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Keeping track of three countries’ politics — Britain’s, France’s and the United States’ — leads me to conclude that we have the politicians we deserve.

The UK

Britons are dissatisfied with the fallout after last week’s Scottish independence referendum. Scots are now unsure whether they will get devo-max. Elsewhere in the UK, many people of all political persuasions say some form of the Coalition’s pledged devolution or federal government must be established for England. But we wonder whether our notional leaders are being economical with the truth once again?

Our Labour Party’s annual conference is taking place this week in Manchester. Former Labour Party and union official Dan Hodges (who is also Glenda Jackson’s son) asks whether Ed Miliband is ‘really fit to lead our nation?’ He explains why not (emphases mine):

Miliband’s conference speeches have tended to be a reflection of his broader leadership: tactical successes, but strategic failures. On each occasion he has arrived at his party’s annual gathering under pressure. And he has departed on a high, sometimes even managing to set the political agenda for a month or two. But then the conference sugar-high has worn off, and the agenda has moved on. The big strategic questions – on leadership, the economy, Labour’s political direction – are left unanswered.

Fellow Briton and Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley says we need better political leaders:

Dare I say it, but I suspect that policy is being made up on the hoof! And that’s a particularly troubling prospect when we’re talking about the constitution of the country – the thing that frames decision-making and defines the nation state. Put it this way, do you really, really think that our current political leaders are the calibre of men capable of reframing the way our democracy works? Does Ed Miliband, with his little constitutional convention, strike you as the Benjamin Franklin of his era? Or David Cameron as its Robert Peel, bringing fresh powers to the shivering masses? Nick Clegg at least seems aware of his total irrelevance. The man who failed to pass even the most lukewarm variety of proportional representation knows that he ain’t no Lloyd George.

He concludes:

If we had strong leadership capable of building consensus and delivering results, do you think we’d be having what promises to be a long, boring, confused conversation about constitutional reform? If parts of Glasgow weren’t so depressed and blighted by poverty and socialist incompetence, do you think they’d have voted to leave the UK? If immigration was under control and the EU slimmed-down, do you think Ukip would exist? Oh for a politician who simply says what he/she wants to do and delivers it. The future of our great Union would rarely be called into question again.

It would be hard to disagree with either his or Hodges’s perspectives.

When was the last time we had a statesman? Like them or not, it was during the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Today’s politicians aren’t even close to that. On a superficial level, you can see that just by looking at them. They look and act like middling executives or local government officials. And why is every government matter so complicated? Because they make it so. We elect people who are supposed to be the best in the country at what they do and all we get is disingenuous waffle.

Unfortunately, there is no one in the House of Commons truly fit to be a party leader or, sadly, even an MP. Not one of the 600-odd is impressive, world-stage material, even the handful I don’t mind listening to.

The US

I haven’t followed US politics in such great detail lately, but I was somewhat surprised to see former Republican Senator Bob Dole, age 91, appear on stage at a political rally in Kansas at the weekend.

During his time, Bob Dole was considered a middling politician by those outside of his native Kansas. Today, he looks statesmanline, even if he is now confined to a wheelchair. Many Americans today would agree, judging from the comments following the article I read.

How times have changed.

Once again, it’s hard to come up with a single senator or congressman who is impressive. The same goes for the past few presidents, which takes us back to Reagan.

And, just as in the UK, the same old people keep getting re-elected term after term. Why? Can’t the Democrats and Republicans find better candidates? It seems they’re all on the gravy train together in one massive, comfortable ‘combine’ (machine politics).


RMC’s talking point on Monday’s current affairs shows revolved around the fact that 8m people watched former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s television interview Sunday night on France2 where he announced his re-entry into politics.

The hosts asked their panellists and listeners whether Sarkozy had changed, whether he was still electable after his campaign financing scandal and so on. And if the UMP (his party) don’t choose him again, what other UMP parliamentarians would fit the bill? Oh my, was that an unanswerable question! No one in the UMP is impressive.

It’s gobsmacking that the French are coming full circle to seeing Sarkozy as being able to save the country once again. It was only in 2012 when they turned their backs on him in disgust for François Hollande (PS, Parti Socialiste) who now has the lowest popularity ratings of any French president in history. I saw that coming as soon as he was elected.

Last week, some in the PS mooted putting forward disgraced but still highly esteemed Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the picture as a possible presidential candidate in 2017. One of RMC’s hosts said, ‘It sounds weird, but, after all, he is one of the world’s best economists!’

How low must we sink as a people before we start putting our thinking caps on and getting some morally decent and plain-speaking politicians who present a clear, concise plan and follow through with it?

Where are our leaders? Where are our statesmen?

Maybe our societies are just too decadent and perhaps we are too apathetic to deserve better?

To judge from popular home pages (e.g. Yahoo), it seems all most of us care about are celebrities, reality television and sports. It’s getting harder and harder to find national news on some of these home pages.

I read one rationale for this shift which was that people just cannot be bothered with reading the news.

If so, we Westerners are in more trouble than we realise.

On Thursday, July 31, 2014, Meriam Ibrahim and her family arrived in New Hampshire to begin a new life.

My last post on this lady concerned her exodus from Sudan to Rome to meet Pope Francis. She, her husband Daniel Wani and their two children spent a week in and around the city, meeting other Christians and sightseeing. That week helped to provide a degree of normality for the family. Their Italian hosts and sponsors — diplomats, senior politicians, charity workers and journalists — ensured the family were well looked after.

Of the week in Italy, Ibrahim said via journalist Antonella Napoli:

We have been very happy here. We have felt like a real family.

From Rome, the family flew to Philadelphia. There, Mayor Michael Nutter met with them privately. He lauded Ibrahim as a ‘world freedom fighter’ and ‘courageous, grace-filled woman’. Nutter has provisionally invited her to appear publicly with the Pope should the pontiff appear in Philadelphia next year.

The final destination that day was Manchester, New Hampshire, where Wani’s brother and extended family live. Manchester is home to 500 Sudanese, a number of whom attend the Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church. Although Wani is a Catholic, it would appear that the Christian community bonds are strong in Manchester. The Revd Joel Kruggel, pastor of  the city’s Bethany Covenant Church, said that his congregation will work with the Sudanese to welcome and help accustom the family to their new life in the United States.

Wani is relieved to return home to his family in Manchester. He and his family fled during his childhood when civil war in Sudan made life untenable there. He became a US citizen but returned to South Sudan as an adult.

Wani married Ibrahim in 2011; together, they started a profitable business. Relatives from Ibrahim’s father’s side found out about the couple’s success. According to a Daily Mail report, a half-brother and half-sister whom she barely knew then brought charges of apostasy against this lifelong Ethiopian Orthodox lady in the hopes that they would be given the business if she were imprisoned. And there began Ibrahim’s nightmare which lasted nearly a year.

Now the couple have a chance to start a new business in a new country with the support of the Wani family and new American friends.

It’s a marvellous good news story and an incredibly happy ending. So many people from Sudan, Italy and the United States worked tirelessly to make a distant dream a distinct reality.

My thanks to reader Lleweton for keeping me apprised of the situation by sending me links to online articles — greatly appreciated!

May I wish all my American readers — wherever they are in the world today — a happy, fun and safe Fourth of July.

This year, I cannot help but think of Ann Coulter’s recent musings on football — soccer — particularly as the 2014 World Cup plays on as I write.  This woman has a new future as a female PJ O’Rourke. She is certainly funnier, although unlike O’Rourke, unintentionally.

Another lady with a similar name, Anna, has listed a few important but little-known American anniversaries which occur on July 4. These concern the history of peoples as far apart as Wisconsin and the Phillipines — along with others.


Adlai E Stevenson II (Wikipedia)Before sharing his concise quote, it’s worth giving readers a potted history of Adlai Stevenson II.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson II was born in 1900 in Los Angeles, California, although he was raised in Illinois and educated on the East Coast. The Stevensons were prominent Democrats. His grandfather, Adlai Ewing Stevenson I, served as vice president in Grover Cleveland’s administration. Adlai II’s father, Lewis, served as Illinois Secretary of State between 1914 and 1917.

Stevenson practised law and held advisory positions in Franklin D Roosevelt’s administration. After the Second World War he served as an American delegate to the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations. He was elected Governor of Illinois in 1949 and served a four-year term.

He was known for his intelligence, humility, integrity and oratory. Stevenson was one of a handful of men who entered politics because he genuinely wanted to serve his fellow citizens and improve their lives. He had loyal supporters both among the general public and in the Democratic Party.

In 1952, Stevenson ran as the Democratic candidate for President. My mother voted for him, which is how I came to hear the name in my childhood. However, Stevenson had his detractors in the media and the Republican Party. Some perceived his different way of thinking as being too remote. Voters couldn’t connect with it. Columnist Joe Alsop called Stevenson an ‘egghead’ for his physical and intellectual traits. His television appearances did not show him in his best light. He was also critical of the McCarthy hearings. As a result, Republican Dwight D Eisenhower won the election handily and went on to win re-election in 1956.

Although Jack and Bobby Kennedy had no time for Stevenson, they felt obliged to give him the ambassadorship of the United States to the United Nations in 1960. As the Vietnam War escalated, Stevenson hoped a diplomatic resolution could be achieved via the UN. (It seems he was an idealist and really believed that the UN was a force for good.) Stevenson died in 1965 during a walk through Grosvenor Square in London.

Now for Stevenson’s quote (H/T The Heidelblog‘s Heideltweets). It perfectly illustrates the way he thought about life:

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.

How true. And, using this quote as a criterion, how many of us can say that our respective societies are free? Not many.

In closing, it’s also worth mentioning Stevenson’s religious beliefs. He was a Unitarian but also felt comfortable with Presbyterianism, his grandfather’s denomination. The Revd Richard Graebel, pastor of the Presbyterian church in Springfield, Illinois, which Stevenson occasionally attended, said:

… Stevenson’s Unitarian rearing had imbued him with the means of translating religious and ethical values into civic issues.

A historian remarked of Stevenson that:

religion never disappeared entirely from his public messages – it was indeed part of his appeal.

If only we had more politicians like Stevenson nowadays.

My thanks to reader and writer Lleweton who sent me news that Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag — held in a Sudanese prison for so-called apostasy from Islam — is now a free woman.

Legislators from the Republican Party in the United States have managed to persuade Sudan’s courts to liberate this young wife, mother and successful entrepreneur from prison. Ibrahim — despite her Muslim-sounding name — was deserted at a young age by her Islamic father and raised as Ethiopian Orthodox by her Christian mother. At no time was she a Muslim.

When I last wrote on the case on June 17, Oklahoma’s Republican US senator Jim Inhofe led 20 of his peers in asking Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat, to grant her and her family asylum in the United States.

Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is also a Christian and has been an American citizen since 2005.

The Associated Press reports that Congressman Chris Smith would like to see Mariam, Daniel and their two children living in safety in the United States.

The Independent (UK) has a recent photo of an emaciated Ibrahim. With God’s mercy, may she be restored to her former health and beauty.

The Christian Post (CP) reports that Sudan’s appeals court threw the case out for insufficient evidence. Sudan’s state news agency Suna confirms the decision.

The CP adds that Republican Congressmen Trent Franks (Arizona) and Frank Wolf (Virginia) have written as follows:

We request that the U.S. State Department, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, review granting Mrs. Ibrahim Significant Public Benefit Parole, asylum, or refugee status, as appropriate. In short, we urge that every legal means necessary be exhausted to ensure that she and her young children are provided safe haven.

I wholeheartedly agree, particularly as Wani is a longstanding American citizen.

God has heard the prayers of His faithful from around the world and has seen that justice be done.

A new channel showing vintage American classics recently launched in Britain.

BonanzaBonanza (Freeview 64) not only shows a lot of episodes of the famous Western, as its name implies, but also an eclectic variety of American television classics from the 1950s and 1960s including The Lone Ranger and the original Dragnet.

Having grown up on the second incarnation, still with Jack Webb as Sgt Joe Friday, but with Harry ‘MASH’ Morgan as Officer Bill Gannon, I was surprised to see old black and white versions.

Yet, it is instructive to find that crime hasn’t changed much since the postwar years and Los Angeles had its fill even then of armed robbery, murder, gang fights and immigrants innocently skirting the periphery of the dark side of the City of Angels.

Chesterfield sponsored the original version of the show and during the commercial breaks Webb would have given a short, scripted spiel. (Photo credit: That is how advertising was done then. A network pitched a show to a well known corporation which then sponsored the programme. The show’s stars then advertised that company’s products at the beginning, middle and end of the programme: often cars, a brand of petrol or home appliances. This type of star-delivered advert disappeared in the early 1960s but was preceded by an announcer in the background solemnly saying:

And now a word from [about] our sponsor …

As you can see, the adverts translated nicely into print. They reminded the reader to watch the show and buy the sponsor’s products.

If I remember rightly, radio is where the star-sponsor advert style began and carried over into television.

Jack Webb himself was the brains behind Dragnet, which began life as a radio show. Although I greatly enjoyed Dragnet‘s run from 1967 through 1970, I began watching the old 1950s black and white episodes with greater concentration.

I notice that in many of the episodes from 1957, Webb’s narration, which ties in with contemporary film from Los Angeles, mentions the Church. The camera shows at least one church, normally in California Mission style, and, on occasion, shows another. Of course, Webb is matter of fact in his presentation, but the camera lingers on them as if to impart a suggestion to the viewer just as he is about to see a true crime story.

It is this mention of churches which made me interested in Webb as a person.

What you are about to read is true. Unlike Dragnet, however, the names have not been changed to protect the innocent.

The Old Time Radio Bulletin features a revealing article from The Milwaukee Sentinel which appeared on September 12, 1954. Maurice Zolotow, the journalist, tells us ‘The True Story of Jack Webb’. Not only did he meet Webb, he also looked for interviews with his mother to get the inside track. Some of Zolotow’s discoveries appear below.


Jack was born on April 2, 1920 in Santa Monica, California, to Margaret ‘Maggie’ Smith, a Catholic of Irish and Native American ancestry, and Samuel Chester Webb, who was Jewish.

The two fell in love just after the First World War. Jack never knew much about his father except that he was, in Zolotow’s words, ‘a wartime hero’. The couple married, his father still in uniform, and Jack was born a year later. In 1921, the Webbs divorced.

Jack never knew his dad. He had fled the scene for good. Mrs Webb never mentioned him and, even as a child, Jack never asked.Yet, he could sense he stood apart from other boys his age; he had no one to teach him the things boys learn — from dads.

Incidentally, I knew a boy in the same situation. As much as he loved his mother, psychologically, things were very difficult for him growing up. School projects and discussions about Father’s Day drove him to tears. (In his country, school is still in session in June.) To this day — he would now be in his early 30s — I do not think he knows his father’s identity.

Mrs Webb returned with Jack to her mother in San Francisco. Grandma Smith lived on a huge estate left her by her late husband who worked for the railroad. There should have been enough money for all three of them for a long time, however, within three years it was gone.

Zolotow says they moved to Los Angeles when Jack was three. Wikipedia specifies that it was the Bunker Hill neighbourhood. (This part of town underwent slum clearance in the 1950s and was transformed into a modern high-rise business district.)

Zolotow describes the Webbs living at Third and Flowers Street, just south of Main. They had a one-bedroom flat with a kitchen. The communal bathroom, shared by 12 tenants, was down the hall. That was no place for a little boy to be.

According to Zolotow, Mrs Webb helped to run the block of flats during the day. At night, she was the cashier in a neighbourhood cafe. Jack knew his mother was too well educated and too much of a lady to be in that situation. He couldn’t fathom what had happened.

In the late 1920s, he and his mother moved from Bunker Hill to Echo Park. Jack attended Our Lady of Loretto School and served as an altar boy.

Zolotow’s article tells us that, previously, Jack dreaded school. He was a sickly child; his slight frame and jug ears made him a target for bullies.

On one occasion, Mrs Webb, working as a shop clerk in Bunker Hill at the time, managed to save enough money to buy him a new shirt and a leatherette pencil case for his seventh birthday. Not long after, on the way home, a bully confronted Jack, grabbed his shirt and, in doing so, pulled off the buttons. The bully’s pals then stepped in to beat up little Jack, alone and defenceless, leaving him wondering if he would survive.

Just then, Zolotow’s article says that Jack felt an adult’s arm and saw a blue sleeve. It was a policeman who sent the bullies packing then got down to the business of putting Jack’s pens, pencils and eraser back into his new, but probably scuffed, pencil case.

Zolotow reasons (emphases mine):

A lot of kids think of a cop as a mortal enemy.  To Jack this cop represented decency and justice.  Maybe he also represented a symbol for the father he was always unconsciously seeking.  Maybe what Webb has done in Dragnet, in paying tribute to the hard-working men of the police force, is his way of saying “thanks” to the cop who befriended a small boy 27 years ago.

After finishing his studies at Our Lady of Loretto, Jack attended nearby Belmont High. Both schools are close to downtown Los Angeles.

At Belmont, he was elected student body president. This was no mean feat as it was the largest high school in the city at that time. His words to the students in the 1938 edition of Campanile, their high school yearbook, read:

… you who showed me the magnificent warmth of friendship which I know, and you know, I will carry with me forever.


Both Our Lady of Loretto and Belmont High gave Jack the opportunity to read and discover the world of imagination. Zolotow says Jack suffered from asthma from the ages of 8 to 17. In all seriousness, I imagine he began smoking later on in high school and the symptoms cleared. I’ve known several asthmatics; some respond well to smoking and others do not.

In any event, during his asthmatic years, as he couldn’t tolerate too much physical activity, Jack began reading library books, especially adventure classics.

But there is something else. Zolotow’s article tells us that Mrs Webb said in a previous interview:

Almost any time I looked out the window, my boy was looking in trash cans.  Always searching for something.  He didn’t know what. 

The armchair psychologist in me says this might have been a subconscious displacement activity in looking for a lost father.

One day, whilst rummaging around, young Jack found a broken crayon. He began drawing on old paper bags. Mrs Webb saved up enough money to buy him crayons and a proper sketch pad. Jack took to drawing and, according to his mother, sketched anything and everything.

Along with art and reading came a love for jazz, nurtured by a neighbour living in the same building. The man was once a professional cornet player; then he fell on hard times, aggravated by alcohol. He played the cornet for Jack and introduced him to Bix Beiderbecke. Jack listened to the records the neighbour played on his Victrola; these gave him a lifelong love of jazz and Beiderbecke’s music. When the neighbour was evicted for rent arrears, he gave Jack a copy of Beiderbecke’s 1930 recording of At the Jazz Band Ball. Jack went on to collect more of Bix’s music and, along the way, also became a fan of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. When Zolotow met him, Webb had managed to collect a copy of every record Beiderbecke had ever made.

Tantalisingly, the other instalments of Zolotow’s article on Webb are lost to history. The next one would have revealed (italics in the original):

how Jack Webb passed up a chance to inherit a prosperous plumbing business, and a scholarship that might have led to a career as an artist, to hang around radio studios and pick up many of the tricks at which he later became a master. 

The start of a career

After graduating from Belmont High, Webb studied art at St John’s University, Collegeville,  Minnesota. Even today, the university continues to follow the Benedictine values modelled after Christ’s life.

When the United States entered the Second World War, Webb enlisted in the US Air Force but ‘washed out’ of flight training. He obtained a hardship discharge as he was the sole provider for his mother and grandmother.

In 1946, Webb got his own eponymous comedy show in San Francisco on ABC’s KGO radio. By the end of the decade, he had switched from comedy to drama via another radio show, this time on KFRC, called Pat Novak for Hire. It was about an unlicensed private detective and co-starred Raymond Burr.

Webb also broke into film in 1948 with a role as a crime lab technician in He Walked by Night, the true story of a California Highway Patrolman who was murdered in 1946. That was the time when film noir with its dissolute criminals and corrupt police was highly popular. He Walked by Night, however, was semi-documentary in style with Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn (LAPD) providing technical assistance.


During filming, Webb considered a series which would profile more real-life crime cases. He talked his ideas over with Wynn. Dragnet premiered on NBC radio in 1949 and ran until 1957.

NBC television picked up a few episodes each season starting in 1952. It seems the television series began in earnest once the radio show ended. The television series ran until 1959.

Dragnet was a near-instant hit as soon as it aired — on television and radio. Webb wanted to portray the police to the public and LAPD superiors as underrated working class heroes. However, if there was wrongdoing or corruption on the part of the police, he would air it. The LAPD at the time was known for not paying decent wages and for dismissing officers who had become ill or injured in the line of duty.

The show was largely produced under the aegis of Webb’s Mark VII production company. Mark VII began in 1951 and operated until Webb’s death in 1982. If you’ve ever watched to the end of a Dragnet episode, the following will be familiar:

The Mark VII production logo depicted a pair of grimy, sweaty hands working on a silver sheet of metal, holding a stamp in place and hitting it twice (and, in later years, once) with a hammer. From 1954 to 1977, a drum roll sounded. When the hands and tools pull away, a “VII” is seen imprinted on the metal. Above the Roman numeral in white is the word “MARK,” and below “LIMITED.” The hands were later revealed to be those of Jack Webb himself. There are several different variations of this logo. describes Webb’s production values as follows:

his Mark VII productions routinely used minimal sets, even more minimal wardrobes (Friday and Gannon seem to wear the same suits over entire seasons, which minimized continuity issues) and maintained a relatively tight-knit stock company that consisted of scale-paid regulars who routinely appeared as irate crime victims, policewomen, miscreants and clueless parents of misguided youth … During the production of Dragnet 1967 (1967), he maintained a rigorous daily work schedule while ignoring his health. He loved chili dogs and cigarettes, enjoyed late nights playing cards and drinking with cast members who were amazed to find him fully alert at 7 a.m. the next day, expecting the same from them. The combined effect of this lifestyle made him appear older than he actually was by the late 60’s.

What doesn’t mention are the tight scripts, the interesting stories, the varied main characters, scenes and witnesses. All these combined — and this was the genius of Jack Webb — make a compelling half-hour crime drama based on real police cases. Actually, less than 30 minutes, once one factors in ad breaks. Wherever it’s shown today, people still tune in. Maybe they’ve seen the series or the episode before. Maybe they haven’t. It’s excellent, timeless television — including the second series which aired from 1967 to 1970 and was still getting good ratings when it ended.

Subsequent series

Webb was ultimately interested in more than Dragnet, which isn’t surprising, given that he had spent the 1940s and 1950s on radio, television and in film at the same time. It seemed, therefore, that Dragnet was part of his life but he didn’t intend for it to define him.

Webb had roles in two minor films in 1959 and 1961. Neither did well at the box office.

In 1963, Warner Brothers Television hired him as Head of Production. One of his duties was to revamp 77 Sunset Strip. Some readers might remember the theme tune. Ratings plummeted and Webb pursued other options.

Interestingly, one of these concerned Jeffrey Hunter, who had played Jesus in the 1961 version of King of Kings, directed by Nicholas Ray.

Webb and Hunter set up their own company, Apollo Productions, to make the television series Temple Houston which ran between 1963 and 1964. It was Hunter’s only television series in which he regularly starred. And it was Webb’s only successful series sale to a television network — NBC — whilst he was Head of Production at Warner Brothers Television. The show was a light version of the cases which Sam Houston’s son Temple Lea Houston dealt with as a lawyer. A critic described it as ‘Perry Mason out West’. Although it was short-lived, 26 episodes aired.

Dragnet reappeared after an updated pilot film in 1966. Harry Morgan co-starred as Officer Bill Gannon in the new series with Webb in 1967. However, times were changing and, although it was popular with audiences, young adult viewers sided more with the criminal than Friday and Gannon. This was the Vietnam War era, after all, and putting someone in the slammer was pretty uncool; police were seen as oppressors.

I remember great episodes though, most of which explained the psychological aspect to the crime. One particularly sad one dealt with a young rapist who never knew his father. His mother, then his grandmother brought him up, rather harshly. He grew to become a misogynist. His way of getting back at the women in his family was by raping other women. It was very sad, indeed.

Webb had more luck with the 70s and 80s generations. His subsequent productions  included Adam-12 and Emergency. He had no televisual role in either.

Private life

Webb was married four times. His first wife, the beautiful actress Julie London, bore him two daughters, Stacy and Lisa. Stacy collaborated on a book of Webb’s life called Just the Facts, Ma’am; The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb, Creator of Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency! She died in a car accident in 1996 three years before it was published. Lisa, born in 1952, survives her.

Webb and London divorced in 1954 after being married for seven years. He married Dorothy Towne in 1955 and divorced her in 1957. He married former Miss USA Jackie Loughery in 1958, divorcing her in 1964. Then came a long hiatus until he married Opal Wright in 1980.

Webb died in 1982 at the age of 62. The LAPD gave him a funeral with full police honours. They also retired the badge number he used in Dragnet: 714.

At the time Webb suffered his fatal heart attack, he was putting together a third series of Dragnet with a new co-star, Kent McCord.

I couldn’t find out how or if Catholicism fit into Webb’s later life. Perhaps the divorces created a perceived state of no return for him.

However, the self-discipline he must have learned at Our Lady of Loretto and the Benedictine values at St John’s University served him well professionally.

James Stewart homeBlog2[We] were raised with that small-town Christian Presbyterian ethic that nobody owes you a living…Michael Stewart, son

… high ideals both on and off the screen, with respect and affection of his colleagues.  – Cary Grant on James Stewart

James Stewart (1908-1997) was truly an all-American actor and, sadly, the last of his kind. If the following seems hagiographic, it is because Stewart was able to resist the sins of Hollywood. There was no stain of scandal on him.

Family background

As native Pennsylvanians, both sides of his family had fought in the Revolutionary War, the war of 1812 and the Civil War. Stewart’s father Alex (pron. ‘Alec’) and his mother Elizabeth Ruth ‘Bessie’ Jackson believed in God and country, passing the ideals of service, honour, integrity and self-improvement on to their children James Maitland, Mary Wilson and Virginia Kelly.

Stewart’s grandfather JM Stewart, after whom he was named, owned the hardware store in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He founded the shop in 1848, and his son Alex bought a share of the business in 1905. Alex became sole proprietor in 1923. The store was so large that it was a local landmark.

Alex was a graduate of Princeton University. Bessie earned her degree from Wilson College in nearby Franklin County. The couple married in 1906.

Well-rounded upbringing

The local Indiana, Pennsylvania paper once described Bessie as a

lady of regal bearing, dignified and quite proper.

Deeply interested in education and an accomplished pianist, reading and music were part of her children’s lives. Ginny played the piano and Mary the violin. James played both the piano and the accordion, the latter from a hardware store customer as payment against his debt.

The Stewarts ate together and began each meal by saying grace. The children checked with their parents before engaging in play and after school activities. That said, Alex and Bessie adopted a much freer attitude towards childhood than many conservative Protestant parents nowadays. (The same holds true for Cecil B DeMille’s traditional Episcopalian parents.) The children were allowed to put on impromptu plays and magic shows, sometimes for their neighbourhood friends. They were encouraged to develop confidence in their abilities. They were also aware they were expected to do well in school and look towards a future as productive citizens.

The family were members of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Indiana. Alex and Bessie both sang in the choir.

Bessie and JM deeply influenced James in that he acquired his mother’s dignified reserve and his grandfather’s deliberate, considered manner of speaking.

James attended prep school (private secondary education) at Mercersburg Academy, which was originally affiliated with the Reformed Church and later with the Church of Christ. The Stewarts chose this school for its Christian ethics. However, another factor might have been that the young headmaster at the time, Dr William Mann Irvine, was a Princeton graduate just as Alex was. During his dynamic tenure, Irvine successfully expanded the school.

Stewart, although termed shy, was far from retiring. He got involved in many after-school clubs and sports, including the yearbook, the literary society, the glee club, drama, athletics and football.  Mercersburg gave him his first acting role in the play The Frog Prince and also included him as an accordionist with the school orchestra.

The Princeton years

Academically, Stewart immersed himself in mechanical drawing and chemistry. Charles Lindbergh’s memorable flight from New York to Paris in 1927 captured the youngster’s imagination and got him interested in aviation, particularly piloting a plane.

As such, Stewart told his father he would like to attend the United States Naval Academy. Alex refused permission and encouraged him to attend his alma mater Princeton. In an interesting parallel to George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life, his favourite film role, Stewart majored in architecture. He did so well that, in 1932, his professors offered him a scholarship to pursue the subject in graduate school. Unfortunately, a fire at the cavernous hardware store and the Great Depression diverted him from future study.

Before we look at how those events changed Stewart’s future, I should mention that in his spare time he was a member of Princeton’s Charter Club and Triangle Club. The former got him interested in jazz. The latter, membership of which would be a logical step for him after having been active in the University Players, was pivotal in his acting career. Stewart was adamant that he could continue to act in the Triangle Club’s shows whilst pursuing graduate studies in architecture. And he hadn’t forgotten his aspirations to become a pilot.

However, back at home, Alex was devastated after a fire ravaged the hardware store in 1929. He devoted his energies to rebuilding the business. Meanwhile, his daughters were ready for college. Mary had been accepted in the arts programme at the prestigious Carnegie Tech. Virginia was accepted at the famous Seven Sisters college, Vassar. James was still an undergrad at Princeton. Alex had a lot on his mind.

Then it was time for James to consider his future. By the time he graduated in 1932, the aftermath of the Crash of 1929 was becoming the Great Depression. Stewart saw that the market for architects was narrowing. He decided to act in the Triangle Club’s productions on Cape Cod that summer.

Through the Triangle Club he met Henry Fonda and his ex-wife, actress Margaret Sullavan. Stewart and Fonda began a lifelong friendship. They roomed together in New York whilst awaiting acting parts on stage. In 1934, Fonda left for Hollywood. Fortunately, things started looking up for Stewart when MGM talent scout Stewart Grady spotted him on Broadway in Divided by Three. Fonda encouraged Stewart to take a screen test and the rest is history.

Hello, Hollywood

Stewart signed on with MGM studios in 1935. Henry Fonda met him at the railway station and took him in as his roommate in studio-supplied housing. Greta Garbo lived next door.

He spent the first year acting in short features, normally shown before the main feature in cinemas. Today, those have been replaced by endless adverts.

In 1936, Stewart began getting bit parts in feature films. He met up again with Triangle Club alum Margaret Sullavan who coached him on techniques for film actors. Stewart felt awkward in front of the camera, particularly because of his height and speaking style. Sullavan taught him how to use these to his advantage. He ended up working six days a week in film. Before the year was out, renowned agent Leland Hayward — Sullavan’s future husband — spotted Stewart and put him on his books.

Stewart met director Frank Capra in 1938. This was the start of a ten-year collaboration. Their first two films together were You Can’t Take It with You (1938) and Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939). They also remained lifelong friends.

Stewart acted in many more films before the US entered the Second World War. Two notable movies were Destry Rides Again (1939), in which he starred with Marlene Dietrich and The Philadelphia Story (1940), which earned him his only Oscar in a competitive category, Best Actor.

Military career

When he arrived in Hollywood, Stewart began taking flying lessons. He obtained his Private Pilot certificate in 1935 and Commercial Pilot licence in 1938. He was known for piloting a plane from California to Pennsylvania when visiting his parents.

However, he hadn’t forgotten about serving his country and believed that his pilots certificates could help the US in wartime. Alex had served in the Spanish-American and Great Wars, so James was not about to let an opportunity pass him by to serve his country.

By 1939, Stewart had already clocked up over 400 hours of flying time. He also invested in his agent’s Leyland Hayward and Jack Connelly’s Southwest Airlines.

In 1940, Stewart was drafted into the US Army but was rejected at the physical because he was underweight. Desperate to serve, he spent the next year eating like crazy and working out with MGM’s weight trainer Don Loomis. His perseverance worked. On March 22, 1941, Stewart was inducted into the Army and became the first major American film star to wear a military uniform in the Second World War.

By this time Stewart was 32 years old.

He needed to build up his flying hours at Army Air Corps bases in the United States before he could be posted overseas. The Jimmy Stewart Museum website gives us a concise but full list of his postings, missions and medals. In short:

Stewart’s war record included 20 dangerous combat missions as command pilot, wing commander or squadron commander.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, The Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.  At the end of the war he had risen to the rank of Colonel.  After the war he remained with the US Air Force Reserves and was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959.  His tuxedo and dress blues with all the correct medals are on display at The Jimmy Stewart Museum.  He retired from the Air Force in 1968 (mandatory retirement age) and received the Distinguished Service Medal.  When the war was over, Jimmy returned home to a hero’s welcome in Indiana, Pennsylvania, immortalized by Life magazine cover that showed him posing in full uniform on top of a building with the golden cupola of the Indiana County Courthouse in the background draped with a “Welcome Home Jim” banner and a large lighted wooden “V”ictory sign – his father is said to have put these up.

Postwar career

Any student of American cinema can detect a change in tone in the films made after the Second World War. By the end of the 1940s, the tone — and public mood — had changed from an all-American one, as evinced by Frank Capra and Stewart himself, to a more postmodern one favouring social concerns, giving rise to Marlon Brando and, later, James Dean.

Stewart shared Capra’s concerns as to whether they had a future in Hollywood. It’s a Wonderful Life hadn’t been well received in 1947. Critics and audiences considered that homespun and humble values of America’s recent past had had their day.

In another parallel with It’s a Wonderful Life‘s George Bailey’s situation, Alex tried to persuade his son to return to Indiana, Pennsylvania, marry a local girl and — no doubt — inherit the family business.

Stewart remained patient, weighing his options. Leyland Hayward retired from his work as a Hollywood agent in 1944. Stewart ended up working as an independent film actor with no ties to any studios. Hence, he was able to film not only with Capra but also freely accept other roles in comedies, dramas and westerns. Henry Koster’s Harvey (1950) became an overnight classic.

Stewart’s starring role in Anthony Mann’s westerns were big box office hits in the first half of the 1950s.

Alfred Hitchcock also hired Stewart for several films, among them Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958).

Stewart’s films, many of which are westerns, are too numerous to list. During the 1960s he began to segue into television. His final film in a supporting role was The Shootist (1976), starring John Wayne, although he had bit parts in subsequent movies.

Family life

Although he dated Hollywood stars, Stewart did not marry until the age of 41. Today, that would have provided much grist for the rumour mill.

During the summer of 1948, Gary Cooper and his wife Rocky introduced Stewart to a woman ten years younger than he. Gloria Hatrick McLean was a model but unconnected with Hollywood or the film industry. Not only was she pretty but she was also well educated. She shared his interests of golf and wildlife. They married on August 9, 1949 and remained together until Gloria died in 1994. They lived on Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills. Photos of the house reveal it to be exactly the way you might have imagined James Stewart would live: elegantly yet modestly.

For having been a bachelor for so many years, it might come to some as a surprise that upon marriage he inherited Gloria’s two young sons from a previous union. Ronald was five and Michael three at the time. In 1950, Gloria gave birth to fraternal twins Kelly and Judy. Ronald died serving in Vietnam in 1969, just two months after Gloria and James visited him on a USO tour. Stewart, who favoured Republican politics, also supported the war effort in Vietnam and said that Ronald did not die in vain.

In 1953, Stewart’s mother Bessie died. Alex, still living in the family homestead in Indiana, passed away in 1961.

Despite the many rewards he received from Princeton, the United States Government and diverse charitable organisations, Stewart never forgot God and the Church. He served as an Elder at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church for many years.

Film buffs from around the world mourned his death on July 2, 1997 at the age of 89. We know there will never be another actor quite like James Stewart.

Further reading:

The religion of Jimmy Stewart, actor (Adherents)

James Stewart Biography (Film Reference)

Jimmy Stewart (Deseret News)


slipperyIn light of yesterday’s post on a European murdering his disabled daughter in France and Paralympians around the world comes the issue of legalised euthanasia for children.

The Netherlands, Luxembourg — and now Belgium — all allow young people to request euthanasia. In the first two countries, a child must have attained the age of 12 in order to do so.

In Belgium, no minimum age exists.

Naturally, proponents of this astounding legislation say it will be used only in the rarest of cases involving terminal illness.

That reminds me of the Roe v Wade debates when abortion supporters said the procedure would only be requested and used when the mother’s health was at risk. I recall discussing the issue with my fellow classmates in Catholic secondary school. I posited that it would eventually become a form of birth control. My classmates told me that I was being alarmist: ‘Don’t be ridiculous! Who would actively seek out an abortion?’

Hmm. Millions of women around the world, a number of them more than once. Tens of millions of foetuses who were divinely intended for this world and never saw it.

From abortion it was but a short step to euthanasia.

In 2005, Gallup’s poll on the subject found that a majority of Christians in the United States support euthanasia: 75% of Catholics, 70% of Protestants and 61% of Evangelicals. A majority of Catholics and Protestants also support physician-assisted suicide, PAS — 60% and 52%, respectively — although only 32% of Evangelicals do.

Now we have children who will be able to ask for the means to end their lives. It may start with the terminally ill but it will surely end up with unhappy youngsters of all kinds. No doubt, some of their parents and other family members will encourage them.

Els van Hoof, a Belgian senator, was one of a small number who voted against the bill. Christian News reports that she told the BBC (emphases mine):

In the beginning, they presented a law that included mentally ill children,” she noted. “During the debate, supporters of euthanasia talked about children with anorexia, children who are tired of life—so how far does it go?”

Paediatrician Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer disagrees:

” … there are children we try to treat but there is nothing we can do to make them better

We are not playing God—these are lives that will end anyway,” he argued. “Their natural end might be miserable or very painful or horrifying, and they might have seen a lot of friends in institutions or hospitals die of the same disease. And if they say, ‘I don’t want to die this way, I want to do it my way,’ and that is the only thing we can do for them as doctors, I think we should be able to do it.”

We all die. The point is dying when the Lord decides it, not us. So, contrary to what van Berlaer says, we are playing God by determining not His timescale but our own — for our comfort and convenience.

Thirty-eight Belgian paediatricians issued a statement countering this perspective, noting:

Even the most complex medical cases can be solved in the current legal framework, with the means and expertise at our disposal,” the translated statement says. “For whom is this legislation therefore designed?”

Children in Belgium are not suffering,” it continues. “The palliative care teams for children are perfectly capable of achieving pain relief, both in hospitals and at home.”

The law passed the lower house in late February 2014. Christian News tells us that most Belgians oppose it. Catholic Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard observed:

The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they’ve become able to decide that someone should make them die

This ties in tangentially with America’s Cass Sunstein — an early Obama adviser and a father himself — who advocates animal rights over those of humans. This World Net Daily article tells us that he agrees with Jeremy Bentham, one of the stars of Britain’s Enlightenment of the 18th century. Bentham once wrote:

A full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old.

Similarly, another of Obama’s early ‘point people’, John Holdren, said that he would favour seizing babies from unwed mothers who refused to have abortions. A chilling thought. In the 1970s, he co-authored a book with Paul and Anne Ehrlich on population control and other aspects of ecoscience. Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment still appears on course syllabi on some college campuses. The three authors propose forced marriage or compulsory adoption as well as mandatory sterilisation. They justify it this way:

Policies that may seem totally unacceptable today to the majority of people at large or to their national leaders may be seen as very much the lesser of evils only a few years from now.

That is, sadly, all too true.

Back now to children’s euthanasia. Many of you probably read about this story when it was being debated at the end of last year and early this year. Of its passage into law, business magazine magnate and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes warns:

As euthanasia becomes more accepted—and we become more numb to the horror of murdering people like this—we’ll descend to the next abomination: pressuring the sick to discontinue treatment for a likely fatal illness in the name of ‘saving scarce resources’ for people who have more years ahead of them.

Indeed, we have only to go to the Wikipedia entry for Voluntary Euthanasia to read the rationale, which anyone in the Benelux countries might now hear and adults in many other nations may be given:

Not only will PAS and euthanasia help with psychological suffering and give autonomy to the patient, PAS can help reduce health care costs and free up doctors and nurses. By keeping a terminally-ill patient alive, the patient must pay for any medical necessary procedures. These procedures can include x-rays, prescribed drugs, or any lab tests that needs to be performed. All of these procedures can run up a medical costs. Since the bills will continue to come for the patient, they will lose more of the money they would want to leave behind for their family. If the patient wants to end the suffering, the reason for racking up the bills and keeping the patient alive are lacking (13). Also, the costly treatment to keep the terminally-ill patient alive from medical funding cannot be used for other types of care, like prenatal, where it would save lives and improve long-term quality of life.[37] Along with reduced health care costs, more doctors and nurses could be freed up. A shortage of medical staff is a critical problem hospitals face and studies have found that understaffed hospitals make many mistakes and provide less quality care. Attending to terminally-ill patients, who would rather die, is not the best use of the medical staff. If PAS and euthanasia were legalized, more staff would have time to care for others and there would be an increase in the quality of care administered.[36]

Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia can lower health care costs, free up doctors and nurses, and give back the right to the patient to practice autonomy. By keeping PAS and euthanasia illegal, each terminally-ill patient is being discriminated against because they are not able put this option into action. Those patients because of their disability do not have the same right as any other person in the United States.[37]

To be fair, the article does explore the opposing right-to-life argument.

However, let’s look at how these arguments could make villains out of religious people — Christians or others — who wish for their relative to die in hospital without assisted or self-imposed suicide.

When families keep the terminally ill in hospital, doctors and nurses could well look upon these people as robbing others of good health. Family requests might end up being ignored. Relatives might be shunned. They might be expected to perform nursing and hospital orderly duties themselves.

The patient will be viewed as a ‘bed-blocker’, a term used of the elderly in Britain’s NHS in the early 1990s. Since then, a number of NHS doctors have written on elderly patients’ admittance forms to casualty the letters DNR: Do Not Resuscitate.

It is ironic that, given our greater overall life expectancy and medical advances, that more of us — children included — will be destined for the scrapheap because we are mere inconveniences to our families or physicians.

God? Who needs Him, eh? We can now take care of all our life and death issues ourselves.

Last week, two men in Britain demonstrated how to win well.

In an era of crying, boasting, air-punching and so on, it was refreshing to see gracious, old-school victors with manners.

The first winner was Marvin Francis who took the trophy in the BBC3 series Hair. Throughout the series, Francis expanded his repertoire not only by creating challenging hairstyles but also by working with European hair. He normally styles Afro-Caribbean women. From the moment I saw him in the first episode, I had hoped he would win. He quietly and diligently got on with the tasks — three in each show. Unlike one of the other contestants, he didn’t boast about his abilities nor was he constantly looking around to see what his rivals were up to.

At the end of the fifth episode, he was pleasantly surprised to have been chosen for the final. In a subsequent interview aired during the sixth episode, he said, ‘I can’t believe I’m here. I left school. I never went to college. I have no qualifications.’ However, he must have been researching and practising various techniques between shows. (This style by Katie Crompton, another of the three finalists, shows the level the judges were looking for in each episode.)

Just before being presented with his trophy, the two hairdressers judging the show announced that one of the three finalists achieved a turnaround at ‘just the right time’. From his somewhat wistful facial expression, Francis did not seem to think for a second that they were talking about him. In fact, another amateur hairdresser seemed a shoo-in to win. However, her last three creations, whilst good, did not quite reflect the ‘wow’ factor of her previous efforts.

When the judges gave Francis the trophy, he smiled broadly, thanked them, then stood silently, holding and admiring it. He didn’t rush up to the two women competitors or run around the studio and flashing it about. He was humble and gentlemanly in his acceptance. He displayed a good upbringing through his dignified demeanour.

By contrast, the woman who was sure she would win was quite the opposite at the end of each episode. She displayed an unbecoming element of dominance in her competitive style.

I hope this was the catalyst Marvin Francis needed for pursuing further study in hairdressing and wish him much success in all aspects of his life.

The second winner was Irish jockey Leighton Aspell who won Saturday’s Grand National (C4), the culmination of the National Hunt steeplechase season. This is one time I wish I had laid down a tenner at the betting shop. It was the only time in nearly a quarter of a century of watching this race at home on television that I chose the first and second place winners. At odds of 25-1 for the winner — Pineau de Re — and 14-1 for the second place horse Balthazar King, I could have won a satisfying sum of money.

The Grand National is quite the spectacle. No other horse race is quite like it. With 30 daunting fences to jump, it is fraught with peril for both horse and rider. Horses begin falling at the first or second fence, although in recent years it has been rare for either man or beast to be seriously injured or die.

This race is so gripping and has so many horses, that it is replayed in slow motion and analysed so that the punter at home can see exactly what happened at each fence.

Given the drama and tension involved, it was a delightful surprise to watch Aspell’s interview just after the race. He rode along on Pineau de Re answering questions in a calm, congenial manner as if it were any other contest. Unlike previous Grand National winners, Aspell did not punch the air. One of the commentators asked a colleague in the studio why he didn’t. The answer came, ‘That’s not his style’.

In fact, because of his natural humility and calm manner, the racing community considered Aspell a competent but perhaps not a top jockey. Channel 4 commentators told us that a small fan club developed for him a few years ago.

He didn’t start it; a group of spectators following his races merely felt he should get more recognition.

With a Grand National win to his name, Leighton Aspell has earned the recognition he deserves.

I mention these two men because SpouseMouse and I have also been watching the US series, The Taste (originally on ABC, airing on More4 in the UK). We are happy that the production team modified the format for the UK; our version finished a few weeks ago and was a joy to watch.

By contrast, the American show is cringe-making, partly because of the deportment of the contestants.

All the jumping around, sniping at other competitors, boastfulness, emotional outpouring and false team building are getting on our nerves. That last element is particularly perplexing, considering that this is not really a team show; the chefs choose four contestants whom they can mentor. Anyone can get eliminated and anyone can win. It’s an individual effort.

In closing, it’s time we returned to traditional sportsmanship and grace in winning. It can be done. It had been the norm for generations. It has been done again only recently. May others observe and learn from it.

Church and state averypoliticalwomancomIn the 1950s and early 1960s, the Venerable Fulton J Sheen not only had his own television shows on American network television and radio but was also a guest on secular shows, one of them being What’s My Line?

No doubt one or two nationally renowned Protestant ministers also appeared on secular programmes. Although alive at the time, I was too young to know.

Today, that happens rarely. The last secular programme which had clergy on from time to time was CNN’s The Larry King Show. Although I am not King’s biggest fan, it is to his credit that he invited the Revd John MacArthur several times as well as priests and rabbis.

It’s unclear whether the strident tone of the Moral Majority’s clergy in the 1970s put an end to inviting men of the cloth on secular shows, but, surely, they do not represent the vast majority of ordained men and women.

Perhaps it is time for producers of secular television and radio programmes to reconsider their moratorium on clergy.

One happy exception to this is France’s RMC radio. The morning current affairs show Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) has a priest from Poitiers — the Revd Patrice Gourrier — on frequently. He is pastor of Saint-Porchaire Church, which dates from the 11th century.

Père Gourrier adopts an appropriate stance of taking his faith seriously but wearing it lightly. He mixes well with everyone and has a quick wit. On Thursday, April 3, his fellow panellists included an atheist and a conservative homosexual jurist.

The atheist declared herself within seconds after being introduced. Gourrier made a witty riposte and the two conversed during breaks in the show.

Homosexuality also came up in the discussion, specifically around France’s Christian Democratic Party. The jurist, formerly an active party member himself until he came out, said that considering homosexuality as a sin was an archaic stance. Gourrier gently countered that the New Testament tells us that it is an ‘abomination’ and still a sin.

However, he warned against people defining themselves by family values alone. He added that it had become an ‘obsession’ for some French conservative politicians which, he reckoned, would produce ‘interesting psychoanalysis’. As a practicing clinical psychologist, he should know.

Gourrier is intellectually curious and well informed on the issues of the day; he reminds me of priests and Protestant ministers I have known over the years. The world must have millions of clergy around the world just like them. Why don’t the mainstream media invite them on to news shows? Not all would wish to accept, but even a few more would reveal to viewers and listeners that balanced Christianity can be in the world — intelligently — but not of it.

Since Gourrier began his regular appearances on Les Grandes Gueules, he occasionally meets RMC listeners who are travelling through or taking their holidays in or near Poitiers.

For him, attending church is essential. Last year, he deplored the family values marches in Paris which were held on a Sunday: ‘I fear my pews will empty on the protest days. They would do better coming to Mass.’

On April 3, he deplored attacks on women as part of a worrying trend objectifying people instead of viewing them as human beings. He also said that he was appalled by an increase in racial harrassment, which he also sees in Poitiers: ‘What these people don’t realise is that those attacked are not only French but are also doctors and lawyers’.

Gourrier said that it is entirely ‘normal’ for us to gravitate towards those who are most like us: ‘We can tolerate minor differences which add interest but nothing too far out of the norm’. That said, he added, over the past five years, the economic crisis has exacerbated racially-motivated verbal and physical assaults: ‘Sadly, hard times bring out the worst elements of human nature’.

One of the show’s hosts, Olivier Truchot, noted that every racial grouping in France had its part to play, not just French Europeans. The conservative jurist added that another part of the problem was the onslaught of ‘diversity’ messages ‘every day, morning to night — people are fed up’. Another panellist wryly told him, ‘A bit like your homosexual lobby. So there are gays. We don’t need to be told anymore. Please — keep it to yourselves’.

Still, in France, as anywhere else in the West, RMC’s callers lamented that they couldn’t correct certain colleagues without being called a racist by everyone else.

But I digress.

Gourrier’s measured, intelligent discourse, 15 books and his Twitter account are persuading lapsed Catholics to return to the Church.

An article in La Nouvelle Republique tells us that his parishoners avail themselves of printed copies of all his Sunday sermons, which contain flashcodes leading to a video version on Dailymotion.

Gourrier told the paper that a life in the Church and in Poitiers saved him. When he began working, it was as an editor and a publishing house director. He lived comfortably in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. All the same, he felt that he lacked something. He reflected on his childhood when he would go off alone to read the New Testament during lunch at school. He entered seminary at the age of 23 but left, possibly fearing where that life would lead him. In the 1990s, he returned and was ordained at the age of 40 in 2000.

He will be leaving Poitiers this year for health reasons (severe GI-tract problems) and because the diocese is reorganising the parishes. However, he will continue in some capacity with the Church, saying that ‘we need more mission work for priests’.

Meanwhile, Catholics in Poitiers can attend his Sunday Masses — ‘beautiful, traditional’ ones — because, as he explains, ‘people need a well-established ritual’.

Returning to Archbishop Fulton J Sheen, Benedict XVI declared him Venerable in July 2012. In a fascinating article excerpted below, National Catholic Register tells us how mainstream media aided his ministry. Emphases mine:

A consummate communicator, Archbishop Sheen hosted the evening radio program The Catholic Hour for 20 years, and his Emmy award-winning Life Is Worth Living (1951-1957) and The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968) became some of the most-watched television shows airing at the time. He authored numerous books and is often referred to as one of the first televangelists.

He harnessed the new media of his day — radio and television — and used those tools to lead others to Christ,” said Msgr. Deptula. “We can look to him to see how to bring the eternal news of Jesus Christ to our modern world.”

As important as his works, Bishop Jenky also noted Archbishop Sheen’s life of holiness.

One of his greatest gifts was his example of prayer, preaching and teaching — especially his prayer before the Eucharist,” said Bishop Jenky. “His life of prayer began as a seminarian. As an associate pastor of a parish in Peoria, he had a huge impact on bringing that parish back to life. He said that miracle came from the time he spent on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”

He constantly preached that, even for the most hardworking priest, the most important time would be the time he spends in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament,” said Bishop Jenky. “I can’t speak of anyone who spoke more eloquently about this, and he lived it every day of his life.”

We need more Fulton J Sheens in today’s media — balanced Catholic and Protestant clergy. May God bring them forward. And may secular programme commissioners and producers see the need for inviting them on air.

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