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TV review: Comic Relief, Countryfile, and James May’s Big Trouble in Model Britain

22 March 2019

BBC / Comic Relief

Carrie (Andi Macdowell) and Charles (Hugh Grant) in a special Four Weddings and a Funeral filmed for Red Nose Day (BBC1, Friday)

Carrie (Andi Macdowell) and Charles (Hugh Grant) in a special Four Weddings and a Funeral filmed for Red Nose Day (BBC1, Friday)

IT IS always worth watching how others do it, to glean a tip or two. But rarely are two topics central to the life of all clergy so neatly combined as they are in BBC1’s annual Comic Relief  (Friday). The two topics are, of course, “Raising money”, and, second, “Making an ass of yourself”.

Those without a theological-college education will not appreciate how much future priests have impressed on them the essential virtue of behaving (and, above all, dressing up) like a fool at the annual parish pantomime, the summer fair, and the stewardship supper. Successful ministry depends almost entirely on taking the lead in Charley’s Aunt, or sporting funny hats.

Here, I think, we could learn much from our sisters and brothers in those other branches of showbiz, TV and radio. However much their careers depend on carefully constructed gravitas, once a year they throw all into sharp relief by acting the clown.

This year’s highlight was a remarkable reassembly, 25 years on, of the stars from the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, by happy chance poking fun at a continuing crisis for the C of E, as Rowan Atkinson’s incompetent priest conducted his first same-sex marriage blessing.

This tomfoolery could have a serious purpose: nothing shifts entrenched opposition as effectively as taking the mickey, and I suspect that repeated screenings at the General Synod would probably dissolve obstruction to the longed-for reform without further debate. The tide of influence, I’m glad to report, does not only flow in one direction: I note that Sir Lenny Henry has learned from us clergy the essential mode of signalling concern and compassion: you incline your head slightly to one side.

Countryfile (BBC1, Sundays), a weekly celebration of the glories of rural England, has become, for many, an effective substitute for, and shares significant emotional territory with, Sunday evensong. Each week, it focuses on a particular area of the nation, and offers a magazine format of farming, wildlife, and general concerns. Its tone is generally uplifting and encouraging. But darker realities are certainly acknowledged.

Last Sunday, we saw a sharp sequence about the potential effect of Brexit, interviewing farmers who realise that, without EU subsidies, they will be bankrupt, and forced to sell up. Even here there was hope: working harder to create consumer loyalty may provide salvation (another example for us clergy?).

James May’s Big Trouble in Model Britain (BBC4, Wednesday of last week) was the second of two programmes following the attempts of Hornby, Britain’s most iconic model-railway manufacturers, to turn around decades of decline. The solution? Trust the brand’s traditional ethos, return to its original premises, act with confidence rather than defeatism, and take on younger and brighter staff. C of E, take note?

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