what the BBC were offering at the same time.

The end of the second series was right next to Christmas, so a take on the office Christmas party was an obvious target for the writers. The first half showed the cast getting completely ratted and came complete with every office stereotype you can think of, from the smug tea-totaller lecturing about how much healthier he is, through the management trying to keep the staff working in a professional manner, to the almost inevitable drunken one-night stand.

The second half of the episode featured the aftermath, as people's memories slowly returned in sobering clarity, with the unseen events of the previous night revealing themselves through their consequences and damage trail. The meekest guy in the office turns out to be the centre of a whirlwind of drunken debauchery. And there's of course the massive payoff as the one-night stand resolves itself.

The Christmas party episode was the pinnacle of the whole run of Drop The Dead Donkey - soon after they phased out the up-to-the-minute satire, instead focussing on the relationships between the staff of the news company, losing the edge that made the series unmissable back in the day. Fortunately it's repeated often on the comedy channels on satellite TV, and the whole run is even on 4OD - including the Christmas episode. Well worth a look - for me it's still funny after several viewings and after all these years.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The IKEA extravaganza

IKEA have produced the next big surprise, with a sixty-second advert advertising their wares as a music video to the old Jona "Stop The Cavalry" Lewie track "You'll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties". Whilst not explictly Christmassy, it does hit the party season quite nicely.

It looks like a re-recording of the track, and they used Lewie himself in the track and video, which is a very nice touch - usually advertisers just licence a track and soullessly remix it. The SRS furniture commercial didn't even go that far with their current commercial - they just used a loop of the old Tom Jones track "What's New Pussycat?" on repeat. I'm sure he'll thank them for that.

IKEA and Jona Lewie seem to go together like bacon and sweet red peppers, though, and the full-sized three-minute version is well worth a viewing.

"Bacon and sweet red peppers"? Try them both grilled, with the peppers thinly sliced, and eat whilst warm in a sandwich. If you're feeling adventurous, add sweet chilli sauce. Your taste buds will love you for it.

The "big" Christmas toys announced

The news wires are currently breaking the Toy Retailers Association's press release about what it thinks are the big toys kids are going to want this year. Yes, Christmas List season has begun. I remember as a kid being handed the Argos catalogue by my parents and asked to highlight what I wanted for Christmas. Back then, the catalogue was only half an inch thick, but we still thought it was massive - after all, it was about 300 pages long.

I went to Argos yesterday to get a few things for the house - their Christmas catalogue today is about the size of what their full catalogue was when I was a child! I took that plus the main catalogue home with me - I needed to carry it in a double plastic bag it was so big. Two inches thick, and a good 1500+ pages in length. Resting it on its edge on my lap whilst browsing it hurt - proof if ever if was needed that you now need to be a masochist to shop at Argos.

Anyway, here's the list:

  • City Airport, Lego UK (£84.99)
  • Fireman Sam Deluxe Fire Station Playset, Character Options (£29.99)
  • FurReal Go Go Walking Pup, Hasbro (£59.99)
  • Jet Pack Buzz Lightyear, Mattel UK (£39.99)
  • Kidizoom VideoCam, VTech (£59.99)
  • Monopoly Revolution, Hasbro (£29.99)
  • Moon Dough Barn, Spinmaster Toys UK (£19.99)
  • Nerf N Strike Stampede ECS, Hasbro (£54.99)
  • Paper Jamz Guitar, Wow Wee Europe (£24.99)
  • 'Pumpaloons' - action game, Drumond Park (£19.99)
  • Sylvanian Families Motorcycle and Sidecar, Flair Leisure (£24.99)
  • ZhuZhu Grooming Salon, Character Options (£22.99)

...although it's all Greek to me. The BBC have put up a slideshow so you can see how weird toys have become these days.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Two months to go...

There's some chatter on a few web forums about what's going to be on TV this Christmas. If you think that TV is rather mediocre these days, and that it was much better twenty or thirty years ago, well... hold that thought...

This was from 1981, and wasn't bad for ITV. The appearance of black-and-white movie footage in an out-takes show seems so alien these days!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The first surprise of 2010...

The great thing about the Christmas run-up is that advertisers loosen up their wallets a bit and splash out on grandiose advertising campaigns. Sometimes they miss the mark, as Argos have done this year, but when they hit the sweet spot it's a joy to watch.

Currys (or Currys PC World as they're called now) have a Star Wars licence, and have used it well. C3-PO and R2-D2 discover the store and have a mini-adventure. It's cute, it's sweet, and it's actually funny. Naturally there's a Director's Cut - it wouldn't be Star Wars otherwise - on YouTube, and here it is in all its 72-second glory:

Holidays are coming...

With the Christmas TV ad campaigns starting to whirr up, there is one global event to watch out for - something which confirms that the Christmas is on its way.

The Coca-Cola Christmas trucks advert.

No sighting of them yet this year, but someone on Youtube has produced a high-definition remix of their previous ads:

It may be a little overdone on the schmaltz, but I love the imagery used.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

1991 Flashback: The Ghosts of Oxford Street

This is a little forgotten gem that I came across whilst looking at old YouTube videos. This was part of Channel 4's Christmas Day 1991 line-up, got very mixed reviews, and was never seen again.

Enter the internet - in particular the 4OD online on-demand service, and Ghosts Of Oxford Street gets a new lease of life.

It was a Malcolm McLaren vehicle in which he is let loose to tell some of the tales of London's Oxford Street in the days and years before it became the hustling, bustling centre of shopping and commerce that it is today. If you believe McLaren, a hundred years ago it was dangerous, seedy, and full of poverty and crime. He presents a series of tales and stories from that time in his rather unique way - not sure how to describe it beyond saying he presents it in a similar way to a fully camped up Johnny Rotten.

The stories have little musical numbers from big names of the time dotted through it. There's the Happy Mondays singing their own version of the BeeGee's "Stayin' Alive" around a gallows before being hung, which is... different... Tom Jones plays the flamboyant founder of Selfridges, and gives a belting performance of "Money (That's What I Want)". "Fairytale Of New York" gets a look in, and Sinead O'Connor pops out of nowhere to sing "Silent Night".

Go to 4OD and give it a go - it lasts for just under an hour, and it draws you in slowly.

Looking for different Christmas music?

If you're bored of the Christmas music you usually listen to, there's plenty more available, if you know where to look. Christmas Music 24/7 is a collection of no fewer than six different Christmas online radio stations, each with a different genre: general, jazz, kids, country, Christian, and a mixture of all five. Hearing different arrangements of traditional songs is quite fun, plus there's original festive music a-plenty too.

Bearing in mind that these stations are USA-based (so expect varying levels of sacharrine thrown in), it's quite nice to listen to. Here are some sample playlists:

  • Christmas Music 24/7 (Traditional Christmas)
    • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas/Bryan Duncan and the NehoSoul Band
    • Frosty The Snowman/Mannheim Steamroller (what a name!)
    • Medley/The Kingdom Heirs
  • Christmas 24/7 Jazz (Instrumental and Jazz)
    • Thanksgiving/Michael Allen Harrison
    • We Three Kings Of Orient Are/Segio Salvatore
    • The First Noel/Don Caroll
  • Christmas 24/7 Country
    • White Christmas/Lari White
    • The Christmas Spirit/Alabama
    • A Big Red Christmas Bow/Janis Gott
  • Christmas 24/7 And More (Eclectic)
    • On This Christmas Night/James House
    • Christmas Time/Mike Surratt
    • Oh Christmas Tree/Dick Pyatt

Bet you don't recognise most of those names and titles - and that's a good thing. It's refreshing after year upon year of Slade, John and Yoko, Band Aid and Shakin Stevens. The audio player tells you what's playing, and has a handy link showing you album details so that you can order a copy of whatever takes your fancy.

Christmas Music 24/7 is hosted on, and it looks like there are more Christmas stations on there to have a browse through. There seems to be a two-tier system where most stations are free, but subscribers get additional stations and no adverts between tracks. Nice in small doses, even in October, although I think I personally will give the Country music station a miss!

Friday, 22 October 2010

DFS are learning...

DFS use Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" tune in their Xmas adverts, and this song is one of those which should be used in small doses, so hearing it over and over at full blast and full swing throughout October, November and December can make you want to reach for the chainsaw. This year, they seem to have toned down the tune with a slight remix and a severe drop in volume. It's nicely underplayed, and quite watchable as a result. OK, so it's a sale advert, and therefore by definition relatively boring, but it's alright.

All I Want For Christmas Is... a great music playlist

Let's face it, the number of good Christmas songs is a fairly low number. Whilst quality is not an issue, some of them are highly overplayed to the point of infuriation. Yes, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" isn't by definition a bad song, it just ages really badly on the several-hundredth listen.

The music video channels go wall-to-wall Christmas by the end of November(!), and so it soon become apparent which tunes age well, and which ones to steer clear of. Slade and Mariah Carey should be listened to in very small doses - ditto Wizzard and Elton John. Words defy me when it comes to Chris de Burgh, and the wonderful "Rock and Roll Christmas" now has the worst stigma attached to it thanks to the antics of the singer.

But there are some gems to watch out for on the music channels. Bo Selecta's "Proper Chrimbo" is incredibly catchy, and is at its best when heard alongside the "celebrity"-filled music video - in quotes because these were D-list celebrities back in 2003, so you'd have to take some time to think back and place some names to faces. The Flying Pickets' "Only You" is a simply wonderful accapella track, and Chris Rea's "Driving Home For Christmas" has become the soundtrack to many a long journey to various Christmas destinations.

But my favourite Christmas song was from 1981, back when music videos weren't considered obligatory for chart songs, and so is always overlooked by the music video channels. It's sad because so many people are missing out on the catchy anthem that is The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" - anthemic for those times when the whole year has been full-on and that Christmas week is the first break away from everything for a very long time. Spending Christmas by yourself isn't necessarily a bad thing if you just want to flop.

There are a few fan-made videos for the song on YouTube, but here's the one which I fell for immediately - probably due to my animation hobby. I grew up in the '80s with a Sinclair Spectrum - I'm astounded that you can build this sort of thing in a computer game these days. Enjoy...

Christmas 24 is returning part-time in November

I'm still a bit of a Sky newbie - last Christmas was my first one away from Freeview. One of the channels I discovered was "Christmas24" - a festively rebranded version of the Movies24 channel on Sky channel 327. Every day last December featured wall-to-wall Christmas movies, and it's returning for every weekend in November, presumably as a taster before going full-time in December.

The movies... aren't great. Don't expect the big names such as Love Actually or It's A Wonderful Life - these look like strictly straight-to-video and TV movies from the American networks. They're not challenging, they're schmaltzy, but they make nice festive wallpaper to have in the background whilst doing other things. The plots are so simple that you could easily miss half an hour and still follow the story.

Go for the tinsel, snow and holly, stay for the feelgood factor.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

2009 Flashback: Channel Idents

A quick jump back to last December - someone on YouTube has created this lovely collection of channel idents used last Christmas. I create computer animations from time to time, so have become obsessed with the design of these, from the bog-standard animations used for watch, through to the mixture of computer graphics and live action used by Sky and BBC1.

All I Want For Christmas Is... a decent BBC Christmas ident

Christmas TV comes and goes, but one of the things which stick in your memory is the BBC Christmas ident - the little animation they play whilst introducing the next programme. In the early days, these were mechanical models featuring everything from snowflakes to rotating disembodied Santa heads. In the '80s these switched to animations, and then became ever more elaborate as computer technology improved.

The BBC's been slipping when it comes to Xmas idents recently, even repeating idents from one year to the next. If they repeat the BBC2 ident this year, it will be the fourth time it's been used - sadly it's a sign of corporatism and the rise of the bean-counters rather than any huge desire to please the viewer.

Anyway... here's a collection of BBC1 Christmas idents from the '70s to 2007:

Christmas 2010 - the story so far...

I've only noticed a couple of adverts on TV so far. Glade air fresheners are usually the first on the scene, and this year is no exception. The first "biggie" is out of the gate already - Argos has launched its Christmas campaign with an advert which I hate on so many different levels:

It's a shame it's so poor - I find it unwatchable - when their adverts from a couple of years ago ("Run Run Rudolf" in particular) were ones to look forward to during ad breaks.


Christmas is approaching, and this is my favourite time of year. Not just the holiday itself, but also the run-up to the big day - I'm a sucker for the commercial side of it all, the TV programmes, the adverts, the movies and the music. When I was a kid I used to hunt down and collect every bit of Christmas paraphernalia I could get my hands on - catalogues, supplements, you name it, I collected it all up into huge thick folders.

And then I grew up and threw them all away. Bugger. They would have made a nice website in themselves.

These days I keep an eye out for Christmas news stories, plus TV adverts, and especially archives of stuff from Christmases past.

As an experiment, I'm going to put everything I see this year into this blog, whilst hopefully being witty, entertaining, and generally being a wonderful way to while away a few minutes whilst having a coffee.

We're a little late into the annual Christmas cycle - there are already a couple of Christmas adverts on TV, and Christmas in July was yonks ago, but let's dive in...

Only 65 days to go...