Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to Day Eleven of our Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2023. We, here we are in the home stretch of what's proven a pretty wild ride. We've had our ups and downs this year with some of the very worst specials we've ever offered but also a few of the very best. Last time we gave you a special solidly seated in the former category, featuring one of the most unlikely product tie-ins and some of the most incoherent and lazy plotting we've ever seen. So how will today's program rate? Hard to say, as we're writing this intro blind and haven't even watched it yet. To be honest, we only chose it because we saw the title and couldn't resist. While that may not prove a winning strategy, I think you'll agree it is at least a novel approach. Regardless...tea bags and ding dongs! The jokes write themselves.

A clumpy lump of cerulean cerumin.

We're posting a brand-new review of a Christmas special every other day beginning December 3rd, and culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. This is a particularly trying time of year for my wife, who grows weary of my Shitmas shenanigans taking up so much of my time and energy when there's holiday planning, decorating and social events to attend to, particularly in the final week or so before Christmas when I suddenly realize I still have several articles to write and only a day or two in which to do each of them. Still, I've tried to find a balance between my self-imposed obligations to Million Monkey Theater and my vastly more vital obligations to my spouse. Some years I do better than others, and this year, despite having started writing later than usual I've managed to largely maintain both my temper and my equilibrium.

This past Sunday we spent the day with my wife's family, enjoying a holiday get-together with her siblings, their spouses and our two wonderful nieces. On our way home we passed a Lidl supermarket, a German chain whose products are mainly store-brand and somewhat less expensive than other area stores. My wife mentioned that with some of the items you have to give the box a shake because they may only be half-full, with the large package a ploy to make it seem like there's more inside it than there actually is. She added, however that it's a good place to find inexpensive cheese, which, as we've previously established, I eat an awful lot of. She further offered the sterling testimonial "It's not the best cheese, but it's cheese you could take to a party, and you could say you brought cheese." I giggled and quipped, "That's should write for Million Monkey Theater!"

She immediately slammed on the brakes, ordered me out of the car and made me walk the rest of the way home. The moral of the story is...well, honestly I don't think there is one. I'm just running out of ideas for these segments and thought I'd share what she said about the cheese.

So, yes, I totally chose this special because of the dual double entendre in the title. Not that I'd ever stoop so low as to joke about pendulous penises or the prison inmate testicle-tested and approved act of least not as low as I'd need to stoop if I were actually doing it, so let's just establish right up front that there will be no squatting, dangling or double-dipping here today.

Still, who knows what tomorrow may bring?

I'd never seen or even heard of the UK Granada TV program T. Bag (1985-92) before stumbling across it on a list of British Christmas specials just this morning. A modicum of research reveals that there were nine series and four stand-alone Christmas specials totaling a whopping ninety-four episodes--a tremendously successful run by any measure. I was a little bit surprised to find that it's a children's show, though because the suggestiveness of a title like T. Bag's Christmas Ding Dong cannot possibly be an accident. It's the third of the four specials and features the second of a pair of sister witches, Tabitha Bag, who took over in the helm when the original witch Tallulah Bag was written out at the end of series five. Both Bags employ a servant/surrogate/familiar named Thomas Shirt (T. Shirt...get it?) who helps them in their various schemes and quests and gets to share some of their magical powers as payment. The character of T. Shirt was played by John Hasler, who was just a hapless young boy when the program started, but who had grown into a capable young man by the time of today's special and had begun to take on a more active and level-headed role in the various plots.

The original sister Tallulah was played by Elizabeth Estensen, who would later become a long-standing cast member of the esteemed soap opera Emmerdale (1972-present) in a role she continues to play to this day. Her replacement, and the star of today's special, is Georgina Hale. She's one of my favorite actresses, known most prominently for her work with the outrageous and controversial director Ken Russell. She features in four of his films and in his cheeky TV adaptation of Treasure Island (1995). Her most notable Russell collaborations are in Mahler (1974), as the famous composer's long-suffering wife Alma, and as Phillippe in The Devils (1971), which is not only my favorite of Russell's films, but my favorite film of all the films I've ever seen.

Come for the religious hypocrisy, stay for the naked nuns.

Hale's guest star in today's special, to my surprise and delight, turned out to be another of my favorite actresses, Glenda Jackson, an absolute legend with a multiple award-winning career in theater, film and television who also served as a Minister of Parliament from 1992-2015. Jackson also worked with Ken Russell, in five of his films, including an Academy Award-winning performance in Women in Love (1970).

With these two giants of British thespianism headlining, I felt confident that I'd be seeing something worthwhile, a program, perhaps to elevate me from the lingering doldrums of my last two Shitmas entries. Sadly, it was not to be. T. Bag's Christmas Ding-Dong is a sloppy, disjointed disaster, with over-the-top camera-mugging, unfunny slapstick and a meandering, hackneyed plot you've seen done better in a hundred or more other productions. I'm sure Hale and Jackson had a lot of fun shamelessly hamming it up as a couple of sniping rival witches hoping to become opera stars, but that fun does not translate to much in the way of amusement for the audience, who are forced to wince through one noisy, scenery-chewing escapade after another until the whole mess mercifully ends. There's not even any tea bagging or ding dongs to liven things up, which will serve as a hard lesson that I need to vet these specials more carefully before I open my mouth and say "Ahhh."

We open in what appears to be a toy store where T. Shirt is just finishing up for the day, switching off lights, locking the front door and turning the "Open" sign to "Closed." He pauses a moment to look at a miniature theater playset and is mesmerized by a little man in a powdered wig playing a harpsichord on the stage. Suddenly, and without any narrative explanation, Shirt finds himself transported into the theater, onto the stage and into the baroque-era world within it.

T. Shirt, admiring the view.

T. Shirt, part of the view and wearing a completely different outfit.

The little man, now full-sized, is Gustav Pumpernickel, the conductor of the Royal Flugelfurt Opera House, rehearsing one of the arias for his town's annual production of "The Enchanted Trombone," a traditional Christmas event in their humble burg. Pumpernickel is startled by Shirt's sudden appearance, and despite the honest lad's attempts to cool his temper, the old fellow grabs him by the collar and leads him to the exit, tossing him out on the snowy street and declaring, "If you want to see mein opera you'll have to buy a ticket like everyone else!"

Pumpernickel is played by Peter Woodthorpe, a workaday character actor with scores of film and TV credits who provided the voice of Gollum in Ralph Bakshi's animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (1978). Fun fact: Gollum still completely freaks out my wife from when she saw this version as a child, and to this day whenever I say "My precious" to her in that particular voice she smacks me real hard.

Totally worth it.

Pumpernickel heads inside to check on his young protege, the beautiful soprano Maria, to make sure she's getting herself ready for not only that evening's performance, but for a pre-emptive visit from Archduke Fritz of the Duchy of Flugelfurt, whose cash donations keep the opera house's books in the black. Maria is the stereotypical ingenue, unsure of her own talents, inexperienced and pure of heart, much in the mold of Christine Daae from The Phantom of the Opera. In fact, the entire program is a sort of poorly constructed Phantom of the Opera parody, taking its cue perhaps from the blockbuster Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that had been tearing up London's West End since 1986.

Maria is played by Megan Kelly, known to nothing. Her only other credit is listed as "woman" in a single episode of a teen-centric comedy program called Spatz (1990-92). She has a pretty singing voice and does a serviceable job, but it's hard to get a sense of her potential from her limited screen time and meager dialog.

Maria is anxious about the Archduke's visit, but Pumpernickel tenderly and paternally reassures that her all will be well, because she has the most beautiful voice and the biggest boobs in all of Flugelfurt.

"You could put someone's eye out with those!"

As the two head off to do a little "warming up," if you know what I mean, Pumpernickel waxes rhapsodic about how that evening's performance will make Maria a star. As soon as they're out of earshot, out from the shadows of a nearby archway steps a sinister figure in red, holding a dark carnival mask to her face to hide her identity. She declares in a voice unmistakable to anyone who's ever heard Glenda Jackson speak, "That's what you think! There's only one star around here and that's me!"

Meanwhile T. Shirt is staring at the poster on the side of the opera house for "The Enchanted Trombone" and decides a couple of tickets to the show are just the thing to get his sour-tempered boss T. Bag to loosen up and smile. He summons her with his witch-adjacent powers, but unfortunately for him, he's caught her at an awkward moment.

Not that I mind a naked lady in a bathtub.

Needless to say, Miss T. Bag is displeased and gives him a melodramatic stink eye and a raft of overtly theatrical shit. He tries to explain that he's just trying to treat her to a fancy night at the opera, but before she can respond a trumpet sounds in the distance, heralding the arrival of the Archduke. Pumpernickel excitedly bursts through the door and shouts, "All stand for the Archduke!" Then he sees T. Bag en deshabille in her tub and adds "Not you, madame!" thus depriving us of the only bit of interest or excitement the special might otherwise have had.

Pumpernickel greets the Archduke, carefully using his body and coat to shield the nobleman's view of the nekkid lady in the tub outside his opera house, knowing well that the fella doesn't swing that way anyhow. The Archduke is too distracted by the cold and by his own haughty indifference to notice anyway and hurries inside. As Pumpernickel follows, he implores T. Bag to cover herself, explaining "We're in Flugelfurt, not Paris!" And who doesn't know of that time-honored Parisian tradition of comely maidens sitting around in bathtubs outside opera houses in the middle of winter? There's a gag where T. Shirt goes inside to get T. Bag a towel but shuts the door too hard and dislodges a bunch of snow from the roof, nearly burying his boss. Like most of the gags in the special, it falls flat because the overall pacing is too halting and slow, with no sense of comic rhythm, which renders even the few jokes that should have paid off dull and lifeless.

Back inside the opera house we rejoin Pumpernickel and Maria, preparing to perform an aria for the Archduke in the hopes he'll be impressed enough to fund their operation for another season. The Archduke is played as a foppish man-child by James Saxon, a fairly successful character actor who'd played variations on the same character type in two previous series of the program. He's fey and insufferable, desperately straining to wring some vestige of joy or humor from the tired, thankless stereotype and limp dialogue.

He's both arch and dookie.

Pumpernickel steps onstage and places an atomizer full of a green liquid on a table at one end, then sits down to accompany Maria in the aria from act two of "The Enchanted Trombone." As he shuffles his sheet music, we see a gloved hand surreptitiously swap the green atomizer with an identical atomizer full of something red and sinister. No sooner have they been swapped, Maria decides she needs a little puff of the stuff to loosen her throat for the traditional post-aria tea bagging. After a few false starts Pumpernickel urges her to "Sing as you've never sung before!" The red-clad figure gives a sinister, but tastefully quiet cackle from just off stage.

Maria begins the aria, she doesn't get more than a couple of notes in before she hacks and coughs and grabs her throat in horror! The already impatient Archduke loses his temper and insists that Pumpernickel bring out someone else to do the singing, as he hasn't got all day to waste and anyway if he really wants to hear that kind of gurgling, he has some concubines at the palace he could be tea bagging at that very moment. Pumpernickel pleads that Maria is the best singer he has and there isn't anyone else...when suddenly that familiar voice shouts "Oh, yes, there is!"

The Red Lady in comes in from the wings, prancing triumphantly, and lowers her mask to reveal, unsurprisingly, Glenda Jackson, who proceeds to bow to the Archduke as a prelude to muscling in to perform the aria herself.

Two Oscars, three Emmys, One Tony, a CBE...and this.

Outside the stage door T. Bag and T. Shirt are having one of their frequent arguments, with Shirt insisting he was just trying to do something nice for her and T. Bag insisting she hates opera because it sounds like two balloons being rubbed together. She's pissed off and about to bugger off, when she hears a distant voice coming from inside the theater and pauses to listen. T. Bag clutches her chest dramatically and says "I know that voice! What's she doing here?" She runs into the opera house just as a dejected Maria is coming out and the haughty witch shoves her out of the way. Shirt attempts to apologize for his boss's rudeness, but Maria just stares at him, bursts into tears and runs away.

Back at the stage the Red Lady sings the aria, which is a mildly amusing ode to the trombone, which includes the completely innocent, not the least bit naughty phrase "I'm a sucker for a blow, I'm a sucker for a blow, I'm a sucker for a blow...on the old trombone!"

Sucker? Blow? Bone? Wait a minute...

The Archduke is unimpressed and shouts out "Next!" but Red indignantly informs him there is no next, vowing that if she's not the star of the opera there will be no opera. Fine by me, says the Archduke. They've been doing "The Enchanted Trombone" at Christmas for thirty years and he's had to sit through every excruciating performance. Is there not some other opera they could do, he queries, maybe something with a few laughs? When he threatens to withhold the funding, Red goes ballistic, insisting in her breathlessly overripe way that there will be riots in the street if he deprives the good citizens of Flugelfurt of their Christmas entertainment. Pumpernickel agrees and between them they convince him to back down from his threats and cough up the cash, at least for now.

Red gloats triumphantly as Pumpernickel leads her to her dressing room, and as soon as they're offstage T. Bag and T. Shirt shuffle in, with the former wringing her hands and groaning and the latter looking gormless and confused. It seems the witch's suspicions were correct and the voice she heard is exactlywho she thought it was. Shirt asks who that is and T. Bag growls through clenched teeth that it's a family rival, her show-off of a cousin, Vanity Bag.

"Vanity Bag? Who wrote this shit?"

The impetuous, covetous witch just can't cotton to her cousin getting all the limelight and accolades, so she storms off to confront her, leaving Shirt to opine "Aye, we're in for a ding dong!" which is, sadly I suppose, not a dangling, exposed, fleshy member, but a British slang term for a noisy row or argument. Like a cockchafer (a type of beetle), gullgroper (a con man or swindler) or knobstick (a strike-breaker or scab), it's perfectly clean and innocent, whereas a bumfiddler is both a person who scribbles on a document to render it invalid and a creepy dude who fiddles with your bum.

So, T. Bag busts into V. Bag's dressing room and they start in to sniping at each other like a couple of jealous old theater lovies after a third glass of sherry. It's not the sparkling wit of Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw, but more like a couple of orangutans slinging handfuls of poo. Every word and gesture is wildly exaggerated, and every intake of breath is a drama-drenched gasp. It's not funny, and it's completely fucking exhausting to have to sit through so much breathy screeching, shouting and gesticulating. The outcome of all the bitching is that T. Bag isn't about to sit idly by and watch her rival succeed as an opera star, so she scarpers off to plan how to become one herself.

T. Shirt, meanwhile, heads outside for some fresh air and to get away from the smell of all the flying orangutan feces. There he meets Maria, holding a big basket of flowers and herbs singing "Lavender! Who'll buy my lavender?" The smitten young fellow compliments her voice, saying "You shouldn't be selling flowers, you should be on the stage!" His compliment doesn't have the desired effect of making her suddenly crave a gullgrope of his knobstick or a cockchafing fiddle of her bum, but instead triggers another bout of bitter tears. He asks what he said to upset her, and she unburdens herself to him, relaying the sad tale of how all her hopes, dreams and aspirations have been forever crushed by a single, possibly tubercular cough.

"Anyway, I don't like ding dongs, I like vajayjays."

Now we get T. Bag's rendition of the "I'm a sucker for a blow" song, and if anything, she sings it even worse than her nemesis. The Archduke is back now and agrees with my assessment, but T. Bag insists it's not her voice that's the problem, but the music. It's boring, boring, boring, she cries, and the Archduke agrees with this assessment, too, but he laments that since it's the only opera they have handy they're stuck with it. This gives T. Bag an idea. She boldly claims she can get her hands on an opera that'll knock the monograms off his socks. His interest is piqued, and when he inquires further, she informs him that she knows of a great composer who's staying nearby and happens to be available to write them a far better opera that very afternoon: the great boy genius Wolfgang Amadeus Shirt.

This is a bad idea...and by that, I mean the entire program.

So, the plan is that little Wolfie Shirt is happy to write a new opera, but of course his caveat is that T. Bag must sing the lead. She whisks him away to a quiet corner of the theater and sets him down of a trunk with a quill and some music paper and orders him to get to work. As soon as she leaves, V. Bag shows up to get her hooks into him, hinting at serious personal injury if he doesn't write her as the lead instead of her blowhard cousin. In the course of her tirade, she proudly admits to having "nobbled" Maria to get her out of the way so she could have the lead, so she's certainly not going to let T. Bag slip in the crack and take the glory whole. Shirt expresses his outrage at Vanity's outrageous conduct towards Maria, but she tells him to stuff a sock in his gob and promises that if she doesn't get the lead in his opera, he'll lose something far worse than his voice.

Yes, we're talking about his ding dong again.

V. Bag slinks away and poor Shirt sits slump-shouldered and dispirited, bemoaning the rotten prospect of being stuck in the middle of the two scheming witches. He suddenly turns thoughtful, rubs his chin and smiles. "Of course!" he shouts, and eagerly puts quill to paper. Next thing we know he's handing the manuscript of his brand-new opera to Pumpernickel, who insists that it had better be good, because the entire future of the Flugelfurt Opera House depends on it. As the old furt skips off to practice it, Shirt uses his magic to transport himself away, presumably to attend to some important personal business involving tea bags and ding dongs.

Next, we cut to a new poster hanging outside the opera house, advertising a new opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Shirt called "The Christmas Fairy." We hear the sounds of a crowd gathering, but we don't see any crowd because they blew the entire budget when they hired Glenda Jackson. Inside the opera house Pumpernickel takes the conductors podium, and we can see by the painted backdrop behind him that the place is packed with a sellout crowd of tiny, two-dimensional people. After a brief nod to the Flugelfurt national anthem and the ceremonial seating of the Grand Duke, the premier performance of "The Christmas Fairy" begins.

As the curtain parts, we see that the action will take place beneath a Christmas tree. There are painted standees representing unopened presents, a baby doll, a teddy bear, a toy cannon and a line of wooden soldiers. The last of these soldiers is actually Shirt, who steps forward and begins to sing.

It's got a distinct "school pageant" vibe.

It seems the toys are all in a tizzy because it's Christmas Eve and they don't have a fairy for the tree. Now, as we all learned back on Shitmas Day Four back in 2021, those crazy Brits don't put an angel or a star on top of their Christmas trees, they put a little Christmas fairy, and if they don't happen to have one available...well, I guess it tears a hole in the fabric of space time or some shit and the universe ends. So, we don't that to happen, right? Thankfully, just as we're informed of the fatal crisis T. Bag enters stage left, dressed as a Christmas Fairy and singing of her Christmas Fairy prowess.

She also has a penchant for Christmas fairy-on-toy violence.

So, T. Bag the fairy promises to transport herself to the top of the tree with a wave of her wand, prompting a "Hooray!" from T. Shirt the toy soldier. Suddenly, however, a second Christmas Fairy appears in the form of V. Bag, who does a little dance and sings of her Christmas Fairy prowess. They size each other up and each vows to be the one true Fairy who'll save the day and top the tree. They now sing a duet, each trying to outboast the other to justify their claim, and I have to admit it's mildly amusing to hear Glenda Jackson bragging about having won more TV, Film and theatrical awards than Georgina Hale has as part of her pitch.

And let's not forget the Christmas fairy-on-Christmas fairy violence.

As one might well expect, it devolves into chaos with the two of them sword fighting with their wands, kicking and swatting each other and pulling each other down as they each try to climb the pile of presents to get to the top of the tree. As they bicker and back-bite Sergeant Shirt sings a brief call-to-arms, walks over to the cannon and fires, blowing the two witches off the stage, leaving only their smoking shoes behind.

Your stinkfoot puts the hurts on my nose.

Now one of the painted set pieces spins around to reveal Maria, resplendent in a gauzy white dress. She sings her part well, and it's not a bad song, either. It's all about her pure and innocent dream to bring joy and happiness but becoming the fairest Christmas fairy of them all. Shirt hands her a wand--and the keys to her Opera stardom--and as the show comes to a close it seems that Christmas dreams really can come true.

Especially dreams about tea bags and ding dongs.

Even the Archduke is pleased, telling Pumpernickel that from now on he's going to pump all of his nickels into the opera...which I'm not sure isn't another euphemism for bumfiddling. Later the now-magnanimous nobleman invites Pumpernickel, Maria and Shirt back to his palace for "a scrummy, slap-up, midnight blow-out."

Which I'm pretty sure is another euphemism for bumfiddling.

As they all head off to get cockchafed together, the two Bags drag themselves out into the cold night, their wigs disheveled, their dresses soiled and torn, and generally looking shagged out and warmed over. They conclude that there's no use continuing to fight each other when they've cleared both lost their play, and after all, it's Christmas, a time of friendship and good will. They decide to make up and be friends, and maybe go out to one of the Flugelfurt beer halls for an all-night booze-up. As they link arms to take to the town, T. Bag slams shut the opera house door behind them, sending down an avalanche of snow.

I guess they were dreaming of a white Christmas.

The special had its moments, but they were few and far between and the bulk of it was just plain awful. The big production number at the end wasn't too bad, but it was a long, tough slog to get to it and it was nowhere near enough to redeem its many underwritten, overacted flaws. As such a huge admirer of the two leads I found it vicariously embarrassing, though as I said at the outset, they probably enjoyed themselves tremendously and viewed their intentionally dreadful performances as a welcome break from the serious, penetrating dramas they were primarily known for. After hanging up her T. Bag in 1992, Georgina Hale would continue her career apace well into her 70's. Glenda Jackson retired from acting that same year but returned to her previous profession in 2019. She died this past June at the age of 87. In her final moments on this Earth, as she looked back on a life well-spent full of sterling public service and a stellar career in the arts, and all of her many extraordinary experiences and challenging, groundbreaking film, theater and television roles paraded before her eyes, I'd like to think she completely forgot this special ever happened.


Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 25rd!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2023.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?


Go ahead.
Steal anything you want from this page.

That's between you and the
vengeful wrath of your personal god.