Priests and Prelates: "The Daily Telegraph" Clerical Obituaries

By Conway, Eileen | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Priests and Prelates: "The Daily Telegraph" Clerical Obituaries


Conway, Eileen, Anglican Theological Review


Priests and Prelates: "The Daily Telegraph" Clerical Obituaries. By Trevor Beeson. London and New York: Continuum, 2002. xvi + 256 pp. £16.00/$29.95 (cloth); £10.99/$21.95 (paper).

Trevor Beeson, Dean of Winchester from 1987 to 1996, contributed some 500 essays on clergy (chiefly, but not all, Anglican) to The Daily Telegraph obituary section over a fifteen-year period. This volume presents almost ninety of them.

Most of them, or the most gleefully quotable of them, are portraits of genuine eccentrics and oddities. Many are comic-Beeson notes the devotion of his predecessor Hugh Massingberd (who established this mode of obituary writing in 1986) to the Ration of P. G. Wodehouse-and indeed many of Beesons clerics sound like characters of Wodehouses creation. They also testify to Massingberds conviction that "just below the surface of respectability there is usually something far more interesting" (p. x). So we read with delight of Monsignor Gilbey, and his unusual "ability to combine spiritual devotion with enjoyment of temporal goods" (p. 186); "Mad Jack" Stacey, chaplain to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, whose commanding officer insisted he take small-arms training because he refused to leave the troops under fire in Aden; Canon Edwyn Young, who "claimed to be the first-ever chaplain to a striptease club" (p. 19); W. Awdrey, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine (and the mythical island of Sodor); and George Sessford, "the only bishop known to be a breeder of donkeys" (p. 147).

There is more to these portraits, however, than self-indulgence, recklessness, bad temper, and unlikely or unseemly antics. Beeson has included deft and often poignant obituaries of the justly celebrated: Alec Vidler, Michael Ramsey, John Foote, Donald Soper, Frederic Copleston of the multivolume history of philosophy, Trevor Huddleston, Florence Tim Oi Li, and Basil Hume.

Beeson speaks also of the value of researching and writing the obituaries of "priests of whom I had no previous knowledge and who laboured long and faithfully without any external recognition apart from the admiration, love and sometimes the exasperation of the communities they served" (p. …

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