I first encountered
Miranda Hart as the subversive char in the sitcom Not Going
Out, and have been a fan ever since. But it came as a
revelation to discover, in a broadcast tribute last month, that her
greatest inspiration was a comic figure who could not have been
more different from her, Eric Morecambe.
Once it was explained,
you could see it. The trademark intimacy with the camera, the
slapstick clowning, the apparent clumsiness, the wit, even the
song-and-dance routine with which she ends her show - all reflect
something of Morecambe's comic repertoire. His comic genius lives
in her, but she is at the same time entirely and brilliantly
Miranda differs from Eric
in gender, class background, and range. Of the two, Miranda is the
more versatile; she plays a serious part in Call the
Midwife. Unlike Eric, she writes her own material. Indeed, one
of the likeable things about her is her generosity with comic
lines. She gives some of her best to other members of the cast.
Her generous tribute to
Eric Morecambe made me think afresh about the way in which
traditions are handed down in Christian experience. Catholic
tradition is passed on from person to person. The past lives afresh
in each of us, and Christ comes alive in us, as the original whom
we imitate as we are baptised, confirmed, and perhaps ordained.
I cannot have been the
only woman priest to model myself liturgically on the example of
male priests who conveyed something of Christ to me. It never
occurred to me that I could not imitate the way they preached and
presided across the divide of gender.
Authenticity, whether as
a priest or a clown, is not simply about personal uniqueness: it is
also about bringing that uniqueness into dialogue with tradition.
Through the Church, Christ hands on patterns, gestures, and
symbols, which we repeat again and again; always the same, always
This is the meaning of
the word anamnesis: the creative remembering that brings
new life. If this is true, changes such as women bishops are not
the problem. The problem is whether we still have the wit and
imagination to remember what we have seen and heard, or whether we
are simply parodying a kind of fearful correctness from which the
life has drained away.
The Revd Angela Tilby is the Diocesan Canon of Christ
Church, Oxford, and the Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser
for the diocese of Oxford.