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BILLY SUTER’S CHOICE (article first published : 2006-12-23)

Variety galore is in the package of festive entertainment from DStv's BBC Prime, which will include a unique 50-minute special titled Animal Games, set for 19h00 on Christmas Eve. This amazing programme shows the animal kingdom's athletic champions in a spectacular animal version of the Olympic Games. Bringing science and entertainment together in a televisual feast never seen before, six animal groups put their best species forward to compete against each other in human-style events, says a BBC Prime spokesman.

“It's all about the performances: while cutting-edge multi-camera shooting, action replays and photo finishes whip up the tension. Commentators explain why, for example, the flea could be disqualified from the high-jump event or, as we watch a slow-motion replay of the 100m sprint, exactly what is happening to the Tiger-Beetle's eyes".

Also tagged for Christmas Eve on BBC Prime, at 20h00 What Not To Wear When You’re a Plus One, which looks at what one should and should not wear to functions, like the office Christmas party, which you are only invited to because of your partner. How do you make sure you make the right impression? With the help of hosts Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, Ingrid Tarrant, managing director's wife Amanda and five butchers' other halves face the age-old dilemma of what to wear when the spotlight is on their partner for the evening.

Three back-to-back episodes of The Rotters’ Club will be seen on BBC Prime from 21h00 to midnight on Christmas Eve. It's described as a poignant coming-of-age comedy-drama set amidst the trivia and tragedy of 1970s Britain, adapted from the Jonathan Coe novel. Young Birmingham schoolboy Benjamin Trotter is an aspiring musician who lusts after the impossibly gorgeous Cicely Boyd and conceals his nascent Christianity (God helped him find his swimming trunks) from the world. The lives of Benjamin and his three best friends through school - anarchic jokester Sean Harding, class warrior Doug Anderton and prog-rock lover Philip Chase - mirror the barely more ordered world of their parents.

Informing and enriching every aspect of the story is a real sense of the era: the power of the unions, the growing threat of the IRA, the upsurge of the British far right and the slow erosion of idealism and socialism. The cast includes Sarah Lancashire, Rebecca Front , Mark Williams and Hugo Spear.

A must this month on BBC Prime is a 15-episode adaptation of Charles Dickens's Bleak House, to be seen every Monday to Friday at 19h30pm from December 25. The fine cast includes Gillian Anderson (The X Files), Richard Griffiths (Withnail and I), Denis Lawson (Holby City) and Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine), to name but a few.

Acclaimed writer Andrew Davies turns his talents to one of Dickens's most brilliant novels - arguably the greatest ever depiction of Victorian London. Fresh and imaginative, yet faithful to the original, this pacy adaptation is shot with a contemporary edge. At its heart is the story of the icily beautiful Lady Dedlock, who nurses a dark secret, and the merciless lawyer Tulkinghorn, who seeks to uncover it.

The generous John Jarndyce, struggling with his own past, and his two young wards Richard and Ada, are all caught up, like Lady Dedlock, in the infamous case of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce, which will make one of them rich beyond imagination if it can ever be brought to a conclusion. As Tulkinghorn digs deeper into Lady Dedlock's past, he unearths a secret that will change their lives forever - and which is almost as astounding as the final outcome of the Jarndyce case.

Stick with BBC Prime on Christmas Day, at 22h00 for a Christmas special episode of The Kumars at No 42. Sanjeev Kumar (Sanjeev Bhaskar) is a TV chat show host whose shows are filmed in the house he shares with his family. And so, the guests who appear on Sanjeev's show have to endure a pre-programme grilling from his father Ashwin, mother Madhuri and eccentric grandmother Sushila. In this seasonal edition of the chat show, guests include Trinny Woodall, Susannah Constantine, former Idols favourite Darius Danesh and former Take That member Mark Owen.

Also not to be missed is the French and Saunders 2005 Christmas Special scheduled for 22h30 on Christmas Day. Outrageous comediennes Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders offer a host of hilarious send-ups and sketches, including taking the mickey out of the hit movies Vera Drake, Chicago and The Graduate. In the ultimate makeover, extensive plastic surgery turns the women into warring former in-laws Jackie Stallone and Bridget Nielsen, while Little Angels Dr Tanya Byron helps them learn to be nicer to their guests. Also heart-throb musician Rufus Wainwright finds he has two enthusiastic backing singers who won't take no for an answer.

A My Family Christmas Special also sounds like great fun. Tagged for 20h00 on December 26, it sees Susan promising Ben that Christmas will be better this year – if only Janey wasn’t pregnant. Meanwhile, Ben comes downstairs the next morning to discover Nick has not only filled the room with Christmas trees but has also brought an extra surprise to the family home for the festive season - Mr Bradley from the old persons' home.

A special holiday episode of Kiss Me Kate is set for 20h30 on December 26, in which an unexpected turn of events lie in store for Kate when she agrees to do her bit for charity.

And then there's a December 26 must-see, at 21h30 on BBC Prime - Little Britain: The Making of Little Britain Too. This is a behind-scenes documentary on the making of the second series of the hit comedy series, Little Britain. Comics Matt Lucas and David Williams provide a glimpse into the creation of their grotesque characters. We meet Emily, an unconvincing transvestite who runs a guesthouse by the sea; Jason, who is passionately in love with his best friend's grandmother; and Daffyd, the only gay man in his village; to name just a few of the quirky characters that feature in this essential dissection of British life. – Billy Suter




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