'Adrian, dear boy]' I exclaimed. 'Time for a drink or are you going somewhere?'
'Frankly, old chap,' he said, looking slightly haunted. 'I think I'm going out of my mind.'
Expertly he took me by the shoulder and guided me into a passing coffee bar, of the kind that used to be fashionable in the Fifties and has recently come back again, but this time with proper coffee and without Tommy Steele. He ordered us both a stiff espresso and furtively poured something else from a hip flask into his coffee cup.
'I have never known you to drink surreptitiously this early in the morning before,' I said. 'Drink at this time, yes, but not clandestinely.'
'I've become very clandestine about a lot of things since I started working for the Church of England,' said Adrian, looking grim.
Adrian? The Church of England? I couldn't believe my ears. I took his hip flask from his hands and helped myself. He didn't even notice.
'So why does the Church of England need your help? Pardon me for saying so, but it must need help pretty badly, if it has come to you . . .'
'What have you read about the old C of E recently?' asked Adrian.
I cast my mind back. Usually, I tend to avoid articles on state religion, in the same way that I avoid articles on Elizabeth Taylor or Fergie or new thumbnails discovered in the Olduvai Gorge which prove that the first human being was a football supporter . . .
'Not much,' I said. 'That the Church of England can no longer afford to pay vicars, because it has lost all its money. That a lot of vicars are leaving the church to go to Rome, either because of women being ordained or to get a bigger wage packet. All fairly gloomy news. Well, apart from the fact that John Selwyn Gummer has left the Church of England to become a Catholic. That must have cheered the Archbish up and caused the champagne to be brought out at Lambeth Palace. But otherwise it's all a bit gloom and doom - in fact, I hear that the church is thinking of hiring an advertising agency to get more converts, though how it will be able to afford an advertising agency if it hasn't got any money . . . '
I stopped. Adrian was pointing at himself rather peculiarly.
'Not an ad agency,' he said. 'Me. The church hired me six months ago to brighten up the image. Make religion more user- friendly. Worshipper-friendly was the phrase used. But I pointed out straight away that if the church insisted on viewing the church member as the worshipper, it would get nowhere. He'd have to be the customer.'
'How did it like that?'
'Not at all. The church said that religion was a business unlike any other. It said that in other businesses the customer might always be right, but in religion the customer was always sinful. So I said it could go whistle in the wilderness if that was its attitude.'
'And did it go whistle in the wilderness?'
'No. It turned the other cheek. And it hired me to do a pilot programme on how to brighten the church's image. So I thought I'd put it in the computer - we have this vast new computer at the office - to see whether it had any ideas. It knows all about the media already but religion was new to it, so I told it all about Christianity, and I told it all about the Church of England, and although it had some trouble seeing how the church and Christianity fitted together, it then settled down to a bit of a think and came up with its brilliant idea: the Hello] magazine Bible.'
'That's what I said. But it pointed out that Hello] stood for all that was cheerful and the Bible was the product that needed the treatment, so why not combine the two?'
'And have you?'
'I haven't. But the computer has. And this is what it came up with.'
He opened his briefcase and produced a slim volume entitled the All Hail] Bible. It had a subtitle: 'It's Fun to Believe]' On the front it had a splash shoulder heading: 'Featuring the Wedding at Cana] Full guest list and pictures, plus that water-into- wine recipe]'
Tomorrow we take an exclusive look inside the 'All Hail] Bible'.Reuse content