Simon Mayo, 5 Live

A bishop who's not a 'Simpsons' fan is hardly fit for purpose

Last week I was called up by someone from 5 Live who wanted me to deliver my opinion on the Simon Mayo show. The idea was to record several opinions, so that staffers could go off and see how they could improve the show.

I haven't listened to Simon Mayo for a while – but he did stand up against the Arts Council at the beginning of the year when they were busy shooting themselves in the foot by scrapping funding for several organisations. So I listened to Monday's show, which began with an interview with Gene Robinson, the gay Bishop of New Hampshire. Oh, that's clever to get him on, I thought.

And the interview went on. And on. We began to hear rather a lot more about the internal politics of the Anglican church than most of us might have done before. I began to think of the P G Wodehouse story, "The Great Sermon Handicap", in which the tedium of rural life is lifted by some betting on which vicar will preach the longest on a given Sunday.

"Presumably you think," Mayo asked, "Dr Williams is a prayerful man?" At this I remembered that Mayo is a Christian, and that "prayerful" is one of those words Christians use.

I am not entirely sure what it means, and confess to being little the wiser after Bishop Robinson saying "absolutely". There followed a rather touching paean to the Archbishop of Canterbury's intelligence and faith. Then Mayo said that presumably the archbishop had prayed a lot about the latest spat with the homophobes in the Anglican Church ... and the absurdity of the situation struck me. I recalled Will Self's definition of the previous incumbent as "a man in a dress who thinks he can talk to God", and wondered whether someone more sceptical might be a more entertaining interviewer.

The interview went on for half an hour. "If you want to know what the Episcopal experience is like," said Mayo at one point, and I wondered how many of his initial audience were still around, waiting for a description. (Apparently it's best to think of the Reverend Lovejoy in The Simpsons, at which point Gene Robinson made the startling admission that he had never seen the programme, which makes one question his fitness to advise anyone on a wide range of matters).

I suppose you have to have religion on the BBC from time to time, just to keep some people happy. It's easily avoided if you want to avoid it. But it might be wise for Mayo to do it in shorter bursts.

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