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03 Oct 2011

One of the world's longest-running religious TV series Songs Of Praise has celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Sunday's episode on BBC One was the 2,248th edition of the show, and featured performances from LeAnn Rimes and Andrea Bocelli.

The first show was broadcast in October 1961 from the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cardiff.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, called it one of the best-known institutions in UK television.

Songs Of Praise was originally due to run for six weeks, but it has gone on to become one of the BBC's flagship programmes for Sunday night.

The show has visited more than 1,800 different churches, chapels and cathedrals around the world and 201 people, including Delia Smith, David Bellamy, Sir Jimmy Savile and Moira Stuart, have presented it over the years.

BBC director general Mark Thompson said: "Fifty years is an incredible milestone for any TV or radio programme to be that indispensable, that loveable, that inspiring, for so long - it's a real testimony to just how warm and engaging Songs Of Praise is."

Other tributes from well-known faces have been paid to the programme during a special anniversary show, which was broadcast last Sunday.

"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," Sir Cliff Richard said.

Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins said she thought the show would "always last" and comedian Jimmy Tarbuck called it a "national institution".

EastEnders actress June Brown added: "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."

On Christmas Day in 1998, the programme attracted 11.4 million people, which remains the show's highest ever audience.

Songs Of Praise celebrated the millennium on 2 January 2000 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, where 65,000 attended, making it the programme's largest live audience.


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