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“More TV Vicar?” by The Revd Bryony Taylor

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The advantage of waiting until this week to talk about Bryony’s new book is that we have had a chance to see how it has been reviewed generally, and I am happy to tell you that it has both won critical acclaim and is also the book everyone is discussing at the water-cooler. Quite a feat!

First of all, Bryony tells us some of the background to ‘More TV Vicar?’ and how she came to write it.

When Dawn French was asked by Richard Curtis to play the Vicar of Dibley, she wasn’t altogether sure at first, she revealed on Desert Island Discs: ‘”I thought, ‘How on earth do you play a central character who’s so blooming good?’ I thought ‘Where are the flaws? Where is the monster in this woman?’ That’s what I understand comedy to be.” Dawn French initially assumed that you can’t be funny and good at the same time. She discovered that this wasn’t true when she visited the (real) Revd Joy Carroll’s house with Richard Curtis (who wrote the sitcom) and saw that she had a mug that said ‘Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself’– seeing this gave him permission to write a character that had quirks and flaws as well as happening to be a member of the Anglican clergy.

When we hear the word Christian, or vicar, or priest, a number of images come to mind – not all positive. The likelihood of these images having been informed by what you have watched on television over the years is extremely high. That is what I explore in my book ‘More TV Vicar?’ What do the various portrayals of Christians and clergy over the years on British TV say about what our society thinks of believers? And what do our responses (if we’re Christians) to these characters say about us? Many of the characters are part of the comedy heritage of our country. Why are vicar characters used so much in comedy, and when does the satire move closer to mockery or offense? I wanted to explore these issues by looking closely at each character in turn and analysing what is going on under the surface of such well-loved figures as Revd Geraldine Granger, Father Ted and even the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells (from Blackadder).

The book is a fun romp through a range of characters that fall into the categories of the ‘good, the bad and the quirky’ and asks the question, ultimately, what would Jesus watch?


What I find fascinating about Bryony’s MTV is the mirror it holds up to the Church as a whole, particularly the Church of England as the established church, and the relationship between Church and people. And the extent to which these mirrors are accurate, perhaps more so than we would like, and the extent to which they distort.

The reader embarks on what appears to be a catalogue of vicars on television, set in their context. Grouping the programmes into the good, the bad and the quirky, we begin with the good. What one might call the Robert Browning view of the universe: God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world. The church forms part of an Arcadian idyll, with notional – but not serious – flaws, like the revolting cakes cooked by the village spinster in The Vicar of Dibley. The scriptwriters seem cheerfully confused about the difference between the parish council and the PCC, with the Revd Geraldine Grainger being an ex officio member of the former. But this is not a serious objection, since the viewers are well aware that we are in an alternative universe.  G K Chesterton appears, at first sight, to have set his Father Brown down in the same Hovis setting but, this being G K Chesterton, there is some serious theology and philosophy. And then we complete this tour of the horizon with the bad and the quirky.

But this is not a book about television at all… I’m on to you, Bryony. This is a very clever book, which uses the water cooler (formerly village well) concept to gather people around to discuss what they saw last night on the telly. And then, hardly perceptibly at all at first, but gradually more insistently, we get analysis of the role of the Church in the 21st century: its evolution, urban vs rural ministry, disparate congregations and the people of God, stresses and strains on the clergy, as well as on the structures (both physical and metaphorical) of the Church; and some thoughts on its future. Suddenly, we are in much more serious territory, but have been led here through familiar pastures: by the end we are considering the various aspects of ecclesiology quite seriously enough for the Anglican Journal. Very neat, in fact a virtuoso piece of writing.

More TV Vicar?
Christians on the Telly: The Good, the Bad and the Quirky

Bryony Taylor
978 0 232 53170 1
Paperback |16
Darton, Longman and Todd

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