Magazine article The Spectator

Untold Bravery

Magazine article The Spectator

Untold Bravery

Article excerpt


Untold bravery

Channel-hopping on Sunday night, I caught a brief moment from BBC1's celebration of VE Day, A Party to Remember. Eamonn Holmes was co-presenting. The camera swung over to a very old man in Chelsea Pensioner's uniform. What, Eamonn inquired, had he been doing 60 years before?

'I was a guest of the Emperor Hirohito,' said the old soldier, and drew breath to continue. But he couldn't. 'Well done, that says it all!' said Eamonn, before scurrying on to someone else. What had panicked Eamonn was what terrifies all television presenters - the man might have told us his story, and that would have taken, oh, whole seconds of screen time. Perhaps an entire minute! People would have been flicking over to Heartbeat by the million. I'll bet there was a little voice in Eamonn's earpiece telling him, 'Move it, come on, get to the next one

And I reflected that this old man had undergone horrors which we cannot imagine in order to preserve a freedom which allows us to give him two seconds of our time and then forget him.

The Monastery (BBC2, Tuesday) was as different from A Party to Remember as any programme could be. After, I gather, quite a lot of agonising debate, the monks of the Benedictine Worth Abbey, Sussex, agreed to take part in what is basically a reality TV show - Big Father, perhaps, after Fr Christopher Jamison, the abbot, who is one of those accidental television stars who comes along now and again. He exudes an extraordinary inner calm coupled with a warm sense of humour, which together make a terrific advertisement for the monastic life. Not that the other monks, having agreed to almost total silence, get much of a look in. Instead, we concentrate on Fr Jamison and the five volunteers who've agreed to stay in the abbey and live by its rules for the biblical period of 40 days.

As in Big Brother, the cast have been chosen to provide some conflict, and everyone seems to agree that Anthoney, an ambitious and well-to-do black Londoner, is a plonker, which is what the producers needed. Gary is a former Protestant terrorist from Ulster, not long out of jail; Peter is a poet; Tony is described as an adman, though his work appears to involve mainly holding up photographic equipment while young women take their clothes off. Nick is halfway to being a priest or monk himself. …

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