The Queen has congratulated “all those involved” in BBC One’s Songs of Praise as the show celebrates 60 years on air.
Nearly 3,000 episodes of the world’s longest-running religious TV programme have aired since its first transmission, from Cardiff, in 1961.
In a message to be broadcast on Sunday’s show in Westminster Abbey, the Queen applauded the series for showing Christianity as “a living faith”.
Hosted by Aled Jones, the show will feature ex-presenters and star guests.
In a pre-recorded message, the Queen said: “For 60 years Songs Of Praise has drawn together congregations and BBC viewers throughout the United Kingdom in collective worship.
“During that time, the programme has shown Christianity as a living faith, not only through hymns and worship songs, but also by featuring the many people who have put their faith at the centre of their lives.
“I congratulate Songs Of Praise and all those involved in the programme on its 60th anniversary.”
The show, which continues to reach more than one million viewers each week, was the brainchild of TV producer Donald Baverstock, who – in 1961 – happened to see a test transmission of an outside broadcast of hymn-singing in Welsh from a Welsh chapel.
He later described the emotional draw of “ordinary people, in their best hats, singing with their souls”.
Mr Baverstock suggested to Stuart Hood, then director of BBC TV programmes, that something similar might suit the designated “closed period”, between 18.15-19.25 on a Sunday evening, which was – at the time – given over, by law, to religious programmes.
The first programme came from Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cardiff, from which a format developed of visiting cathedrals and parish churches all over Britain, with the focus on congregational hymn-singing.
It was an overnight success, reaching as many as 12 million viewers on some Sundays.
The original broadcasts went out live on Sundays from churches, many of which were chosen because they were near sports grounds, where the outside broadcast vehicles were in use on the previous Saturday afternoons.
By the time broadcasting restrictions were relaxed in 1972, the show had become a stalwart of the Sunday schedule.
Over the years, there have been 270 presenters on the programme, including Sir Cliff Richard, Charlotte Church and audience favourite singer Sir Harry Secombe – who crossed over to the show with the demise of ITV’s hymn-themed show Highway in 1993.
Actress Dame Thora Hird went on to host spin-off show Praise Be! for 17 years.
Pam Rhodes, the programme’s longest-serving presenter, has presented 386 episodes, having first appeared on the show in 1987.
Current host, Aled Jones, has been with the show for 21 years, having made his Songs of Praise debut as a child in 1988.
The format of the show has changed over the years, reflecting the changing face of Christianity in the UK.
Interviews were introduced in 1977, to complement the hymn-singing and viewers heard stories of faith from members of the local community.
As the years went by, there were increasingly ambitious outside broadcasts too.
In December 1982, Songs of Praise visited the Falklands to meet some of the islanders and armed forces stationed there. More recently, in 2015, an episode was filmed at the so-called “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais.
To mark the millennium, more than 65,000 singers performed live in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
The show was relaunched in 2014 in a magazine format, and now features a range of churches, locations, congregations, and choirs – including gospel and Pentecostal churches – but remains firmly “a Christian music show”.
“For 60 years, Songs of Praise has held a very special place on BBC One. Never has this been more important than the past year – when as churches had to close their doors, Songs Of Praise continued to bring together people of faith across the UK every Sunday,” said Patrick Holland, director factual, arts and classical music.
He added: “It is a great honour to pay tribute to the world’s longest-running religious television programme – long may it continue.”
Songs of Praise: The 60th anniversary airs on Sunday at 2.45pm on BBC One