Vicars on TV are in the news

Vicars have a bad image because of TV dramas and comedies, according to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is concerned at the constant negative portrayal of clergy. I suppose he fears such an image affects how people perceive the clergy in real life. Many of us pick up assumptions from the media subconsciously.

How do vicars look on TV?

The archbishop says they usually appear as foolish and naiive or as hypocrites. One of the examples he gave was The Vicar of Dibley. I think that was an unfortunate choice as the vicar is the most reasonable and sensible person in a parish full of eccentrics, even if she has a few shortcomings. At least she is generally honest, sincere and caring. The clergyman in Dad’s Army was naiive. Father Ted was corrupt whilst Father Dougal was a fool.(OK so they was Roman Catholics, but the point is still there).

Some real vicars gather for a Remembrance Day Service: neither fools nor rogues!

Some real vicars gather for a Remembrance Day Service: neither fools nor rogues!

Do any TV vicars look good?

The best one I can think of was the curate in Call the Midwife. He was a lot nearer to most of the ones I have known in real life, if you allow for the changes in our culture since the time when that programme was set, which was close to the period of Father Brown, another Roman Catholic, who is kind and clever, with a healthy disregard for authority.

So TV gives us a mix of vicars?

In a way, yes! However, the fools and hypocrites do seem to outnumber the good ones by a long way, if you include one-off appearances in soaps, dramas and whodunits. It is not the individual cases that I dislike. Some of the bad ones I find funny. It is the cumulative effect that I don’t like and I think that is what the archbishop was really trying to say.

Are there no bad vicars in real life?

Of course! But it’s about the impression you get. If doctors, policemen or vets were almost always portrayed as useless, or worse, what would we think? In fact, there are so many examples of those professions on TV that there’s room for a few villains among all the heroes. We see vicars only occasionally – that is the problem. One or two bad ones are likely to stick in the minds because there are so few good ones to balance the image. I don’t have a simple solution. I can’t expect every series to include a vicar just for balance. Perhaps we just need to be alert to the unconscious bias. You could always try to find out what a real one is like. There’s probably one somewhere near you!

What if you don’t like your real-life vicar?

I have written about that in a previous blog. I have also written a book about coping with the Church. You might find either a help. Don’t be fooled by a false image!

The cover of How to cope with Church: Practical advice for would-be Christians

The cover of How to cope with Church: Practical advice for would-be Christians