Alexandra Coghlan has an interesting piece at The Spectator on 'the wartime origins of Carols from King's'.
Her post begins:
Christmas, for many people, began at exactly 3 p.m today, Christmas Eve. The moment when everything stops, frantic present-wrapping, mince-pie making and tree-decorating ceases and calm briefly takes hold. The reason? A single boy treble whose voice, clear and fragile as glass, pierces through the chaos with those familiar words: ‘Once in Royal David’s city/ Stood a lowly cattle shed…’.
The service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, and its annual broadcast on BBC Radio 4 is as essential a part of contemporary Christmas folklore as stockings and Santa Claus, plum pudding and presents. Ageless and timeless, it seems as though there must always have been boys in red robes singing carols in a candlelit chapel — an ancient ritual renewed with each generation.
Now, of course, Alexandra is probably speaking for far fewer people than she thinks. Most people don't tune into Radio 4 to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. But, nonetheless, it gives an interesting insight into the hold the BBC still has on many people - despite all the bias!
I am one of Alexandra's select though. Last year when I finished work early on Christmas Eve - at 3 o'clock - I drove home listening to a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Radio 4 and then, once home, poured myself a glass of wine and put a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on my radio. I then instantly realised I'd forgotten a very important present and, in a panicky fury of disappointment, rushed out to buy it, leaving my wine and my radio behind and joining (in the process) lots of similarly unhappy-looking, panicky men rushing from supermarket to supermarket. (It really does happen after all. I just thought it was a myth of the kind that Woman's Hour might pedal). I digress though...
Still, a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is proof that the BBC can bring wonder and joy into people's lives - if only by sticking microphones into a Cambridge University chapel every year.
That said, this year's festival ended with an organ voluntary by one of my favourite composers, Oliver Messiaen ('Dieu parmi nous' from La Nativité du Seigneur), and Radio 4 faded it out almost as soon as it began. I chucked my wine at the radio, cursed Jeremy Bowen and spontaneously combusted (which made posting this piece rather tricky).