Last Monday, we recorded The Infinite Monkey Cage Christmas Special. It was a first. When we first suggested a Christmas special, Brian immediately piped up, “let’s do The Bible”. Brian has an occasional habit of suggesting things like this, then, when he turns up on the day of the recording, he says, “why are we doing this stupid subject”. I will explain that he suggested it in a moment of bristling excitement and Chablis drinking, and he’ll wrinkle his nose, scrunch his face and say, “oh”.
At 11pm on Christmas night, a Radio 4 science show is doing a show on The Bible, that doesn’t have block capital, bold, font size 24 emails of complaint smeared all over it then.
To deal with the subject we built a crack team, like gathering a Magnificent Seven or Ocean’s Eleven. So I got on my donkey and started giddying it up around dusty streets of broadcasting house. We needed a vicar, and vocally and facially, Richard Coles is just like you imagine a vicar to be, to make it better, he actually is a vicar too.
For our Bible scholar, we called on atheist Hebrew expert Francesca Stavrakopoulou, but under Brian’s strict instructions that I introduced her. Brian is good on the ancient languages that make up many of the names in interstellar space, but not so good on contemporary Greek surnames.
What else do you need for a science special on The Bible? Of course, an astronaut, and as luck would have it, Chris Hadfield, our go to astronaut of choice was in the UK for a book tour. What is more vital for discussing the merits of the Book of Genesis than a spaceman who has traveled beyond our atmosphere and looked back on planet earth while singing David Bowie songs?
(Look, I’ll be honest with you, I am not sure whether an astronaut is vital for scripture scholarship, but when Chris Hadfield is in town and you are making a radio show that night, you bloody well get him on).
So, what was out Bible special missing, it is obvious if you think about it…BRIAN BLESSED.
The day started well with a long argument. Our producer had gone to get us a Bible from the nearby church (all religious texts are banned from the BBC due to the corporation’s equalities regulations…haha not really Daily Mail and Express, that was a lie…no no, Jan Moir, come back, it wasn’t true, you stopped reading too early. Don’t type that. Oh dear).
It was one of those very modern Bibles that removes the poetry to create a murky blandness and extricate the poetry from the King James version. Brian read and reread the opening lines of the Book of Genesis. He was apoplectic and used language unavailable to Aled Jones when he’s presenting Songs of Praise.
Then we had an argument about what you can ask a vicar. I wanted to ask Richard what of the Bible he needs to be true to believe what he does. Brian thought I was setting an atheist bear trap, but I just wanted to discuss Biblical literalism and how most priests I know, and I do know priests, do not require the entirety of the Bible to be accurate. Brian and the producer ganged up on me, and I went into a huff, the sort of huff doubting Thomas probably went into when everyone had a go at him for putting his fingers in the nail holes.
We recorded to the right of a plaque commemorating Bing Crosby’s final recording session as we were at Maida Vale, also home to many wonderful Peel Sessions, including Hefner, may I recommend that album to you heartily. As we were at a new studio, I had to wait for Brian at the toilets so he didn’t get lost after his wee. It was two left turns from the gents to the studio and that is two turns for Brian to get wrong and end up in a prop cupboard where they keep the skeletons of Blue Peter’s less-loved, dead pets.
What happens when an astronaut, a bible scholar, a vicar and Brian Blesses talk of Gospels and Commandments? You’ll find out at 11pm on Christmas Day.
Brian and I are on tour in the USA next year, see HERE
And I am off to Australia