Christmas Toilet Reading: ‘Radio Times’

Land of Dope and Tories will review a publication from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This month: Christmas Radio Times

Tagline: ‘It’s the legendary double issue!’

Price: £3.60

Who is this magazine for? Christmas, isn’t it? Bloody Christmas. And Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the telly. So this magazine is pretty much for everyone. Unless you’re using Netflix, obviously. Or watching YouTube clips of drunk babies. Or illegally streaming The Interview. Or settling down to the best of r/twerking.

The humble telly is looking pretty fragile right now, teetering on the cliff-face of obsolescence. So thank the Lord for Christmas, where across the country millions of gatherings will be punctuated by irate cries of ‘Stop looking at that bloody screen! This is family time! Watch the telly.’

Of course, in the good old days when a Jimmy Saville Christmas special would mean an episode of Jim’ll Fix It rather than Panorama, telly was a different beast. There were four channels. The screen itself wasn’t sufficiently large and richly defined to perceive each individual skin pore on Cilla Black’s face. And as a consequence, the bumper Radio Times had heft, to be sure, but was a reasonable 80 or so pages, half listings, half plugs from the stars of the BBC and ITV nativity stable.

This year’s edition is not like that.

What did you get for your £3.60? The bumper Radio Times sets out its stall right on the cover. 292 pages. It weighs about as much as a bath towel, is nearly as absorbent and of roughly the same level of interest.

A lot of the world’s greatest literature comes in at comfortably fewer than 200 pages. Of Mice and Men. The Old Man and the Sea. A Room of One’s Own. Even A Christmas Carol, and Dickens usually writes as if he was paid by the word. Yet the Radio Times sails past them, in what must be seen in magazine circles as the Iron Man of copywriting.

The basic formula hasn’t changed – but the world has. The listings section has ballooned to Gilgamesh proportions. To some extent, you can’t blame the mag for this. After all, there are hundreds of channels out there now. But there has to be questions asked about an editorial policy that grants three full pages to local radio listings over the festive period. If someone can prove to me that – somewhere, anywhere in the world – there are more than zero fucks given about knowing that Helen Blaby will be occupying the tricky lunchtime slot on Radio Northampton on Tuesday 23rd December, I will eat this magazine. And Helen Blaby is welcome to participate in this bet.

As well as the listings, there’s also what I hesitate to describe as ‘filler’ – features on the new and exciting / patently retreaded Christmas specials you will be forced to watch instead of pwning noobs on Borderlands 2. There’s also a quiz or two, a puzzles page with a suspiciously strong tie-in to BBC quiz shows,

Features: To give the Radio Times some credit, they pull in some big hitters, albeit brought together in a pleasingly ragbag way. I’ve read a lot of good things about the present Archbishop of Canterbury, so have no complaints about his present this year – having the pleasure of being sandwiched between Judi Dench and Miranda Hart. Charlie Brooker appears in what must be his most disappointing interview ever; he’s wearing a Blue Peter badge, spouting anodyne niceties and is photographed looking like a startled art dealer about to be given a parking ticket.

The best feature is the first one, with a load of celebrities explaining what they’d like for Christmas. Full of insight this, mostly because it finally brought home to me who’s buying all that rubbish that perplexingly appears in the shops. Linda Robson – you know, the thinner, boring one from Birds of a Feather – wants ‘silver jewellery, so a necklace of bracelet engraved “To Nanny” or “To Mummy”.’ High fives all round at Argos. Richard Osman apparently wants the McBusted album, because he’s a card, so he is. And Greg Davies – yeah, I’ve got no idea – would ‘like a juicer because I’m sensationally fat.’ Fair play  to Greg; I wouldn’t say he was sensational, but if he pops a couple of beef joints in the juicer he should have high hopes for 2015.

AdvertsRadio Times advert space must be available at premium prices – you’ve got stupid people in a catatonic state thumbing through this for a fortnight, surrounded by tat they don’t want. No-one could be more ready to buy.

As you’d expect, the supermarkets are out in force. Tesco plays it safe with a turkey, Lidl pushes the boat out with pate, while Morrison’s goes big with four pages including one on sprouts, presumably on the grounds that they quickly ran out of nice things to take pictures of.

It’s generally very conventional, middle of the road and family friendly. The mag does know how to please the core fan base though, with a strong finishing straight of classifieds covering stairlifts, walk-in baths and those really uncomfortable looking chairs. The kind with wooden arms and a floral pattern where a good stain tends to improve them.

Letters page: No letters page!

The plebs probably get pushed out at Christmas to make more space for David Walliams, who is keen to remind you that he is still not dead.

Rating: 10/10

Well. It’s Christmas, isn’t it?

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