From Morecambe and Wise’s run of 70s must-watch specials to The Office and Gavin and Stacey, the Christmas schedules have delighted with some wonderful TV moments over the years.
With 2022s festivities almost upon us, read your rundown of some of the best Christmas comedy specials of all time.
1. Morecambe and Wise (1971)
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise’s Christmas Day shows for the BBC were a staple of festive family television. They held the highest-rated show for eight of the nine years between 1969 and 1977, but it was in 1971 when everything truly came together.
In a reworking of a sketch from their mid-60s ITV sketch show Two of a Kind, world-renowned conductor André Previn stepped into the Ernie Wise role.
Conducting soloist Eric Morecambe through Greig’s Piano Concerto is a tough gig but Previn fits in perfectly. Morecambe might be playing all the right notes, “but not necessarily in the right order”.
Elsewhere, the duo dress at Christmas turkeys, Dame Shirley Bassey performs ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, and Glenda Jackson returns after a triumphant performance as Cleopatra earlier in the series.
2. Porridge (1976)
Porridge starred the incredible Ronnie Barker as Norman Stanley Fletcher, an inmate of the fictional Slade Prison. Running for 20 episodes over three series between 1974 and 1977, the series also aired two Christmas specials in 1975 and 1976.
The second special from 1976 remains an all-time classic.
Fletcher and his cellmate Godber (Richard Beckinsale) have been brewing their own wine, hoping to bring some Christmas spirit to this year’s prison festivities.
As usual with this odd couple, things don’t go to plan. When Mr Barrowclough (Brian Wilde) uncovers their plans, the pair – alongside Barrowclough and Mrs Jamieson, the governor’s secretary – find themselves in a dangerous hostage situation.
Implicated in the hold-up, it is up to Fletcher to save the day. And get himself and Godber off the hook for their illicit wine brewing!
3. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (1978)
After just three series, 1978’s Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em Christmas special marked the show’s final episode.
The accident-prone Frank Spencer went out with a bang, with an audience of around 19 million.
When Frank’s granddad comes to visit from Australia, Frank is given flying lessons. Things quickly descend into chaos when Frank accidentally knocks out the pilot, forcing him to fly solo.
Christopher Biggins co-stars as a learner pilot.
4. Only Fools and Horses (1996)
Beginning in 1981, Only Fools and Horses remained on air for an incredible two decades. During that time it featured some classic comedy moments.
While 1989’s ‘Jolly Boy’s Outing’ – featuring the classic beano to Margate – ranks highly on the list of best Christmas specials, it is 1996’s ‘Heroes and Villains’ that makes our list.
The 13th of 16 specials released over the series’ run, the episode screened on Christmas Day as the first of a festive trilogy, which continued with ‘Modern Men’ and concluded with ‘Time on Our Hands’.
From Rodney’s “Rooney” identity bracelet to Trigger’s broom and the iconic run through Peckham’s mean streets dressed as Batman and Robin, this episode has it all.
5. The Royle Family (1999)
‘The Royle Family at Christmas’ originally aired on Christmas Day 1999. With Denise (Caroline Ahearne) heavily pregnant, the Royles sit down for some post-Christmas dinner TV.
With its customary understatement, the family discuss Noel Edmunds, why it wouldn’t be Christmas without a turkey, and the downsides of widescreen televisions.
When Denise heads upstairs, her waters break. While Barbara phones the hospital, Jim heads upstairs to comfort Denise in a tear-jerking moment of father-daughter bonding.
6. The Office (2003)
Over just 14 episodes, Ricky Gervais’s comic creation became a cultural phenomenon, influencing the shape of British comedy and making huge stars of its lead actors.
The show’s 2003 Christmas special was a two-part episode, which brought viewers’ time at Wernham Hogg to an unexpectedly emotional conclusion.
A few years after the BBC crew left Slough, they return to the office to find Gareth is now general manager. Tim and Dawn still work together, while David – having squandered his redundancy payout on a failed attempt at a music career – pops in regularly as a “morale boost”.
As episode two draws to a close, the audience is treated to some payoffs of their own.
From Finchy finally getting his comeuppance to the first suggestions of romance for David, and of course, Tim and Dawn’s kiss, the Christmas specials continue to reward rewatching nearly 20 years later.
7. Gavin and Stacey (2019)
The show’s 2008 special was an instant classic but the 11-year wait for a follow-up was more than worth it.
The Shipmans and the Wests head to Wales for Christmas this time round, where Bryn is panicking about cooking lunch for 13.
While Stacey worries that her relationship with Gavin has lost some of its spark since they had their three children, Smithy is splitting his time between Essex and Barry Island to be a father to his son Neil.
After a decade away, reuniting with the show’s familiar faces is great fun. And then, of course, there’s that Christmas cliffhanger.