JP began to play Christmas records in his normal programming sometimes as early as November, but also on occasion displayed a begrudging attitude to Christmas in particular that bordered on active dislike. Nonetheless, the festive programmes are among the most cherished and fondly remembered of his output, despite the fact that he studiously avoided discussion of religion and appears to have been non-denominational (although his public funeral was held at Bury St Edmunds Cathedral). A recently shared clip of John's appearance on the Simon Mayo slot The Big Holy One seems to confirm this, as JP describes himself as 'a heathen fundamentalist'.
Information obtained in great part from The Peel Sessions (Garner, K., BBC Books, 2007).
Doubtless in order to draw audiences in to his shows at a time when listening figures competed aggressively with those for TV, Peel and Walters instituted an annual chart of the listener's favourite tracks (1976-1982 and 2000: all-time charts, 1983-2004: yearly charts) in 1976. Despite threats to discontinue it (and one year, 1991, in which this actually happened), a couple of blips (1977 was Peel's own choice, and 1997 saw only a top 31) and frequent grumbles about its conservatism in failing to accurately reflect Peel's diverse playlists (usually accompanied by the phrase 'white boys with guitars'), it continued annually to his death and even beyond. It was traditionally broadcast in blocks of anything between ten shows to only one, starting as early as 15 December and finishing around New Year (the All-Time chart of 2000 surpassed even this by extending over the whole month of January). Regardless of its name, only the years 1984, 1985, 1993, 2001 and 2003 saw any part of the chart transmitted on Christmas Day itself. All the charts and detailed tracklistings can be accessed from Festive Fifty: An Introduction.
Peel And The Season
"There is always a great air of melancholy about Christmas. Perhaps this is because the modern holiday symbolizes everything that has gone wrong over the past 2,000 years...As every mail brings me printed Christmas greetings from record companies, corporations, music-publishers, plumbers and the like, I miss the Christmases that have developed in my memory." (International Times, December 13-31 1968. Full article.)
"The Mighty Pig and I had one of our best Christmases ever. We seem, in some miraculous way, to have landed in one of the nicest villages in the British Isles....On Christmas Eve the pub closed at ten thirty and thirty or more of the customers came down to our cottage to see in Christmas Day. We talked and drank until after four o'clock and during that time there wasn't a voice raised in anger, no-one became obnoxiously drunk, not a single glass was broken nor were there any cigarettes trampled on the floor. Small things, yes...but the sort of small things that make this a lovely place to be." (Margrave Of The Marshes, Bantam Press, 2005, p. 324-5, taken from an article written by Peel in January 1973.)
"We have to swallow our pride and go...to record company Christmas boozeramas. These take several horrid forms, but it is the prinicple of these things that you arrive-even if you arrive at dawn-several hours after everyone save the employees of the company has left. In consequence, your arrival interferes with a number of long delayed and elephantine courtships between promotion youths and overstimulated secretaries liberated by gin. Conversation is entered into only with the object of getting you off the premises as quickly as possible, and drinks are mixed with the same motive and in such immoderate measures that it is clear the amorous youths are prepared to risk hospitalising you to clear the way for their ugly wooing." (Sounds, 10 January 1976, reprinted in The Olivetti Chronicles, Bantam Press, 2008, p. 286-7.)
"I've been feeling sort of mildly fed up this evening, what with one thing and another. It's that kind of pre-Christmas 'triste'. Shopping was the main reason for it. I spent about five hours shopping this afternoon, achieved nothing, and you go round thinking, "Why am I doing this? Why am I feeling kind of social pressure to go round looking for stuff that people don't want, to give them on this particular day? Why not wait until they do want something and give it to them then?" Of course, quite clearly, this is not the way things go." (23 December 1987 show.)
"I'm one of those people, I have to admit, who really dislikes the whole Christmas period, mainly because it's the time of the year at which we become incredibly sentimental about children, and the old, and also the homeless by and large, whereas the rest of the year round, of course, we couldn't give a toss about them. I really hate that: it's their one day a year they really needed us. The rest, forget it." (02 December 1991 (Ö3) show.)
"I've been continuing to open my Christmas mail: my thanks to all of those people who've sent me Christmas cards. They're always most gratefully received, and get stuck up on the walls at home, and so on....Along with them, just as I was getting all sentimental and thinking, isn't it sweet the listeners really love me, is a little injunction to "please keep Hillingdon tidy". Well, I shall certainly do my bit there, no question about it." (25 December 1992 show.)
"Even on Christmas Day, he couldn't wait to get back to his records. At about 10 a.m., once everyone had opened their presents, he'd be in there again and the music would start up. Then we wouldn't see him until I called him for lunch." (Sheila Ravenscroft, Margrave, ibid., p. 377.)
"I rather dislike Christmas parties myself, to be honest with you: I always seem to end up in the kitchen talking with a bunch of people that I don't know about loft insulation. Perhaps I'm going to the wrong parties." (24 December 1992 show.)
"Christmas is a period that I don't particularly enjoy, mainly because there's an awful lot of extra work for me so that other people can have time off. I mean, that sounds rather ungrateful, and clearly I'm quite pleased to be still doing the programmes and everything, but at the same time it's an exhausting month." (12 December 2001)
"Well, I don't believe in Christmas either, in fact I don't believe in anything much except Liverpool football club and I don't really believe in them at the moment." (25 December 2002 (Radio Mafia) show.)
- 26 December 1970: Carol Concert, listed in The Peel Sessions as a session and recorded in Maida Vale. It featured traditional carols sung by Marc Bolan, June Child, Ivor Cutler, Sonja Kristina (and friend), Rod Stewart, Mike Ratledge, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Kenny Jones, Ian McLagan, Peel & Pig, all backed by David Bedford on piano. Rod Stewart sang 'Away In A Manger' solo. This event had been pre-recorded on 1970-12-08, and was repeated on 22 December 1971.
- 25 December 1973: the debut broadcast of an Elton John session (his second) which began with a medley of Christmas songs played on a pub piano. Recorded on 1973-12-18 (Peel refers to it in his Top Gear of 18 December 1973), and repeated on 25 March 1976 ('Daniel/Your Song' parodies only) and 25 December 1985.
- 25 December 1987: 'Only At Christmas'. "John Peel plays some of the good, the bad, the ugly, the yule-ish, coolish and foolish records that are released.... only at Christmas." . Broadcast between 5.30 and 7.00 p.m., and was trailed on the 22 December 1987 show. Not listed in The Peel Sessions.
- 24 December 1992: 'John Peel's Alternative Christmas.' This went out from 11 p.m.-1 a.m., featuring John's choice of festive music, or as he puts it, "the records that Santa Claus forgot". Not listed in The Peel Sessions.
- 17 December 1994: Christmas sessions by the Fall (including 'Jingle Bell Rock' and 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing'), recorded 1994-11-20, and Elastica (including 'I Wanna Be King Of Orient Aah' and 'Father Christmas'), recorded 1994-12-06.
- 08 December 1999: Christmas Carols live from Maida Vale 3, featuring Gene, Hefner, High Fidelity, Broken Dog and Marine Research, with the show choir and the Peel family singing traditional Christmas carols, accompanied by Martin Rossiter and Yorisa Phale on the piano.
- 21 December 2000: Christmas Special live from Peel Acres, with live music from Cinerama, Murry The Hump, Wisdom Of Harry, and Herman Dune, plus the handbell ringers of Bucksall and singalong carols.
- 20 December 2001: Christmas special live from Peel Acres, with Camera Obscura, Lianne Hall and Melys singing festive songs, plus carols, Gorky's Group Choir and bellringers.
- 18 December 2002: Belle And Sebastian's Christmas Carol Concert, with Peel Show Choir, live from Maida Vale 4.
- 26 December 2002 (Radio Mafia): Pre-recorded show for Finland's Radio Mafia, featuring festive tunes largely cannibalised from his UK playlist.
- 27 December 2002 (BBC World Service): "A few carefully chosen seasonal records", almost identical to the previous Radio Mafia show.