Imagine, for a moment, a Christmas TV special produced by someone who has courageously decided to break with tradition. Jeremy Paxman is in the chair and among the guests gathered for yuletide are Sir Mick Jagger, Tracey Emin, Andy Murray, Russell Brand and Lord Mandelson. A Christmas message, sent by satellite from Barbados, is contributed by Simon Cowell.
It does not quite work, does it? There is something indefinably wrong about that gathering. Interesting enough at any other time of the year, it strikes an inappropriate, anti-festive note.
Here is another refinement to the increasingly subtle concept of early 21st-century fame: the Yule factor. Some celebrities are naturally blessed with it; others, however much they long to be welcomed in the nation’s front rooms at this season of good cheer and profitable ratings, remain out in the cold.
So Sir Paul McCartney, hardly prominent throughout the year, is an obvious front cover for The Big Issue in late December. Victoria Wood and Dawn French are everywhere. It will be an unusual Christmas if Ronnie Corbett, Sir Terry Wogan, Noddy Holder, Tom Jones and Sir Ian McKellen and Penelope Keith do not appear on our screens at some point over the next few days.
On the other hand, the idea of Sir Mick Jagger bringing Christmas cheer is grotesque; it would be oddly shocking if Bob Dylan or Keith Richards appeared on a Graham Norton Christmas Special. Armando Iannucci has the yule factor, in spite of producing the brutal satire The Thick of It, but Sacha Baron Cohen does not.
As with so much in the world of fame, the way the Yule factor works is mysterious. Just as some people ease their way into celebrity without any apparent effort while others never make it in spite of their most desperate efforts, so the gift (or curse) of being Christmas-friendly seems to be largely involuntary. Certain public figures – Alan Bennett would be an obvious example – would recoil from the idea that they have a festive personality but can do nothing about it. If instead of the dreary Queen’s Speech, Bennett were to address the nation it would be a huge ratings hit. On the other hand, there are people who almost certainly long, but in vain, to be part of the nation’s Christmas. The Duchess of York, Sir Alan Sugar and Clive James are part of a long, sad queue.
Something odd is going on when certain public figures fit snugly into the entertainment schedules while others seem hopelessly out of place. Over the next few days, the comfortable, domestic part of the population will sink into a sort of nostalgic stupor. The only television which will be offered to us will be cosy, reassuring and backward-looking. It is good news for lazy-minded broadcasters, and for the old-lag wing of the celebrity compound, but the unquestioning way that every Christmas the nation fixes its collective eye on the past as a source of certainty and hope is not entirely sensible or healthy.
Perhaps the moment has arrived when the Yule factor should be reduced in the Christmas TV schedules – less Dawn French, a limit on the number of special episodes of a much-loved detective series, perhaps even an outright one-Christmas ban on Dad’s Army. There must surely be a rebellious little enclave within television which is prepared to put on innovative, perhaps even discomfiting, programmes at the one time of the year when decent ratings are almost guaranteed. Or maybe the broadcasting establishment has convinced itself that viewers are too sozzled and overfed to see that they are being offered the same old sugary yuletide pap year after year.
Noisy parakeets fall foul of the tourist trap
There is deep confusion among civil servants and quangocrats over the tricky question of what exactly constitutes an undesirable alien in the natural world.
The delightfully mad, colourful and noisy ring-necked parakeet, having made itself thoroughly at home in west London and beyond, has just been listed by Natural England as an “invasive non-native species”. Parakeets can now be shot as pests by members of the public and may well be culled in the future. It is said that they present a threat to nuthatches, kestrels, starlings, tawny owls and little owls.
Meanwhile, across London and up the A12, Natural England is pursuing the exact opposite policy. After a dubious public consultation exercise, it plans to re-introduce 20 pairs of white-tailed sea eagles to the Suffolk coast at a cost of about £600,000.
The eagles are hardly a native species – there is no proof they ever flew over East Anglia – and are certainly invasive. The threat they pose is not only to farmers’ piglets, lambs and chickens and to people’s cats and dogs, but also to rare birdlife in the area, including avocets, sandwich terns and bitterns.
What exactly is it that marks the eagles as an alien species worth introducing while the parakeets are an alien species that should be culled? The answer lies in one word. Tourists.
All Liz wants for Christmas is a film contract
The art of comic parody is alive and well. In a brilliant lampoon of the many charity appeals which appear in the press at this time of the year, the journalist Liz Jones has made an impassioned plea on behalf of the most needy – herself.
Liz will be alone this Christmas. She has tried marriage, but had merely acquired “clutter (in-laws, his friends, his mess)”. This year she has sent her three cards – to her mother, who has dementia, to the postman and the dustbin men. She has wept while shopping for herself. “This Christmas, having not received a single invitation to join them from family or friends – I suppose a single, childless, ageing, vegan woman plonked in their midst is not everyone’s cup of eggnog – I am going to attempt to live the rural ideal and spend the day feeding the animals.”
It is brilliant, hilarious stuff. Never has the self-pitying narcissism of the modern public writer been skewered so mercilessly. Could Liz be Bridget Jones’s long-lost older sister? Her work must surely soon be adapted for a sitcom.