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TV review: Sunday morning service, and Miss World 1970: Beauty queens and bedlam

27 March 2020

YouTube/Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury records his sermon for Mothering Sunday

The Archbishop of Canterbury records his sermon for Mothering Sunday

IS THIS really the best that the BBC can offer? We raised a cheer when it announced that, in this unprece­d­ented crisis, it would broadcast a Sunday morning service led by the Archbishop of Canter­bury. The small print showed it to be, at best, a slight gesture. The broadcast was not live. It went out ini­tially on local radio, and the only TV version I even­tually found was on YouTube.

Search BBC iplayer for “Arch­bishop of Canterbury”: every clip is marked unavailable. Why wasn’t it broadcast on a main channel? Why wasn’t it live? Our cathedral here in Canterbury and many parish churches managed to live-screen euch­­arists for Mothering Sunday, despite the necessary restrictions: why can’t our national broadcaster do better than them?

BBC1 did offer a service, at 11.45 a.m. (filed on iPlayer under, for God’s sake, the category “Lifestyle”: they cannot even bring themselves to utter the words “faith” and “religion”) broadcast from St Davids Cathedral. The Dean led a hymn sandwich with an admirable blessing of Mothering Sunday flowers, and fine addresses and prayers, all against gorgeous images of that magnificent building. But the music was from a previous broadcast of, alas, Songs of Praise — that pro­gramme whose musical style and general presentation provoked me to such critical invective that the BBC requested me never again to review it (a badge of honour which I wear with pride).

And what was Archbishop Welby’s service actually like? First im­­pressions were unpromising. Choir dress (was it a chimere?), more black than white, spoke not of a generous and loving God, but of Calvin’s Geneva, stern and condem­natory. Couldn’t the sacristy at Lambeth provide a rose-coloured stole, to wear with alb?

Lighting a series of candles on the altar for specific prayer topics was a good idea, but not if you employ tiny votive lights that are impossible to ignite with dignity. The beautiful crypt chapel encourages prayer and meditation, but it’s austere and bare. Surely flowers, Refreshment Sunday colour, would have warmed it up and made it more inviting to en­­quir­ing non-aficionados? Yet, the Arch­bishop’s words were moving, and must have offered consolation and inspiration. So, con­tent: splendid; presentation: must try harder.

I found unexpected moral pro­fun­dities in Miss World 1970: Beauty queens and bedlam (BBC2, Monday of last week). It is clear, 50 years later, how this event marked a crucial double shift in social attitudes. The feminists’ protest against Mecca’s annual incitement to male lust received worldwide pub­­licity; but racial equality also triumphed. For the first time, both first and second prizes went to non-white contestants. Radical change was forced from the outside, and yet also burgeoned within the reaction­ary organisation.

Protesters and contestants alike looked back. Surprisingly, Misses Grenada, Africa South, and Sweden impressed me with greater wisdom and insight than the feminists.

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