TV & radio: what to tune in to over Christmas (23 December 2017 - 5 January 2018)

Can't decide which shows to watch or listen to over the next two weeks? Here are 20 programmes you won't want to miss...

David Olusoga presents A House Through Time. (Image Credit: BBC/Twenty Twenty pr
David Olusoga presents A House Through Time. (Image Credit: BBC/Twenty Twenty productions Ltd)
 
 
Archive On 4: Lenny Henry On Richard Pryor: The Making Of A Satirist
Radio 4
Saturday 23 December, 8.00pm
Growing up in 1970s Dudley, Lenny Henry found a comedy hero in Richard Pryor. Henry’s profile focuses not on Pryor’s later Hollywood career, but on 1971 and a time of political ferment in Berkeley, California – crucial, Henry argues, to understanding Pryor’s development as an artist.
 
 
 
Simon Callow’s Dickensian Christmas 
Radio 3
Christmas Day, 5.00pm
Actor Simon Callow, long associated with the work of Charles Dickens, celebrates the great man’s Christmas writings. Also featuring Victorian carols sung by the BBC Singers. Followed by Illuminating The Stage (6.45pm), in which Fiona Shaw explores the history of theatrical lighting.
 
 
 
Call The Midwife 
BBC One 
Christmas Day, 7.40pm
And so to Poplar and a snowy Boxing Day. Lovely, except this is the beginning of the so-called Big Freeze of 1962–63, making it tricky just to get around for the baby wranglers of Nonnatus House. Expect the usual heartwarming moments, but some social history grit too.
 
 
 

Upstart Crow: A Christmas Crow. (Image Credit: BBC/Colin Hutton)
 
Upstart Crow: A Christmas Crow 
BBC Two 
Christmas Day, 8.25pm
A festive edition of Ben Elton’s comedy finds Will Shakespeare (David Mitchell) wondering whether his new play, Eighth Night, needs a little work. Emma Thompson guests as Queen Elizabeth I. There’s more comedy in Tim Vine’s Travels Through Time (BBC One, Friday 29th December, 7.30pm), where the comedian heads back to Tudor England at the behest of Emma Bunton.
 
 
 
Victoria 
ITV
Christmas Day, 9.00pm
The festive season approaches at Buckingham Palace. But while Albert (Tom Hughes) is a bundle of energy who wants to recreate the spirit of the Christmases he enjoyed as a child, a pregnant Victoria (Jenna Coleman) is pensive and melancholy. A feature-length special. 
 
 
 
Black Music In Europe: A Hidden History
Radio 4
Boxing Day, 9.00am
The illuminating series charting story of black music in Europe during the pre-Empire Windrush era continues with Clarke Peters looking at the years 1910–20, when African-American banjo bands entertained the great and the good in London. The series concludes on Tuesday 9 January. 
 
 
 
Tales From The Stave 
Radio 4
Boxing Day, 11.30am
The show focusing on original musical manuscripts returns for three new episodes. First up, Frances Fyfield looks at the score of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, commissioned for a Birmingham Music Festival performance in 1846. On Tuesday 2 January (11.30am), Fyfield turns her attention to the vast orchestral manuscript of Puccini’s opera Turandot. 
 
 
 
Little Women 
BBC One 
Boxing Day, 8.00pm
From Call The Midwife creator Heidi Thomas, here’s a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel set during the American civil war, and telling the story of the four March sisters, Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy. Starring Emily Watson. Continues and concludes over the next two evenings. 
 
 

Little Women. (Image Credit: BBC/Playground/Patrick Redmond)
 
 
The Miniaturist 
BBC One
Boxing Day, 9.00pm
An adaptation of Jessie Brandt’s acclaimed novel takes us back to the Amsterdam of 1686. Here, 18-year-old Nella Oorman is soon to begin a new life as the wife of a wealthy merchant, and her wedding present is a rather spooky doll’s house replica of the couple’s own home. Concludes on Wednesday 27 December.
 
 
 
Elvis: The Rebirth Of The King 
BBC Four 
Friday 29 December, 10.00pm
The ageing Elvis Presley who performed in Las Vegas is usually thought of as a drug-addled, hamburger-chomping entertainer on the slide. Yet initially at least, argues this documentary, The King gave some of the best performances of his career as he returned to the stage after an eight-year hiatus. 
 
 
 
Grand Tours Of Scotland’s Lochs 
BBC Two 
Saturday 30 December, 8.30pm
Paul Merton’s latest northern journey has a watery theme as he explores Scotland’s lochs, beginning in the west of Scotland. While there’s much on the spectacular scenery, Merton also offers plenty of historical insights as he explores the wilds of Loch Etive.
 
 
 
Shardlake: Heartstone 
Radio 4
New Year’s Day, 10.45am & 7.45pm
In the latest dramatisation of the historical crime novels of CJ Sansom, we find lawyer-detective Shardlake (Justin Salinger) and his trusty assistant Jack Barack (Bryan Dick) in Portsmouth in 1545. Across the Channel, the French fleet is readying an attack.
 
 
 
Conflict And Co-operation: A History Of Trade 
Radio 4
New Year’s Day, 1.45pm
Over 10 weekday episodes, economist Paul Seabright considers the story of trade down the centuries. He begins in Toulouse, where a bored Adam Smith began to write The Wealth Of Nations, and which had a key role in the outbreak of the First World War. 
 
 
 
Great British Railway Journeys 
BBC Two
Tuesday 2 January, 6.30pm
Michael Portillo once again rides the rails. This time around, there’s an Edwardian theme to his travels. For the first of 15 weekday episodes, Portillo is in Norfolk, where he visits a country estate where Edward VII spent time with his mistress.
 
 
 
Hunting Down The Nazis 
Yesterday
Wednesday 3 January, 8.00pm
The work of tracking down Nazi war criminals continued for long years after the end of the Second World War. This two-part documentary considers the investigative work of concentration camp survivor Simon Wiesenthal, and the husband-and-wife team of Serge and Beate Klarsfeld.
 
 
 
A Stitch in Time. (Image Credit: BBC/Matchlight Production/BBC)
 
A Stitch In Time 
BBC Four 
Wednesday 3 January, 8.30pm
Fashion historian Amber Butchart explores the lives of historical figures via the clothes they wore, clothes we see recreated by costumier Ninya Mikhaila and her team of tailors. A six-part series begins with Charles II and the invention of the three-piece suit.
 
 
 
Free Thinking 
Radio 3
Wednesday 3 January, 10.00pm
In 1768, in a field behind London’s Waterloo, Philip Astley and his riders performed in the round rather than keeping the audience back behind a single line as you might in a theatre. Thus, as Matthew Sweet and guests relate, was the idea of the circus ring born, 250 years ago.
 
 
 
Wartime Crime 
Yesterday
Thursday 4 January, 8.00pm
A new series on ne’er-do-wells who were active in the years 1939-45 begins with the story of Billy Hill. With the Italians who had previously run Soho drinking dens and protection rackets interned, Hill, a clever and violent London gangster, saw the Blitz as an opportunity.
 
 

Pick of the fortnight

A House Through Time 
BBC Two 
Thursday 4 January, 9.00pm
In a kind of bricks-and-mortar take on Who Do You Think You Are?, David Olusoga charts the history of a single Liverpool house via its inhabitants. The opening episode begins in the 1840s, and encompasses a profligate son, social climbing and the role of the cotton trade in perpetuating slavery. Terrific.
 
 
 
Rome Unpacked: La Dolce Vita 
BBC Two
Friday 5 January, 9.00pm
Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon jump on mopeds to explore Rome. While Locatelli does the cooking, Graham-Dixon does the culture. In the first of two episodes, that means viewing Caravaggio paintings the art critic regards as some of the master’s most moving works.
 
 
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