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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One Response to On the Seventh Day

  1. Clive Field says:

    With Nigel Nelson’s generous assistance, I have been looking into this poll further since writing the post for BRIN. It turns out that, despite several explicit statements in THE PEOPLE article to the effect that this was a survey of the newspaper’s readers, the poll involved a general and representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over throughout the UK. Fieldwork was conducted online by OnePoll. So, I can now say with the benefit of hindsight that all the statistics quoted in my post actually related to the UK population as a whole and not to the readership of THE PEOPLE. I can also report that Nigel has a second article offering additional analysis of the survey, with special reference to churchgoing, on page E2 of THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND NEWSPAPER for 2 March 2012.

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