BBC One puts comedy at the forefront of Xmas schedule

LONDON - BBC One is offering comedy to viewers this Christmas with new episodes of 'The Vicar of Dibley' and a Graham Norton-fronted show on 'The Sound of Music', as well as a raft of drama and films including the terrestrial premiere of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'.

Dawn French returns to BBC One screens after a five-year break as 'The Vicar of Dibley'. The two brand new episodes, penned by 'Four Weddings' writer Richard Curtis, will be one of the season's comedy highlights, alongside festive versions of 'French and Saunders', 'My Family', 'The Big Impression' and 'My Dad's the Prime Minister'.

The channel also sees Graham Norton paying a seasonal visit to Austria for 'The Sound of Music 40th Anniversary'.

BBC Three has lined up 'Little Britain' star Matt Lucas to play God in a soft rock celebration of the nativity called 'AD/BC: The Rock Opera'. 'Nighty Night' star Julia Davis will play Ruth Innkeeper and Julian Barratt, from 'The Mighty Boosh', will play Tony Iscarriot.

There are also Christmas specials of the critically acclaimed BBC Three comedies 'The Smoking Room' and 'Angry Kid', plus extra episodes of award-winning comedy 'Little Britain'.

Other BBC One highlights include a 'What Not to Wear Christmas Special' and the much-awaited 'Strictly Come Dancing Final' where the viewers' two favourite celebrities will battle it out to win the ballroom dancing show live from Blackpool.

Spin-off show 'Strictly Come Dancing on Ice' will put celebrities through their paces as would-be professional ice-skaters.

BBC One's line-up of films includes the terrestrial premiere of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' and US animated blockbuster 'Shrek'.

Football-themed Brit-flick hit 'Bend It Like Beckham', which launched Keira Knightley's acting career, will be premiered alongside sci-fi thriller 'AI' and '102 Dalmations'.

Heading BBC One's drama offering is an adaptation of PD James' novel 'Murder Rooms' starring Martin Shaw, as well as crime drama 'Sherlock Homes and the Deadly Season'.

Family drama 'Pride' follows real lions through South Africa in a mix of natural history footage and animation, with the voices of Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet as two members of a pride of lions.

Elsewhere, interactive general knowledge quiz 'Test the Nation: 2004' and 'Winners and Losers 2004' will take a nostalgic look over the past year.

'Strictly Come Dancing' and 'BBC News' presenter Natasha Kaplinsky will host the run-up to midnight and into 2005 with fireworks from the banks of the Thames and celebrations from around the country.

Meanwhile, BBC Two takes viewers around the world to discover the origins of 'The Real Santa Claus', revealing for the first time what Father Christmas would have really looked like.

The life and art of one of Britain's most loved and revered playwrights, Dennis Potter, provides the subject matter for an 'Arena' special on BBC Two.

'Jimmy's Farm' returns for a festive special, the unique chatshow skills of Keith Barret, played by Rob Brydon, provide the laughs and there is a new episode of 'Grumpy Old Women.'

Classical music on BBC Two includes Lesley Garrett captured live in a musical extravaganza from Temple Newsam in Leeds and highlights of this year's Glyndebourne Operas.

Terrestrial movie premieres on BBC Two include 'Stage Beauty', 'The Mother and I Capture the Castle' and 'Chocolat' starring Dame Judy Dench, Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche.

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