The Repair Shop at Christmas review: We defy you not to sob

Heartwarming: ‘The Repair Shop’ experts are on hand to fix some seasonal treasures  (BBC/Ricochet/Cody Burridge)
Heartwarming: ‘The Repair Shop’ experts are on hand to fix some seasonal treasures (BBC/Ricochet/Cody Burridge)

It takes precisely 12 minutes for tears to fall in this festive edition of BBC One’s The Repair Shop, a show that pulls on the heart strings all year round, but never more so than at Christmas. Mark Stuckey, the series’ resident radio and electronics expert, is the first to get choked up.

He has just met Jo Thomas, who arrives at the bauble-decked workshop with a broken record player housed in an intricately carved wooden box. It was the last Christmas gift she received from her son Ben before he died of cancer aged 10; she needs it to be fixed so that it can once again play Ben’s favourite Abba song (it was “Slipping Through My Fingers”, as if your heart wasn’t already broken) for her and the family. “It’s got me going,” Stuckey sniffles, his eyes welling up. Half the country will probably sob along with him.

The Repair Shop’s genius is that it handles backstories – which are sometimes sad, like Thomas’s, sometimes uplifting, sometimes a mixture of both – with the same delicacy as its experts approach broken treasures and tattered heirlooms. Thanks to presenter Jay Blades’s understated style and light touch, it never feels like the show is preying cynically on the participants’ feelings as they share what has brought them there. And through Thomas’s testimony, this Christmas special quietly acknowledges that the yuletide period can be a difficult tangle of feelings and memories.

Her record player and its subsequent glow-up is the emotional core of this episode (just thinking about Stuckey patting the lid and saying, “Well done, old thing,” after its inevitably successful makeover, will have me weeping all over again). Elsewhere, the team is busy crafting what are surely some of the most elaborate and thoughtful gifts in the history of Secret Santa. Each of them is presented with a gingerbread man bearing the name of their intended recipient, before getting to work on dreaming up a truly personal present. There are gorgeously carved statuettes, handmade Christmas stockings, and even a knitted dog coat. It all puts the average office’s annual parade of plastic tat to shame.

Another gadget in need of a renovation job is a mechanical Christmas cake, a truly idiosyncratic gizmo made in the 1940s by the current owner’s Uncle Fred, an inventor type who sounds like he could have wandered out of the pages of a jolly Enid Blyton adventure. The cake’s “icing” features a rocking robin, a spinning penguin and a sleighing Santa; it even sprays water from a tube at unsuspecting spectators (you can’t fault Uncle Fred’s slapstick).

But the labyrinth of wiring beneath has become jumbled and warped with age, and many of the mechanisms (which the ingenious Fred fashioned from household objects like meat skewers and fountain pen pumps) no longer work. The challenge of bringing this old curio back to its former glory is placed in the hands of expert Steve Fletcher, who describes it as “the most incredible, complex piece of machinery I’ve ever seen” – and that’s coming from a man who fixes clocks for a living.

Heirloom: a pair of paper Father Christmases require some TLC (BBC / Richochet)
Heirloom: a pair of paper Father Christmases require some TLC (BBC / Richochet)

Paper conservator Angelina Bakalarou has a comparatively fiddly job on her hands, too, when a mother-daughter duo arrive bearing two Father Christmas decorations, thought to be more than 100 years old. The paper characters have watched over their family’s fireplaces for generations – and, as a result, they’re caked in soot and frayed at the edges.

On, erm, paper, seeing Bakalarou painstakingly rebuild their silhouettes and recreate the original texture using cellulose powder sounds like it should make deeply boring television, and yet it’s fascinating. So is watching Stuckey (who really has his work cut out this episode) retune a Trinidadian steel drum, brought in by a musician named Mark, by hitting it with a hammer. Once he’s finished, it’s time for Mark’s band to treat the gang to a calypso rendition of “Jingle Bells”. The Repair Shop is just as adept at spreading good cheer as it is at prompting tears, and it’s hard to believe this is only the show’s sixth festive edition – it’s starting to feel like a Christmas TV institution that will happily run for decades to come.