There were many, many adaptations of the Christmas carol: Alastair Sim gave us the cult Ebenezer in the classic 1951 Scrooge, Kelsey Grammer sang “Humbug!” to the top of the lungs in the 2004 TV musical, and – of course – in 1992, Muppets delivered one of the finest versions of Charles Dickens ’novel. There is no interpretation, much like ITV’s 2000 Christmas carol – which is two decades old today, stars as Ross Ed Camp as ‘Eddie’ Scrooge, a Hamburg shark who wakes up rudely.
If you’ve never seen her, you might scoff at the idea of transferring Dickens ’story to a modern London estate, with the former EastEnder team as our stingy protagonist. But the one-off drama embraced a warm reception and achieved high ratings, with nine million, tuning in when it aired on December 20, 2000.
“I have to say that part of the joy for me was – obviously, because it was Ross and it was ITV and it was modern, before, when people heard about it, they were all a bit sniffy and a bit mocking, but it fell apart really well.” , says writer Peter Bowker RadioTimes.com. “It went very well in the ratings. And the criticism – there was a review in The Guardian where they said, ‘basically,’ I was watching this thinking it would be s ** ti that it was great ‘. “
The impetus for this latest twist in the Christmas carol was actually given by Ross Kemp himself – his exit from EastEnders as Grant Mitchell’s hardman was aired in October 1999, and the star wanted to continue his “passion project” starring in modern-day versions of Scrooge’s story.
“I remember he did a few things [previously] – the first thing he did was play a lawyer, which was pretty tense! “Bowker says.” Sally Haynes and Laura Mackie, with whom I started my career – they were both screenwriters for Casualty, my first commission was Casualty in 1992, 1991 – and they were very successful on the BBC and they were now on ITV, and they approached me and said, ‘Ross Kemp has this passionate project’.
“He desperately wanted to do this thing and ITV [who had signed Kemp to a “golden handcuffs” deal following his soap exit] they were desperate to keep it … I mean, they were more or less saying, ‘We’re going to turn this on without seeing the script’, so it was an attractive offer anyway! And I had a lot of time for Ross at EastEnders and I just thought, you know, modern Scrooge, it’s a punch, because that’s what he does best. He did it best. “
With his lead man and modern scenery, Bowker began “looking for tiny details” with which he could “run” in an attempt to invent and revive a familiar narrative. “In a way, because the Christmas carol is an incredibly famous story, you’ve been given a little more opportunity to riff. Just like the code [director] Nick Murphy’s version last Christmas [aired on BBC One] – you got freedom because it’s part of the DNA of our Christmas story. “
Bowker’s innovations included a Groundhog Day-style turnaround, with Kemp’s Eddie living over and over again the same day until he learned from his mistakes and corrected himself. “I remember reading a Christmas carol in preparation for a treat, just thinking, “God, this could be the origin of Groundhog Day” – it reminded me of that on some structural level, so it seemed like a playful thing to me. There is something very appealing, in a narrative sense, in that you have to prove yourself over and over again in the same circumstances. I think it’s really redeeming behavior, while the other way and the sudden conversion and ‘I’ll be beautiful from now on’ aren’t. “Go back and do it again” seems to me a far more authentic exploration of what redemption is. “
The sequence in Dickens ’story in which Ghost of Christmas Past forces Scrooge to reflect on his broken engagement to his beloved Belle is also expanded, and Eddie’s relationship with nurse Bella (Angeline Ball) formed a major part of the drama. “I liked the idea that someone once fell in love with him and saw his side that we don’t see anymore,” Bowker explains. “I felt too good as a gift not to have it. And you know, we were just blessed with that cast, right? They are simply extraordinary, everyone. From Ray Fearon [as Marley] all the way to Michael Maloney [as Bob Cratchett]. ”
Mina Anwar (as Bella’s friend Julie), Lorraine Ashbourne (played by Sue Cratchett) and Warren Mitchell (as Eddie’s dead father) Till Death Us Do Part also starred opposite Kemp, along with Liz Smith of the Royle family (as retired Joyce) . “I was just completely impressed with Liz,” Bowker recalls. “I remember she said one thing – we were reading, and she just said, ‘It’s nice, it’s sweet,’ and I thought, ‘It’s gonna work!’ That will be enough. ‘”
One twist in Dickens ’story, however, was shattered by ITV – Tiny Tim’s reinvention that would get over the sick child of the original story as a wheelchair graffiti artist. “My main concern was the character of the Tiny Team, I didn’t want this offensive version of the Tiny Team. I remember going to [writer] Andrew Davies about it and just said, ‘No, you can’t have that kind of stumbled dikensian noble cripple’.
“So, at the level of treatment, I had a far more radical image of Tim, who had a big guy, a wheelchair user, who was touring the street graffiti, and he was going to be Tiny Tim. Both Laura and Sally were very happy – but ITV, they were too nervous about it. They wouldn’t do that. ”(The drama would eventually have a version of Tim, played by Ben Tibber, who lived with cystic fibrosis.)
Bowker worked with director Catherine Morshead on a Christmas carol – the couple will collaborate again six years later, on the BBC drama Viva Blackpool in 2006, and says they “shared a vision” of what the project might be like. „С.got humor, so I just felt in safe hands from the moment we met. She had a good vision of both how she could make it work visually and how – you know, Warren comes out of the TV, for example, I’m pretty sure it was Catherine. And her handling an older couple [Smith’s Joyce and Charles Simon’s Eric, who are in debt to Eddie] and how she made us both see that it was funny, but to be compassionate – it embodies her touch as a director. That’s just great. “
Before serving as the producer of the one-off ITV thriller Hero of the Hour, in which he also starred Kemp, Joshua St Johnson – today a writer of series including Deep State and Grantchester – was hired to play the same role in A Christmas Carol. “Josh gave up on production, but he was just so intelligent and sensitive, and he had worked with Ross before, so Ross really trusted him. It was one awkward meeting with Ross because it was kind of his passionate project, and he said he wanted to have a hair extension for that part! And I was sitting there thinking, ‘Exactly tied to what?’
“I’m sure he won’t mind me bringing it up after all this time. I was very discreet. But it was pretty funny. I remember thinking, “What ?!” “
Kemp’s Scrooge eventually, of course, sees a mistake on his way, saving the lives of two teenagers living on the street, firing his reluctant accomplice Bob (while paying off debts), buying the police the killer of his business partner Marley and ending his reign of terror over the London estate. on site at the Alexandra Road estate in Camden). He conquers Bella again, with the Spirit of the Christmas Future (Ben Inigo Jones) who had previously haunted Eddie who he discovered had taken the form of the couple’s future son.
Long after its initial success in viewing, the Christmas song remained part of the festive ITV schedule, repeating the broadcast on the ITV channel every Christmas for several years. Although never released on DVD, the drama is now available for streaming on BritBox for the first time.
“About five Christmases ago I was walking by the hairdresser and they had it on the TV in the corner on ITV2, around four in the afternoon on Christmas Eve – it was a good time!” Says Bowker, who created and wrote the award-winning series Blackpool, Capital and The A Word. “I think people remembered him with a lot of love. In fact, I wrote my series called Monroe a few years ago with Jimmy Nesbitt and this neurosurgeon from Leeds – all he really wanted to talk about was a Christmas carol! He was our advisor and played Jimmy Nesbitt’s hands when he was doing brain surgery. And whenever he put me in the car, all he really wanted to talk about was a Christmas carol. I would look at my script for Monroe, I would look up, and he would say, ‘Do you know what I really loved? A Christmas carol! ‘
You can now watch the Christmas song on BritBox – find something to watch with us tv guide or our guide for this year best christmas tv