YOU do not need to be a
Luddite to recognise that not all technologies have been improved
with the advent of the digital age. Compare the photographs taken
by John McCarthy for In a Prince's Footsteps (Radio 4,
weekdays: photos can be seen on the Radio 4 website), and those by
Francis Bedford, taken in 1862, and you will see the point.
The subjects are the
same, and, in some cases, eerily alike: scenes from the Middle
East, featuring both the obvious tourist attractions such as the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Jerusalem from the Mount of
Olives; and the less familiar sites, such as the Mar Saba
monastery. McCarthy's colour photos are well-framed and competently
exposed; but Bedford's black-and-white photos have a texture and
depth that are engrossing.
More impressive still is
that Bedford's photographs were the product of an immense amount of
labour: carrying around plates, chemicals, and boxes; setting up
the shot; and then immediately having to make the prints
themselves, in as much dark as the deserts and his equipment would
afford him. They are testaments to the pioneering age of
professional photography and also to the start of the modern era of
Bedford was in a party
that accompanied the then Prince of Wales on his peregrinations
around the Middle East. Many of the sites that he photographed were
soon to become popular destinations for affluent Western Europeans,
as well as areas of increased political interest for the British,
French, and Russian powers.
One of the themes running
through McCarthy's excellent series is the decline of Ottoman
authority in the region in the mid-19th century. Another is the
durability of religious identity: Mar Saba, with only 20 monks now,
still clings to the rocks above the Kidron River with as much
tenacity as do Christian sects to their claims over the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre, and the disputed "immovable ladder", pictured
in both the McCarthy and Bedford photos.
Following hard upon his
play The Fewness of his Words about clerical abuse, Hugh
Costello's latest drama, The Guest of St Peter's (Radio 4,
Friday), dealt with another near-hypothetical dilemma for the Roman
Catholic Church: what would happen if a pope who had resigned
became the focus of dissent against his successor?
I liked this offering
principally because, whatever one thought about the realism of the
situation, this was a drama that kept you guessing to the end. In
particular, what was the papal secretary, Cardinal Sastre, really
up to? His Machiavellian role was comparable to the great Francis
Urquhart's "You may think that; I couldn't possibly comment" in
House of Cards, and the understated hint about the fate of
the reinstated Pope was nicely played.
There is little chance of Rowan Williams' getting caught up in
similar shenanigans. On Good Morning Sunday with Clare
Balding (Radio 2), he was even good enough to echo the new Lambeth
Palace agenda by talking about tax avoidance and business ethics.
The most challenging question of the day came - by proxy - from a
schoolboy whom Lord Williams had encountered on a recent trip:
"What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?"