The 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, which incorporated the Sex Pistols, the NHS and the Industrial Revolution in a historical mash-up, has won a prestigious award for raising religious awareness in Britain.
The event, conceived by film director Danny Boyle, took the Trustees award at the Sandford St Martin awards, which are held at Lambeth Palace and recognise excellence in religious broadcasting.
Some Conservatives criticised the spectacle, which utilised The Clash, Mary Poppins and a special appearance by the Queen to depict Britain’s “isles of wonder”, for promoting “left-wing” values.
But religion actually played a central role, said Frank Cottrell Boyce, the screenwriter who scripted the event. “People would not have believed the day before that we would include three traditional Christian hymns,” he said. “But Danny and I were both brought up in Catholic families and the Church was a part of our childhood.”
The ceremony included a rendition of William Blake’s "Jerusalem" and the hymn "Abide With Me", interpreted by British-Bangladeshi dancer and choreographer Akram Khan in the traditional kathak style.
At times, the performance suggested that the NHS was Britain’s “national religion”. But this did not exclude more spiritual yearnings, Boyce said.
“We live and die in the NHS but we also do so in the Church and Danny wanted us to reflect that emotional role which faith plays in people’s lives. A lot of our volunteers also came from faith groups which cemented that.”
The ceremony did celebrate “left-wing” values, the writer admitted. “It was a collage of the monarchy, the NHS, left-wing values and the army,” said Boyce, who said he does not watch conventional religious programmes such as Songs of Praise. “We wanted to show how forces that seem in contradiction actually sit alongside each other.”
Caroline Chartres, a St Martin trustee, said: “The Olympics Opening Ceremony depicted, brilliantly, what it means to be British in the 21st century, acknowledging and celebrating the beliefs that have helped to make us who we are.”
Boyce is currently in Londonderry where he is putting the finishing touches to the City of Culture’s centrepiece event this weekend – The Return of Colmcille, a two-day street spectacle to celebrate Derry’s patron saint Columba.
The Trust’s Premier Television Award went to David Suchet for In the Footsteps of St Paul, a BBC1 documentary in which the Poirot actor traced the apostle’s journey using his letters.
Suchet beat Rowan Williams’s Goodbye to Canterbury, the former Archbishop’s valedictory film for BBC2. The St Paul programme was also voted “religious programme of the year”, by Radio Times listeners.
A Personal Award went to the retiring Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks for his advocacy not only of the Jewish faith but of the significance of religion, since delivering the Reith Lectures for the BBC in 1990.
The Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford and Chair of the Sandford St Martin Trust said: “These awards exist to encourage commissioning editors and programme-makers to continue to make bold and distinctive programmes that engage with the profound and important questions and help us better understand the world we live in.”