ROBERT ROBINSON, veteran broadcaster and presenter (Ask the Family, Call My Bluff, Brain of Britain etc) has died at the age of 83. The BBCs Nick Higham has described him today as “a polite and genial host”, and as (hopefully-tongue-in-cheek) “a relic of a time when there were gentlemen on television.”
I hope that the past week here in the UK will have invoked heartfelt prayers – and hopes if not prayers – in favour of the “old fashioned” notion of the gentleman and the gentlewoman with all possible speed. Being polite, genial and gentle are human qualities that must not be allowed to become relics. Actually, it occurs to me tonight that I watched substantially more television in “the old days” than I do now. I’m really rather disposed towards the polite, the genial and the gentle. And that’s why the main picture in this post gives me – and the greater part of the 60+million citizens of the United Kingdom – such hope and heart.
Truly, these brooms sweeping clean are a sight to behold. This is News of the World that isn’t controlled by greedy fat-cat bankers, or by the Murdoch empire: these brooms represent a majority impulse for decency and order, for clean-up and community. And it’s not just shattered glass, destroyed homes and shops that need the broom treatment. There’s huge need in British society today for “cleaning up our act”. Inflammatory behaviour, inflammatory language, all forms of (often alcohol-fuelled) violence, exclusive language (especially religious language) needs to be “cleaned up” urgently. There’s too much talk within some of the Christian communities I’ve been involved with across a lifetime that smacks of “we’ve got it right; we and we alone have got the gospel” – and I don’t believe for a second that Jesus of Nazareth did or would brook any of that kind of attitude.
I often make a point of assuring people who express interest that the posts I publish on this private blog represent my own personal views. I do not presume to speak for anyone else. I know, of course, that my public ministry as an Anglican parish priest requires that I speak, in some broadly agreed sense, for the Church of England in my parish. But the Church of England represents a whole raft of opinion, theology, spirituality – some of which I speak for, and some of which I do not. Speaking for the Church is by no means an easy consideration – and I “pray to speak” with a proper humility. How could I claim to know all that “the Church of England” might want to say on this, that or another subject? How much more difficult it becomes when people presume to speak the wholly expressed will of God; when people dare to suggest that their own religious (or political) tradition, and theirs alone, offers the path to “full salvation”.
Words do matter. Words can include or exclude. Words do include some and they also exclude others, political words, religious words, broadcast words, twittered words or domestic words. We need to “clean them up”. Our language needs the more truly to represent our national, political and (for some) religious aspirations. But that ever-evolving process takes time, and time is not an available luxury in the midst of a crisis. So where words have failed, and continue to fail, cosmopolitan gatherings of people standing shoulder to shoulder, wielding brooms of many colours (and yes, thank God, there have been church-folk among these) are they who win the day, and who win the loudest applause. Cross-political, cross-religious, cross-community: polite, genial and gentle are truly cosmopolitan values. May Robert Robinson be remembered with gratitude and affection tonight, and may his values never become relics.