Susie Rushton: Good clergymen can see the humour in our irreverence

Notebook: I think I've never met an unfunny vicar in this country
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The Independent Online

Just over the road from The Independent's Kensington offices is St Mary Abbotts, a magnificent spired church which attracts a flow of tourists and, at the weekends, an enthusiastic congregation.

It also happens to be in the centre of one of London's property hotspots, and Sunday-service attendees inevitably include a steady stream of parents hoping to send their Archies and Rubies to the Church of England school next door, which happens to be, according to the Daily Mail, "the most sought-after primary in England".

David Cameron and Michael Gove both have children at the picture-perfect primary, which has a high proportion of children from wealthy backgrounds, a smart uniform and an "outstanding" Ofsted rating. Presiding over this picturesque enclave is the vicar of the church, and chairman of the board of governors, Father Gillean Craig, a clergyman variously described as "charismatic" and "theatrical".

Now the actor Tom Hollander, who lives nearby, has revealed it was tales of Father Craig's status as "the most-invited man" on the Notting-Hill dinner party circuit that inspired Rev, the gently brilliant BBC2 comedy. "If you think of the classic image of a slightly awkward Anglican vicar being thrust into the metropolitan world and people fighting to get his attention," says Hollander, "It's a rather funny story to tell."

Hollander might have thought he'd struck comic gold on learning of Father Craig, but the actor simply follows in a grand tradition of affectionate send-ups of Church of England clergy. Could he have created the neurotic, hapless, yet rather worldly Rev Adam Smallbone without foundations laid by Derek Nimmo, Rowan Atkinson, Dawn French [add your favourite TV dog collar here]?

Well, yes. Because the comic Anglican vicar of televisual fame isn't so far from real life. They really are like that. Who hasn't met a genial, clubbable and occasionally hapless vicar? In fact, I think I've never met an unfunny vicar in this country. Not all tell actual jokes, of course, but most certainly know how to entertain. Perhaps that's why so many have embraced Twitter. It is a job in which one is allowed to express all the qualities of the English eccentric without being unemployable. Happily, most vicars also seem quite aware of the inherent comedy of their position in society, and are not offended (maybe it helps their equanimity that unlike their peers in some religions, they can marry).

Father Craig brushed off Hollander's suggestion that parents have tried to sway his vote with promises of dinner on Elgin Crescent, stating: "We employ the most transparent and boring admissions procedure and places are awarded accordingly." Hear the comedy in that "boring"?

There must also be hilariously self-deprecating imams, not to mention sardonic rabbis and witty buddhist monks, but they have had a pretty low profile in television sitcoms. Yet not all Anglicans will see the funny side. Hand-wringers might say the fond irreverence for our reverends is a sign of the retreat of belief. Most of us take the healthy attitude that it's OK to see the funny side of the clerical life. You don't have to look far to see that unthinking, humourless devotion to any religious leader is no joke.

The Chancellor's groove plan

I've detected the beginnings of George Osborne's Plan B; not so much an economic strategy as a personal campaign to appear so down with the kids the nation is distracted from the abysmal growth forecast. It kicked into action with an appearance by the Chancellor on Match of the Day. Then, Osborne was sitting on the Andrew Marr sofa being asked if Antiques Roadshow made him cry, too. He launched into a paean to The Killing. "Some of those scenes, with her son, are difficult to watch..." The effort to persuade us he is a pop-savvy groover concluded with a bizarre shout-out on The X-Factor. What next? Sam Mendes announcing a walk-on role in Skyfall as Q's less appealing older brother, Oik? This is blue-sky stuff!