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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Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Dubrovnik, the Dalmatian Coast & Montenegro
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence
Lisbon, Oporto and the Douro Valley
Lake Garda, Venice & Verona
Spain
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Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project