The archbishop of Canterbury has said the clergy are portrayed in television dramas as “rogues or idiots” whereas in reality they are “hard-working, normal people, caring deeply about what they do”.
Such fictional depictions of vicars were “depressing”, Justin Welby told the National Farmers’ Union. Departing from the text of his speech, Welby said he had “got into” watching Clarkson’s Farm on television during the pandemic.
He told the audience: “Maybe for you watching Jeremy Clarkson feels a bit like for me watching anything with a vicar in it. Either you can’t stand it or you get completely addicted.
“I generally find depictions of vicars on TV to be depressing – they are portrayed as rogues or idiots … the reality is very different – it is actually of hard-working normal people, caring deeply about what they do and working all the hours there are to do it.”
Welby has said that being a parish priest was the most stressful job he has done. He spent seven years as a vicar in rural Warwickshire, from 1995 to 2002. He was ordained as a priest after 11 years working in the oil industry.
“The hardest work I’ve ever done, and the most stressful, was as a parish priest – mainly because it was isolated, insatiably demanding and I was on the whole working without close colleagues – and that wears people down,” he told the Church of England’s general synod in 2017.
The best-known television depiction of a Church of England priest is The Vicar of Dibley, with Dawn French starring as the Rev Geraldine Granger. The sitcom, about a priest in a small rural parish, started in November 1994 – eight months after the first female priests were ordained in the C of E.
The series won multiple awards before ending in 2020, although there have since been numerous Christmas and special episodes, and last year French appeared in a short series of Vicar of Dibley lockdown broadcasts.
Another sitcom, Rev, starring Tom Hollander, revolved around an inner-city priest who faces a series of moral challenges. The series, in which Olivia Colman played the vicar’s wife, ran from 2010 to 2014.
Contrasting the series with The Vicar of Dibley, Hollander said: “We wanted to define ourselves in opposition to the cliche of a country vicar, partly because we wanted to depict England as it is now, rather than having a sort of bucolic-y, over-the-hills-and-far-away, bird-tweeting England – we wanted the complications of the multicultural, multi-ethnic inner city, where everything is much harder.”
Catholic priests have also had starring roles in television dramas and sitcoms, including Father Ted, Broken and Fleabag.
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