Books: Visions Before Midnight — Pink predominates |
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Pink predominates

A Passion for Churches (BBC2) was Sir John Betjeman’s ‘celebration of the C. of E.’ Produced by Edward Mirzoeff, the man behind Betjeman’s masterpiece about Metroland, the show had not quite the heady scope of its predecessor, but was still very good. ‘As I look through this rood screen,’ chuffed the peeping Laureate, ‘I can see the colours of the altar hangings. Pink predominates.’ Shooting and editing was all done with a delicate touch. The sails of yachts floated in green fields, squeezed and blurred by the telephoto. ‘Look at that,’ breathed Betjeman, ‘for vastness and height.’ The lens zoomed airily into a vault. We saw beekeeping nuns at an Anglican convent and the annual festival of the Mothers’ Union at Norwich Cathedral, with the smooth Bishop presiding. We saw works of art that it would be folly not to preserve for as long as life lasts. But we didn’t hear much about what is to be done with the Church as an institution now that so few people believe in it.

Betjeman climbed the stages of a three-decker pulpit and explained how the local society used to arrange itself every Sunday according to rank, with that pew for the squire, that one for the large farmers, those for the cottagers and those back there for the lesser tenantry. That things don’t work so neatly nowadays is a matter for some regret, but a few hints at what Betjeman considers to have gone wrong would have helped. The great merit of the Metroland show was that it saw how the district had been destroyed by its own success: it is not just because of neglect that things pass.

15 December, 1974

[ The original (and much longer) version of this piece can be found in our Observer TV column chapter ]