Press Office

Thursday 27 Nov 2014

Press Release

Musical celebrations from BBC Religion and Ethics this Christmas

The Big Sing with Russell Watson, Hayley Westenra and Aled Jones

Traditional carols and joyful festive music will be at the heart of Religion and Ethics programming across BBC television and radio this Christmas.

Classical music stars including Russell Watson, Katherine Jenkins, Hayley Westenra and Howard Goodall's Enchanted Voices, will join with choirs and congregations to celebrate and rejoice in the birth of Jesus and all the yuletide festivities.

For the first time on Christmas Day afternoon, BBC Two broadcasts an hour-long special, Carols From Winchester, providing the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind while enjoying some of the best-loved Christmas carols and classical Christmas music.

On BBC radio, Christmas highlights include BBC Radio 4's exploration of one of our best-loved carols, Good King Wenceslas, in Sunday Worship. On the feast of St Stephen, the programme travels to Prague to reflect on the story of one of Europe's most beneficent kings – Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia. 


Speaking about the programmes, Aaqil Ahmed, Head of Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Religion Television, says: "I'm delighted that the BBC's religious programming this Christmas is as much a part of the festive season as ever, with the wonderful new addition of Carols From Winchester on Christmas Day afternoon. From Joan Bakewell discussing belief with guests including Bonnie Greer and Chris Patten on BBC Radio 3 to Aled Jones introducing a festive sing-along from the Royal Albert Hall on BBC One on Boxing Day, the BBC provides something for everyone this Christmas."

Christmas highlights across the BBC include


Christmas preparations start on BBC One on Sunday mornings during Advent with the return of Fern Britton Meets… the series in which Fern talks to four people in the public eye about how their personal faith has impacted their lives. This year Fern will talk to June Brown, who rose to fame as gossipy Dot Cotton in EastEnders; celebrity cook and champion of the countryside, Clarissa Dickson Wright; American civil rights campaigner, the Reverend Jesse Jackson; and evergreen singer and now vineyard owner, Sir Cliff Richard.

Also during Advent, Songs Of Praise will countdown to Christmas with four special programmes: on Advent Sunday, Pam Rhodes introduces festive hymns from a candlelit Derby Cathedral. The second Songs Of Praise programme for Advent sees Aled Jones gets into the Christmas spirit, as he is joined by choirs across Yorkshire to explore the story of some of the most popular Christmas Carols. The following week, Aled invites his Christmas guests – Sharon Corr, Paul Carrack and Beverley Knight – to perform some of  their favourite festive songs. And on the Sunday before Christmas it is back to 1910 as Pam Rhodes turns the clock back 100 years to experience an Edwardian Christmas.

BBC One welcomes in Christmas with a live broadcast of the service of Midnight Mass from Liverpool's Roman Catholic Cathedral – the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. The Celebrant is the Archbishop of Liverpool, The Most Reverend Patrick Kelly KCHS STL PhL, who will also give the homily.

On Christmas Day morning, the service will come live from Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire, with the story of the Nativity reflected within the Anglican Eucharist.

Later in the evening there will be a quiet moment of reflection in Christmas Night, as actor Paterson Joseph reads from St John's Gospel and The Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields performs O Holy Night.

Aled Jones will introduce a special Boxing Day Big Sing from London's Royal Albert Hall as 5,000 voices come together for a festive singalong of favourite carols and Christmas music. The "people's tenor", Russell Watson, Howard Goodall's Enchanted Voices and best-selling international soprano Hayley Westenra will perform in front of the packed auditorium.

On New Years Day, BBC One will broadcast the Archbishop of Canterbury's annual New Year's Message.


In week before Christmas, The Private Life Of A Christmas Masterpiece explores The Adoration of the Christ Child by Filippo Lippi. Painted over five centuries ago, Filippo Lippi's nativity is like no other – the birth of Christ in a dark, wooded wilderness.

On Christmas Eve afternoon, BBC Two presents Carols From Kings which, for many, heralds the true start of Christmas. The service opens with a single choir boy starting the carol Once In Royal David's City. He is joined by the world-famous choir to sing favourite Christmas music and carols old and new. As darkness falls, the blue tones of sparkling mediaeval stained glass give way to the warmth of candlelight to create a unique atmosphere in which the Christmas story is told in the well-loved words of the King James' Bible and reflected on in other readings read by members of the College.

In contrast to the sense of anticipation of Carols From Kings, Carols From Winchester, broadcast for the first time this year on Christmas Day, joyfully and triumphantly celebrates the birth of Jesus. There will be special performances from mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins and bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu.

BBC Radio has a range of programmes for all tastes this Christmas, from the traditional worship to thought provoking interviews and features.

BBC Radio 4

Shortly after 3pm every Christmas Eve, millions of people both in this country and throughout the world, through the BBC's World Service, pause to listen to the haunting solo of a young chorister singing the first verse of Once In Royal David's City.

The traditional Christmas Eve service of A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols is broadcast live from the candlelit Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. The much-loved sequence of carols and readings includes this year's new carol commission by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. For the first time, this unique annual service will be offered over the internet in HD sound.

The network also broadcasts Midnight Mass – the first Mass of Christmas which will be celebrated live from St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, by the Archbishop of Birmingham, The Most Rev Bernard Longley. The Cathedral Singers, many of whom are staff and students at the Birmingham Conservatoire, sing under the direction of organist and Director of Music, David Saint.

And, on Christmas Day, there will be the celebration of Christmas morning from St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square. The service will draw on the experiences of the diverse community which makes up this iconic Central London church, famed for its work with the homeless and its stunning musical tradition. The service will be led by the vicar, The Revd Nicholas Holtam, with music directed by Andrew Earis.

As the day's festivities draw to a close, a meditation on the meaning of Christmas is broadcast in the early hours of Boxing Day in which Cambridge University's Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology, Simon Conway Morris, reflects on the mystery of the incarnation from perspectives of science and faith.

Also on St Stephen's Day, Sunday Worship reflects on the origins of the carol Good King Wenceslas who "looked out on the feast of Stephen" upon a poor man and took him alms – a medieval model for the righteous king.

In the week between Christmas and New Year, Ernie Rea will explore the role of the Magi in the Christmas Story in Beyond Belief, starting on Monday 27 December.

To celebrate the start of 2011, Sunday Worship on 2 January takes the form of a specially compiled feature – with readings, music and prayers – presented by Leslie Griffiths (Superintendent Minister of Wesley's Chapel in the City of London), reflecting on the Methodist Covenant for the New Year, with an emphasis on the Christian duty of care and service to those who have suffered in some of the worst disasters of 2010.  Leslie Griffiths has a particular interest in the people of Haiti, having worked there for a number of years.

BBC Radio 2

On Good Morning Sunday on 19 December, Aled Jones welcomes Tony Jordan, creator of BBC One's Hustle and Life On Mars, who talks to Aled Jones about his latest project, Nativity. For his fresh and colourful retelling of the nativity story on BBC One this Christmas, the former EastEnders scriptwriter even consulted NASA for the finer details. Aled is also joined by Ben Schott, author of the annual Schott's Almanac, who reflects on events of the past year, and by author and speaker Gervase Phinn who recollects humorous Christmas stories from his time as a Schools' Inspector. The Revd Mark Oakley, Canon Treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral, London, gives the Moment of Reflection and there is live brass band music from the Salvation Army.


On Christmas morning, Aled Jones says Good Morning Christmas to singer Annie Lennox. Canon Ann Easter provides Christmas sparkle for the Moment of Reflection and Aled is joined throughout the programme for carols and Christmas songs sung live by the Adventist Vocal Ensemble, with their director, Ken Burton.

And on Boxing Day Aled Jones shares the highlights of Good Morning Sunday from the past year. Highlights from guests include Tom Jones who prays to God every day for his voice; Lulu, who was unpopular in choirs as a youngster for singing louder than the others; Suzanne Vega and Cerys Matthews. Also to comedians Omid Djalili on his Bahai faith; Tim Vine on his humour and his faith; and magician Geoffrey Durham on what he's discovered through silence as a Quaker. Tony Blair reflects on why he waited until he left office to convert to Catholicism; Kate McCann discusses how she prays for the person who has taken her daughter Madeleine; and actress Linda Bellingham talks about the pain of domestic abuse.

BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3 broadcasts two special Choral Evensongs over the Christmas period, the first on Wednesday 22 December comes from Chester Cathedral, which will include the traditional liturgy of Choral Evensong with canticles by David Briggs, and with seasonal music including that of the great Elizabethan composer William Byrd.

The second, on Wednesday 29 December, will be a special edition recorded in the Chapel of King's College Cambridge to mark the 90th birthday of Sir David Willcocks, celebrated Director of Music at King's for 17 years, from 1957 to 1974, and whose descants to O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark The Herald Angels Sing, amongst others, are sung each Christmas throughout the English-speaking world.

On Christmas Day itself, there will be another chance to hear the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College Cambridge, broadcast the previous day on Radio 4.

Also on Radio 3, Joan Bakewell discusses belief with guests including Dr Denis Alexander, Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge; Akram Khan, dancer and choreographer; Bonnie Greer, playwright and critic; Satish Kumar, former Jain monk now Editor of the environmental magazine Resurgence; and Chris Patten, politician and Chancellor of Oxford University. Belief will be broadcast across five days starting Monday 27 December.


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