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Three Vicars Talking, by Richard Coles, Kate Bottley and Giles Fraser

04 December 2020

Susan Gray enjoys the translation of clerical broadcasting into print

THE book Three Vicars Talking is a meditation on priesthood, wrapped up as a stocking filler. Based on transcripts of the Radio 4 series, the meaning of death, marriage, birth, Christmas, and Easter is refracted through the clerical lenses of Richard Coles, Kate Bottley, and Giles Fraser.

Anecdotes are enjoyably cranked up to 11, and come in rapid fire about baptism by Super Soaker, why Newsnight viewers forswear funeral selfies, and the challenges of eulogising the departed whose only earthly interests were crosswords and Countdown.

All three contributors are polished media performers, but Bottley wins speech radio. Whether it is disabusing toddlers’ parents on nativity rehearsals — “Let’s just dress them up, parade them around: all anybody wants is the photograph and ‘Away in a manger’” — or being upstaged by a dove-releasing undertaker until a cemetery sparrow hawk swiftly reasserts the natural order, Bottley radiates warmth and relatability.

Coles plays the familiar entertainment part of host struggling to control his effervescent guests, who tease him about walking the dogs in a cope and embodying the perfect godparent: rich and gay. Fraser goes into bat for muscular Christianity: an enthusiast for circumcision, full-immersion baptisms, late brides’ forfeiting hymns, and banning “Hark! the herald” as heresy.

These chiselled characterisations gesture to the intensive editing and preparation behind such a natural, off-the-cuff-sounding piece of radio. Then Covid, and the death of Coles’s civil partner, the Revd David Coles, derailed airing the original Easter segment, which had been pre-recorded back-to-back with Christmas.

Its replacement was a fresh show, created remotely in lockdown; so the last 20 pages are a handbrake-turn in tone and structure, drama script back-and-forth exchanged for long, raw reflections on grief, loss, the Church’s future, and the sifting for hope in what Fraser calls “this hideous plague”.

As Coles concludes: “We stand at the foot of the cross and everything you need to know about how brutal life can be is there in front of you.”


Susan Gray writes about the arts and entertainment for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times, and the Daily Mail.


Three Vicars Talking
Richard Coles, Kate Bottley and Giles Fraser
SPCK £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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