Even a quarter of a century ago there were many in senior positions at the BBC who felt that programmes of Christian worship were anachronistic. They could be replaced by programmes which could "reach a younger audience," one speaker suggested at a conference for the staff of BBC Religious Broadcasting in 1983.
A newcomer to the department spoke up in protest. "Programmes which reflect the worship of believing people must be at the heart of what we do," said Noël Vincent, a man convinced of the unique place of Christianity in the hearts of the majority of the British people, and of its centrality to our historical and cultural life. It was a vision to which he remained true for an entire career. Canon Noël Thomas Vincent, who has died aged 72, was a priest and broadcaster whose mission was to connect with individuals, but whose ministry extended to millions.
He was born in 1936 in Kampala, Uganda, but was forced to flee with his missionary family across Africa on the outbreak of the Second World War. His family settled in Worcestershire, where Vincent attended the King's School Worcester from 1945 to 1955. He had a fine treble voice and served as a chorister at Worcester Cathedral. His love of music, especially the music of the liturgy, was a lifelong inspiration to him.
In August 1955 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant National Service Officer with the Worcestershire Regiment, serving in Catterick, Worcester, Iserlohn (BAOR) and Jamaica. After finishing National Service in 1957 he read Economics and Theology at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, receiving his MA in 1964. He trained for Ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and was ordained in the Newcastle upon Tyne diocese in 1963. He served his first incumbency as the vicar of Holbrook, near Belper in Derbyshire.
In 1974 he became diocesan information officer and started working as a contract producer at BBC radio Derby, co-ordinating interdenominational teams of volunteers and producing worship programmes and talks. He maintained his own parish responsibilities, as priest in charge of Osmaston and Edlaston, two small country parishes near Ashbourne, Derbyshire.
In 1978 Vincent moved on to the staff of Radio Derby, taking on a wide range of production tasks, and in the autumn of 1982 joined the production team of BBC Religious Broadcasting. Vincent's success as a priest undoubtedly lay in his ability to connect individually with every member of a congregation from the pulpit, and this talent translated into his broadcasting. Through the 1980s he produced hundreds of radio and TV programmes across the north of England, including Songs of Praise, Morning Service and Choral Evensong.
Vincent was driven by a determination to make worship accessible. By 1991 he had become editor of worship programmes, reflecting his ability to bring together teams of people with sensitivity and tact, during a period of great upheaval within the BBC. His was not an easy task. There were many in senior management at the BBC who wanted worship programmes replaced by programmes which they felt would attract a wider and younger audience. Vincent fought those battles with the tenacity and stubbornness which he had learnt from his National Service days.
Vincent's final promotion was to become chief assistant to the head of Religious Broadcasting in 1993. He fulfilled the role with great distinction, while offering pastoral care to staff who had been displaced when the BBC moved the Religious Broadcasting department from London to Manchester. In 1995 he retired from the BBC, and in 1996 was appointed Canon Treasurer of Liverpool Cathedral, during the final years of Derrick Walters's dynamic tenure as Dean.
Vincent remained in this role until 2002, when he retired to Formby on the Lancashire coast. During retirement, he kept up an active programme. He found great satisfaction in exercising his remarkable pastoral gifts as a part time chaplain at HMP Altcourse, Fazakerley. He continued to lead the Daily Service on Radio 4, where his became a familiar and much loved voice.
Vincent was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. He died peacefully in Aintree University Hospital on 31 July with his wife Angela at his side. He leaves two children, four grandchildren and a national congregation of people who were touched by his sincere personal ministry and accessible but accomplished broadcasts.
Noël Vincent, priest and broadcaster: born Kampala, Uganda 19 December 1936; married (two children); died Liverpool 31 July 2009.