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BBC sets out its Christmas feast  

30 November 2023

Religious-broadcast centenary is marked in seasonal menu


In My Life at Christmas with Adrian Chiles, on Sunday, the presenter talks to the dancer Oti Mabuse

In My Life at Christmas with Adrian Chiles, on Sunday, the presenter talks to the dancer Oti Mabuse

THE BBC is returning to the north-west for its Christmas Day service this year: its main morning television broadcast will be from Manchester Cathedral. In 2022, both midnight mass and the Christmas morning service were hosted by Blackburn Cathedral.

Midnight mass, including the blessing of the crib, this year will be broadcast live from Portsmouth Cathedral, the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Anthony Cane, presiding, and the Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Jonathan Frost, preaching. The cathedral choir, directed by David Price, will be accompanied by musicians of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Band Service.

The Christmas morning service from Manchester will be led by the Dean, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, with the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, preaching.

Also on Christmas Day will be Songs of Praise, from Sheffield, presented by Aled Jones, with performances from Katherine Jenkins and Michael Ball. BBC1 will close Christmas night with a celebrity reading from St Luke’s Gospel, followed by a familiar carol.

In a second series of My Life at Christmas, the journalist and broadcaster Adrian Chiles will meet well-known faces to reflect on their lives, careers, family, and faith. The Strictly Come Dancing dancer Oti Mabuse will feature this Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, followed in turn by the BBC news veteran John Simpson, and then Martin and Shirlie Kemp, on 17 December.

The radio offering includes Radio 3’s Service for Advent with Carols, from St John’s College, Cambridge, on Sunday. From Monday, a weekly series of Compline will be broadcast at 9.30 p.m., from Corpus Christi RC Church, Leeds, then St Thomas’s, Kirkholt, in Rochdale, followed by Our Lady of the Assumption, in Englefield Green, Surrey.

The all-day EBU “Christmas Around Europe” will be broadcast once again on Radio 3, on 17 December, from 9 a.m. to 11.30 p.m., in three parts. Choral Evensong, on Radio 3, will be live from Norwich Cathedral on Wednesday 20 December, and include the world première of “O Clavis David”, by Kerensa Briggs, and then live from Lancing College the week after. Both services will be repeated on the following Sunday.

In a special edition of Good Morning Sunday, on Radio 2, on 10 December, Canon Kate Bottley and Jason Mohammad will talk to Sir Cliff Richard as he celebrates 65 years in the music business. They will also present the Chorister of the Year Special. Canon Bottley returns on 25 December for a Radio 2 Christmas-morning special (8 a.m.-10 a.m.), before Beverley Knight rounds off the day with festive songs and carols (8 p.m.-10 p.m.).

Radio 4 will broadcast a “festive edition” of Sunday on 24 December, followed by Sunday Worship from the Methodist College, Belfast, and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, at 3 p.m. It will broadcast midnight mass from the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, in Liverpool. On Christmas morning, the Archbishop of York will lead Morning Worship at 7 a.m., asking “What makes a happy Christmas?”

Milestones will be marked as the Revd Angela Berners-Wilson, the first woman priest ordained in 1994, celebrates the approaching 30th anniversary of her ordination, and her new post in retirement as a spiritual tour guide, on Boxing Day, at 12.15 a.m. On Saturday 6 January, the BBC will commemorate 100 years since its first religious broadcast, in the Archive on 4 programme at 8 a.m.

The head of religion and ethics for BBC Radio, Tim Pemberton, said: “As we approach the 100th anniversary of the first religious broadcast on BBC radio, I’m delighted to bring listeners the very best of what the BBC’s religious programming has to offer this Christmas — from carols to gospel music, opportunities for worship and reflection, and moments to come together and celebrate the festive season.”

Carols from King’s will begin the Christmas Octave, led by its Dean, the Revd Dr Stephen Cherry. Songs of Praise on New Year’s Eve will be hosted by Katherine Jenkins, with guests including Aled Jones, the Gospel Choir of the Year winner, and the opera singer Carly Paoli. The next day, the Archbishop of Canterbury will deliver his New Year Message from RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire.

The head of religion and ethics at BBC Television, Daisy Scalchi, said: “This Christmas, we have a wide variety of programming to get viewers in the festive spirit. I hope that our selection of carols, live worship, faith-inspired music, in-depth interviews, and spiritual contemplation will bring viewers together at Christmas as we look forward to the year ahead.”

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