uploaded : Tuesday 25th Jun 2019 at 12:28
by : Carol Gould
The Sandford St Martin Trust Awards for Excellence in Religious Programmes - 13 June 2019 at Lambeth Palace
Report by Carol Gould
(To become a Friend of the Trust go to
17 June 2019
It never ceases to cause me dismay that every young person I meet - including rabbis, public relations executives, teachers, business managers.. -- boasts of not having a television and of watching snippets of this and that on an iphone. The staggering volume of broadcasting excellence in Great Britain, from documentary to drama to news to music, is something that I feel shapes a person's perception of the world. That a new generation is 'not interested' - as so many say to me -- alarms me. Looking at the wealth of ground-breaking programming shortlisted for the Sandford St Martin Awards, it pains me that a generation of Britons is starving itself of a richness not available in any other country.
The cornucopia of excellent programmes with a religious or human rights theme at the annual Sandford St Martin Awards always astonishes me. I am not a fan of the expression ‘blown away’ but it does apply when one attends the ceremony at Lambeth Palace and spends the evening watching excerpts from the outstanding short-listed films and radio productions.
The winner in the Radio Times Readers’ award category was the delightful A Vicar’s Life, the six-part series about the extraordinary scope of ‘extracurricular’ work done by clergy from Much Wenlock in South Shropshire to West Hereford to Abbeydore and the Black Mountains Group of parishes. From endeavouring to save a youth training centre from closure to taking the fruits of the harvest festival to a refugee camp in Calais, the absorbing series, full of humour and pathos, was loved by audiences. Its success gave me a personal chuckle; twenty years ago I tried in vain to sell a project to British broadcasters, ‘ A year in the life of a rabbi, priest, vicar and imam’ but every commissioning editor I approached used ‘BORING’ in their assessment. I am glad the British public has proven that faith still figures in television viewing.
Other contenders in the Radio Times category were My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me (Dragonfly Film and Television Productions, BBC1;) Pilgrimage: the Road to Santiago (CTVCLtd BBC2;) Heart and Soul: Faith in Freedom (BBC radio Production North-World Service); Canvey: the Promised Island (Spring Films - BBC1;) and Chris Evans and the Reverend Ruth Scott (BBCRadio2/Virgin Radio.)
A searing but at the same time uplifting film, My Life: Locked in Boy for CBBC by Sugar Films won in the Children’s Broadcasting Awards category. Jonathan is a ten-year-old who suffered oxygen deprivation during an automobile accident in which his pregnant mother was involved. As a consequence he was born with cerebral palsy. Sugar Films write:
‘Doctors said there was no hope for Jonathan, he would never learn to read, write, or communicate in any way. But his mum believed if she could help Jonathan unlock his thoughts – Jonathan would prove the doctors wrong and he has.
‘Using a special Perspex board, like one used by Stephen Hawking after he lost the ability to speak, Jonathan can “talk” by spelling out any words, and this feisty pre-teen has a lot he wants to say and do. He has a reading age well beyond his years, goes to a mainstream school, has a petition to help other children like him signed by over 180,000 people and is even writing a book of stories and poems.’
Those of us attending the awards were able to meet Jonathan before and after the ceremony. He enjoyed every minute of the evening and exuded palpable energy. The programme itself is the first production in the My Life strand devised by a ‘non verbal’ child. Jonathan chose one of his best school friends to narrate, delivering his story in his own words. He knows his life expectancy is short, but this moment in television history will keep his legacy alive forever. One hopes there will one day be a miracle breakthrough in cerebral palsy research but in the meantime Jonathan is an inspiration.
The runner-up in the category was BAFTA award-winner My Life: Mumbai Street Strikers (DrummerTV for CBBC) -- fourteen 14 football-mad boys from the slums of Mumbai travel to the UK under the auspices of the Oscar Foundation. Drummer TV writes: ‘Teenagers and leading team players Faraz, Suchin and Sujal haven’t ever left India before and they are incredibly excited about coming to the UK, although they are slightly nervous that the food won’t be too tasty so are bringing their spices just in case!’
All of the other short listed entries must have given the Sandford judges a degree of agony in deciding the winner and runner-up : the compelling Edek (Green Cave People for www.edekfilm in partnership with the UK National Holocaust Centre and museum;) My Life: Without a Home (Hey Sonny Films for CBBC;) Setting Sail:60 years of Blue Peter/Poem by Tony Walsh (Children’s Shortform team for CBBC, CBBC YouTube Channel, Twitter, Facebool and iplayer;) What Do You Mean I Can’t Change the World? (CTVC/TrueTube for www.TrueTube.co.uk )
2019 saw the first annual Sandford St Martin award for Broadcast Journalism. How to decide? The field of entries was a credit to British broadcasting; the winner was The Dawn of British Jihad (BBC Radio Current Affairs for Radio4.) Mobeen Azhar presented the programme, the most striking aspect of which was the fact that pre-9/11 young British Muslims travelled from Heathrow and back in combat gear ready to leartn about Jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Myanmar and Kashmir without being stopped. The leader of Lashka-e-Taiba - the terrorist group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Saeed, came to Britain in the 1990s to recruit and raise money for militant activities in the global holy war.
The runner-up in the category was Crossing Continents: Chile - Sexual Abuse, Secrets and Lies (BBC Current Affairs for Radio4)
BBC Current Affairs writes: ‘The dark secrets of Chile's Catholic Church. El Bosque is the wealthy Santiago parish where Fernando Karadima, a charismatic priest, attracted hundreds of young men to the priesthood. In 2010, he was exposed as a paedophile after survivors revealed he had sexually abused them. The Vatican sentenced Karadima to a life of penance and prayer…At first Pope Francis failed to respond. Subsequently he was forced to send his experts in sex crime to Santiago to hear evidence. .Linda Pressly travels to Chile to meet survivors of sexual abuse, whistle-blowers and devout Catholics, and explores a story that continues to haunt the Francis papacy..’
Other in this category were outstanding; again I assert that judging ‘best’ from such fine work must be painful: former Sandford St Martin Trustees’ Award winner Lyse Doucet in Syria: the World’s War (BBCTV Current Affairs for BBCTwo;) Myanmar’s Killing Fields (Evan Williams Productions with Mongoose Pictures for Chanlle Four/PBS;) Grenfell: Our Home (Parable for Channel Four) and File on 4: The Unorthodox Life of Miriam (BBCRadio Current Affairs for Radio4.)
The Radio/Audio Content Shortlist was, like all categories of contenders, a host of compelling productions. The winner was Doorstep Daughter (BBC Current Affairs for Radio 4,) the extraordinary story of Sandra Mbuthia, who at the age of six months was taken in by neighbours in Watford because her Kenyan parents Martin and Peris were struggling to make ends meet. Her ‘new’ parents, the Zafars, and their children were Muslims and she was Christian but It worked out for the best despite other neighbours’ hostility to the arrangement. The story takes us up to her present life as a happy adult, in regular touch with her birth mother although her father had to return to Kenya after being refused UK residency.
The runner-up was The Silence of the Lamb - Lent Talks (BBC Religion for Radio4.) As someone who witnessed the sexual abuse of her teenage friends in the 1990s, Dr Katie Edwards, Director of the Sheffield Institutte for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, wonders whether she - and they - might have spoken out more readily if they had not been taught that silence in the face of suffering is a virtue. She says ‘In the post-Rotherham, post-Weinstein, #MeToo era it seems we have finally understood the dangers of silence and the power of speaking out. Yet.. During the Weinstein scandal, women who had spoken up about their abuse were heavily criticised, as if their earlier silence made them complicit in their own or others’ abuse. We still have so far to go.’
Other contenders in the category: Documentary on One: In Shame, Love, In Shame (RTE Radio 1) about unwed Irish mother Peggy McCarthy, who died in childbirth because no County Kerry hospitals would take her in; her child, now 70 and in a care home, was born with brain damage. Her mother was refused a funeral Mass. Future Proofing: Faith (BBC Political Programmes for Radio 4 ) -- Is technology disrupting the traditions of faith?; -- Meeting the Man I Killed (Loftus Media for BBC radio 4) - Jonathan Izard endeavours to learn as much as he can about the disabled man who died when his collided with him; Morality in the 21st Century (BBC Religion and Ethics for the World Service) - Lord Sacks discussing morality with other great thinkers as well as sixth-formers; Sisters of the Troubles (BBC Religion and Ethics for the World Service) - In the 20th anniversary year of the Good Friday Agreement Catholic Sisters share their stories from the time of the Troubles.
In the TV/Video Content category the winner was My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me (Dragonfly Film and Television Productions for BBC2) - Northern Irish comedian Patrick Kielty returns to his home village, Duldrum, where, when he was just sixteen, his father was killed by paramilitary gunmen. Now, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement he asks DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein representative Emma Rogan why the power sharing government between unionists and nationalists has collapsed. He says: ‘the people of Northern Ireland didn’t vote Brexit - they don’t want borders ever again - we’ve spent 25 years trying to build a better world..’
Runner-up was Louis Theroux’s Altered States - Choosing Death (BBC Studios: The Documentary Unit for BBC2) - In the United States six states now offer terminally ill patients a cocktail of drugs to end their life. Louis visits California, where those he interviews discuss the ramifications of choosing to die..
As in all Sandford St Martin categories the other short-listed productions were of the highest calibre too: We are British Jews - Programme 2 (Lion Television for BBC2) - eight British Jews with varying beliefs and practices explore what it means to be Jewish in Britain today; Civilisations (Nutopia Ltd for BBC2) - thousands of years of visual culture explored by scholars of many genres; Gangs, Drill & Prayer (BBC for iplayer/1xtraYouTube) - the controversial project featuring young pastor Enrique to lure young gang members away from crime using religious rap music; Journey to the Danger Zone: Iraq - Episode 2 (October Films for BBC2) - former Iraqi soldier Adnam Sarwar travels to war-torn cities including Kerbala, where the largest annual Shia pilgirmage in the world - Arbaeen - is taking place and meets television and music personalities trying to make Iraq a modern and forward-looking democracy.
The climax of the evening was the awarding of the 2019 Sandford St Martin Trustees’ Award to The Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, who delivered the sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in 2018. Presenter Trevor Phillips told us the royal wedding had a bigger audience than the World Cup. The award pleased me because I have been at the receiving end, as an American based in Britain, considerable bitterness from some British friends about the unsuitability of the Duchess of Sussex as a royal spouse and anger that American Bishop Curry was ‘allowed’ to preach at such an occasion. Sadly the racial divide is alive and well.
Although Bishop Curry was unable to attend the ceremony at Lambeth Palace he delivered by video link a wonderful homily in which he stressed once again the importance of love and kindness.
It was a perfect ending to a remarkable evening.