It has been agreed that in January we will go out to the Costa Blanca for six weeks to follow the chaplains and their wives: the mediaphobic Harry and Iris Bagnall from Doncaster, a quiet and thoughtful couple from Norwich called John and Barbara Ledward - Bowzer [researcher Graeme Bowman] has already dubbed them "the church mice" - and Nottingham's very own John and Wendy Wooldridge, a cheery twosome who like to refer to themselves as Friar Tuck and Maid Marion. But they don't live in a tree.
Friday 24 January 1997
Harry Bagnall is one of the most pleasant individuals I've met. He has a sense of humour which I'd before thought uncharacteristic for a member of the clergy, but this easy-going manner disappears in situations where it would be inappropriate. Today we go with him to the hospital to visit tourists who have fallen ill on holiday and he entertains two old Scots guys with his jokey Jock accent. Then he is holding the hand of a woman too ill to lift her head from the pillow. No jokes, just a gentle bedside manner. The woman thanks him and says that she's not religious. Harry says, "I don't think God's religious."
Saturday 25 January
We go round to visit Harry and Iris and he tells us we should have been with him this morning, as he had been at El Crematorio with a bloke whose wife had died. John can see disappointment on my face. He asks what's wrong.
As gently as possible, I try to explain how we would like to record incidents like this for the film - with the full permission of the people involved. Harry rightly says that contacting us is not a priority in these situations. Eventually we sort things out, although I leave feeling as though I've simply confirmed his suspicions that we are little more than ambulance- chasers.
Sunday 26 January
John Ledward lets us film his Sunday service and we witness a transformation. The gentle, quiet naif is gone and his place has been taken by a close relative of Elmer Gantry.
Wednesday 5 February
Tonight we go to the fellowship meeting chez Bagnall where Harry leads the proceedings with a convincing and gentle honesty that we haven't seen before. Many of the questions we have asked him in the past have been met with vague answers, but tonight he carefully explains to the meeting what Christian faith means to him.
Afterwards we repair to a bar to witness the magic that is Vicky Leyton.
`Sticky' Vicky is a Benidorm legend and she performs conjuring tricks that Siegfried and Roy couldn't even think about. She produces flowers, streamers, sausages, eggs, razor blades and an illuminated light-bulb before a stunned audience. Stunned, because she performs completely naked and, apart from her arse, there's only one place from which she can produce such props with a flourish.
As Colin in the office said when he heard about her act, she's not so much a conjuror, more a vagician.
Friday 7 February
We're at the hospital with the Ledwards and we visit a man who we had a cheery chat with a couple of days ago but who has since been told he has to have brain surgery. He is punctured by this news and John and Barbara pray with him. I'm shaken by the whole thing. John L has been approached by an expat woman whose son killed himself while visiting her. She wants John to take his cremation tomorrow, so I call the mother's friend to ask if she'll consider letting us film the service. Not surprisingly she says no, and I can't hide my frustration. I can't stop thinking about the woman's loss in terms of what it would mean for the programme. Tabloid recklessness replaces sensitivity.
Friday 14 February
While in the hospital we find out that the man who thought he had to undergo a brain op last Friday was in fact discharged later that day with a clean bill of health. Perhaps "you can go home today" and "you require life-threatening cranial investigative surgery" sound similar in Spanish.
Tuesday 18 February
Finally we witness what I've been quietly dreading for the past four weeks: a chaplain comforting a bereaved holiday-maker. A Welsh woman lost her husband and tonight John and Wendy go to see her in her hotel room, where she pours her heart out to them for more than half-an-hour. Much of the time she is reminiscing about their 49-year marriage and chatting about her husband as if he were downstairs in the bar. Grief manifests itself in different ways, but I'm surprised at how little effect it has on me. Instead of guilty feelings of exploitation, I'm left wondering what we'll do for tea.
Saturday 22 February
We have been asked to find a holiday-maker whose mental condition has raised fears within her local social workers who reckon she would benefit from a spot of one-on-one chaplain action. The social workers have told us three things: her name; the fact that she sports a pink windcheater; and that she has a friend who is staying in a Thomson's hotel, who also wears a pink windcheater but who is sadly nameless.
We ask the reps at the hotel whether this brings anyone to mind, but surprisingly, middle-aged women in pink windcheaters aren't exactly thin on the ground in Benidorm at this time of year. We explain the situation to John and Wendy, hoping that their contact with tourists might reveal the whereabouts of our mystery woman. John's reaction doesn't fill me with hope. As he cogitates the facts, I am left with a dreadful feeling that he will turn our request into an episode of Father Dowling Investigates.
Costa del Soul, Everyman, BBC1 10.3Reuse content