*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Word from Wormingford

02 October 2015

Ronald Blythe enjoys looking back at his time as a screen actor

HAMISH arrives as he always does, en route from his parish to a week by the Suffolk sea. And we do what we always do — make a little pilgrimage to St Francis, at Wissington. I can see this village on the opposite bank of the Stour from my garden — two miles by foot, ten by car. The weather is golden, and smells of fallen plums.

Hamish and I lunch on fish and chips and beer, then enter the white aisle and look up. St Francis and a friend of his are preaching to birds — rooks, perhaps — who listen attentively. For hundreds of years they listened under whitewash. Then Professor Tristram scraped it off to reveal what the late Middle Ages, congregation saw at mass — blackbirds at their devotions.

There was a painting-school near Colchester where artist-monks carried colours and ladders to write the Gospel in pictures on plastered walls. It included, of course, a fearful dragon above the north door, and a tail whisking the way to hell.

This part of my village calendar fulfilled, I attend a showing of my film Akenfield, directed by Peter Hall, at Bury St Edmunds. There I am, perpetually young, dressed in borrowed robes, taking a country funeral. An old farmworker has died, and, rather like drowning, his whole existence passes through the memory of his son and grandson.

My East Anglian neighbours have seen this film so often that they have taken it for themselves. There are more than 300 “actors” in it, including the schoolchildren. Benjamin Britten was to have provided the music, but he fell ill, and we used Michael Tippett’s Corelli arrangement.

We also sang “The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended”, the first line of which was borrowed from an anonymous line in a collection of church poems. John Ellerton’s son was being seen off to the mission field — a life-threatening place in those days. Embracing his boy goodbye, Canon Ellerton went inside, and comforted himself with the realisation that the same sun would rise and set on them both.

The hymn is a devotion on time. The St Martin-in-the-Fields choir sings it in the film Akenfield. We were in Hoo church, near Framlingham, where there was a carved holder for a fob watch and an hour-glass on the pulpit, and I can hear the muted groan of the congregation as the rector turned the latter upside down to preach on and on.

What did they say, these wordy parsons? Beautiful scholarly things, perhaps. In the disgraceful skit on Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village, they said, “On Sundays, he do go to church to hear the parson spout. He puts a shilling in the bag and takes a sovereign out!”

I was a Suffolk choirboy. My memories of matins and evensong are full of glorious music and marvellous words, of a white river of choristers in procession, and the hissing of gaslight; but not a word of sermons. And bell-ringing! Father would stand in the garden on practice night, as I do now when they ring at Little Horkesley, the sound pouring through the trees and over the corn.

An old man who farmed here would sit in the pear-tree to listen to the bells. I am honoured to have been an honorary ringer for many years. Bells are often given exquisite texts. One in Charsfield, Suffolk, says: “Box of sweet honey, I am Michael’s bell.”

Saffron in flower, but a new quiet — all the birds are on their way to Africa. Three hornets in my bedroom are zooming around like Second World War bombers, and wait to be liberated. Not a buzz of thanks.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)