The best of Christmas radio

The audio highlights of the festive season. 


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As someone with a superhuman appetite for Christmas cheer, the first day of December marks the date when I switch over to Classic FM – when the station starts blasting wall-to-wall carols and doesn’t stop until January. Over on BBC Radio 4, the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge (24 December, 3pm) takes on new significance in a year where traditional local singalongs can’t happen, and will be performed to an empty chapel for the first time. Fortunately, this year’s setlist includes such indisputable bangers as “Sussex Carol”, “Adam Lay Ybounden” and the Darke version of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, as well as the usual favourites. For those who like their festive music a little more jazzy, there’s Don Black’s Christmas Crooners (BBC Radio 2, 25 December, 10pm); while Andrew McGibbon investigates how The Sound of Music’s My Favourite Things (BBC Radio 4, 24 December, 11.30am) became a popular classic thanks to John Coltrane’s 1961 reworking on soprano sax.

[See also: How the Brits stole history]

Another victim of the pandemic is that joyfully camp British tradition, the pantomime. Archive on 4 delves into the past with a look back at the strange world of panto (BBC Radio 4, 26 December, 8pm).

In drama, there is a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (BBC Radio 4, from 21 December, 10.45am). Pippa Nixon plays Dickens’s daughter Kate, who, in this metafictional take on the unfinished novel, narrates and attempts to resolve the central mystery. Neil Gaiman’s winter fairy tale The Sleeper and the Spindle – a refashioning of traditional stories such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White – features an all-star cast including Penelope Wilton and Gwendoline Christie, in this adaptation by Katie Hims (BBC Radio 4, 26 December, 3pm).

[See also: Inside the Brain of Jeff Bezos is a blandly positive portrait of one of the world’s most powerful and divisive figures]

If, like mine, your Christmas requires seeing Colin Firth or Hugh Grant in a cravat, you’re in luck: comedy, too, has a touch of Austenmania. There’s Austentatious (BBC Radio 4, 31 December, 6.15pm), a comic skit in the style of a “lost Austen ghost story”. And Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders reunite in a one-off special, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane Austen? (BBC Radio 4, 31 December, 11pm), which actually has nothing to do with Austen at all: it picks up the pair’s Nineties send-up of the classic Hollywood thriller. 

[See also: The Telegraph’s Bed of Lies explores crimes of the British state]

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Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 11 December 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

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