BBC promises schedule of tradition and worship this Christmas

As part of the BBC's programming to mark Advent, this year Fern Britton presents a brand new BBC One series of in-depth interviews with high profile figures – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dolly Parton, Sheila Hancock and Tony Blair – in the run-up to Christmas.

In Fern Britton Meets..., the four one-hour programmes will see Fern explore how their faith and beliefs have shaped their lives and what is important for them about this time of the year.

Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC's Commissioning Editor, Religion and Head of Religion and Ethics, says: "This Christmas offers an exciting and diverse range of programming across BBC TV and Radio, from thought-provoking documentaries, to traditional music and live worship.

"Fern Britton Meets… is a welcome addition as it offers a unique opportunity to see how faith has transformed the lives of some really inspiring people from all fields of endeavour."

"All the interviewees come from very different backgrounds but what binds them together is the fact that, although their faith has been challenged, they've emerged with strong spiritual beliefs," said Fern.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will talk about the significance of his conversion to Catholicism and why he's set up a Faith Foundation to get people from different religions working together and to make the case for the importance of faith in the modern world.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, still campaigning at 78 after a lifelong battle against injustice in South Africa, says he has always been "a prisoner of hope", but jokes that he would like to ask God 'whose side are you on?'

Sheila Hancock is renowned for being one of Britain's best-loved actors but less well known for being a Quaker. She lost two husbands to cancer and, after the death of the second – actor John Thaw – wrote two inspiring books.

But Sheila does not like being portrayed as a victim and once penned her own newspaper headline, "I'm not a dreary cow".

Her latest role is as a singing and dancing Mother Superior in a West End musical.
Dolly Parton, the doyenne of country music, explains how she balances her firm religious faith with her flirtatious stage image.

Dolly, who is a world superstar, had a theme park built in her honour and completed a sell-out tour of Europe last year, thinks she has proved her Tennessee preacher grandfather wrong.

He warned her that "a dancing foot and a praying knee don't fit on the same leg".
The series begins on BBC One in late November 2009 and runs for four consecutive weeks.


BBC One offers a feast of traditional music and worship for Christmas this year.
Songs Of Praise – BBC One's flagship music and worship series – presents two Christmas crackers.

Aled Jones is joined by opera superstar Bryn Terfel, gospel diva Ruby Turner and West End leading lady Jodie Prenger for the annual spectacular Big Sing Christmas Special from London's Royal Albert Hall with all-time classic carols led by the Big Sing Orchestra and 5,000 voices.

Aled also travels to the Holy Land for The First Christmas - A Songs Of Praise Special to discover what life was really like for Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Wise Men, and he joins singers at Christ Church in Jerusalem's Old City for the very best Christmas carols.

The first Mass of Christmas, Midnight Mass, comes this year from Westminster Cathedral.

The music will be provided by world-famous choirs who will perform such classics as Monteverdi's Gloria and other well-loved carols. The homily will be given by the Most Rev Vincent Nichols who will celebrate his first Midnight Mass as Archbishop of Westminster.

On Christmas morning The Glory Of Christmas – Live Service from Chester Cathedral offers a chance to view the cathedral's Christmas Eucharist which will be a family service for the whole community, featuring the cathedral's choir and sunday school.

This year's Christmas message on Christmas night, entitled Christmas Reflection, will be a recital from Matthew's Gospel read by The Office actress Julie Fernandez, followed by the classic Christmas carol, Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem sung by the St Chad's Church congregation in Shrewsbury.


BBC Two offers a Christmas treat for the eyes and ears with some fantastic programmes.

For many TV viewers, the traditional start to Christmas is the moment a solo choir boy sings the opening verse of Once In Royal David's City in the glorious candlelit setting of the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge in the annual Carols From King's.

This year's programme tells the simple story of the Nativity in the familiar words of the King James' Bible and in poetry by Godolphin, Cecil Day Lewis and Ted Hughes.
The world-famous chapel choir will sing well-loved carols old and new, including A Spotless Rose, A Great And Mighty Wonder, In The Bleak Midwinter, The Angel Gabriel, O Holy Night, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, Silent Night, The Sussex Carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, We Three Kings and O Come All Ye Faithful.

The image of Sandro Botticelli's The Mystic Nativity is one the London National Gallery's best selling postcards and a picture of great hope in troubled times.
The Private Life Of A Christmas Masterpiece investigates the background to the painting and looks at what influenced Botticelli to create this iconic image.

BBC Four

BBC Four gives viewers another chance to see The Truth About Carols in which composer Howard Goodall uncovers the often turbulent and uncomfortable relationship between carols and the celebration of Christmas.

BBC Radio

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

BBC Radio 4

A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols will be broadcast on Christmas Eve.
It opens with a solo chorister at King's College Chapel in Cambridge singing the first verse of Once In Royal David's City, broadcast to millions on both BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service each year.

For many the annual Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols marks the beginning of Christmas, having been broadcast live from the chapel since 1928, even during World War II.

This year it will be directed by Stephen Cleobury.

Each year the pattern of the scripture lessons is the same, beginning with the story of the Fall of Adam in the book of Genesis and concluding with the Gospel of St John.

The network also broadcasts Midnight Mass live from Saint Anne's Cathedral, Leeds with the Rt Rev Arthur Roche, Bishop of Leeds.

The service features the choir of Leeds, directed by Benjamin Saunders, and the setting is Mozart's Missa Brevis in C (KV 259).

The Christmas Service, featuring the rector, the Rev Hugh Palmer, comes from All Souls Church in London's Langham Place on Christmas Day morning.

The All Souls Choir is directed by Organist and Director of Music Noel Tredinnick.
As the day's festivities draw to a close, a meditation on the meaning of Christmas is broadcast on 26 December.

BBC Radio 3

Joan Bakewell talks to people in the public eye about their faith in a new series of Belief which begins on BBC Radio 3 on 21 December.

BBC Radio 2

Other Christmas Day radio highlights include BBC Radio 2's Good Morning Christmas with Aled Jones featuring Gervase Phinn as a live guest and an interview with Delia Smith.

The station will also broadcast comedian Hugh Dennis, who celebrates the 125th anniversary of the Salvation Army's Tracing Service which reunites long lost relatives with their families, and Good Morning Sunday Highlights Of The Year 2009 with Aled Jones.