Monday, March 16, 2015

Oh My God! The Bishop's a Socialist!

Back when I was a kid, it seemed that dear old Derek Nimmo spent his entire time playing bumbling religious ministers of one kind or another.  He started as a C of E chaplain in All Gas and Gaiters in the late sixties.  Simultaneously, he was also a novice Catholic monk in Oh Brother!, (which later became Oh Father! when he left the monastery and became a priest).  There was also a radio version of All Gas and Gaiters in the early seventies. which featured Nimmo, (in the first series only).  Then in the eighties the BBC had Nimmo back in a dog collar in Hell's Bells, which should really have been called Oh My God, the Bishop's a Socialist!, as that was basically the 'plot': traditionalist vicar finds that the new Bishop is more progressive in his interpretation of Christianity and - horror of horrors - votes Labour.  It wasn't a hit, failing to recapture the past glories of All Gas and Gaiters and Oh Brother!, running for a single series.  I've been reminded of all this after listening to some episodes of the radio version of All Gas and Gaiters being repeated on Radio Four Extra, (whilst the majority of the original TV episodes were wiped by the BBC and no longer exist, virtually all of the radio version's episodes are still extant). 

Listening to them, it struck me what innocent times the sixties and seventies were when it came to portrayals of the clergy - they're mostly benign bumblers.  There's no hint of scandal in any of the episodes - no extra-marital affairs with illegitimate children coming to light, no nastiness with choir boys or schisms over the ordination of women, gay marriages and the like.  Just hijinks involving the Bishop and Archdeacon putting one over on the by-the-book Dean and Nimmo's chaplain's attempts at romance.  Although, when the series first appeared on TV in 1967, there were complaints that it went too far in its portrayal of senior clerics as incompetent bunglers, nowadays it seems far too gentle, lacking any real satirical edge.  Any modern equivalent would surely have to address the issues which currently plague Western Christianity, Oh Father!, for instance, would surely have to climax with Nimmo's Catholic priest walking in on his Bishop buggering the choir boys in the vestry: "Oh My God! The B-B-Bishop's a N-N-Nonce!", he'd no doubt stammer in shocked tones.  A modern All Gas and Gaiters would undoubtedly have to explore the whole issue of the ordination of women, with Nimmo's chaplain finding that the Bishop had only voted in favour of their ordination at the Synod because he's having an affair with a lady vicar: "Oh My God! The B-B-Bishop's a S-S-Sex Maniac!" he'd undoubtedly stammer as he walks in on them going hammer and tongs in the cloisters.  Perhaps a new Hell's Bells! could tackle women Bishops -  "Oh My God! The B-B-Bishop's a W-W-Woman!" he stutters as he walks into the bathroom and cops an eyeful of the new Bishop in the shower.  Of course, the really big issue would be that of gay marriages and the ordination of openly gay ministers.  I'm sure a contemporary All Gas and Gaiters could handle it:  "Oh My God!  The B-B-Bishop's a B-B-Bum Bandit!" Nimmo exclaims as he discovers that the Bishop and Archdeacon have been a couple for the past ten years. 

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