When Santa got nicked

Well over thirty five years ago, in the run up to Christmas 1986 or ’87, I think, the BBC got an invitation to see a Santa waterskiing on the Thames under one of the bridges. I imagine it was some kind of publicity stunt, but for what I have absolutely no idea any more. And Christmas being (in those days) a quiet time of year for news, they decided to cover it.

Off we went, cameraman Albie Charlton and I, to capture this rather trivial event for posterity.

We set up somewhere on the South Bank, and sure enough, there came a speedboat towing Santa under the bridge. Not Earth shatteringly important but maybe mildly diverting.

Problem was, the organisers of this stunt hasn’t bothered to coordinate with the Met Police’s Thames division, who soon showed up in their blue boat with their blue lights and nicked Santa and the pilot for some obscure breach of the rules of the river, hauling them into their boat and zooming off with them.

We thought this was quite amusing, and so did the editor of the lunchtime news who put it out as an “and finally.” (The BBC didn’t actually call it that, but you know, last trivial item before the weather.)

What nobody realised was that on a quiet day that close to Christmas, LOADS of small kiddies would be watching, and so, no sooner did the item finish than the switchboard lit up like, well, like a Christmas tree with outraged parents yelling that their kids were horrified and demanding to know if their presents would still arrive.

I believe they had to run a line in the early evening news that Santa had been released without charge and would be operating as normal.

I do wish I had evidence, but I didn’t take any stills at the time (one of the regrets of my career) and a search has turned up no sign of the video. If anyone has or finds anything, do tell.

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