THE BBC's flagship worship programme, Songs of Praise,
is to drop its traditional format of a service recorded usually in
a cathedral, parish, or other church. From this weekend, each
edition will feature a range of churches, locations, congregations,
choirs, and soloists in order to reflect what the broadcaster
describes as the reality of the faith across the country.
The head of religion and ethics at the BBC, Aaqil Ahmed, said:
"From the emerging black-majority, Pentecostal, and Eastern
European Catholic Churches to, of course, Anglican worship, the
updated version of Songs of Praise will be going all out
to ensure that more viewers see themselves well represented."
The move seeks to combat a dwindling audience-share by capturing
viewers from ethnic-minority populations. Anglican churches and
cathedrals will still be featured alongside others, the BBC said.
The first ever Songs of Praise was broadcast from the
Tabernacle Baptist Chapel, Cardiff. The programme has often
gathered an ecumenical congregation in the church regarded by the
makers as the most photogenic in a given locality, or linked to a
The new format will also feature interviews and items presented
by others than the main presenter, though there are "currently no
plans" to include Vicky Beeching, the Christian singer-songwriter
who recently said that she was gay, despite reports over the summer
that she was being lined up to present the programme.
The new format will offer "an engaging mix of musical styles"
and a "greater breadth of music", Mr Ahmed said. There will also be
more topical features: this weekend's programme includes a report
about Christians who have fled Syria.
The same signature tune will still be used, and the words of
songs and hymns will continue to appear on the screen to allow
viewers to "sing along". The first revamped edition this Sunday
features music from venues including a Roman Catholic cathedral, a
Pentecostal church, and a Salvation Army training college.
Songs of Praise is now in its 54th year, and is one of
the longest-running programmes on television. Its previous
presenters have included Sir Harry Secombe, Roger Royle, and Alan
A BBC spokeswoman said that there had been no complaints after
the announcement of the changes. "The weekly mix of a greater
variety of music and interviews will interest a wider cross-section
of viewers than has been possible with the previous pattern of
whole programmes generally dedicated to just one location with one
style of music and one overall theme."