Faith – and 7,000,000 viewers
15 Sep 2016 1 comment. tbs.pm/9247
From the TVTimes for 16 April 1961.
ITV was first to start a weekly church service on Sunday mornings, a weekly Sunday evening religious broadcast, a religion-with-entertainment show for teenagers and regular week night Epilogues.
On a Sunday evening — thanks to the dedication and skill of a small band of television executives — ITV presents an hour and a quarter of religious programmes. Two men behind these programmes are ABC’s religious adviser Penry Jones – responsible for The Sunday Break — and Michael Kedington, who has produced most of About Religion.
The Sunday Break – a revolutionary mixture of entertainment and religious controversy — is aimed primarily at teenagers. It is largely the brain-child of Penry Jones, a 38-year-old Welshman.
He is a layman who has spent most of his working life associated with Christianity, including work for the Student Christian Movement and the Iona Community in Scotland.
Now he runs the religious television training scheme for ABC (which encourages preachers and Christian writers to make the most of television) and produces the monthly Living Your Life series. But, above all, he organises The Sunday Break.
“I believed that most religious programmes would not appeal to teenagers,” he said. “Preachers talked about things that only the converted were interested in. With The Sunday Break, we are trying to widen the picture of what people think Christianity is.
“My view has been that the Christian faith has nothing to fear from frank and unrigged discussion. Naturally, we try to avoid using clergy and laymen who can’t answer unbelievers’ questions; and we look for people without ‘parsonic’ voices, who enjoy the company of young people.”
Why has jazz been used so much? Penry explained: “Possibly Bach would be more suitable for a religious programme — but not for many young people.
“Rock ‘n’ roll seemed the most favoured music, but it struck us as sterile, largely insincere, stuff. We wanted music that would be part of young people’s idiom, but with an integrity of its own. Thus we came to jazz.”
Dcspite the controversial nature of some material featured in The Sunday Break (such as the recent A Man Dies passion play), there has been virtually no criticism from religious figures, and co-operation from all the Churches has been “tremendous.”
Unlike Penry Jones (who, as a youngster, seriously considered becoming a minister), Michael Redington felt no religious vocation. He always wanted to become an actor, went to drama school and then spent several years as a professional actor, mostly with the Old Vic.
In 1955, as a trainee producer, he inherited [ATV London’s] About Religion from Bill Allenby (who had presented the first 15) in the spring of 1956. Redington produced the programme almost every week until this year, when he was promoted executive producer of documentary and factual programmes.
Michael Redington, who is 33, was brought up Church of England.
“In the early days of About Religion. the Churches were rather half-hearted in their support. They were helpful, but gave the impression they thought they were doing ITV a favour.” said Redington.
“Nowadays they are 100 per cent behind the programme. They make welcome suggestions, but do not interfere.
“Our three advisers from the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Nonconformist Churches get on well together. It is a comment on our age that there is so much religious tolerance.”
Though he believes that TV can touch only the surface and make people aware of the Christian faith, Redington is sure that TV has done a great deal for the Churches: “Only the best could be expected from it. Church publicity in other media has, on the whole, been poor.”
Redington has found that monks usually make the best television performers. Though parsons are more used to addressing audiences, they are often nervous on TV, whereas monks are not.
But About Religion has frequently brought out the best in actors. “Of one actor, many people said they didn’t know he was capable of such a performance as he gave in About Religion,” said Redington.
“The object of the programme is to present the Christian religion, not to use it as an Aunt Sally to be knocked down. It does not help to have an atheist on the programme attacking religion. Any opponent must have some basic sympathy with Christianity, otherwise you get nowhere.”
About Religion has a steady audience of about 7,000.000. “And the astonishing thing is that the majority are not religious people, just viewers who happen to have the set switched on, and yet they are held by the programme,” said Redington.
“I have undoubtedly become more religion-minded through working on the programme and meeting remarkable people: for example. Father Huddleston
“I met him when he had just returned to England from South Africa and asked him to appear in About Religion. He agreed and has since become a friend.”
Since the scope of his work was widened this year, Redington devotes only about a fifth of his time to About Religion (which is now produced by Gordon Reece), but he added: “I am still concerned with it. One likes to feel one has established a pattern for TV religion, and would like to do that in other areas on TV.”
External link ↗︎
- The Faith on the Air project is a Leverhulme Trust-funded project on the history of religious education in the context of religious broadcasting, running at the University of Worcester (2014-2016).