IT was a busy Sunday morning for Fr Billy Hewett SJ. First he was chatting to BBC Radio 4's Sunday Programme about the continuing role of the Jesuits as they launch their 450th anniversary celebrations, and then less than an hour later there he was again, this time on television on BBC 1, charting the story of the Society of Jesus' founder Ignatius Loyola.
The contrast between the two programmes was very instructive as to the current state of religious broadcasting in this country. The Sunday Programme, since its launch four or so years ago, has steadily grown in stature and sheer professionalism to become a churches orientated Today programme on Sunday. Its strength is in making faith and the institutional churches relevant to the world and to the agenda in the secular media. It sits happily within the Radio 4 schedule on its merits, not as some Sunday nod in the direction of religions. While not neglecting the spiritual dimension, the Sunday Programme uses ordinary language to demonstrate how the churches and believers have a central but too often neglected role in society its broadest sense. sense.
Inigo, the eight part television series that Fr Hewett is fronting for BBC 1, obviously at various levels has rather different aims. But at the core of what the first show was trying to get over was Ignatius Loyola's relevance to today's world and its everyday, secular problems.
Yet the approach taken was almost guaranteed to do exactly the opposite. The language was pious and lapsed into jargon, Fr Hewett and co-presenter Simon Packham were rather too casual and too nice to compel attention, particularly at such an early hour, while with its very basic face-to-camera shots, its distinctly seventies graphics
(which featured what looked like a variation on the Leonardo da Vinci sketch used by the South Bank Show a decade ago) and its fly on the wall personal testimony during what I presumed to be a retreat, it was clearly setting itself outside of the mainstream of current television programme making. It was, simply put, dated and not interesting to look at.
Why do religious television programmes have to convey their sincerity and their seriousness of purpose by continuing in a style that went out of fashion in other areas over a decade ago? If religious programming is to compete for space in the schedules and not to be relegated to early morning or late evening protected "Godslots", then it has to be good to watch and use the best of contemporary approaches to get over its message. Channel 4 has rather successfully brought "religious" programmes into the mainstream, but on the evidence of Inigo, the BBC is lagging behind.
The pity of Inigo was that much of what Fr Hewett was saying was very interesting. The vehicle let down the content. Perhaps it might have been better served by a radio format that concentrates the mind more on words.
The Week Ahead Sunday, September 7
Morning Worship, ITV 11.00. From the Benedictine community at Pluscarden in Morayshire.
The Human Factor, ITV 12.00. Second of two programmes on surrogacy. Should there be a limit to science's ability to help childless couples conceive? Everyman, BBC 1 22.55.Last of present series looks at the Gulf crisis from the point of view of Islam.
Thursday, October 11
In Search of Holy England, Channel 4 10.00. Jolly Rabbi Lionel Blue completes his look at the spirituality of famous characters in history.
Deborah Thomas returns next week.