Winter tales

Written on 15 Dec, 2022

The popular story is the modern image of Christmas came from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and it’s certainly a struggle to imagine a world where every festive season isn’t full of versions of the story cluttering up the TV schedules (though the current trend for Christmas romance movies threatens to overtake it).

There are many ways to tell the Ebenezer Scrooge’s story, from traditional, to modern, to pastiche, to Muppet. And whilst I like some of them, there are two versions which stand on the shoulders of all others.

The first is a childhood memory. On Christmas Eve, the hour would be late, long past my bedtime, but I secretly stayed away. Lying in bed watching my black and white portable TV, with the sound down as low as it could go and still be heard. We only had three channels back then, and as the witching hour approached ITV would fill the time with Scrooge — staring Alistair Sims.

Sims is often quoted as the definitive Ebenezer, full of biting bile, and harshness, as only a true Scot can portray (I joke). Certainly he’s my favourite, but the reason I watch this Scrooge every year is to take me back to that child hiding under the covers till it was impossible to put off sleeping any longer.

The other version takes a different approach. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol inverts not only Dickens’ story but also the set-up for Blackadder as a whole.

For anyone unaware of the sitcom, Edmund Blackadder is a cruel piece of work but here he starts out as Ebenezer Blackadder, the kindest man in all of England. A visit from from a spirit shows Ebenezer how bad his ancestors were (a handy way of revisiting old series) and how, if he now chooses a life of nastiness, he will end up the ruler of the universe.

The story concludes with Blackadder being nasty to all the people he was overly-nice to at the start — and getting a special comeuppance because of it.

A Christmas Carol isn’t funny (‘more of gravy than the grave’ is rightly mocked in the Muppet version). Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is joke, after joke, after joke. Full of humour that appealed to the teenage me, and the adult me.

I watch both Christmas Carols every year. My only complaint is modern edits of the Blackadder version cut out one of my favourite jokes.