Eddie Braben knows a thing or two about what makes a Christmas special - because he wrote a dozen of them for Morecambe and Wise.

And the words what he wrote were crafted in a back bedroom in South Drive, Sandfield Park, West Derby.

Eddie, now 73 and, for the last 16 years a resident of Pwllheli in North Wales, is, therefore, perfectly qualified to talk about Christmas television past - and present.

As I read him the details of programmes due to be shown on the terrestrial channels this year, there is the odd sharp intake of breath - and the occasional, disbelieving: "What's that?"

But there are murmurs of approval when I read out the schedules from the '70s and '80s.

Of the great 'Does Christmas TV get worse every year?' debate, he says, philosophically: "When people like me start making comparisons it's because we've lived so long and are able to!

"But, to be honest, this year's Christmas schedules sound like direvision, not television. It's rather bleak.

"Looking back at the programmes over the decades, things seem to really change once you get into the '90s. It goes really downhill."

But, he points out, there is no reason why viewers should feel surprised by this year's Christmas offerings: "I think the schedules reflect what we see throughout the year. And TV is pretty poor these days.

"One night recently we were subjected to three hours of so-called fly-on-the-wall television. I remember it included a programme in which we saw effluent flowing through someone's house - 'Oh yes, tape that! I musn't miss that!' - and something about road crashes.

"What seems to have happened now is that we have a whole new generation of viewers who accept these programmes.

"It seems that anything nasty and involving death and destruction is worth a TV show. I can switch channels and immediately know I'm watching EastEnders because there'll be a fight, or someone will have a bloody nose or someone will be in hospital on a drip."

But it wasn't always like this. Eddie, who was brought up in the Dingle and once had his own fruit and veg stall in St John's Market, helped light up millions of lives between 1969 and 1983, when he put thousands upon thousands of funny words into the mouths of the country's top double act.

They called him The Third Man - and the funniest of the three, because the other two spoke the words what he wrote. They were the three Es: Eric, Ernie ... and Eddie.

FOR Eddie, the pressure was intense all-year round, but especially when he was working on the Christmas special. And the writer, a perfectionist who put his heart and soul into every line, believed some people were investing far too much importance into one hour of television.

He explains: "I'm not very religious, I simply live by a set of rules and treat people like I'd like them to treat me. But in the 1970s, I began to realise that the Morecambe and Wise Show, for a lot of viewers, WAS Christmas.

"They were forgetting what Christmas was really all about. We got 28 million viewers for the 1977 show, half the population at that time. How many people go to church?

"People would stop me in the street in Liverpool and ask: 'Who's going to be on this year?' There was an incredible amount of interest, but it was always the worst time of the year for me because there was so much pressure.

"And I never enjoyed the Christmas shows when they went out. I used to sit there, tensing my fists, watching, wondering and thinking: 'This is the moment of truth'.

"But once it had finished, once all that tension and stress

had been removed, then I was able to start enjoying Christ- mas. Now it's different. Now I can watch them with a nice warm smile.

"What is gratifying is that I can watch the shows now and think: 'That's still good.' Some of it hasn't stood the test of time, but the majority of it has. I'm pleased by that - and astonished."

Apart from the onehour Christmas special - he wrote eight for the BBC and four for ITV - Eddie would pen about a dozen 45-minute Morecambe and Wise shows a year - together with 16 episodes of a radio show, called The Worst Show On The Wireless: "I did put myself under a lot of pressure. While I watched the shows I would ignore the enormous laughs from the audience, because I was expecting those.

"What angers me now - if I can find a comedy show on TV - is hearing laughter that's been piped in."

Of the writing process, he recalls: "I used to write 10 pages and then tear nine up. Then write 10 more and tear eight up - and so on, until I was happy. If I had the slightest doubt about anything it wouldn't go in.

"A Christmas special would take about five weeks to write - that's 16 hour days, including weekends. The 45-minute shows were also time-consuming, although my record for one of those was just seven days.

"But, sometimes, nothing would happen when I was sitting there in front of the typewriter. It would be like trying to chip granite with a rubber sthingy."

Of today's TV performers, Eddie singles out Peter Kay: "I think he's quite stunning. We have thousands of comedy actors, but he is a really good comedian - and there are only a handful of stand-up comics left."

Eddie, who will also be tuning into BBC1 on December 26 and 27 to watch the two-part special of The Office, is currently working on a book which is due out next autumn.

He reveals: "It's called The Book What I Wrote. It's not an autobiography, because people don't tell the truth in autobiographies - and there are certainly things I wouldn't want people to know about me.


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"It's about my comedy life and all the people who have influenced me."

Eddie Braben's own influence, meanwhile - and that of the double act he wrote for - is still keenly felt.

He used to describe writing as "fighting the dragon".

The dragon, as millions of Morecambe and Wise fans will testify, was well-beaten.