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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Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'