A strange thing happens around the end of November. TV magazines that had been published every Tuesday are suddenly released at a much faster pace. This is because at the start of December the Christmas and New Year double issue is released. It’s always a big deal, although double issues haven’t been around as long as the TV magazines themselves, both Radio Times and TV Times published their first one in 1969, although based on the day of the week that Christmas falls on it varies as to whether New Year programmes are included too.
For a while there was a tradition that after some information had been released about upcoming Christmas programmes at the end of November, newspapers would try to put together a TV guide themselves ahead of the magazines, but this was famously useless because most of the columns still just said that “To Be Announced” was showing on every channel, and this practice has just about stopped now.
These double issues have become a really big occasion in themselves and the Radio Times one is almost 300 pages now. There is always the story that when they first get hold of the magazine, people like to get their highlighter pens out to mark the shows that they want to watch the most and remind themselves of when they are on. I actually remember doing this one year before I realised that many other people do this too!
There are usually some changes in the double issues, it’s still surprising to see how many people say “it’s the only issue of Radio Times I buy any more during the year”. For example, the double issues are usually the only covers which feature artwork any more, and although some covers are nice, most of them just look like the usual combinations of generic Santas and snowmen. Also, inside the pages you’ll find lots of amusing photoshoots featuring TV stars awkwardly holding presents and the like to promote their specials.
Radio Times also have on their listings pages “first week” and “second week”. I think we can guess which ones are which! A lot of work must go into compiling these specials, and since 1991 when magazines were deregulated and went into competition with one another, the amount of channels listed has increased greatly. Nowadays on the local radio page of Radio Times which seems to have listings for about 22 stations crammed into two pages, they actually expand it for the double issue to three, they really are spoiling us!
A lot of people also say that the Christmas double issue is the only TV magazine that they keep after the timescale has passed, they just throw the others away. Honestly, throwing TV magazines away, who would do such a thing? I always like that feeling at the start of December when all the TV magazines have been released for the rest of the year and I have a pile of about three or four of them ready to go through which is always one of the clues for me that Christmas is coming. I hope it’s a tradition that’ll continue for a while yet.