Television: Not so fuddy-duddy

06 December 2006

by Gillean Craig

TWO CHEERS for BBC Religion and Ethics. The new Sunday morning Advent series What the World Needs Now (BBC1) displays a far more confident theological content than we have come to expect from this stable, with more talking direct to camera about living a life of faith.

Recently, Christmas has been the only time of year when a real live service has been televised — and for the sick and housebound this has no doubt been a serious loss. The fact that, in this predominantly Christian country, the world’s leading public-service broadcaster refuses to televise an act of worship on Sundays and on great festivals remains a monumental scandal.

I suspect that the uncommitted viewer’s attention might be better caught and held by this magazine format, hosted by David and Carrie Grant. I wondered, however: was it a directorial eagerness to prove that this wasn’t a fuddy-duddy programme which required her to wear a blouse several sizes too small, and fail to fasten the top two or three buttons? But the individual items are mostly either good or first-rate.

At the time when most churches will be dusting down their BibleLands carol sheets in preparation for the annual round of carol singing, it is good to see the Revd Lucy Winkett (who, I suspect, is more accurately described as a Canon of St Paul’s rather than a Canon in St Pauls — as though her function were to repel boarders) visiting some of the excellent work done by that charity, as part of a pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The work of a church-based youth centre in one of the most deprived areas of Manchester was a moving example of Christianity in action. And the Revd Julie Nicholson, interviewing expectant mums in Mothercare and schoolgirl mothers in a special centre, offered reflections on Mary’s teenage, unmarried pregnancy which earthed in human reality what is too often spiritualised into sentimental fantasy.


I can’t make it three cheers because, as usual, the programme lacked the nerve to stick with Advent: significant bits of the material belonged to Christmas itself. There is no excuse to dress up St Michael’s, Croydon, with fully decorated Christmas trees and sing “Mary’s boy child” — not just yet. Once again, I felt that BBC Religion either doesn’t know about the wealth of material proper to the season, or simply hasn’t the nerve to fight the prevailing culture, which refuses to wait until Christmas is actually here.

The Secret Millionaire (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week) launched a new reality series in which seriously rich people work incognito in deprived places, deciding how and where to donate some of their largesse. The concept is a dubious moral minefield, but Ben Way, aged 26 and a self-made multi-millionaire, and the Pedro Youth Club in a particularly fraught area of Hackney vindicated it triumphantly.

Pretending to be a volunteer youth-worker, he immersed himself in the neighbourhood. The £40,000 he donated seems to have made significant differences, and he remains involved with the people and the place. In other words, the experience has transformed him as much as the recipients. Not a bad Advent theme.

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