Thursday 29 December 2016

Comedy clergymen

My blog on Harold Davidson, the disgraced Rector of Stiffkey who was killed by a lion in Skegness, prompted an email from a regular reader and prompts further brooding on clergymen, and their representation in film and on the telly as comic figures.

Clergymen, mind you, and not priests - my shortlist is all Protestant, which explains the omission of Father Ted Crilley and Father Dougal McGuire, immortals both.

Who are they, then, the top comedy vicars?

1  The sans pareil is Canon D'Ascoyne, played by Alec Guinness in Robert Hamer's masterpiece Kind Hearts and Coronets. Here's a short clip, featuring Dennis Price trying to keep a straight face as Guinness pulls out all the stops, but quietly. "Ab-sti-nence!"

Who can forget his delivery of the great great line, chumbled with manic dodderiness as he shows Price (who is bent on murder, and who can blame him) around his church: "My west window has all the exuberance of Chaucer without, happily, any of the more concomitant crudities of his period."

Dad's Army offered a secure billet for some wonderfully odd actors, not least the camp, adenoidal, short-tempered Reverend Timothy Farthing of St. Adhelm's, Walmington-on-Sea (which Ive always assumed was in Sussex). He did a kind of double act with the Verger, a very eccentric performer called Edward Sinclair.

3 I loved All Gas and Gaiters as a child - on the radio and later on television. Wonderful booming fruity actors. most of whom seemed to be pissed, in a gentle sub-Trollopian comedy awash with gallons of sherry. The cast included Derek Nimmo (Mervyn Noote), Robertson Hare (Archdeacon Henry Brunt), William Mervyn (Bishop Cuthbert Heaver) and John Barron (Dean Lionel Pugh-Critchley). I wonder if old episodes are available on the internet. If so i can suspend all other priorities for an afternoon.

4 A huge dental overbite and a strong weakness for pious homily, the  anonymous vicar incarnated by the unlikeable 'character actor' Dick Emery was a staple of BBC Light Entertainment back in the 1970s. Was he funny? Not really, but he was on the telly.

5  Can't think of any more. But there must be dozens.

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