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Christmas is traditionally the time for traditions, and in Britain that includes the big film on the box after the Queen. For five decades British television has taken Christmas Day as the occasion for the small-screen premiere of a major feature film. This year it’s Disney’s Frozen on BBC1. But when did this tradition begin, and what are some of the other films that have featured down through the years? What follows is a year-by-year selection of them.

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The first 15 feature films broadcast on British television


One of the myths about pre-war television is that it no longer exists. Before the advent of videotape in the 1950s, everything was live and therefore ephemeral – so the story goes. In terms of material made for television that’s mostly (but not entirely) the case: the vast majority of the BBC’s own early output is gone with the wind. But a great deal of what was shown on television between 1936 and 1939 was neither live nor made by the BBC itself; nor is it lost. Around one quarter of the programmes broadcast were acquired films, and a small – very small – number of those were feature films. For the first time, this article identifies all of them and tells the stories behind their scheduling.

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