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A Christmas Collection (1972)

A Christmas Collection

A Christmas Collection is a one-off, seasonal entertainment programme. It is a BBC North West production and was first broadcast on Monday 18 December 1972 (BBC1, 11:25-11:50pm).

The image is a publicity photo of Zo, taken a couple of years before the programme was broadcast. (I have been unable to find a photo of her in the programme itself.)


During the season of goodwill, A Christmas Collection provides a timely reminder of the importance of appreciating what we have and caring for those less fortunate. Zoe appears in the programme's centrepiece: a modern dramatisation of the famous Victorian ballad by George R. Sims, 'In the Workhouse: Christmas Day', which explores the terrible effects of poverty.

More commonly known by its opening line, 'It is Christmas Day in the workhouse', the 1879 poem focuses on the tragedy of a penniless couple, John and Nance. John's plea for help the previous Christmas was rejected by the parish authorities, on account of the couple living in their own home rather than the local workhouse (where they would have been forcibly separated). As a result, John was unable to obtain food or support for his starving wife and so must endure this Christmas as a widower. He declares that the well-to-do, who have come 'To smile and be condescending' towards him and the other paupers in the workhouse, where extreme poverty has finally driven him, are effectively guilty of murdering Nance.

The couple's terrible experiences offer a sobering perspective on the suffering endured by the Victorian poor, both within and beyond the workhouse system. While workhouses have thankfully been consigned to history, A Christmas Collection reminds viewers that poverty remains a pressing social problem. Shortly before the programme was broadcast, its producer, Ray Colley, emphasised to the Daily Express that he had decided to produce a dramatisation of 'In the Workhouse: Christmas Day' after being 'struck by the thought that, although most people are going about at Christmas full of the glow and warmth of the festival, it is still possible to spend Christmas in great suffering', almost 100 years after the poem's publication.

Giving the dramatisation a modern setting helps to ensure that its social commentary strikes a chord with viewers and also draws out the parallels between the effects of poverty past and present. Sims's 1879 poem about John and Nance becomes 'a film of a 1972 couple', in the Daily Mirror's words. Zo plays one half of the couple, opposite Trevor Peacock, with whom she had recently appeared on stage in Guys & Dolls. She remembers having a lovely time working with him again on A Christmas Collection.

A selection of carols and a satirical song, 'Glory Be to the BBC', sung by choristers, accompany the dramatisation. As the Mirror concluded, A Christmas Collection is unconventional Christmas TV: 'The programme takes an off-beat count-your-blessings look at the festive season'.


John ... Trevor Peacock
Nance ... Zo Wanamaker

Music provided by the choir of St Catherine's Church, Heald Green, Cheshire


Director: Michael Healey
Producer: Ray Colley


Unfortunately, A Christmas Collection is not available on DVD or in any other format. The programme is missing from the TV archives.

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