SEVEN in the morning may be a little early for champagne, but last week Sunday (Radio 4) did its best to celebrate its 50th year on air. This was a birthday party at which all were on their best behaviour, and messages from supporters protested the integrity and importance of the show. Andrew Copson, of Humanists UK, said that he would forgo his Sunday lie-in to listen, while the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, with a painfully contorted compliment, declared what a good thing it was that 99.5 per cent of the listenership was non-Jewish.
What he was getting at was that Sunday requires those of faith to speak to a public who lie outside their own constituency. The effect of multiple media outlets for the dissemination of news and opinion has, in his opinion, been “absolutely dire”. Nation no longer speaking unto nation, still less synagogue to mosque to church. And yet, as the guests Ruth Gledhill, Ed Stourton, and Sunny Hundal attested, the need for religious journalism has grown significantly over the past half-century.
Naturally, each felt that they entered the business just at the time of change. For Stourton, this was the 1980s, with the visits of Pope John Paul II to Poland and the emergence of the religious Right in the United States. Gledhill remembered the debates at The Times over appropriate terminology for the new wave of terrorism emerging in the 1990s, while Hundal regarded the London bombings in 2005 as the game-changer. Each agreed, however, on the need for serious religious journalism, and the importance of Sunday in this mix.
None was so impolite as to notice the elephant in the studio: that Sunday was, some years ago, brushed into one of the most obscure corners of the schedule, and that the BBC’s commitment to and sympathy for religion beyond its broadly ethical dimension has been in decline for decades.
It took a group of young people to play the party-poopers, complaining that religious broadcasting rarely engages with the experience of faith as it plays out in people’s lives. Whether this criticism was aimed directly at Sunday one cannot be sure, being an age group that rarely experiences 7 a.m.
Awkward truths of a different kind were exposed in Re-Enactment Radio (Radio 4, Friday, repeat), a delightful piece of whimsy in which the film critic Antonia Quirke and her team set out to answer longstanding cinematic conundrums. Such as why, at the end of Titanic, didn’t Rose just budge up and let Jack on to her life-saving flotsam? James Cameron’s Titanic cost $200 million; Quirke’s recreation, using an old door floating in a pond, just a few quid; but the principle is the same.
And the irrefutable conclusion is that Leonardo DiCaprio could easily have fitted on, had Kate Winslet allowed him. Perhaps in the icy seas of the North Atlantic she realised that a life of retelling this romantic tale would be easier unencumbered by that frightful oik from the boat.