Television: Please sit. I'd like to appeal on behalf of The Choir

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The Independent Culture
This week I'd like to appeal on behalf of The Choir. Now, I don't doubt that there will be some among the congregation who will bridle at this suggestion. Is it really a deserving cause, they will ask. Some among you, no doubt, will point to the audience figures, which, while not exactly luxurious could scarcely be depicted as requiring charitable relief. Is it our responsibility, they will say, if this series has got ideas above its station? Why did it not have the common sense to stay on BBC2, where 6 million viewers would have given it more than respectable life, indeed pre-eminence in that select community? To those questions I have no answer.

Others will argue that The Choir has forfeited any claim to our benevolence by its regrettable addiction to melodrama. I understand the sincerity of these feelings. Only the other day, an exasperated parishioner described it to me as "the sort of series in which the discovery that the milk has gone off would be accompanied by a passage from the Carmina Burana".

I can't - wouldn't wish to - deny the pertinence of these remarks. Watching Councillor Ashworth retreat from his bruising encounter with the Sub-committee on Facilities, the apocalyptic growl of Wagnerian brass did seem to argue that this was the dramatic equivalent of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. And even with recent synods fresh in the mind, the spitting malice on display will strike many viewers as a little surprising. Surely, they say, the spite of clerics would be a little more covert, a little more schooled by the professional habit of indiscriminate benignity?

Others have muttered darkly about the programme's treatment of women. Do we hear again the ancient libel against Eve, they ask, in this consistent portrayal of feminine weakness and guile? Again, it would be foolish for me to deny that they have a point. Mrs Cavendish behaves more like Clytemnestra just before bathtime than a loyal Dean's wife, supportive of his controversial plan to close down the cathedral choir.

But charity cannot be so nice it its judgements. The Choir, I would seek to remind the hard-hearted, has misfortunes that are not of its own making and merits that are. Is it really the programme's fault, for instance,that it finds itself competing with thedistinctly secular charms of Band of Gold, currently running on the advertising channel? I have not seen this programme, which I understand is concerned with fallen women and serial murder, but I suspect that many of you have. And whatever views I may have about the fitness of the matter for Sunday evening viewing, I am told by those in the know that the production is both skilful and humane.

And yes, it has to be admitted that the first episode of The Choir did not put up much of a fight for the affections of the viewing public, taking the hazardous course of teasing us for almost an hour before unveiling its somewhat specialised narrative charms. I regret that, these days, the distressed fabric of the church is no match for lycra and... um... rubberwear.

But there is real matter in The Choir, a larger subject in its apparently parochial civil war. I admit to you that I was moved by Canon Troy's impassioned speech in defence of the choral tradition, delivered before the frozen features of the Deanduring school speech day. If we lose the choir, he declared, "we not only damage our inner selves but we deprive the future of something precious and ancient that it is not ours to destroy". I think we can all learn something from that but I imagine that for Mr Alan Yentob, currently attempting to juggle the ancient and unaccountable traditions of public service broadcasting with the harsh realities of the modern world, the words have a particular irony. So, whatever your prejudices, please watch generously.