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Songs of Praise is a BBC television programme based around traditional Christian hymns. With an average of nearly 3 million viewers weekly it is believed to be the most-watched and one of the longest-running religious television programmes in the world. It is also one of the two peak-time free-to-air religious programmes in Europe (with its Dutch equivalent, Nederland Zingt, broadcast by the EO) (Its ITV peak-time equivalent, Highway, was dropped in the early 1990s).

It is usually broadcast at tea time on Sundays, and it usually includes congregations from various church and cathedrals singing famous hymns whilst the presenter explores that week's theme. While focusing on hymns, in recent years the shows have become more diverse in its content, typically with a different theme for each show. It has also had special programmes celebrating the lives of famous British Christians, including the late Dame Thora Hird and Sir Harry Secombe. The programme often airs more contemporary themed episodes than it did in the past, featuring modern Christian artists such as Tim Hughes, Stuart Townend, Lou Fellingham/Phatfish and yfriday.

Outside the United Kingdommarker, Songs of Praise is regularly shown in the Netherlandsmarker, Australia marker, New Zealandmarker, Zimbabwemarker, Canadamarker and South Africa.

The first show was broadcast in October 1961 from the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cardiffmarker, and is now one of the longest-running TV shows in the world. The programme was the idea of the then Assistant Controller of Programmes at the BBC, Donald Baverstock. During its history, Songs of Praise has visited over 1,800 churches, cathedrals and chapels, singing over 12,500 hymns.

It has had many different guest presenters over the years including, Geoffrey Wheeler, Sir Cliff Richard, Alan Titchmarsh and Toyah Willcox. However the current main presenters are Pam Rhodes, Sally Magnusson, Diane-Louise Jordan, Aled Jones, Eamonn Holmes and Gavin Peacock.

Many prominent people have been interviewed on the show, including Tony Blair, Frances Shand Kydd, Alan Ayckbourn and members of the British Royal Family. The show also appeared as a feature within an episode of the BBC comedy television series The Vicar of Dibley.

The programme staged its largest event on the first Sunday of the New Millennium at the Millennium Stadiummarker in Cardiff. A live audience of over 60,000 people came to sing hymns, with a 6,000 piece choir, an orchestra of 100 harps, the band of the Welsh Guards and an anthem special written by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The series won a Merit Award in the prestigious Sandford St. Martin Trust Religious Arts awards in 2004.

Controversy

On 26 March, 2007, in the midst of the premium rate telephone line investigation, it was revealed that the Easter 2007 edition of the show had been recorded at the same time as the Christmas 2006 edition of the show at Lichfield Cathedralmarker in Staffordshire in order to cut costs - with simple changes in lighting and flowers to reflect the two major services. The Bishop of Lichfield said the early recording was not a "deliberate deceit" but would give "an air of unreality" to the Easter programme, while a BBC spokeswoman said it was "common practice" to film two shows at once due to the costs in setting up lighting rigs, especially in a large cathedral. The same was done in 2007 when they recorded the editions for Christmas 2007/Easter 2008 at Hereford Cathedralmarker in November 2007.

Several newspapers have accused the BBC of "tricking" fans of Songs of Praise, although it is commonly known that the broadcasts are not live.

The family of murder victim Billy Barclay criticised the programme for allowing his killer Garry Brotherston to appear on the show. On the programme, Brotherston said that he had "found God" while serving 11 years for Barclay's murder, and has now released an album.

Awards

In 2003 the series was awarded third prize at the Sandford St. Martin Trust's religious broadcasting awards.

References

  1. It started in 1961 when BBC and ITV both had to show religious programmes fo 6.15 to 7.25 on Sunday evenings. BBC: History of Songs of Praise
  2. BBC NEWS | Entertainment | BBC defends early Easter filming
  3. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2009/05/14/family-s-fury-as-knife-killer-is-featured-on-songs-of-praise-86908-21356986/


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