Morecambe & Wise top poll of nation's most memorable Christmas TV

Comedy duo more memorable than the Queen’s Speech, though younger viewers are more likely to recall watching Doctor Who and Elf

Years after they last appeared as the Christmas centrepiece on BBC One, The Morecambe & Wise Show is still the most memorable festive TV programme according to the British public. Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were the highest-rated BBC Christmas Day show in eight of the nine years between 1969 and 1977, and they have just topped a survey of Christmas TV memories.

BBC researchers asked UK viewers the programmes they “most clearly remember watching over Christmas” within their lifetime. Morecambe and Wise topped the list, with the Queen’s speech coming second. The public’s top TV memories also included The Snowman and Top of the Pops.

For younger viewers, Doctor Who has firmly become part of Christmas Day. Sixteen-to-34 year-olds said Doctor Who was the most memorable programme they’ve watched at Christmas, with movies Elf and Home Alone joining soap opera EastEnders and the Time Lord as festive favourites for the age group. This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special will see the 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi depart the role, to be regenerated into the first woman to play the part, Jodie Whittaker.

Men Behaving Badly, The Vicar of Dibley, Only Fools And Horses and One Foot In The Grave have all topped the BBC ratings on Christmas Day. In fact, a sitcom has taken the top slot for the BBC 21 times since 1952. Other popular sitcoms topping rankings include: The Royle Family, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Bread and The Last Of The Summer Wine.

The Royle Family was the most watched BBC Christmas Day show in 2009
The Royle Family was the most watched BBC Christmas Day show in 2009 Photograph: BBC

In recent year’s Mrs Brown’s Boys has taken the main prize, pulling in viewers as the top rated BBC show from 2013 to 2015.

The Two Ronnies and Ken Dodd have also scored the top-rated BBC Christmas Day programme over the years, and Only Fools And Horses was the most-watched show on nine occasions between 1990 and 2003.

Older viewers might remember the tradition of the BBC broadcasting circus performances after the Queen’s Speech. Billy Smart, British circus performer and impresario, took the BBC’s Christmas Day ratings top spot with his televised circus in 1961 and 1962, and occupied the slot following the Queen’s Speech for twenty years.

The growth firstly of home video recorders, then the increase in the number of channels and the availability of on-demand services like iPlayer and Netflix has seen Christmas viewing figures decline from the heady heights of the 1970s and 80s. Den Watts (Leslie Grantham) famously served divorce papers to on-screen wife Angie (Anita Dobson) in the back of the Queen Vic on Christmas Day 1986. That EastEnders episode was watched by 30 million people, including those who watched via the omnibus a few days later.

Billy Smart’s Circus, loading elephants into Television Centre
Billy Smart’s Circus, loading elephants into Television Centre Photograph: BBC

Last year it was Strictly Come Dancing that came out on top of the overnight viewing figures, with the considerably lower figure of 7.2 million. That made up a third of the available audience at the time. When on-demand viewing was taken into account, it was Call the Midwife that was eventually declared the winner.

Top 10 Christmas TV memories according to British public

  1. Morecambe and Wise
  2. Queen’s Speech
  3. Only Fools and Horses
  4. Doctor Who
  5. Top of the Pops
  6. The Snowman
  7. The Two Ronnies
  8. EastEnders
  9. The Royle Family
  10. Strictly Come Dancing


Martin Belam

The GuardianTramp

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