Songs of Praise has makeover

by
14 November 2014

by a staff reporter

PA

Revamped programme: the Welsh singer Connie Fisher, winner of the BBC talent series How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? in 2006, and a star of the subsequent West End production of the musical The Sound of Music, is to present the first new-look Songs of Praise on Sunday

Revamped programme: the Welsh singer Connie Fisher, winner of the BBC talent series How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? in 2006, and a star of th...

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 particular theme.

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 Titchmarsh.

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."

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