The Bootleg Files: Disney Time (The 1969 Christmas Special)

BOOTLEG FILES 850: “Disney Time (1969 Christmas Show) (1969 British television special hosted by Julie Andrews).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The Mouse House isn’t letting it out.


American television viewers and Walt Disney’s studio output have been in a very close relationship since the 1950s, but across the Atlantic things were a bit different. The Disney studio never established the same level of ubiquitous synergy with British television programmers that they achieved in their own country, and Disney’s televised presence across the U.K. was more limited.

In a strange way, that lack of ubiquity made the Disney presence on British television more special and meaningful – familiarity never bred contempt. Beginning in 1961 and running through 1998, a television special called “Disney Time” would turn up on BBC 1 as a holiday treat. It was originally conceived as a Christmas Day presentation, but over time it expanded being show four times a year (on Easter, Whitsun – the seventh Sunday after Easter – the August bank holiday and Christmas).

“Disney Time” rarely deviated in its structure – a well-known celebrity would introduce a selection of clips from classic, current and upcoming Disney films. Some of the celebrities were starring in current Disney releases, such as Maurice Chevalier and Nancy Kwan, but most were recruited based on their celebrity – Cliff Richard, Terry-Thomas, “Doctor Who” star Tom Baker (in character), The Goodies and Bing Crosby were among the hosts of these holiday treats. Perhaps the most prestigious star to host a “Disney Time” special was Paul McCartney, joined by his wife Linda, who helmed the 1973 Christmas special. I must admit that I originally hoped to have the McCartney show as the subject of this column – and while I know bootleg copies of that show are out there somewhere, I was unable to find a copy for this offering.

Instead, I am going with the Christmas 1969 “Disney Time” special starring Julie Andrews. The enchanting Andrews first hosted “Disney Time” in the Christmas 1964 show when her film breakthrough “Mary Poppins” was in theatrical release – she returned in 1969 for another go-round to share the studio’s output with British viewers on Christmas Day.

By December 1969, Andrews’ career was in a precarious spot. She was just coming off the commercially disastrous release of the 1968 musical epic “Star!” and had the shaky big-budget musical “Darling Lili” awaiting a 1970 release. Nonetheless, Andrews did not wear out her welcome and having her in front of a British audience was a treat for the country’s television viewers on Christmas in 1969.

Andrews was both regal and charming, as usual, when carrying on her hosting duties. While she was not afforded a musical interlude, she began the special by introducing the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” number from “Mary Poppins” – which was more than enough to confirm her immortality in the Disney sphere of influence.

During the course of the “Disney Time” special, a familiar pattern quickly evolved – Andrews offered a brief but effusive introduction to clips from Disney flicks. Classics including “Fantasia” (the “Nutcracker Suite” segment), “Jungle Book,” “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (which Andrews introduced clutching a Tigger doll that looked nothing like the cartoon character), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “101 Dalmatians,” “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” and “Alice in Wonderland” were offered.

Andrews also offered previews of two Disney films being prepped for a 1970 release: the nature film “King of the Grizzlies” and the dum-dum comedy “The Boatniks,” which Andrews carefully noted was still in production.

By contemporary standards, the show was something of a disappointment. Andrews was moored in a single generic set with a Christmas tree, and she waved an oversized book as if to emphasize she was sharing content of great substance. She is a pleasant but slightly dull presence, and most of today’s Disney fans would probably be too familiar with the film clips she shared to really care.

But if we were to switch back to 1969 Britain, this was quite a big deal – a British performer who became a Hollywood superstar returns home to share some rarely-seen classics from an iconic film studio along with exclusive peeks at a couple of new films that will be in theaters next year. (Remember that the rerun culture of U.S. television was not mirrored on U.K. television, so most of the vintage footage in this presentation was not ingrained in the local pop culture.) As a Christmas distraction for that point in time and that point in geography, it was deserving of attention and respect.

“Disney Time” was never shown on U.S. television, and neither Disney nor BBC have made “Disney Time” available for U.S. home entertainment release. A black-and-white copy of the Andrews episode (which I assume was broadcast in color) is on YouTube, and it makes for a jolly whiff of vintage holiday fun.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to Phil Hall’s award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud and his radio show “Nutmeg Chatter” on WAPJ-FM in Torrington, Connecticut, with a new episode every Sunday. His new book “100 Years of Wall Street Crooks” is now in release through Bicep Books.