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TV preview christmas special; Still a sex bomb After 35 years at the top, girls still love Tom.

Byline: BILLY SLOAN LOOKS AHEAD TO THE NEXT SEVEN DAYS ON THE BOX

TOM Jones has topped the bill in Las Vegas for more years than he cares to remember.

But the Welsh superstar will never forget his earliest performances when he sang on the windowsill of his family home, after his mother had pulled back the curtains to introduce him.

"It's true," admitted the seemingly-ageless sex symbol. "My mum would say my name, open the front room curtains and I'd start to sing.

"I grew up in the mining community of Pontypridd and my career plans didn't extend much beyond the local pit, but I always dreamed of becoming a singer. Music was all I was interested in."

At 60, the Jones-boyo has never been more popular. Legions of fans have been devoted to him since his first hit, It's Not Unusual, stormed into the charts in 1965.

And nowadays he's got a whole new generation of admirers thanks to Reload - the chart-topping album in which he recorded duets with hip acts such as Robbie Williams and Heather Small of M People. And his latest release, Sex Bomb, was a massive club hit.

Tom's phenomenal 35-year long career in showbiz is the subject of the South Bank Show on ITV tonight.

Melvyn Bragg talks frankly to pop's sexiest grandad about his rollercoaster ride to fame.

A string of big names, including Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and Kelly Jones of The Stereophonics reveal what it was like to work alongside him.

Music pundit Paul Gambaccini said: "A sensational voice combined with keeping his musical curiosity alive has enabled Tom to survive in an era when the pop star has become extinct."

Tom talks candidly about his family and friends, including his son Mark Woodward, who manages his business affairs.

He also talks frankly about his 43-year marriage to Linda, who is always very careful to avoid the limelight. Throughout his career, Tom's name has been linked to a string of beautiful women, but his relationship with Linda has survived through thick and thin.

He admits: "Linda is my rock. I couldn't walk away from her... I wouldn't want to let her down or do anything bad to her. She knows that.

"I'd have to be Superman to do everything people have said I've done, but the longer Linda and I have been married the more she realises I don't want to run off with somebody else."

It's now 35 years since Tom topped the UK charts with It's Not Unusual, but only the most devoted of his fans realise his debut single - Chills And Fever - was a total flop.

The follow-up - composed by his then manager, the late Gordon Mills and Les Reed - was earmarked for another well-known act, barefoot chanteuse Sandie Shaw. Tom recalls: "Gordon and Les wrote the song for Sandie, but they didn't have a demo of it so they asked me to record the track so that she would know what it sounded like.

"She listened to it once and said: 'Who's the guy with the great voice?' Sandie felt I'd done such a good job on the song there was nothing she could add to it.

"So I got to release It's Not Unusual instead of her and it gave me my first No.1 and launched my career."

These days Tom is not only one of the UK's biggest pop superstars, he's also one of the richest with a personal fortune estimated at pounds 50million and he has lavish homes in Wales and Beverly Hills.

But he can still recall going through a lean period in the mid-70s when the hits suddenly dried up - so, for him, success second time around is all the sweeter. He says: "At 60, I still feel I've got a few good years left in me.

"I'll keep on singing until the voice goes.

"And if that happens, I'll be the first to say 'enough is enough'.

"It's great to know that young people also enjoy what I do. They're more into the music than the image and I like that.

"I jumped at the chance to record duets on the Reload album with young performers such as Cerys Matthews from Catatonia and James Dean Bradfield of The Manic Street Preachers.

"They seemed to get a real buzz from working with me...

"But I got as big a buzz singing with them.

"I'm enjoying myself more now than at any other time in my life. Long may it continue."

Colin's just the ticket in bus drama

IF actor Colin Firth ever falls on hard times he'll never go hungry.

The handsome star could always get a job as a bus driver following his latest TV drama.

Colin plays the title role in Donovan Quick, a new made-for-television movie on BBC 1 on Thursday.

And to prepare for the part, he had to learn how to drive a 40-year-old bus.

Colin said: "It was shockingly difficult. All the elements involved - judging width, speed, braking time - were very tricky.

"Reversing was really tough, too. I can drive a car, but this was all new to me."

Luckily, Colin mastered his driving skills for the one-off drama which is loosely based on the classic story of Don Quixote.

Mysterious Donovan, instead of tilting at windmills, confronts authority against a backdrop of transport privatisation.

He arrives in Glasgow and is put up by the troubled Pannick family.

But when a local bus firm scraps one of its services - leaving a member of the family with no way of getting to their day-care centre - Donovan decides to set-up his own transport company.

"I'd never seen a script like it before," said Colin. "It was unique. One of the really appealing things was the contrast between the banality of a transport problem ... and this chivalrous, heroic tale of gallantry."

Colin - still best known for his role as dashing D'arcy in the BBC's hit costume drama, Pride And Prejudice - appears with two familiar faces.

Scots actress Katy Murphy plays Lucy Pannick, carer of her mentally ill brother.

And Chewin' The Fat's Ford Kiernan has a rare straight role as transport company worker, Jim Leahy.

Victoria calls in her children for a starring role in her comedy special

VICTORIA Wood wasn't short of celebrity guest stars when she filmed her Christmas Day show for the BBC.

A string of famous names including Michael Parkinson, Delia Smith and Richard E. Grant volunteered to take part in her comic sketches.

But the award-winning Victoria had another two very special guests... her children Grace and Henry.

They appear in a couple of comedy routines with their mum in the show, Victoria Wood With All The Trimmings, on BBC 1 tomorrow night. It's the first time the 47-year-old star has performed with Grace, 12, and eight-year-old Henry.

She said: "This is my first Christmas extravaganza for four years and at least I'll have two viewers glued to their TV sets.

"I had no hesitation in using Grace and Henry. It was much cheaper than having to pay professional child actors."

Grace appears as an extra in a Jane Austen-style sketch and had to wear her hair in Regency ringlets.

She definitely got the better deal. Henry was cast in a mock wartime newsreel and wore a gas mask throughout his cameo role. Victoria added: "The kids don't have any lines. Each has a brief appearance but they really enjoyed themselves.

"I don't know if it's made them keen on following a showbiz career. I think there was too much hanging around for their liking.

"But I wouldn't stop them if that's what they wanted to do."

And Victoria revealed that Henry is something of a TV veteran.

"This wasn't his first telly appearance," she said. "He was once in a BBC documentary about nits."

She began writing the Christmas special in May, and it's her usual mix of comic pastiches plus skits on TV shows such as The Cruise. "It's a bit like a compression of all the kind of programmes you might see on television at Christmas," Victoria said.

"And as for the celebrity guests, I just drew up a list of all the people I wanted.

"I wrote to the first 16 and they all said: 'Yes'.

"I thought: 'Bloody hell! I'd better not write to any more.'"

Her star-studded line-up resembles the heyday of the Morecambe And Wise festive shows.

So, is Victoria thinking of making her festive comedy special an annual event?

"I'm not sure yet," she said, "Let's just see how this one goes down. I've no idea whether the viewers will like it. But if it's a success, then of course I'd like to try it again."

In one sketch, Victoria does a spoof of the movie Brassed Off, which starred actor Pete Postlethwaite.

She persuaded Pete to appear also in the comic version.

In the skit, Victoria is seen playing the trumpet... and that's no joke, for she can actually do it.

The comedienne said: "Yes, it's me. I can play trumpet.

"It's not something I shout about because I haven't played it since I was about 17.

"But when I wrote my Brassed Off sketch I started again. It seemed to make sense for me to capitalise on my ability as a trumpeter."

Originally, Victoria had planned to take things easy in 2000 in the wake of the success of her hit TV sit-com, Dinnerladies

But writing the Christmas show and planning a tour of the UK due to start next year put paid to all that.

The gigs may be her farewell live appearances.

She said: "It's going to be a long tour with shows in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

"It's tough to come up with two hours of live material, but the theatres are already booked, so there's no going back now.

"But I thought I'd give it one more shot... then, never again. However, I won't be calling it my farewell tour - that would be a bit too naff."

Over the festive period, she'll finally put her feet up for a few days. However Victoria won't be watching herself tomorrow night.

She said: "Even though it's all recorded and edited, I'll still be very nervous about how people are going to react to it.

"My husband Geoffrey and the kids can watch it. I'll be in the kitchen doing the washing up."

SHOWBIZ

Hidden Talents Of The Rich And Famous (ITV - Sat)

Ian Wright invites celebrities such as Lionel Richie, above, Stefanie Powers and Tara Palmer-Tompkinson to reveal their hidden talents.

NOSTALGIA

I Love A 1970s Christmas (BBC 2 - Sun)

Blue Peter pals Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves look back at the trends which made 70s festive seasons so memorable.

PROFILE

Arena (BBC2 - Sun)

In the first of a two-part special, Clint Eastwood talks about his movie career as an actor and director. It includes a rare interview with his mum, Ruth.

MUSIC

Stars In The Eyes (ITV - Tues)

Matthew Kelly hosts a one-off festive edition in which previous winners - including Shirley Bassey soundalike, above - perform their favourite Christmas songs.

FASHION

Celebrity Frock Ups (C4 - Wed)

In a light-hearted look at sartorial serial offenders, Jayne Middlemiss names the guilty with Laurence Llewellyn Bowen top of the list.

Revealed: The shady side of Sinatra

FRANK Sinatra always did things his way ... just like it says in his most famous song.

The legendary crooner - whose links to the Mafia have been well documented - didn't care who he trampled on in his quest to become a star.

But diehard fans will no doubt wince at a new TV profile, Sinatra: Good Guy - Bad Guy.

Screened on ITV on Wednesday, it really puts Ol' Blue Eyes' life and work under the microscope.

The result is an unflattering picture of the man who became the most popular singing star of the 20th-century. Former showbiz pals such as comic Jackie Mason, actress Janet Leigh and bandleader Artie Shaw speak for the first time in detail about the man behind the music.

"He was a lover, the greatest singer ... but he was also a bad boy," says another pal, actor Eddie Fisher.

The documentary kicks off in Hoboken, New Jersey, where Sinatra was born in 1915, and reveals the roots of his alleged Mob connections.

It focuses, too, on his torrid love affairs with beautiful women such as Ava Gardner, Mia Farrow and Angie Dickinson.

Sinatra's music will live on and, after this programme, so will the view that he was power crazy and a horrible man.

Al cottons on in Dot send-up

THE cast of EastEnders have finally hit the big-time...for they've been sent-up by impressionist Alistair McGowan.

He takes on the guise of battleaxe Dot Cotton in a hilarious spoof of life on Albert Square.

She is just one of the new characters introduced by Alistair and female co-star Ronni Ancona in his new show.

In 2000 Impressions - on BBC 1 on Saturday - the pair poke fun at Big Brother.

Their version has newsreaders Huw Edwards, Trevor McDonald, Anna Ford and Moira Stuart as contestants.

"We show what really went on behind the walls of the Big Brother compound," said Alistair. "This is the stuff Davina McCall didn't tell the viewers about."

Switch off...MOST of the Christmas Day telly. It's plum duff... a mixture of the same old faces, boring movies and repeats.

Gone are the days when I'd sit with a pack of blank VHS tapes and record enough stuff to keep me going for the next fortnight.

With the exception of Coronation Street and The Royle Family, I'm hard-pushed to come with anything worth watching.

So, take a tip from me - open your pressies, enjoy your Christmas dinner, then curl up on the sofa for a nap.
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:TV Preview
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 24, 2000
Words:2300
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