On the Seventh Day

Only 6% of the readership of The People, the tabloid Sunday newspaper, regard Sundays as primarily a day for religious worship, and churchgoing is the most important regular feature of Sundays for just 10% of them, according to a survey published in today’s edition of The People (26 February 2012, page 20). Solely the text of Nigel Nelson’s accompanying article, and not the statistical tables, is available online at:


Methodological details are not given, apart from the fact that 2,000 of the newspaper’s readers were polled. This appears to have happened quite recently, probably online, and possibly with a degree of self-selection. The People, founded in 1881 and published by Trinity Mirror Group, has a weekly circulation of around 800,000 and is read by 1,400,000. This makes it the sixth most widely read Sunday paper. The latest National Readership Survey shows that 67% of its readers are manual workers and 69% over 45.

The findings of this survey, therefore, cannot be taken as representative of the British public as a whole. Nevertheless, they still have some interest in illuminating attitudes to contemporary Sunday observance. The headlines are as follows:

  • 35% of readers of The People regarded Sunday as primarily a day of rest, 35% as a day for the family, 7% as a day for do-it-yourself jobs, 6% as a day of religious worship, and 4% as a day for romance 
  • 9% of respondents admitted that they could not stand Sundays, and a further 7% wanted the day to occur no more than once a month; however, if they could have waved a magic wand, 9% wanted every day to be a Sunday and 21% wished for two Sundays every week 
  • The most important regular feature of Sundays was: going to sleep in the afternoon (17%), going to the pub (12%), going to church (10%), having sexual intercourse with one’s partner (8%), and going to the cinema (6%) – for 47% it was none of the foregoing 
  • There was some support for further deregulation of Sunday shopping hours, with 33% preferring wholly unrestricted trading and another 15% wanting large stores and supermarkets to open for more than six hours; on the other hand, 22% opted for a return to the pre-1994 situation, with most shops shut, and an additional 12% wanted the trading hours of large stores reduced 
  • A traditional roast at home was the normal Sunday lunch for 47% of readers of The People, well ahead of a restaurant meal (8%), a pub lunch (7%), or a takeaway (6%) 
  • 24% were content with Sunday television programmes, but 21% would have liked more nostalgic dramas, 13% more soaps, 9% more sport, and 6% more news 
  • 6% said that they made a special effort not to argue with their partner on Sundays and a further 9% claimed that such arguments were far less likely on Sundays than on other days; however, 4% were much more likely to argue with their partner on a Sunday 
  • Given a choice of four celebrities to entertain them at home on Sundays, Adele (19%) and the Duchess of Cambridge (18%) were most popular, but 37% were quite happy with the company of their own loved-ones 
  • Political leaders ran the risk of having the door slammed in their face if they had the temerity to call on a Sunday (36%), although 19% were prepared to welcome David Cameron into their house, 11% Ed Milliband, 11% Nick Clegg, and 4% George Osborne 
  • When they went to bed on a Sunday night, 37% of these readers of The People felt rested, fulfilled or otherwise ready to face Monday, but 28% were dreading the next day, and 31% did not feel any different than on any other night

The residual affection for the ‘traditional Sunday’ surfaced by some of these results invites comparison with Mass-Observation’s classic study of Meet Yourself on Sunday (London: Naldrett Press, 1949). More generally, the data can be read alongside Geoffrey Gorer’s equally famous profile of the social attitudes and behaviour of readers of The People in 1951: Exploring English Character (London: Cresset Press, 1955). At that time 75% claimed a religion and 23% said they went to church once a month or more often.



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