As weekend programme company for the North and Midlands, ABC Television has always accepted its particular responsibility to provide suitable religious programmes on Sundays. Acceptance of this responsibility has led to weekly Sunday morning services, ‘The Sunday Break’, Independent Television’s national youth club and the ‘Living Your Life’ series on Sunday evenings.

These programmes have been conceived as complementary to the work of the Church. In planning and producing them, it soon became clear that the Church was not fully using the power of the medium. Few Churchmen understood the workings of television; fewer still the exciting opportunities it offered to them to influence people. This was the point from which ABC Television began the planning of the Religious Training Scheme, ABC approached the main bodies of the Church with its proposals and the response left no doubt about its acceptance:


‘I am most interested in the proposal that you are making, and regard it as having immensely valuable possibilities. I would wish to do everything possible to assist you’.


‘I fully recognise the wisdom of priests, who are to be engaged in TV programmes, receiving special training in the techniques to be employed in this medium. I welcome your proposals’.

REV DR NORMAN H. SNAITH (President of the Methodist Conference)

‘I think that it is a splendid and useful idea, and will do good all round. The Methodist Church is happy to co-operate’.

REV HOWARD S. STANLEY (Secretary of the Congregational Union of England and Wales)

‘The Congregational Union of England and Wales is more than interested in your project and would wish to help’.

REV ERNEST A. PAYNE (General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland)

‘We, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, have been much interested in the scheme which is being launched by ABC Television, and we welcome all such endeavours whereby this means of communication may be better used for the extension of the Kingdom of God’.

The way was clear. An interdenominational Working Committee was set up and the first course opened at ABC Television’s Manchester Studios on May 7th, 1959. Three courses will be held each year with twelve members of the clergy on each.

Contained in the pages that follow are the Inaugural Speeches made at the Opening Ceremony and photographs of the first course for Anglicans which was followed by similar courses for the Free Churches and Roman Catholic clergy.

Inaugural Ceremony 7th May 1959

The scene at the Inaugural Ceremony: (left to right)
Mr Howard Thomas, Managing Director
ABC Television;
The Bishop of Manchester, Chairman of the Central Religious Advisory Committee;
Dr Eric G. M. Fletcher,
MP; Deputy Chairman Associated British Picture Corporation
Reverend L. G. Tyler, Anglican Adviser to
ABC Television

HOWARD THOMAS (Managing Director, ABC Television Ltd)

My Lord Bishop, Gentlemen. This is, in many ways, an important day in our history. It is exactly three years ago, on May 5th, 1956, since ABC began to transmit from the North and since this studio was opened. It was from this studio that ABC broadcast its first religious service, which was a service for the deaf. It was in this studio that the first television Baptism took place; it was conducted by the Reverend Leonard Tyler, who is here with us today. In fact, ABC is symbolised by this studio, for just as we are a film company which went into television, so this is a cinema which, as you see, became a television studio.

We are an entertainment organisation, yet on Sundays one-third of our programmes are religious or informational. Today, we take another step forward. The short ceremony you are about to see is to inaugurate a Training Scheme for men of the Church who, in their wisdom, have decided to use to the full the power of television and to co-operate with us in this first scheme of its kind in the whole world.

ERIC G. M. FLETCHER, LLD, MP (Deputy Chairman, Associated British Picture Corporation and ABC Television)

My Lord Bishop, Gentlemen. As Mr Howard Thomas has said, this is a very important occasion in the history of the Company I represent – ABC Television. Since we were first appointed by the Independent Television Authority as weekend programme contractors for the North of England and the Midlands, we have always been very conscious of our responsibility for providing on Sundays a series of religious programmes that would make a real contribution to the spiritual and cultural needs of the nation. In pursuance of this objective, we have devoted much time and thought, not only to our Sunday morning services, but to a series of religious programmes, including the Living Your Life series and The Sunday Break, which we introduced and which, I am happy to say, is attracting an increasingly large audience. We have recently started a new series about the Bible called The Least Read Best Seller, and I am also able to announce today that we are contemplating making a series of 39 documentary dramatised episodes, to be filmed in the Holy Land, of well-known events from the Old Testament and from the New Testament, taken on the sites where those events occurred.

Today, as Mr Howard Thomas has said, we carry this policy a stage further. It is just three years since we opened in this studio, and today we are very happy to inaugurate, this, which is the first of a series of three courses of training for the clergy. This weekend is for members of the Anglican confession. In a few weeks’ time, there will be a course for Nonconformist ministers, to be followed by one for selected Roman Catholic clergy. We intend to spare no expense in trying to expand to the maximum the size of the audience who view our religious programmes.


The selection of those taking part in these three courses has been left to the respective Church authorities themselves. I am, however, personally grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury for responding to my suggestion, made to him a few months ago, that the Anglican contingent should include at least one or two Bishops. The Archbishop readily fell in with that suggestion. This indicates that the Church shares our view that the Christian message on television should be conveyed with the maximum weight of authority. Those who attend these Training Courses will, we hope, use their expertise, not only in our own religious programmes, but also in those of the BBC and of other Programme Companies operating under the ITA.

There was a time in the early days of television, and certainly in the early days of Independent Television, when the Church was inclined to look with a rather lukewarm or hesitant eye at our operations. I do not think it was unnatural that, at first, the Churches were a little alarmed at the threat to church-going which they thought was implied by a large degree of religious programmes on Sundays. I think we should all recognise with gratitude that that phase has passed, and we now enjoy the fullest co-operation from all denominations. The Churches are now alive to the vast evangelising possibilities of Television, and ready to make the fullest use of this great new technical invention in furthering the cause of Christianity.


After all, it is in accordance with the oldest traditions of the Church to make use of every available method to win souls for Christ. It was St Paul who gave the lead in this respect. He used all the resources of the Pax Romana. You will recall the well-known passage in the first letter to the Corinthians which he concludes with the famous remark ‘I am become all things to all men, in order that by all means I might save some’. (1. Corinthians, 9.22) That is the keynote of our approach to this Training Scheme, to enable the clergy to make the fullest use of the advantages of this new technique of television.


The example set by St Paul was followed by the early Church. The Medieval Church did not hesitate to make the fullest use of every technical device then available, to inspire, to teach and to spread the Christian Message. That is why it is throughout the Middle Ages we have all that lovely ritual; the symbolism of processions; all that wealth of pageantry; the vivid, colourful paintings on church walls – all these, and many another technique, were used for the purpose of spreading the Christian doctrine. The genius of artists, sculptors, masons and craftsmen were all harnessed to the cause.


Then, at the Reformation, a great change occurred – a great technical change. We are inclined to think of the Reformation primarily as having been a change in doctrine. But it was much more than that. The Reformation was the result of, and was conditioned by, a great technical change, perhaps the greatest technical change that has ever occurred in the cultural life of this country; namely the introduction of printing. The introduction of printing enabled the people of this country to read the Bible in the vernacular, in their own tongue. And it was that technical revolution that produced the Reformation. And it took the Churches more than one generation to adapt themselves to that great new technical change.


Now we have another great technical change – television. And the analogy between television and printing is this: they are both essentially methods of communication, a means of communicating knowledge and ideas. Television, like printing and like every other technical device, can be used for good purposes or for bad purposes. It is because the potentialities of television are so great as compared with the influence of the press and literature and printing, that the State exercises a much greater degree of control and supervision over television than it has over literature or the press. Therefore, I believe that the Church is in line with its historic function in making full use of the immense opportunities that television provides of reaching hundreds and thousands, indeed millions, of persons in this country who for one reason or another do not go to church at all – either because they are only nominal Christians, or because they are unbelievers, or because they are indifferent to religion, or for some other reason. At the same time as television provides the Church with this great new opportunity, it also presents the clergy (or some of them) – as it does politicians (or some of them) – with the necessity of mastering the mysteries of this new technique.


There are two observations that I want to make with regard to the use of television in connection with Religion. The first is this: it is sometimes said that listening to or viewing religious services on television, viewing religious programmes, is no substitute for going to church. It is quite natural that every parson should wish to increase the size of his congregation, and I would be the last to minimize the importance of corporate worship. But television enables you to appeal to millions of people, who for one reason or another do not go to church, or, if they do, only do so very occasionally. Though you have an audience which is measured in millions, it is not a mass audience, it is an audience composed of a very large number of small groups, perhaps two or three people, generally members of the same family, meeting in the intimacy of their own home, by their own fireside. Whatever may be thought about television in general, on the asset side of television as a whole we must recognise, I think, that it tends to cement the unity of the family. Whether it is producing programmes for entertainment or instruction, or any other kind of programmes, it caters for the family as a unit, and the family is the basis of Christian society. In this respect, television is unlike some other pastimes. One finds that families who watch religious programmes on television, tend to talk about them and discuss them afterwards in the natural, intimate conditions of family life, which is, itself, a great advantage. Therefore, for my part, I do not entirely disparage those who are sometimes called television Christians. I believe that very often those watching a religious service on television, or some other religious programme, do partake in a real spiritual experience which, if I may say so, may perhaps give some new significance to the words in St Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them’. (St Matthew, 18.20)


The second observation I want to make, and to which I personally and my Company attach importance, is this. There is this difference between religious services and religious programmes on television, and all other religious occasions. Those of you here today, candidates on this first course, ordained ministers of the Church of England, have a canonical duty to teach Christianity according to the doctrine of the Church of England. We, as a programme company inaugurating religious programmes with the approval of the Independent Television Authority, have a statutory duty to provide religious programmes indifferently for Anglicans, for Roman Catholics and for Nonconformists. It follows that on television we have a special duty to stress the underlying unities of the Christian faith. When people go to church, they normally choose the church of their own communion. But on television we find, over and over again, that people view, I have no doubt with profit and enjoyment, one week an Anglican service, another week a Roman Catholic service, and another week a Nonconformist service, and enjoy them all. This may well produce quite a significant change in the relationship between the Churches in this and the next generation. I say that for two reasons. Television is tending to make people far more tolerant of other people’s opinions – that is equally true in religion as it is in politics. The various discussion programmes on television are also tending to produce a population which, for the first time, is accustomed to see the other point of view. I am sure it is true in politics, that there is less emphasis on partisanship now than there was a generation ago, when most people heard or read only one side of a question. Television is leading people to realise that on most, if not all questions, there are at least two points of view.

In the second place, everybody with any experience of television will tell you that this medium places a great premium on sincerity. It brings the person speaking much closer to his audience. It helps to reveal truth and expose falsehood. In this context, there is a passage in Ephesians which, if I may venture to quote it, is not without relevance; ‘all things that are reproved are made manifest with the light, for whatsoever doth make manifest is light’. (Ephesians, 5.13) The point is more clearly brought out in the translation of J. B. Phillips in the Letters to Young Churches: ‘Light is capable of exposing or “showing up” everything for what it really is. It is even possible for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light’. If, as I believe, that quotation is relevant, it demonstrates the power, as well as the extent, of the opportunity which television provides.

For these reasons, it seems to me that all of us who are working in this field of religion on television have a special duty to see that the medium is always used for stressing the underlying unities of the Christian faith, and not used by any denomination to exaggerate or emphasise its own doctrinal point of view. It was William Temple, your esteemed and beloved predecessor in Manchester, who used to say: ‘The real divide in the world today is between Christians and non-Christians’. Our object in inaugurating this training scheme, in enabling an increasing number of selected members of the clergy of all denominations to gain the expertise in the handling of this medium, is to enable the Christian message to be propagated in that spirit. May we hope that just as the introduction of printing in the 15th Century brought the Bible into the hands of our people, so may television, in the fullness of time and under God’s will, be an instrument for deepening the life of the Churches, healing our dissensions, and restoring the unity of Christendom.


Mr Chairman, Dr Fletcher, Gentlemen. I would like to associate myself with what has just been said and, in particular, with what has been said about Mr Tom Singleton, the author and originator of this training scheme. It takes a man of considerable determination and force to bring together so many clerics at one time and in one place. I know he has given a great deal of thought and time and energy to this scheme and for that I am very grateful to him.

I would also like to say how much I welcome the initiative of ABC Television in originating and running this course for ministers and clergy. But I am not surprised that they have done so, since it is very obvious that we clerics are in need of some help and instruction in this medium.

Owing to the diversity of our Christian traditions and to the fact that all must receive due representation on the screen, very few clergy have the opportunity of appearing much more than occasionally. When we do appear practice has not, perhaps, enabled us to be as relaxed and natural as we should. ‘Stars’ shine through actual and continual practice. This is rightly denied to us. Now we have no desire to become ‘stars’, but we do want to say and do what we are called upon to say and do effectively and well.


There is another reason why I am not surprised at the initiative taken by ABC. Old men dream dreams; age quite naturally dwells upon the past. But young men see visions; they lean towards the future. I am always astonished when I come here to your studios at the youth of everyone around me. Geoffrey Chaucer’s mode of address springs naturally to one’s lips, ‘O yonge freshe folkes he and she’. ‘Fresh’, I hasten to add, in the nice sense of the word. Now the vision that has been seen by those responsible for this course is that of making visible and audible the Christian Faith in a more effective and compelling way than has been possible in the past. I know that both the authorities of ABC and its staff are anxious to turn this vision into a reality, and that not least perhaps because so much time has to be given over in TV to trivialities. Every man and woman in their heart of hearts likes to think that they are concerning themselves with what is really worth-while and important. Amusement and entertainment are important, but only on one condition, and that condition is this: that they form part of a balanced whole. Tripe, or perhaps I should say since that word has unfortunate connotations, pâté de fois gras, can be a useful food, but it is not a balanced diet. God forbid that we should always be serious, but the man who is never serious is, as we all realise, a crashing bore.

I am certain that many who are responsible for operating TV, artists, technicians and all concerned, have a real sense of vocation and I am equally certain that that sense of vocation is not fulfilled when this medium is used solely and only for entertainment. I know that you want it to reflect life in its height and its depth, you do not wish to be like children always paddling in the shallows, you want to help your fellows and not just entertain them. Therefore, it may not be entirely out of place if I attempt to make some observations on the use of television in presenting Christian faith and practice.


I would observe, first of all, that this course is a technical course. It could not be otherwise and, since it is a technical course, I am a little disappointed that it was not possible to make it at the outset interdenominational in the composition of those attending it. I say this because I believe it to be of the highest importance to the thing proclaimed and taught, that is to say to the Christian gospel, that there should not be even an implicit sense of rivalry or competition. It has long been the considered policy of CRAC, to aim at reaching those who are on the fringe of the organised life of the Churches, or indeed quite outside it. This cannot be effectively achieved if Churches use their opportunities on TV to emphasise their differences. The aim should be not proselytism, but evangelism. Unless this aim is kept steadily in view, undesirable consequences would follow for all concerned; and not least for those traditions represented by minority groups. That is why I say I am sorry that these courses have not been made interdenominational at the outset. I trust, however that, after this trial run, they will become so, to the advantage of all concerned.


I next ask the question, how far does this new medium condition or limit the content or the substance of the thing we are attempting to get across? And I would first of all note that some essential elements are totally excluded, as for instance the sacramental. You may watch the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion on television, but you cannot participate. Modern life tends to encourage spectator mentality and television can very easily spread this modern disease. Religious services and talks can become mere spectacles – things to be enjoyed. But, of course, we all know that real faith does not begin at this point; it begins at the point of commitment. Sacraments are essentially committal in character. Christian faith and practice involve not only things seen or said, but things done. It is, of course, no criticism whatsoever that I am making of television; I am only pointing to one of its unavoidable limitations, but one which we need constantly to bear in mind. Secondly, there is the element of distortion. There is bound to be a certain amount of unnaturalism or artificiality – and I am particularly conscious of that just at the moment.


The Christian faith lays great stress, as Dr Fletcher has said, on sincerity and on the single eye. There is a wonderful naturalness about the Gospel narrative. In the passion narrative we notice the quiet restraint and economy of statement. I ask with reverence, what would a television camera and commentator have made of the Crucifixion? The moral here surely is that sincerity and naturalness must always be given priority over gimmicks and slick techniques, which can make sincerity virtually impossible. Then there is the danger of adapting or modifying the end we have in view, to suit the medium. Television is a splendid medium for entertainment and for animated discussion, but we must not think it necessarily follows that techniques which make these a success should be applied in the religious sphere. The man who has a handsome face and a packet of ‘come hither’, or the person gifted with quick repartee, is not necessarily the best man for our purposes.

Thirdly, it is sometimes forgotten that television is bound to omit the element of direct address. It is so easy to give the impression that God is a thing which can easily be argued about. One object, albeit a most august and mysterious object, amongst a countless number of other objects. Now God is not an object to be argued about, but a person to be addressed. He is not experienced like other objects nor is His reality to be deduced logically or mathematically like the existence of the planet Neptune. It was Faber, I think, who said ‘Faith has a sort of vision of its own but there is no light in which it can distinguish objects except the light of prayer’. That is to say, except by the experience which comes not through argument, but through personal intercourse and address.


If we are serious in our endeavours not simply to interest the viewer but to bring him from the portico into the nave, then we must constantly bear these limitations of our medium in mind. We must not leave him with the impression that being a Christian means believing that God exists and enjoying an occasional television service. Our aim must be to win the viewer not to tolerance, interest or even enthusiasm, but to commitment and actual participation in the worship, practice and sacramental life of the Christian Church.

St James in his epistle observes that ‘Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing’. He disapproves of this and says ‘Brethren, such things ought not so to be’ and then asks the question ‘Does the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet water and bitter?’ I need scarcely point out that Christianity when taken seriously can be an uncomfortable bedfellow. I know that the television world is highly competitive, and before it is a cultural or religious influence it is a commercial venture. It is possible, no doubt, to dilute slick advertising of doubtful veracity and hot entertainment with a little culture and religious uplift, but ultimately it will not work. Sweet and bitter water cannot come from the same fountain. If the Christian faith is to hold its rightful place, it must act like the leaven, it must affect the whole lump. It will, and should, affect staff relationships within this organization of yours, and it should affect the balance of programmes, the level of entertainment, the kind of advertisements which you accept, and those which you politely or impolitely decline. The claims I make may seem to you exaggerated and high, but so too are the potentialities of the medium for good or evil. It can become a great channel of healthy entertainment, of enlightenment and of cultural and religious awareness. It can support and strengthen those values and traditions which have made our country great, but it can also lend itself so easily to sensationalism and ballyhoo. It can teach people to think with the mass and feel just for themselves or, alternatively, to think for themselves and to feel with and for their fellow-men. A new and widely influential profession is today being born. What are its professional standards going to be? What are to be its real aims and purposes?

The course which we inaugurated today is, I believe, an earnest of the desire of those in authority and control, that this new medium shall be used, to quote the words of the late Lord Keynes, for ‘the assertion of truth, the unveiling of illusion, the dissipation of hate, the enlargement and instruction of man’s hearts and minds’. These high objects cannot, I believe be attained unless men are led to accept One who in the majesty and mystery of His Person embodies truth in its height, love in its depth and life in all its splendour and all its fullness.


The Inaugural Ceremony ended with a reading from the Scriptures and prayers.

The Programme

Introduction and Inaugural Ceremony. Lectures followed by questions on the Television Audience, Advertising on Television, BBC Programme Policy, Religious Television to Date, Television and Youth.

Lectures and discussions on lighting, sound, design, camera techniques and drama, practical session on planning programmes with the course divided into two teams.

Practical session on planning a closed circuit programme, discussion on the planning of Sunday’s Outside Broadcast of a Church Service, lecture and discussion on the Press and Television.

The course attended an Outside Broadcast of a service, rehearsals for closed circuit programme, viewing of ‘The Sunday Break’ and ‘About Religion’, recapitulation.

Production of closed circuit programme prepared by team of members of the course followed by discussion, production of second closed circuit programme and discussion. Course ended with an Open Forum.

Tom Singleton, ABC‘s producer of religious programmes, explains the structure of Independent Television.

A television camera is explained to the Bishop of Manchester (left) and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford.

ABC producer, S.E. Reynolds, explains camera techniques.

ABC‘s lighting supervisor explains the contribution made by skilful use of lights to a television picture.

A discussion panel is briefed before a ‘dummy run’ of a programme.

‘The Horrible Example’: the wrong clothes, hunched shoulders, matters of personal appearance can make or mar a television programme.
This Course was shown some of the mistakes that can occur.

Make-up for television was dealt with in the course.

Behind the scenes as a programme is produced.

The Rev John Gardiner takes part in a religious programme devised and produced by those on the course.

Rehearsals in progress for the dummy programme which was produced by those taking part in the course.

Captions on roller caption machine for a closed circuit programme produced by members of the course.

A scene from ‘Who’d Be A Parson’, produced by members of the course.

In the vestry of Leigh Parish Church, the course follows rehearsals of the Sunday Morning Service, produced by ABC Television’s Outside Broadcast Unit