Diary: Glyn Paflin

16 August 2019


New venture

WHEN Darton, Longman & Todd (DLT) brought out the Jerusalem Bible in 1966, Cardinal Heenan called it a “landmark” in (Roman) Catholic biblical scholarship. It was also claimed as the first complete English Bible to avoid archaisms; for even the New English Bible, thought of as so kitchen-sink as late as the 1970s, had decided that the Psalmist ought to speak in “Series 2” English (the “traditional” liturgical mother tongue of us fifty-somethings).

DLT is now publicising the latest in the line, the Revised New Jerusalem Bible (£39.99 (CT Bookshop special price £31.99)). Dom Henry Wansbrough, who, in the ecumenical spirit, reviews for the Church Times, has updated the 1985 edition.

It was the 1966 edition that really put DLT on the map after it had been founded, 60 years ago this summer, by Michael Longman with a couple of his colleagues from the religious department at Longman & Co.

“I think at this stage ‘hair’ . . . needs to be ‘let down’ quite a bit further,” writes Michael Long in the DLT memo

I’ve never seen an office memo so full of spiritual soul-searching about the purpose of work itself as the one that the publisher has released to us to mark its big birthday: eight pages of closely typed notes by ML, as he prepared to set out in his coracle. “It just so happens that Tim, John and I believe our job-vocation is to publish books and mainly religious books at that, and probably a new firm.”

It was a time of “mass propaganda in every conceivable form in favour of ever more and more material security”. Longman (who died in 1978) had his eyes open. “I may seem to have an urge to divest myself of a good deal of what wealth I have (the cynic in me says: then, by Jove, I congratulate you for having hit on the idea of a new publishing venture, religious books, too, one of the easiest and most painless methods — and one of the speediest — of divesting yourself of worldly goods whilst at the same time giving yourself a nice cosy feeling of being a benefactor of humanity!).”

He agreed that they “should not turn our faces away from money-spinning general books if they come our way”. “BUT”, he wrote, they could survive without them, though “it would be a much harder grind.”

“I do not believe that religious money-spinners are at all easy to come by and, even assuming there is no lack of saleable general books, I would be very surprised if a general money-spinner dropped into the lap of a new firm whose main line was of another kind. . . Far from being afraid of overloading ourselves (which I agree we must avoid), I think we are much more likely to find ourselves in the position of not having enough books available to give ourselves even a reasonable chance of covering overheads fairly and continuing to do so until the money-spinners emerge.”

Tantalisingly, he refers to wanting to know “what Tim’s very simple little research into other Anglican firms disclosed”. But, whatever he discovered (now, no doubt, lost to history), spun the money was — and we can guess which book proved to be the best book of all.


‘Very gallant person’

THE Revd Brian Hession’s name is hardly a household one these days, but there was a time when, campaigning under the banner of Cancer Anonymous, this former Vicar of Holy Trinity, Walton, Aylesbury, was famous for his work to counteract the stigma associated with the disease, and to help people to spot early symptoms.

church timesThe Revd Brian Hession

As a new documentary film about his life shows, he was far in advance of his time in this matter, and had that terrier-like quality that is not always attractive when you come up against it, but is often found among those who inch the world forward. He was an early antagonist of the tobacco industry and its influence in government, and he was a pioneer in campaigning for patients’ right to disclosure.

This work began out of gratitude for his own recovery, marked by his book Determined to Live, begun after doctors had given him only three days to live, and published in 1956. When he died in 1961, the Bishop of Coventry, Cuthbert Bardsley, said that he had by his personal contact and broadcasts given comfort to thousands: he was “a very gallant person”.

This part of his story is well covered in the film The Reverend’s Secret Mission. It has been made by Michael Hession, who, although he has the same surname, says that he is no relation. I saw it on Vimeo with a password. Although a little pruning would not go amiss, I hope that it soon gains a wider audience.


Film mania

BRIAN HESSION’s story is three for one; for the break-up of his first marriage and his marrying again when this was contrary to the Church of England’s oft-stated position (and in the diocese of Bishop Kenneth Kirk, whom our documentarist describes as “having written the book” on the subject) is a dramatic episode in its own right; and then there is the more amusing part of the story, which is the first section, about his zeal for evangelism through film.

This was good training for any later clashes with the Establishment (including the BBC, over This Is Your Life). Hession, with his Ivor Novello looks and refined diction, was a young man in a hurry — and not the sort who becomes Dean of Westminster.

He came up against someone who did — Archbishop Cosmo Lang’s chaplain Alan Don — over how far Lambeth should associate itself with his cinematic enterprises, at a time when the impersonation of Christ in a film was potential grounds for a local council to ban it. William Temple and Geoffrey Fisher followed Lang in keeping Hession at arm’s length, while page after page rolled out of his typewriter to tell them that they were wrong.


Hession v. Essex

THERE was a committee for advising on this kind of thing; so he also fell foul of Gilbert Shaw, the noted priest and spiritual director, who was positioned just where Hession wanted to be as the film theologian currently in favour.

Shaw was no pushover, as our proprietors discovered when they had to topple his chairmanship of our board in 1953; and there is, indeed, a CT thread to this story, since Hession also had Rosamund Essex (wearing her cinema critic’s hat) ranged against him over championing the film From the Manger to the Cross.

On this, it was our Miss Essex who took the better part. Even though Queen Mary liked it enough to attend a viewing at Fulham Palace, reissuing this 1912 American silent film in the late 1930s with a soundtrack of Hession’s own and new scenes that Graham Greene also panned implies a lack of critical judgement. One cleric complained that, at one of Hession’s Dawn Trust film screenings, he was shown From the Manger to the Cross instead of the advertised The Passing of the Third Floor Back.

During the war, Hession went on to deliver a filmed sermon against a backdrop of the 1912 crucifixion scene. When Archbishop Temple became, briefly, a film star later in the war, in Message from Canterbury (1944), it does look, indeed, as if a few of Hession’s ideas may have been borrowed.

He was to find greater fulfilment in the United States and with Cathedral Films, but while working on Day of Triumph in 1954 he experienced the pains that led to the cancer diagnosis, and to the real work of his life. What a star, in the end.

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