Out of the ghetto
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
Every two years, my hard work on your behalf - the desperate late-night
channel-hopping to find something, anything, to write about; the agony
endured by my family as I force them to stay absolutely silent, lest their idle
chatter obscures the one phrase I must jot down as a quotation; the fevered
searching, hunched over the word-processor, for exactly the right phrase as I
seek to polish my weekly essay, just when I should be enjoying my day off - is
This is because every two years I am invited to the Sandford St Martin Trust
Religious Television Awards, held in the chapel of Lambeth Palace (
News, 19 May). This year, the atmosphere was palpably different from that
on previous occasions. Normally, they have something of a defiant,
contra mundum feel to them: "We know that nobody else cares, but we're
convinced that what we're celebrating is really important."
Last week's awards felt confident, mainstream, requiring no apology. The
winning programmes had sparked general interest, far beyond the religious
ghetto, had been noticed and applauded by mainstream critics, and had attracted
decent-sized audiences, approaching the lesser entertainment shows.
I see this as a reflection that our society as a whole is far more
interested in religion. It realises that no serious understanding of politics
and culture, of history or current affairs, is possible unless faith is taken
into account. I think that this awareness has been around for a while now, and
that the resolutely secularist programmers are about the last section of the
populace to be prepared to acknowledge the situation.
These musings were reinforced by the opening prize, given for the first ever
Radio Times readers' award for the best religious TV programme. The
RT's editor admitted that she had needed some persuading to initiate this
innovation - and had been overwhelmed by the response.
Tsunami: Where Was God? was Mark Dowd's two-hour exploration of the
phenomenon, contrary to all expectation of Richard Dawkins and his like, that
the Boxing Day disaster had strengthened, rather than fatally weakened, the
faith of most of those from all religions who had been most nearly affected.
Channel 4 had displayed splendid programming courage - for which it deserved
a special award - in broadcasting this on the evening of Christmas Day. Enough
people had watched it to give it the prize. BBC programmers please note.
This programme also shared the jury's merit award with
The Monastery (BBC2). The runner-up was Priest Idol (Channel
4) - and both of these showed how religion in Britain can transform lives,
bringing meaning and depth where they are least expected.
The first prize went to 7/7: A Test of Faith with Rageh Omaar
(ITV). Mr Omaar's sensitive questioning disclosed a wider range of religious
response to the outrage: for some, the tragedy undermined their faith. But, for
them all, the religious dimension was vitally important, even if it had to be
rejected. This was indeed grown-up TV. Can the schedulers learn the lesson, and
keep their nerve?