Priest Idol: What the TV programme didn't tell you

Readers may remember that I posted in some depth (for me at least) at the end of last year about the Channel 4 programme ‘Priest Idol’. Well, the Vicar who came out of the programme looking out of touch and old fashioned, David Nicholson has now written an article explaining how the programme got it…

Readers may remember that I posted in some depth (for me at least) at the end of last year about the Channel 4 programme ‘Priest Idol’. Well, the Vicar who came out of the programme looking out of touch and old fashioned, David Nicholson has now written an article explaining how the programme got it wrong. It is, as he says, yesterdays news, but it is still fairly interesting to hear a different perspective.

He talks about the additional help that the new vicar Father James was given which made it an unfair playing field:

What the programme failed to tell us is that the diocese placed what they call a ‘Turn Around’ team of eight people into the parish to help Fr James, people who have been seconded from their own parishes for two years. What the diocese also did was to reduce the Parish Share from £7500 to £1400.

Then about his own portrayal in the programme:

The TV company managed to portray me as a bit of a dinosaur – but they failed to come to Cudworth to film our Mass here where we have a vibrant and robust congregation of all ages, rather than giving the impression that I had been moved to another parish. I always had this as well – daily Mass, three schools, up to 100 funerals a year, 70+ baptisms, around 20 weddings, a parish which this year paid its Parish Share of £33,000 by August! Hardly the picture that came across.

The parish share, for those who are infamiliar with the Anglican church, is the bit of money each parish pays which goes towards paying vicars, pensions and the central church organisational setup like Bishops and so on. It seems odd to focus on the ability to pay the parish share as a mark of a churches success or lack of, but I suppose it is an indicator of some sort.

I respect anyone who can take 100 funerals in a year, I really do. I suspect many Vicars do this many or more.

See all my posts about Priest Idol if that sort of thing interests you.


  1. Thanks, Dave, that’s really interesting…Oddly enought, I had a conversation about the series with a colleague from a neighbouring parish this very morn, and we both commented that the series had failed to show the intensive relationship building that must have been part of James’s work if the change in Lundwood’s fortunes has solid foundations. Sounds as if there were other crucial ommissions…on the whole, it’s comforting that it took more than a snappy advertising campaign (I’m another one who found the “less breaking of bread, more garlic bread” slogan rather iffy) and a general makeover of the building…and those irritating light bulbs. Still a very interesting series to watch, specially for mugs like me in their early years of ordained ministry…the do’s and don’ts always shout loudly if you’re a spectator!

  2. eeuwwh Dave – you made me click on a link to a page of a site with strong FiF links.

    I feel unclean.

    That notwithstanding, it was good to read the article. I suspected the programme had been heavily edited, so nice to have some more info.

    I presume DN is attempting to point out that financial concerns dominated his time caretaking Lundwood and so feels that ommissions of such details and the presence of the Turn Around Team rather skewed things.

    That said nothing in his piece really shifts my impression that whilst no doubt edited unflatteringly, he still is rather closed off to new ideas/change and slightly less than warmly supportive of what happened in Lundwood.

    Thean again if I were him, or Fr James, it would take all my willpower not to slap the face of the supercilious/patronising/just plain irritating Archdeacon, so fair play to the both of them 😉

  3. Thanks Kathryn. I have to say I didn’t remember the garlic bread slogan – I blame watching in black and white. But yes, like you such a slogan makes me feel uneasy.

    Liz – yes, I should have put a warning and disclaimer really. Forward in Faith, for those unfamiliar with the term, are the group of more Catholic Anglicans opposed to women priests among other things. I wouldn’t advise clicking too many links on the site.

  4. I have met a few people who have been involved with documentaries in Channel 4 and none of them have been happy with the way they were treated or portrayed. Words like “misrepresented”, “deceived” and “betrayed” tend to get used, so I’m really not surprised to hear this about Priest Idol.

    General advice remains unchanged: if the documentary makers come calling … chase them off with pitchforks.

  5. sorry rob, but i have to take issue with you re documentary makers.

    one of our best friends makes documentaries for c4 and you couldn’t find a more conscientious and fair-minded person. no hidden agendas in her stuff. rather i would suggest that sometimes folk using the phrases “misrepresented”, “deceived” or “betrayed” just don’t like what they see of themselves on the screen, whether that’s fair or not. the media response to a programme often has a big influence…

    of course, some documentaries are sensationalist and treat their subjects unfairly. but in our experience, programme makers are very upfront and open about what contributors can expect and about what they are trying to do…

  6. I’m sure your friend is truly a conscientious and fair-minded person. Maybe she is unique among documentary makers, maybe she represents most of them.

    However, I know of people involved in four C4 documentary programmes (ranging from defence research in the South of England to the Gay community in Manchester), all of whom regretted ever being involved.

  7. fair enough rob. but we were involved in a documentary [not c4] a while back and had a lot of folk warning us off, telling us to steer well clear, that we’d be stitched up etc.
    we decided to do it anyway, and were really glad that we did, because it was an incredible and hugely rewarding thing to have been a part of…

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