THE BBC, with a notable sense of timing, is showing all 13 episodes of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation on iPlayer. Online viewers may catch this landmark early colour documentary series “for a month”, it says. Then mention of noon on 20 July pops up to make me wonder about the BBC’s arithmetic.
In any case, it is clear that these programmes will soon vanish from sight like the Ninth Legion among the barbarians; and the latter do indeed always sound lamentable if, like the late Lord Clark, you give a distinct roll to their second “r”.
Readers of my age and below who may have been watching other programmes “with Mother” in 1969 should not delay in catching up — and not simply because it proves that, once upon a time, (a) you could present on TV without cosmetic dentistry, and (b) you could speak of “our Lord” without being banished to the fringe of the schedules.
Clark was, perhaps, stronger on art history than on religion, but he was multidisciplinary in his outlook before most university arts courses were; and, above all, he was allowed to take his time.
Whether aesthetic or devout, it is a form of contemplation. No other series comes to mind in which the camera wanders so attentively over great art and architecture; and, practically speaking, it all looks better on today’s screens than it would have done in the days of the test card and phoning for the repair man.
Clark’s pauses are almost worthy of the present Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, who once famously kept the Today programme waiting for an answer.
These days, perhaps, we are used to hearing early music, even at London tube stations (where they play it to prevent loitering), sung by voices without the slight hint of warble which is still detectable here. But, even in my undergraduate day, students for a music degree — except those with a trust fund, perhaps — had to hear many works in recordings to which Civilisation’s are far superior.
Clark concluded that what really did for a civilisation was running out of confidence. That scarcely seems reassuring at present, though confidence in the sense of solidarity that live popular music can engender bucks the trend.
If the worst should come to the worst, Clark points us to those small islands dotted about the coast where, once before, in the Dark Ages, “we” held on by “the skin of our teeth”. That’s quite a sense of solidarity, too.
In Fr Andrew’s steps
WITH a novena sponsored by two Church of England archbishops just behind us, it may seem that all things are possible.
Fr John-Francis SMMS — who has, for a priest, the appropriate surname of Friendship — writes to draw attention to a new online association that sounds just the thing for people who want to move forward in their spiritual lives but don’t want more meetings to attend.
“In this month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and at a time when fear, bigotry, and hate are ever present in the world, a new online Spiritual Association of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary (CHJM) has been created to assist members in developing the virtue of compassion,” he writes.
The aim is “to develop a compassionate heart for the sake of the world”, while its “purpose” is to nurture compassion. I’m not sure what the distinction is. The Rule is simple: spend time each day in the presence of the Heart of Jesus; express compassion practically; reflect on your practice of compassion; and recognise the value of the “sacrament of confession”.
Anyone can join without adopting this Rule by becoming an Associate. The association has the approval and support of the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Fr John-Francis says.
While reading his letter, I was instantly reminded of Fr Andrew SDC, one of the pioneers of the Franciscan spirit in Anglicanism (and, readers may recall, spiritual director to Lilian Baylis, the pioneer manager of the Old Vic).
Lo and behold, when I visit the website, there Fr Andrew is, with words that I remember first reading in The Mirfield Mission Hymn Book. There, too, is Fr Arthur Shearly Cripps, of whom I know less, but who was described as the “St Francis of the African Countryside”, and whose shrine is located in Maronda Mashanu, Zimbabwe.
As a general rule, Anglicans are more at home with verbal devotion to the Sacred Heart, which appears unobtrusively in their hymns, than with the more surgical forms of iconography; and the words “divine compassion” sum up the underlying truth without the danger of raising Protestant hackles.
If VUCA (Comment, 2 June) is or isn’t your thing, perhaps CHJM could be. The website can be found at http://cchjm.org.
I WENT, years ago, to the launch for Michael De-la-Noy’s biography of Mervyn Stockwood, and saw several of those who played a leading part in the 1960s’ South Bank ferment. I think it may have been then that I last met the Revd Tony Crowe, another old Southwark hand.
As a curate in New Eltham in 1963, he interviewed the Revd Nicolas Stacey in St Mary’s, Woolwich, for his parish newspaper, and was handed two boxes of press cuttings to read; and they were in touch in retirement.
Now he picks up on Andrew Brown’s comment (Press, 26 May) that it was “proper” for the Stacey obituaries to say nothing about the priest’s theology, and quotes the last words of Stacey’s book Who Cares.
These refer to his eucharistic theology, which puts his well-known emphasis on the secular world into another light: “I believe Christ’s Spirit is with us when those who would try to follow Him break bread together in the manner of the Last Supper. I take my stand that our life here on earth is but the beginning of something so much better which God has prepared for us and passes our understanding.
“And finally, I take my stand that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Body here on earth — which is the Church.”
Not an unsuitable thought, dare I say it, after a Whit Sunday when the closure of Southwark Cathedral left everyone’s attention focused on the flesh-and-blood sacrifice of those who were trying to save life and limb outside it. Whether some or none were communicants, it was a time, in the words of the Corpus Christi sequence, to “Look not on the outward sign.”
THE advertiser who in April placed a Classified notice in this paper, “V1CAR Vehicle registration for sale. . .”, tells us that it produced an interesting response from someone who had acquired the registration “V111CAR”.
“The Reverend Prebendary had parked one day in the Exmoor town of Dulverton. On returning to his car, he saw a small gathering. By chance, parked next to him was a car with the registration V11CAR. The good folk of Dulverton were, it seems, amused.”