Rory and Wendy bring God up to date

Thora Hird and Harry Secombe they're not. Rory and Wendy Alec (above) are the shiny new faces of religious broadcasting. She looks like Fenella Fielding in Carry on Screaming, while he looks like a blow-dried member of Bucks Fizz. And yesterday the Alecs, a pair of South African charismatic Christians, launched a highly expensive publicity and advertising campaign for their brainchild: God The Christian Channel.

In the unlikely surroundings of Sir Terence Conran's swish Soho eatery Mezzo, the pair drew on a showbusiness past of singing in nightclubs to present a tape of Christian programmes for the MTV generation. Although reliant on United States televangelists, they are also trying to make Christian programmes hip by using up-to-date presentation techniques and marketing. They are even trying to trademark the word God.

"We hope to give material that is going to attract a generation that is never going to walk into a church," says Mrs Alec. "Most Christian television is extremely irrelevant and old-fashioned. It is aimed at the over 55s." Instead of importing 70 per cent of their output from American evangelists as they do now, the Alecs hope to start exporting programmes to the US.

Wendy Alec became a charismatic Christian after seeing the face of Jesus in a mirror in the lavatory of a nightclub she was singing in. She joined up with Rory while touring South Africa in a Christian group and the two decided to set up a Christian channel in Europe after a preacher prophesied that they would.

Two years ago they had just pounds 140,000 in start up funds, two hours in the middle of the night on Astra and a pile of free tapes from American television evangelists. Now the channel costs almost pounds 3m a year to run and they are producing seven hours of original programmes a week. God The Christian Channel is currently beamed into 22 million satellite and cable homes across Europe from the Astra satellite for seven hours a day. Next April it will go to 24 hours a day and when digital television launches the Alecs have a licence for six channels of Christian output. Also included will be a Christian shopping channel - for tapes and books, but not holy water.

Funding comes from the US television evangelists who pay to get access to a European audience and from a charity that viewers can make donations to. British regulations mean that they are not allowed to appeal for funds on air in the way that has made American evangelists rich. But they are benefiting from the growth in the charismatic movement in Britain.

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