It never ceases to amaze my family (certain members of whom are Kingsmen) just how many people misunderstand the nature of the King's Christmas Eve carol service, partly through misinformation (or lack of information) from the media. The most common misconception is that the Television Service entitled "Carols from King's" is the same as the service one can hear if one tunes into Radio 4 at 3pm on Xmas Eve, which it is NOT.
Today, I met an alternative misconception, when someone referred me to this article, saying that it was telling lies because it implied that the service was broadcast live. Well, I had a look, and this article tells no lies because it refers only to the Nine Lessons and Carols, NOT to the TV version. So let's explain:
There are TWO carol services that take place in King's Chapel and are available over the Christmas Weekend via various media. The two services are NOT re-runs of each other, they are *different*.
1. The original service, begun in 1918 (the history of which can be read on the King's College Website), is known as the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It is, every year, sung at 3pm on December 24th, to a congregation made up partly of members of King's College, and partly residents of Cambridge City, who queue up for the privilege of attending this service. It is broadcast LIVE by the BBC (on radio 4 and the world service) and is then re-broadcast on Christmas Day by radio 3. It consists of the traditional NINE Christmas bible readings, interspersed by a selection of Choral carols (different every year) and the congregational favourites (which remain much the same from year to year, though not always identical). It is also for this service that the soloist for the first carol is chosen only a few seconds before the chapel goes live to the world.
2. The "other" service is known under the label "Carols from King's" or other pseudonyms. It is recorded in advance (usually around the beginning of December) and is broadcast on television over the Christmas weekend. This is not the same as the radio service at all: not only is it recorded on a different day with a different, invited congregation (and never broadcast live), but it is also a different structure of service, and the selection of choral carols at this service is often (if not always) somewhat different to the Christmas Eve selection.
So, if you watch the TV one as well as listening to radio 4, you will get double the dose of King's. How lovely! But if you are to choose only one, then do make it the live one (on the radio). Ever so much more exciting. Ever so much more REAL.