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Worship and carols lead BBC Christmas schedule, despite restrictions

01 December 2020

Christmas specials of The Vicar of Dibley and Songs of Praise also feature

BBC/Ellie Harrison with Lucinda Hawksley

Angellica Bell in Durham Cathedral, with a nativity scene featuring miners, during episode two of A Very Country Christmas

Angellica Bell in Durham Cathedral, with a nativity scene featuring miners, during episode two of A Very Country Christmas

LIVE and pre-recorded worship, carol services, and seasonal reflections remain at the heart of Christmas programming on the BBC this year, despite the pandemic restrictions.

The annual Carols from King’s service on BBC2 on Christmas Eve has been pre-recorded: the choir was socially distanced, and there was no congregation for the first time in its 65-year history, owing to the risks of viral transmission. Under current government guidance, only professional and amateur choirs are permitted to sing indoors.

The broadcast will complement the annual service of Nine Lessons and Carols also from King’s College, Cambridge, which will be broadcast live on Radio 4 on Christmas Eve, as will Midnight Mass from Manchester Cathedral. The live broadcast of Midnight Mass on BBC2 will be filmed from the Clifton RC Cathedral, in Bristol. The choir will be socially distanced.

As of Tuesday, when the national lockdown ends, places of worship can reopen and congregational singing will be permitted outdoors in any of the three tiers of coronavirus restrictions, meaning that Christmas services that have not been pre-recorded could feature congregational hymn singing.

The Christmas Day service from Aberdeen Street Church, Birmingham, will be live on BBC1. The street dancer and actor Ashley Banjo will narrate the nativity from St Luke’s Gospel with a musical performance in On Christmas Night, also on BBC1.

As part of its Christmas Like No Other project, the BBC will broadcast an evensong from St Paul’s Cathedral on 8 December, which will include the lighting of the dome in yellow to reflect the Good Grief Campaign. This marks a year of bereavement, grief, hope, and compassion during the pandemic.

Besides worship, BBC religious programming this Christmas includes A Very Country Christmas on BBC1 — described as a celebration of three “very different” Christmases in the north-east, south-west, and in Scotland, including an exploration of worship in these regions. Hosted by the Cotswold farmer and naturalist Ellie Harrison and the broadcaster Angellica Bell, the programme will feature a mining-based Christmas crib in Durham Cathedral.

Songs of Praise: The UK’s favourite carol on BBC1 will be hosted by Aled Jones (Interview, 6 November) from St Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral choir will perform alongside guests including Sir Cliff Richard, Katherine Jenkins, the Priests, and the Kingdom Choir.

The first joint BBC Radio 2 and Songs of Praise Young Chorister of the Year is presented by the Revd Kate Bottley, Ms Jenkins, and Mr Jones from Gorton Monastery, Manchester. Ms Bottley will also be live on Radio 2 on Christmas morning with carols and reflections on the Christmas story, including messages from celebrities and listeners.

On Radio 3, on 20 December, the European Broadcasting Union will present a day-long celebration of Christmas, and singing from Europe and Canada; and, on Christmas Eve, BBC Radio Wales will broadcast a studio concert recorded without an audience and with a socially distanced BBC National Orchestra of Wales, exploring Christmas music and traditions around the world. BBC Radio programmes Beyond Belief and Something Understood are also scheduled for Christmas week.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, will be one of the guest editors of Radio 4’s Today programme over the Christmas period.

BBC/Tiger AspectDawn French as the Revd Geraldine Granger

On television, the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, first broadcast in 1994, is to return for a series of lockdown-inspired specials before Christmas. Dawn French will reprise her role as the Revd Geraldine Granger. The show, which ran during the 1990s, with Christmas specials until 2006, gained a new generation of followers when it came to Netflix this year.

The BBC will broadcast three weekly ten-minute episodes, in which the Vicar will deliver her sermons via Zoom. The episodes will air after repeats of the original episodes, which began on Monday of last week on BBC1. The show’s creator, Richard Curtis, said: “Like every village in the country, there’s been a lot happening in Dibley this year — and Dawn has got a lot to say about it.”

The BBC’s chief content officer, Charlotte Moore, said: “This year has been a particularly difficult one for many of us, and it’s crucial that the BBC helps to bring people together and connect audiences across the UK to mark this special time of year. I hope our religious content this Christmas will give audiences an opportunity to reflect on the year that has gone, as well as inspiring and uplifting them with a wonderful mix of traditional carols, festive music, spiritual contemplation, and live music across television and radio.”

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