2020 Christmas TV guide: The best shows on UK telly

Ben Arnold and Amy Johnson
·11 min read
Bake Off, The Masked Singer, Doctor Who, and Zog will be hitting your TV this Christmas. (BBC/ITV/C4)
Bake Off, The Masked Singer, Doctor Who, and Zog will be hitting your TV this Christmas. (BBC/ITV/C4)

We need the warming comfort of Christmas TV this year more than ever. And with the return of new family favourites like Ghosts and Worzel Gummidge (as well as festive standards like the Bake Off), plus some sturdy new drama for the grown-ups, your telly has got this.

Here are this year’s small screen highlights...

Read more: 2020 Christmas soaps guide

Monday, 21 December

Upstart Crow: Lockdown Christmas 1603

9pm, BBC Two

Upstart Crow: Lockdown Christmas 1603 - Kate (GEMMA WHELAN), Will Shakespeare (DAVID MITCHELL) - (BBC - Photographer: Gary Moyes)
Upstart Crow: Lockdown Christmas 1603 - Kate (GEMMA WHELAN), Will Shakespeare (DAVID MITCHELL) - (BBC - Photographer: Gary Moyes)

In a wonderfully droll twist on the much-loved Shakespearean sitcom, the plague arrives in London, so naturally David Mitchell's Will seizes upon the consequent lockdown to write a play for the king. With only Gemma Whelan's Kate in his bubble, and the four walls bearing down, inspiration proves hard to come by.

Tuesday, 22 December

The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity

7pm, BBC One

The Goes Wrong Show - Christmas 2020 (Mischief Screen Limited - Photographer: Gary Moyes)
The Goes Wrong Show - Christmas 2020 (Mischief Screen Limited - Photographer: Gary Moyes)

Now something of a festive family staple, the truly dreadful Cornley Drama Society takes on the most famous story of all. Things come to a head inside a donkey, and the baby Jesus is eaten by a sheep. Obviously.

Wednesday, 23 December

Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Christmas Fishing

6.30pm (repeat), BBC Two

Oon the River Esk. Paul Whitehouse, Bob Mortimer - (Owl Power - Photographer: Owl Power)
Oon the River Esk. Paul Whitehouse, Bob Mortimer - (Owl Power - Photographer: Owl Power)

More wit, wisdom and grayling, as Mssrs Mortimer and Whitehouse take to the Esk and the Tees, near Bob's hometown of Middlesborough. Another son of the north east, Chris Rea, joins them, physically driving them home for Christmas.

Read more: The most popular TV shows of 2020

Ghosts Christmas Special

8.30pm, BBC One

The Ghost of Christmas - (Monumental Television - Photographer: Guido Mandozzi)
The Ghost of Christmas - (Monumental Television - Photographer: Guido Mandozzi)

The first two series of Ghosts became a word-of-mouth hit during lockdown, with the cast and writers of Horrible Histories delivering heart, soul and jokes for the grown ups aplenty over two glorious series. The Christmas special finds Alison and Mike welcoming Mike's family for Christmas, while deceased MP Julian is given the Scrooge treatment.

Motherland Christmas Special

9pm, BBC Two

Amanda (LUCY PUNCH), Anne (PHILIPPA DUNNE), Meg (Tanya Moodie), Julia (ANNA MAXWELL-MARTIN), Liz (DIANE MORGAN), Kevin (Paul Ready) - (Merman - Photographer: Scott Kershaw)
Amanda (LUCY PUNCH), Anne (PHILIPPA DUNNE), Meg (Tanya Moodie), Julia (ANNA MAXWELL-MARTIN), Liz (DIANE MORGAN), Kevin (Paul Ready) - (Merman - Photographer: Scott Kershaw)

One of the best sitcoms to emerge from the BBC in recent years, it finds Anna Maxwell Martin's Julia in no mood for festivities. Unless it's Amanda's drinks soiree, which she decides to crash with Kevin (Paul Ready) and Liz (Diane Morgan). It will not end well.

Watch: Vicar Of Dibley fans in tears watching this emotional tribute to Emma Chambers and Alice Tinker

Christmas Eve, Thursday, 24 December

Worzel Gummidge: Saucy Nancy

5.55pm, BBC One

Susan (INDIA BROWN), Worzel Gummidge (MACKENZIE CROOK), John (THIERRY WICKENS) - (Leopard Pictures - Photographer: Amanda Searle)
Susan (INDIA BROWN), Worzel Gummidge (MACKENZIE CROOK), John (THIERRY WICKENS) - (Leopard Pictures - Photographer: Amanda Searle)

One of the unexpected delights of last year's festive TV, Mackenzie Crook returns as the Scarecrow of Scatterbrook. In this new episode, Worzel, Susan and John encounter Saucy Nancy, a carved ship's figurehead who yearns to return to the sea. The first two specials will be repeated on BBC One on 1 December at 3.50pm, and 22 December at 3.40pm too. They were truly perfect.

The Great Christmas Bake Off

7.40pm, Channel 4

Paul, Prue and Tom in the Bake Off Christmas Special (C4)
Paul, Prue and Tom in the Bake Off Christmas Special (C4)

Nothing more cockle-warming than festive baking, as four previous contestants – Jamie and Rosie from 2019, Ruby from 2018 and James from 2017 – return to the tent, with Matt Lucas joined on presenting duties by Bake Off: The Professionals host Tom Allen. And Prue and Paul, naturally.

Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse

8.15pm, Sky One

A new Sky original -  Roald & Beatrix, the tail of the curious mouse, a heart-warming Christmas film inspired by the true encounter between a six-year-old Roald Dahl and his idol Beatrix Potter.  (Sky)
A new Sky original - Roald & Beatrix, the tail of the curious mouse, a heart-warming Christmas film inspired by the true encounter between a six-year-old Roald Dahl and his idol Beatrix Potter. (Sky)

Two of the greatest children's writers of all time, Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter, met when Dahl was just six-years-old. This star-studded feature-length drama (with Dawn French as Potter, alongside Jessica Hynes, Rob Brydon, Alison Steadman, Nina Sosanya, Bill Bailey and Nick Mohammed) imagines what happened.

Christmas Day, Friday, 25 December

Zog and the Flying Doctors

2.35pm, BBC One

Zog and the Flying Doctors - Lion (LUCIAN MSAMATI), Gadabout (DANIEL INGS) - (Magic Light Pictures/BBC)
Zog and the Flying Doctors - Lion (LUCIAN MSAMATI), Gadabout (DANIEL INGS) - (Magic Light Pictures/BBC)

Now a staple of Christmas Day, this year's offering from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is an expanded version of Zog, with Princess Pearl, Prince Gadabout and the kindly dragon now working as 'flying doctors'. Lenny Henry, Rob Brydon, Patsy Ferran and Alexandra Roach head up a dependably solid voice cast.

Quentin Blake's Clown

7.40pm, Channel 4

Quentin Blake's The Clown (C4)
Quentin Blake's The Clown (C4)

A sumptuous animated adaptation of Quentin Blake's book Clown, the story of a toy clown who is thrown away, and sets about finding himself a new home and some new friends. Helena Bonham Carter narrates.

Call the Midwife

7.40pm, BBC One

Call The Midwife - Nurse Trixie (HELEN GEORGE) - (Nealstreet Productions - Photographer: Nicky Johnston)
Call The Midwife - Nurse Trixie (HELEN GEORGE) - (Nealstreet Productions - Photographer: Nicky Johnston)

The nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House are returning to give us some much-needed festive warmth in the Call the Midwife special, which has become an annual standard. Sister Monica Joan will find herself being rushed to hospital in the episode, while Shelagh Turner gets involved in a moving birth that comes with a surprise reunion.

Victoria Wood: My Secret List

9.10pm, BBC Two

English actress, comedienne and writer Victoria Wood, London, November 2003. (Photo by Donald Maclellan/Getty Images)
English actress, comedienne and writer Victoria Wood, London, November 2003. (Photo by Donald Maclellan/Getty Images)

A list of her favourite career moments were found in one of the late Victoria Wood's notebooks, following her tragic death in 2016. With contributions from her friends, sketches and clips from her dazzling career – those she personally held the most dear – and clips from her own personal archives are brought together here over two hour-long instalments.

Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special

10.05pm, BBC One

Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas and New Year Special 2020 - (BBC Studios - Photographer: Alan Peebles)
Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas and New Year Special 2020 - (BBC Studios - Photographer: Alan Peebles)

Brendan O'Carroll returns as Agnes Brown for more Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas specials. The first of two festive instalments will see the Irish matriarch contend with a new tree, new jobs for Buster and Dermot - and to top it all off there's a flasher loose in Finglas.

Boxing Day, Saturday, 26 December

The Repair Shop at Christmas

6.45pm, BBC One

The Repair Shop at Christmas - Will Kirk, Mark Stuckey, Dominic Chinea, Kirsten Ramsay, Jay Blades, Suzie Fletcher, Amanda Middleditch, Steve Fletcher, Julie Tatchell - (Ricochet Ltd)
The Repair Shop at Christmas - Will Kirk, Mark Stuckey, Dominic Chinea, Kirsten Ramsay, Jay Blades, Suzie Fletcher, Amanda Middleditch, Steve Fletcher, Julie Tatchell - (Ricochet Ltd)

The inimitable Jay Blades and his team of fixers bring some heart string-tugging yuletide joy, repairing items of huge personal value to a vicar and his wife, and 80-year-old Christopher, who has a toy truck that needs attention, made by a team of World War Two engineers, one of whom was his father. Boxing Day perfection.

The Masked Singer

7pm, ITV

The Masked Singer: SR2 on ITV Pictured: Alien, Robin, Badger, Swan, Dragon and Sausage [all appearing in Ep1]. (ITV Plc)
The Masked Singer: SR2 on ITV Pictured: Alien, Robin, Badger, Swan, Dragon and Sausage [all appearing in Ep1]. (ITV Plc)

The second series kicks off in festive style with Davina McCall, Rita Ora and Jonathan Ross back on the panel, alongside newcomer Mo Gilligan. There will be 12 new celebs boasting an all-new character line-up too, including a badger, a viking and a bush baby.

The Great British Sewing Bee Celebrity Christmas Special

7.45pm, BBC One

Patrick Grant, Joe Lycett, Esme Young - (Love Productions - Photographer: Mark Bourdillon)
Patrick Grant, Joe Lycett, Esme Young - (Love Productions - Photographer: Mark Bourdillon)

The first of two festive specials, Dr. Ranj Singh, Strictly head judge Shirley Ballas, comedian Sara Pascoe and presenter Denise Van Outen come together for three challenges, the final task being to tailor a dress perfectly for Christmas Day. But which celeb has missed their calling?

Sunday, December 27

Black Narcissus

9pm, BBC One

Black Narcissus - Picture Shows:  Sister Clodagh (GEMMA ARTERTON) - (FX Productions - Photographer: Pari Dukovic)
Black Narcissus - Picture Shows: Sister Clodagh (GEMMA ARTERTON) - (FX Productions - Photographer: Pari Dukovic)

This Christmas's prestige drama from the BBC is an adaptation of the novel by Rumer Godden, made famous by the Powell and Pressburger movie from 1947. An understatedly dazzling cast includes Gemma Arterton, Alessandro Nivola, Gina McKee, Aisling Franciosi, Jim Broadbent, Rosie Cavaliero and the late Dame Diana Rigg in her final role.

Monday, December 28

Stephen Fry's 21st Century Firsts

8.30pm, ITV

As this century approaches its 21st birthday, Stephen Fry takes viewers through his pick of the fascinating and ground-breaking things that have happened for the first time, since the year 2000. (Spungold)
As this century approaches its 21st birthday, Stephen Fry takes viewers through his pick of the fascinating and ground-breaking things that have happened for the first time, since the year 2000. (Spungold)

Stephen Fry explores the phenomenons of this century in this one-off documentary as it approaches its 21st birthday. The actor and presenter delves into the rapid evolution of technology that's taken place and explores the backstories of the likes of Airbnb and Tinder.

Billy Connolly: It's Been A Pleasure

9.30pm, ITV

Billy Connolly: It's Been A Pleasure on ITV Pictured: Billy Connolly at his home in the Florida Keys. (Scarlett Stephenson-Connolly)
Billy Connolly: It's Been A Pleasure on ITV Pictured: Billy Connolly at his home in the Florida Keys. (Scarlett Stephenson-Connolly)

As Billy Connolly's stepped down from stand-up, this special celebrates the Big Yin's long and impressive career. The comedian reflects on his greatest moments while we also hear from famous fans including Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Whoopi Goldberg.

Tuesday, December 29

Celebrity: A 21st Century Story

9pm, BBC Two

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 2000: Craig Phillips, winner of the first edition of the reality television series Big Brother UK, is leaving Big Brother House, London, in July 2000. The show, first developed in the Netherlands, was shown on Channel 4. With up to 10 million viewers tuning in for the show it became an instant success. (Photo by Dario Mitidieri/Getty Images)
Craig Phillips, winner of the first edition of the reality television series Big Brother UK, is leaving Big Brother House, London, in July 2000. (Dario Mitidieri/Getty Images)

The first of a four-part series on the history on the rise of celebrity in the 21st century focuses on the early naughties, when talent show TV was kicking off and Big Brother was born. The complex nature of fame is explored in the programme which includes interviews with stars thimbles and the people pulling the strings.

Wednesday, December 30

The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne

10pm, BBC Two

Ozzy Osbourne poses after performing during the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, November 9, 2014.       REUTERS/Russell Cheyne (BRITAIN  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Ozzy Osbourne poses after performing during the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, November 9, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

One of rock 'n' roll's greatest icons has his rise to fame and - many - brushes with death charted in this documentary. Ozzy Osbourne himself reflects on his eventful life and career, including his transformation from rocker into reality star.

New Year’s Eve, Thursday 31 December

The Hit List Celebrity Special

5.50pm, BBC One

Rochelle Wiseman and Marvin Humes pose for photographers in the winners room at the British Academy Television Awards at a central London venue, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)
Rochelle Wiseman and Marvin Humes pose for photographers in the winners room at the British Academy Television Awards at a central London venue, Sunday, May 18, 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)

The Rochelle and Marvin Humes fronted gameshow is back for another celebrity special. The famous faces testing their music knowledge include singer Fleur East and sister Keshia, Paralympians Hannah Cockroft and Nathan Maguire along with Martin and Roman Kemp.

The Big New Year’s In

9pm, BBC One

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16:  Paddy McGuinness attends the ITV Palooza! held at The Royal Festival Hall on October 16, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Jeff Spicer/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16: Paddy McGuinness attends the ITV Palooza! held at The Royal Festival Hall on October 16, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/WireImage)

Paddy McGuinness is on hand to get the night going in a one-hour entertainment party special. The presenter is joined by a number of stars for music, games and surprises as we bid farewell to a chaotic year.

Jools' Annual Hootenanny

11.15pm, BBC Two

Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny, London, Britain - Dec 2000, Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny - London Britain (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny, London, Britain - Dec 2000, Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny - London Britain (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

It wouldn't be New Year's Eve without Jools Holland's Hootenanny. The musician and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra reunite for another music spectacular featuring guests Celeste, Sir Tom Jones, Michael Kiwanuka, Roisin Murphy, Rag'n'Bone Man, Rick Wakeman, Ruby Turner, and the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards.

New Year's Day, Friday 1 January

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks

6.45pm, BBC One

Doctor Who Special 2020 - Revolution Of The Daleks (BBC - Photographer: James Pardon)
Doctor Who Special 2020 - Revolution Of The Daleks (BBC - Photographer: James Pardon)

Jodie Whittaker's Doctor returns for the annual festive sci-fi adventure, this year pitting her against her nemeses. Details are thin on the ground, but John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness will be back, and it's thought that this could be the last episode for Bradley Walsh's Graham and Tosin Cole's Ryan. Chris Noth and Harriet Walter also star.

The Serpent

9pm, BBC One

Scene from episode 1 Monique/Marie-Andre Leclerc (JENNA COLEMAN), Charles Sobraj (TAHAR RAHIM) - (Mammoth Screen Ltd - Photographer: Roland Neveu)
Scene from episode 1 Monique/Marie-Andre Leclerc (JENNA COLEMAN), Charles Sobraj (TAHAR RAHIM) - (Mammoth Screen Ltd - Photographer: Roland Neveu)

Another prestige drama from the BBC, with Jenna Coleman and Tahar Rahim starring in this true bone-chilling tale of serial killer Charles Sobhraj, a thief and a fraudster who murdered at least a dozen people in a killing spree between 1976 and 1977 along the 'Hippy Trail' of Asia, targeting young Western travellers.

Taskmaster New Year's Treat

9pm, Channel 4

Shirley Ballas, John Hannah, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Nicola Coughlan & Rylan Clark-Neale join the Taskmaster Greg Davies and his assistant Little Alex Horne
Shirley Ballas, John Hannah, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Nicola Coughlan & Rylan Clark-Neale join the Taskmaster Greg Davies and his assistant Little Alex Horne

Celebs including actor John Hannah, journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, presenter Rylan Clark-Neal, Strictly’s Shirley Ballas and Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan compete in ludicrous festive tasks, while Greg Davies passes judgement from his throne.

Watch: John Barrowman drops Doctor Who hint