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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Remember what Sundays used to be like?
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online Magazine

Sundays used to be quiet; a day for contemplation. Then shops began opening and the day of rest changed forever.

"Everyday is like Sunday
Everyday is silent and grey."

Even if you've never heard the lyrics of Morrissey's 1988 hit Everyday is Like Sunday, the sentiment may have a haunting familiarity.

Before Sundays became just another excuse for credit card duties, they were wholly unlike the other six days of the week.

"Creepy," according to Andrew Collins, author of Where Did It All Go Right? a memoir of "growing up normal" in the 1970s.

"It was a very creepy day. There was nothing to do. On Saturday you'd sit round and watch TV all morning then go into town with your mum and dad, and they might buy you something.

"On Sunday there was nothing on the telly in the morning. It was school the next day, so all you did was sit around and think of Monday."

Was Sunday TV really that bad? Take a click down memory lane

A glance back 20 years, at the TV schedules of the day, confirms Collins' recollection (see box right). After some token cartoons - Bod on BBC One, the Smurfs on ITV - the viewer was plunged into a Kremlin-like schedule of dull but worthy programmes that only started to recover at about lunchtime with a Western or something.

Sunday was always "day of rest". The Roman emperor Constantine was the first to enshrine it as a special day with a law in 321, shortly after he had made Christianity the empire's official religion.

Waiting for Monday

Further laws restricting work followed and, bar a brief interlude during the Dark Ages, so things remained until just 10 years ago.

The Sunday Trading Act 1994, which came into effect over the August bank holiday of that year, allowed, for the first time, big shops to open on a Sunday.

Up to that point the law had been challenged and flouted. Anomalies like the one which allowed the sale of fresh milk, but not fresh eggs on a Sunday, were exploited by some retailers keen to push the boundaries.

Not a huge fan of Sundays
There was even a report of one shop, mindful that fresh fruit could be sold on Sundays, offering oranges for 99 each, with a free lawnmower thrown in.

Now Sundays are officially just another shopping day. Research published this week revealed that Sunday shopping is now so enshrined in our lives that after Saturday, it's the "second most important day of the week" for many retailers.

But the revolution on the high street is not the only change to the way many of us spend our Sundays. Even die-hard Morrissey fans would acknowledge that Sundays are no longer "silent and grey".

Sunday trading seems to have been a catalyst for a host of other changes, particularly in larger town centres.

Tony Askam, one of the architects of the Sunday trading laws in the early 1990s, identifies a "marked social effect" of Sunday opening.

"It was said [Sunday trading] was going to ruin city centres - it would be a Mecca for out-of-town shopping. It's done the opposite. It's brought city centres alive," says Mr Askam.

A year after the trading reforms, bookmakers were granted Sunday opening rights. Pubs, once forced to close in the middle of the day, can serve alcohol through to the late evening. Restaurants serving Sunday lunch used to have to rush through drinks orders before the mid-afternoon curfew.

Neither silent, nor grey

A report last year noted how Sunday opening among libraries is now "gathering momentum, and proving popular".

Even major museums, like the Manchester Museum, used to close on Sundays. It is now a seven-day-a-week operation.

The idea behind the 1994 reform was that everybody would find their own day of rest - that's not happened
Madeline Bunting
Sociologist Michael Willmott acknowledges there has been a "dramatic change in the way we spend our Sundays".

"For many people who didn't go to church, Sundays used to be felt as an oppressive day, when they were forbidden from living the life they had for the rest of the week," says Mr Willmott, a founder of the Future Foundation consultancy.

"The constraints have gone now and people see it more as a sort of mini-Saturday."

But not everyone embraces these new, consumer-led Sundays. After all, shoppers demand shop assistants, diners demand waiting staff.

Although the Church of England says Sunday attendances are holding relatively steady at about a million, many Christians feel society is poorer for losing this enforced day of relaxation and contemplation.

A day for granny

John Alexander, leader of the Keep Sunday Special campaign, concedes the game is up as far as preserving Sunday as a rest day for all.

But he contests the view that Sundays used to be lifeless and boring.

Sunday shopping
A time for reflection... in shop windows
"It's rubbish to say there was never anything to do on Sunday. I used to play cricket and was involved in a opera society. There were concerts, you'd go to the park, see granny."

Realising it cannot turn back the clock, Mr Alexander says the campaign has switched tactics and is now urging families to spend more time together.

According to Madeline Bunting, whose book Willing Slaves examines Britain's overwork culture, the idea behind the 1994 reform was that "everybody would find their own Sunday [a day of rest] during the week."

"That's not happened," says Bunting, who sees an "environmental influence" in how we manage our days.

"We're very, very affected by the way other people are living their lives. If they're out doing things, we feel we should be too. The thing about saying everyone has their own time for rest, is that no-one finds the time."

In that light, it's possible to see Morrissey's words as more prophetic than he probably ever imagined. Everyday is, indeed, like Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday ...



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