TV: The Sandford St Martin Trust awards

21 June 2019

SANDFORD ST MARTIN

Patrick Kielty in the documentary My Dad, The Peace Deal and Me

Patrick Kielty in the documentary My Dad, The Peace Deal and Me

SAYING “Thank you” lies at the heart of the matter: but, socially, it is a minefield. Will an email suffice, or a simple postcard, or will only an extravagant bunch of flowers fit the bill? At last week’s annual Sandford St Martin Trust Awards (reported elsewhere in the paper), we saw an instructive range of modes, and it is my pleasure to share them with you.

The Trust admirably “promotes excellence in religious programmes”, and expands this aim to supporting “thought-provoking, distinctive programming that engages with issues of faith, morality, and ethics”. You’ll recognise the shift that has taken place here, and, in my familiar biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you persona (the wine and canapes were excellent), I feel that they thereby blunt the edge of their mission.

“Morality and ethics” do not necessarily have any connection with faith or religion; they are, after all, explored, for good or ill, by all resolutely secular TV dramas — even soap operas. The Bishop of Repton, the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane, who chairs the Trust, praised the excellence of the programmes considered for the awards; they all, she said, demonstrated “what it means to be human”.

So they do — brilliantly — but, then, so do all the BAFTA nominees. Why can’t we be tougher than this? I want to see programmes that explicitly reveal the divine, that are not just about religion, in an Open University kind of way, but are actually in themselves religious.

But, back to saying “Thank you.” The event is splendidly organised: in each category, there are short clips of all the shortlisted programmes, the runner-up is announced, and then a longer passage from the actual winners, who, after receiving their award are briefly interviewed by the bishop, or in cases of absence send a filmed effusion.

The Radio Times Readers Award was a landslide win for A Vicar’s Life, BBC2’s documentary about clergy in the most rural diocese in England: Hereford (Media, 26 January 2018). The three featured priests received their award exactly as their ministry had been portrayed: modestly, self-deprecatingly, engagingly. For once, it was a celebration of what the Church of England is actually like, and what she is, day by day.

The climax of the evening, the Trustees Award, was given to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, on the entirely proper grounds that his televised sermon at the royal wedding was the most talked about and provocative religious broadcast of the year. His thank-you displayed all its virtues: humanity, openness, directness; but also the downside. He did not know when to stop, the paean to love repeated so frequently as to lose meaning.

The comedian Patrick Kielty’s My Dad, The Peace Deal and Me (BBC1) (Media, 13 April 2018) was the TV/Video prizewinner. He used his spotlight moment for a passionate appeal to Brexiteers: there must never again be any border across Ireland. Was this political outburst appropriate? Desperate times demand desperate measures: his father was murdered by paramilitaries; so he knew whereof he spoke. It was OK by me.

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