The Christmas Turkey: A Demonstration of Carving (lost televised Christmas dinner tutorial; 1936)

From The Lost Media Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Photo of the broadcast.

Status: Lost

Christmas of 1936 marked the first festive season since the BBC publicly launched its high-definition television service. Therefore, it proved fitting for the corporation to air a series of live Christmas programmes. The first to be aired on Christmas Day was titled The Christmas Turkey: A Demonstration of Carving, which featured B. J. Hulbert providing a 15-minute tutorial on appropriately carving a turkey.


On 2nd November 1936, the opening of the BBC Television Service occurred.[1][2] While pre-Second World War programming was limited to only a few hours in the afternoon and evening for financial and health reasons, it still nevertheless catered to a dedicated audience primarily within London.[3][4] Not long following the inaugural day of high-definition broadcasting, the Christmas season approached.[5] To that end, the BBC decided to air a series of programmes to celebrate the occasion.[6][7][5] Naturally, these early broadcasts were humble, in the face of budget and time restrictions and the fact only around 400 households could afford expensive television sets back then.[7][5][6][3] Thus, when the service launched at 3 pm on Christmas Day, viewers watched B. J. Hulbert's demonstration on carving a turkey.[8][9][10][6]

Alas, there is little information surrounding Hulbert's life and career. Most sources, perhaps understandably, focus on the man's influence on British Christmas television.[6][10] A photo during the 15-minute broadcast showed him in a white chef's uniform as he calmly instructed the viewers on each step of the carving process.[11][5] The tutorial reflected how turkeys became the desired Christmas feast for many British families from the 1920s to 1930s.[12] But as noted by Royal Television Society, airing the tutorial at 3 pm probably made little sense, as it occurred after the lunch period.[7] The broadcast, as well as other festive programmes like A Lonely Christmas in the Arctic by Edward Shackleton,[8][9][5] came and went with little fanfare.[10][6][7] Ultimately, the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was responsible for television's mainstream appeal going forward.[13][10] Nevertheless, The Christmas Turkey: A Demonstration of Carving paved the way for more extravagant BBC Christmas programmes over the years, including outlandish Christmas specials for its regular shows like Doctor Who.[14][7][6][10] Some sources, including Express & Star, even consider it as the first proper Christmas television production beyond just the United Kingdom.[15]


A large majority of the BBC's early television output aired live, with The Christmas Turkey: A Demonstration of Carving being no exception.[16][17] At this point, the BBC had yet to develop adequate means of directly recording its programming.[17] An amateur cinefilm recording helped partially preserve the Coronation of King George VI while some output that managed to travel to the United States was captured by RCA.[16][4][17] However, it was not until 7th October 1947 that telerecording became possible, with Variety in Sepia becoming the first show to be preserved in this fashion.[18] Thus, The Christmas Turkey is lost forever, along with almost all pre-Second World War BBC television output.[16][17] Nevertheless, a photo of Hulbert carving the turkey, plus a summary by Issue 690 of Radio Times, ensures a pivotal piece of British Christmas television history is permanently documented.[8][9][5]



Lost BBC Live Broadcasts


  1. Terra Media detailing the opening of the BBC Television Service. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  2. BBC summarising the unveiling of the "first regular hi-definition television service". Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  3. 3.0 3.1 British Film Institute summarising the limited output of pre-Second World War BBC television. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dusty Old Thing summarising how most early broadcasts were restricted to a 30-mile range, but with one somehow ending up being received in the United States. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 BBC Genome Blog summarising the occasion and providing the sole surviving photograph of the broadcast. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Saga on the humble programmes the BBC aired in 1936, and how Christmas television in Britain has expanded ever since. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Royal Television Society summarising BBC's 1936 Christmas Day programming and how The Christmas Turkey's air time made sense. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the broadcast and other programming on Christmas Day 1936. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Issue 690 of Radio Times listing the broadcast Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Readily noting the impact of the programme on future British Christmas television. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  11. For the Housewife? From ‘The Singing Cook’ to ‘Common-Sense Cookery’ describing the lone photograph of Hulbert in action (p.g. 3). Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  12. English Heritage summarising how turkeys became the centrepiece of many British Christmases throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  13. Science Museum detailing how the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II helped British television become mainstream. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  14. Bleeding Cool summarising Doctor Who's Christmas specials. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  15. Express and Star considering the programme to be the first Christmas Day broadcast worldwide. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 The 405 Alive FAQ detailing how most pre-Second World War BBC output is forever lost, with only rare exceptions. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Web Archive article discussing how most early television is missing due to the lack of directly recording television. Retrieved 25th Dec '23
  18. Science and Media Museum summarising the recording of Variety in Sepia. Retrieved 25th Dec '23