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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 08:41 GMT
Christmas in front of the box
By Michael Osborn
BBC News entertainment reporter

The Simpsons
The Simpsons will deliver this year's alternative Christmas message

This year there is a veritable flurry of big-hitting programmes designed to soak up the Yuletide TV audience.

Sitcom favourites are annually dusted down for Christmas specials, a ploy which proved a regular success for Only Fools And Horses.

Now four years after she hung up her robes, Dawn French reprises her role as The Vicar Of Dibley, while comedy partner Jennifer Saunders stars in a new outing of Absolutely Fabulous on BBC One.

This year's British Comedy Awards are being screened on ITV1 just before Christmas, and will see Little Britain take on The Office for the major prizes.

This is a show that has generated its fair share of controversy in the past - and is often unpredictable.

Vicar of Dibley
The Vicar of Dibley featured in this year's Top 10 sitcoms vote

Much-loved series Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which first appeared in 1983, is having its final outing on BBC One over the festive season.

The regular cast members decided to make this adventure in Thailand their last, following the death of actor Pat Roach, who played Bomber.

Two legendary sleuths are returning to our screens over the festive period.

Dapper detective

Geraldine McEwan is playing Agatha Christie's sharp-minded spinster Miss Marple in a series of murder mysteries on ITV1, 20 years after the late Joan Hickson made the character her own.

On BBC One, Rupert Everett becomes the latest actor to portray Sherlock Holmes, but minus the dapper detective's trademark deerstalker.

The Real Mary Poppins on ITV1 looks at the troubled life of the character's creator Pamela Travers.

Miss Marple
Geraldine McEwan (left) stars as Miss Marple alongside Absolutely Fabulous' Joanna Lumley

The classic film starring Julie Andrews is also getting an airing, while BBC One's prize offering is the terrestrial premiere of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone.

Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet are among the stars providing the voices for Pride on BBC One, a tale of a group of lions using real footage and computer techniques.

The Queen's speech may be a hallowed tradition, but Channel 4's alternative seasonal message has fast become an annual fixture.

This year cartoon US family The Simpsons are taking the reins in an animation specially made for the occasion.

The station is also putting its regular 100 Greatest format to good use, with a run-down of the best festive moments - expect Morecambe and Wise to feature prominently.

Explosive storylines

One of BBC's hits of the year will waltz across our screens this Christmas.

EastEnders
Dennis and Sharon's affair in EastEnders heats up at Christmas

The celebrity winners from the first two outings of Strictly Come Dancing are going head-to-head, while a new line-up of famous faces is taking to the ice in a wintry spin-off.

Soap operas are an integral part of the festive package, with explosive storylines and bumper editions.

The tempestuous triangle of Tracey Barlow and the McDonalds comes to a head in Coronation Street.

And the long-rumbling affair between Sharon and Dennis will be at the centre of the drama in EastEnders.


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