The best of Dolly Parton, Robyn, Horatio Clare and Charles Dickens on holiday radio.


Of course, it’s entirely possible that your definition of hell is the possibility of Mrs. Brown’s boys on Christmas Day (it’s definitely mine). As for Christmas Eve’s Gavin and Stacey, yeah, didn’t we see that last year? The reality is, Christmas TV is all well and fine, but when it comes to the holiday season, it’s the radio that does all the heavy lifting. For opening gifts and Christmas dinner mishaps, it’s the background noise. Over the next two weeks, it can also be relied on to deliver a menu of familiarity, variety and, hey, let’s say, knowledge.

Here are just a couple of the shows you can look forward to on the radio.

Saturday, 19th December.

The Good List of Dolly Parton, Radio 2, 9 p.m.

Dolly Parton speaks to Claudia Winkleman about Christmas from her home in Nashville, picking up a couple of her favorite country and seasonal songs. Hopefully, her own Christmas of Hard Candy is one of them.

Sunday 20th December.

Radio 4, Desert Island Discs, 11 a.m.

In 1960, Sir Clifford Von Richard (as Smash Hits used to call him) was first sent to the desert island of Radio 4, well before “the end of the ‘Chatterley Ban’/And the Beatles’ first LP” (And also before sex, if Philip Larkin is to be believed). Today, six decades later, at the age of 80, the first true pop star in Britain is back reflecting on his life and choosing the eight albums that surround him as he speaks to Lauren Laverne.

Radio 4’s Open Book, 4 p.m.

The work of Charles Dickens is debated by John Mullan, Armando Iannucci and Thomas Keneally, while food historian Pen Vogler, author of the excellent book Scoff, takes a look at meals in the novels of Dickens.

Dec. 21, Monday.

Edwin Drood’s The Mystery, Radio 4, 10:45/7:45 p.m.

Speaking of Dickens, in 15-minute episodes every day, Radio 4 releases a new dramatization of Dickens’ last, unfinished book. Adapted by Mike Walker, with Iwan Davies as Edwin Drood, it stars Pippa Nixon and Peter Davison.

On Wednesday, 23 December

Classic FM, Maggie’s Cancer Treatment Carol Concert, 8 p.m.

This concert, recorded to support Maggie’s earlier this month, features Lulu and Roderick Williams singing Christmas carols while readings are given by Stanley Tucci, Sue Perkins, James Norton and the Duchess of Cornwall. The Oriana Choir of London is also active.

Eve of Christmas

Service for Christmas Eve, Radio Scotland, 11:30 p.m.

With carols and reflections, Reverend Richard Frazer of Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh leads the service to keep you wrapping up the last gifts before Christmas Day.

Weihnachts Day

Radio show for Earl Arthur Strong! Radio 4, 11:30 in the morning

To claim this is probably heretical, but I really prefer the TV version of the glorious comic production of Steve Delaney. But I would not miss the opportunity to hear him on the radio. Our favorite former vaudeville star is doing his Christmas shopping at Poundsqueezers during this Christmas broadcast. Mel Giedroyc makes an appearance as a guest.

Christmas By The Pool, 2:15 p.m. on Radio 4.

In this new drama, starring Niamh Cusack and Robert Lindsay, Rachel Joyce offers a festive story. Cusack plays a recently widowed 64-year-old who sees an elderly man apparently drowning in a lake.

Sound Walk of the Sunlight, Radio 3, 3 p.m.

You may wish to get out of the house on Christmas afternoon. But if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can always turn on Radio 3 to hear Horatio Clare’s walk along the Northumberland coast that takes him to Lindisfarne. Sonically soothing slow radio if your day is getting on your nerves. The first of two shows, Clare returns at the same time on Boxing Day to walk the Wash.

Don Black’s Christmas Crooners, Radio 2, 10 p.m.

The lyricist returns to Radio 2 for a show featuring festive classics by Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee.

Boxing Day

Archive on 4: It’s Behind You, Radio 4, 8 p.m.

Titled “The Weird and Wonderful Story of British Pantomime,” cultural historian Christopher Frayling delves into the BBC archives to reconstruct the history of this beloved (and sometimes hated; or is it just me?) festive tradition, tracing it back to the time of Shakespeare. Frayling also asks what the state of the panto is today, in the wake of political correctness and this year’s pandemic.

Sunday, December 27

Classical music in and after lockdown, Scala Radio, 6 p.m.

Mark Forrest talks with Nicola Benedetti, Tasmin Little and Evelyn Glennie.


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