Now this is a real oddity. A half hour experimental piece broadcast in the children’s slot the day before Christmas Eve 1988 on BBC One as a vehicle for Mint Juleps (not to be confused with the 50s doo-wop group), a now unfairly forgotten all-female six piece acapella group who were briefly a thing in the mid-80s but who, though they’re still around today, never made it to the big time. Directed by Christopher Baker, who had just done a handful of episodes of the BBC’s short lived science fiction series Star Cops (1987), it’s a weird little thing that seems to be two entirely different projects – a Play for Today (1970-1984)-style drama about working class life in Liverpool – though it appears to have been shot in Bristol – and a surreal, extended music video.

The plot follows the eponymous Billy (Jeremy Stuart), a young boy with dreams of rock stardom and idolises his absent older brother Dave (John Shackley, from The Tripods (1984-1985)). His parents (Deborah Manship and Christopher Quinn) are worried that he’s going to go off the rails like Dave and want him to consider more mundane jobs, like working in a bank. Mint Juleps are his angels, descending from… Heaven? It’s not really clear, but here they are, unseen by all, watching over Billy as he encounters a gang led by Mr Big (Daniel Peacock who, a few years earlier, had played a budding rock himself, “Mental” Mickey in the Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003) episode It’s Only Rock and Roll (1985)) and wanders the city meeting Faith (Victor Romero Evans), Hope (a young Fay Masterson) and Charlie (Nabil Shaban).

The story is slight and meandering, ending abruptly in a corny act of brotherly love and reconciliation, but it’s the music that really matters here and it’s so good that you wish they’d just let Mint Juleps perform in a studio without all the adornments of the strange plot, the progress of which they have no impact on whatsoever. It really does feel like writer Sheila Fox came up with a simple tale of estranged brothers aimed at a young audience and someone in the depths of the BBC realised that they’d got Mint Juleps on hand so bolted them onto the story. The songs even drown out some of the dialogue at times as though some of them were afterthoughts dubbed in later.

But it’s worth it for the fantastic performances from Mint Juleps. The group had been signed to the influential independent record label Stuff Records and released one album, One Time, but with the label’s sale to ZTT in 1987 and its subsequent closure they moved to Polydor for their second album, The Power of Six. They continued finding work as backing singers to The Belle Stars and Dr Feelgood among others, can be seen in Spike Lee’s film Do It Acapella (1990) and released a third and final album, Women In (E)motion Festival in 1993. For Billy’s Christmas Angels they provide a range of songs, mainly cover versions including excellent reworkings of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence (they even work in a brief snatch of America) and the perennial Stand by Me. The songs are everything here and thankfully make up for the rather dull storyline.

The visual effects are as cheap as you’d expect from a late-80s BBC production and the whole thing reeks of the cheapness that came with shot-on-video studio recordings. The acting is highly variable (Jeremy Stuart barely worked again and it’s not hard to see why) and all this combines to create one of those soulless and atmosphere-deficient oddities that 80s British television kept throwing up only for people to almost instantly forget. It’s not even particularly seasonal – Mint Juleps don’t sing any Christmas songs and it could have been set at any time of the years and worked just as well. Apart from a few shots of decorations that look like they might have been culled from the BBC’s archive and edited in, you’d never actually know that it was set during the festive season at all.