Saturday 24 December 2016

Once in Royal David's City

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 Nativit√© 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). 


  1. The BBC does lots of marvellous things...but for how long? We rarely see any plays on BBC anymore. Even something as cheap as good folk music that used to appear on BBC 2 (Folk on 2 - some marvellous archive has been retained, thankfully) no longer finds space on TV.

    How long before a religious affairs editor with an axe to grind replaces NLs&Cs with some more vital and vibrant form of worship, or - when Eid coincides with Christmas - decides to favour Eid? Difficult to argue against that if there are more active Muslims than active Christians in the UK.

    I'd love to think that such beautiful - and meaningful - music and speech will survive on the BBC, but I am not sure that in other 20 years it will. Or if it does, it will simply survive as a quaint oasis in a cultural desert.

    Incidentally I am not an active Christian myself but I no more wish to see our Christian worship die than I wish to to see Socrates' works burned. This is our culture we are talking about - the Classical-Judeo-Christian-Rationalist mix, with all its contradictions. I want to see it survive. Why are our elite putting it in peril?

  2. Christmas Day morning, switched-on R4 and it's "From our home correspondent" with a feature about the Islamic view of Christmas. I don;t care. Switched-off.

    But Anonymous is correct, at this rate of change it won't be long before the Beeb is fully Islamic.


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