Caroline Aherne tributes lead BBC Two schedule on Christmas Day

Wednesday 6th December 2023, 8:19am by Jay Richardson

The Mrs Merton Show. Mrs Merton (Caroline Aherne). Copyright: Granada Productions

The BBC is dedicating Christmas Day to Caroline Aherne.

BBC Two's evening schedules are given over to the late comedian and actor, who died in 2016 and gave her name to a bursary supporting new comic talent at the corporation, with recipients having included Sophie Willan, Amy Gledhill and Kiri Pritchard-McLean.

The night's centrepiece is Caroline Aherne: Comedy Queen, a 70-minute documentary that forms part of the Arena arts strand.

Featuring unseen photographs and contributions from her friends and colleagues, including her long-time collaborator Craig Cash and The Fast Show co-star John Thomson, as well as Sue Johnston, Ricky Tomlinson, Ralf Little, Steve Coogan, Henry Normal, Phil Mealy and producer Andy Harries, the film traces Aherne's life from childhood in Wythenshawe, Manchester, through her time on the city's alternative stand-up scene.

Her breakthrough came when the BBC commissioned The Mrs Merton Show. And her legacy was assured with the classic sitcom The Royle Family, which she co-created with Cash.

Produced and directed by Claire Whalley (Damned) and Hannah Lowes for Passion Pictures (The Real Charlie Chaplin), Comedy Queen will "recall not just the lasting cultural and creative legacy she left behind" following her death of cancer at the age of 52, but "the joy she found in human life, her inimitable sense of mischief and the happiness she brought those closest to her".

The documentary is preceded by a 15-minute film in which Tomlinson offers his personal memories of Aherne, before a Christmas episode of The Royle Family from 1999, in which her character Denise, prepares to give birth.

That's followed by the first episode of The Mrs Merton Show, in which the inquisitive pensioner interviews her Manchester comedy peer Coogan, Kriss Akabusi, Chris Greener and Debbie McGee, making her infamous enquiry of what attracted McGee to the millionaire magician Paul Daniels?

Finally, a festive episode of The Fast Show from 1996 features Aherne and Thomson as Renee and Roy, entertaining Roy's mother (Arabella Weir) for Christmas dinner.

The Caroline Aherne programming will run on BBC Two from 9pm. The channel will also broadcast a selection of Morecambe & Wise related shows on Christmas Day, starting at 5:55pm.

Imagine... French & Saunders: Pointed, Bitchy, Bitter. Image shows left to right: Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders

Also included in the Arena season is a documentary about playwright Noel Coward, while as previously announced, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are the subjects of a new Imagine profile from Alan Yentob, subtitled Pointed, Bitchy, Bitter.

The hour-long BBC One programme "explores a brand of comedy based on satire, silliness and above all friendship", which began when  they were college flatmates and charts their journey from The Comic Strip team, which helped launch Channel 4 in 1982, to becoming one of comedy's most enduring double acts.

The film features interviews with their colleagues Alexei Sayle, Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson, who is also Saunders' husband, and later generations of female comics such as Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Yentob also goes behind the scenes at a recording of their Titting About podcast.

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