Arts and Entertainment David Neilson and Julie Hesmondhalgh in Monday's episode

Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh was only meant to work on Coronation Street for two months. Her character was intended as little more than a gimmick to help the Manchester-based soap opera compete in the ratings battle with then-dominant EastEnders. Fifteen years later, her character’s story has finally come to a close, and with it, one of soap’s most enduring and touching romances: that of oddball Roy and his kind-hearted wife, Hayley.

Meanings of Christmas: If the universe was designed, who was the designer?

One atheist philosopher has made a tentative step towards belief. But does it make sense to have a minimalist God?

Is retirement a substitute for the after life?

It is a little while since we heard from the United Deities, the ecumenical all-god forum which meets up in heaven to monitor the behaviour of us poor mortals down on Earth. Here are some extracts from the minutes of the latest meeting.

Pay attention at the back

Hallé, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

One of the most intriguing aspects of Verdi's personality is his attitude to religion. Atheist, agnostic, anti-clerical or deeply spiritual - no one is really sure into which category he fits.

Meet the ad exec turned pin-up vicar

BBC chooses country priest to present centrepiece of its revamped Sunday schedule

High drama

ITV's reputation for unadventurous populism is proving hard to shake off. Nick Elliott, the head of drama, hopes that its diverse new season will finally put that right. Louise Jury meets him

Unbelievably thoughtless

Dark side of the Empire

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99, 463pp)

Comment: A seasonal discussion with the wordlywise

IT WOULD have been sad to end the year without another visitation from Dr Wordsmith, our peripatetic expert on the way we speak today, so I am delighted to say that this unpredictable linguist has just blown into the office on his way from one Christmas-tide party to another. He has expressed his willingness to tackle your end-of-the-year queries and to raise a glass to you all, so over to you, Dr Wordsmith!

Theatre: The greatest story ever told

It made theatre history - and now it's back. Stephen Fay goes behind the scenes of `The Mysteries'
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Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

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The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

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Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

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BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

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Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

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