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

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

Share
Related Topics

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!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices