Songs of Praise, the BBC religious programme, celebrated its 50th anniversary this weekend. Surefish Editor Andy Jackson offers some facts and figures about the Sunday night institution
The 50th anniversary programme on October 2nd was the 2248th edition.
Songs Of Praise has visited over 1,800 different churches, chapels and cathedrals.
Songs Of Praise is the world's longest running continuous religious television programme.
201 people have presented Songs Of Praise.
Songs Of Praise was originally due to run experimentally for 6 weeks.
The highest audience of 11.4 million was for a Christmas Day programme from All Souls, Langham Place, London in 1988.
The biggest congregation was at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 2nd January 2000 – 65,000 people celebrating the new millennium.
How Great Thou Art
The most popular hymn on Songs Of Praise is How Great Thou Art.
Pam Rhodes first presented Songs Of Praise in 1987 and has presented more than 300 episodes, over 100 more than the next presenter – Geoffrey Wheeler.
Andy Jackson writes: Geoffrey was a passionate gardener who also presented gardening programmes on the BBC. I interviewed him in 1989 for the magazine of the youth organisation of the United Reformed Church, 'FURY National'. He was a member of Harrogate Baptist Church where my grandfather worshipped. Pam Rhodes presented the Surefish Church Website of the Year Competition.
Sally Magnusson first presented the programme in 1984.
Michael Meech is the earliest known surviving presenter – he presented the 9th programme from Guildhall Portsmouth on 3 December 1961. Michael is still friends with Kenneth Savidge who produced that programme.
Those who have presented Songs Of Praise include – Delia Smith, David Bellamy, Sir Jimmy Saville, Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre from Coronation St), Moira Stuart and Sue Pollard.
Original broadcasts went out live from churches – many of which were chosen because they happened to be near sports grounds where the outside broadcast vehicles were in use on Saturday afternoons.
Interviews were introduced in 1977 to complement the hymn singing.
Dr Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury
"For 50 years now Songs Of Praise has established itself as one of the best known institutions in British Television, and one of the best loved. It's a great delight to be able to send blessings and congratulations to Songs Of Praise on this important anniversary and look forward to many more years of service to the people of this country, the churches of this country and the glory of God."
The Dean of Westminster Abbey, The Very Revd Dr John Hall
"There are moments when human stories come out, stories of faith in testing times, of the delight of worship simply becoming fresh. Hymn singing is deeply rooted in our psyche, it's very important to us. Lots of people enjoy it – there are great hymns that people sing and I'm sure Songs Of Praise celebrating Christian worship, Christian singing of hymns will continue. It must!"
Mark Thompson, BBC Director General
"Fifty years is an incredible milestone for any TV or radio programme to be that indispensible, that loveable, that inspiring, for so long – it's a real testimony to just how warm and engaging Songs Of Praise is."
Danny Cohen, Controller of BBC One
"Songs Of Praise has reached an incredible milestone, and this is a great moment for the BBC to celebrate its contribution to broadcasting and the affection many viewers feel for the programme."
Aaqil Ahmed, Head of BBC Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Television
"Songs Of Praise is a broadcasting institution and is truly unique. For an incredible 50 years the programme has delighted and inspired generations and it continues to do so today. I hope that viewers will enjoy our special programmes to mark and celebrate half a century of broadcast history and join us to wish Songs Of Praise a very well deserved 50th anniversary."
Jimmy Tarbuck, Comedian
"Songs of Praise is a national institution, I have great affection for the programme and of course for my great friend Sir Harry Secombe. He was like my favourite Uncle – my favourite naughty uncle, as he would do all sorts of things to make you laugh. But I remember he said to me 'why don't you come on the show?' and so I did, I went on twice and I had a wonderful time and there were choirs singing with great gusto and it was fantastic. Songs of Praise is one of those programmes that just makes you feel better after you've watched it and do you know what I think you should be wrapped in cotton wool because not only are you a national institution, you are a national treasure. So I wish you all the very best and God Bless."
Sir Cliff Richard, Singer
"Well to all of you on Songs Of Praise, I want to say happy birthday, 50 wonderful years, and I'm sure you realise how important you've become to so many people."
Katherine Jenkins, Singer
"Songs Of Praise means so much to so many people. I think it gives people a great opportunity to enjoy it from their homes and be part of this from their homes. Yes, I think it will always last."
June Brown, Actress
"Songs Of Praise gives many people an opportunity to worship from their own homes, people who are sick, people who live a long way away."
Huw Edwards, Presenter
"Songs Of Praise has proved its popularity, proved its worth. And the secret of course is that hymn singing is central to worship and our experience of religion in Britain. That experience of coming together to sing hymns is part of our British culture."
Ann Widdecombe, Politician and Presenter
"When I was young, the whole family used to sing along. I think Songs Of Praise will last as long as Christianity lasts, which is going to be forever."
Diane Abbott MP
"It was my mother's favourite programme and at the time I was a bit superior, but now I enjoy it very much myself and it's often the highlight of my Sunday."
David Blunkett MP
"It is a remarkable achievement in this day and age."
Simon Hughes MP
"It says something not just for the teams that have produced it, but for the viewers and participants, who in the end are the people who make the programme."
Russell Watson, Singer
"The fact that Songs Of Praise has already lasted 50 years is a testament to how wonderful the programme is!"
Theo Paphitis (Dragons' Den)
"Fifty years of Songs Of Praise? That's older than me!"
Mark Lawson, TV Critic and presenter
"My two grandmothers were both churchgoers. In later years they couldn't go to church because of frailty and they watched Songs Of Praise – we can say this literally in a rare example – they watched it religiously."
Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)
Francis Rossi: Congratulations on your 50th birthday, I always remember when I was 11 or 12 years old, hearing that Songs Of Praise was there on the telly... just reminded me that I had to go back to school in the morning... thanks for that!"
Rick Parfitt: "Happy Birthday!"
Read an interview with Aled Jones, one of the show's presenters
Visit the Songs of Praise website
Discuss the article here