TNB Night Owl–Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas

Christmas Display, Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden, Henderson, Nevada. Photo by Ken Lund.

I’m breaking with tradition a little bit for tonight’s Friday movie. This is as straightforward a made-for-TV Christmas special as you can imagine. It has the same vague framing story designed to tie together various songs and sketches. What sets this one apart from the others is the sheer skill and ability of the stars. Tonight, one week before Christmas, I present to you BING CROSBY’S MERRIE OLDE CHRISTMAS (1977).

Bing and his family (played by his own wife and children) receive an invitation from a distant relative to spend Christmas with him at his mansion in England. The family arrive, while singing a cute song, only to find Percival isn’t at home. Instead, they find the butler and maid (both played by Scottish comedian Stanley Baxter) who let him know Percival shall return in due time. While they wait, his children and wife explore the house, learning its and the family history. Bing first is greeted by Percival’s neighbor, David Bowie. Together the two sing what has become one of the most iconic Christmas duets of the modern era: Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.

Next Bing meets two more people, English icon Twiggy and the ghost of the house’s former owner, Twiggy. The three of them join Dickens’ iconic characters for another song-and-dance number. They return home for more songs, a meeting with Sir Percival, and for vague reasons, the house ghost (who bears a striking resemblance to Bob Hope) and the Trinity Boys Choir bring jokes and songs into the mix. At last, the special is capped off with Bing singing the most iconic song of his career: “White Christmas.”

Bing and his family are natural performers. David Bowie and Twiggy can hold their own with ease. The songs are as lovely as one could wish for and are a sweet, non-ironic way to bring in the holiday. The only part that felt out of place was the inclusion of the music video for Bowie’s latest hit, “Heroes.” I love that song. It’s my favorite Bowie song and I love just about everything he does. But it’s not a holiday song, it doesn’t have the same feel and everything else, and nothing about the video fits the rest of the program. But that’s just three minutes out of the near-hour special. The highs definitely balance out the lows.

Bing Crosby passed away between the filming and when it aired. This special was the final time he performed White Christmas for the public:

Question of the night: what is your favorite musical duet?

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