For the second time in just over a year, last Friday 25th May, I was invited to appear on Czech Television. Whilst my previous appearance was as part of their coverage of last year’s Royal Wedding, this time it was to talk about my home city of Coventry and the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the new Cathedral being marked that day.
Like last year, I appeared on CT24, the rolling new and current affairs channel of Czech Television’. I was part of their morning magazine programme simply entitled ‘Studio CT24’. Last Friday they were covering a number of issues in relation to World War Two, not least because Sunday 27th May marked the 70th anniversary of the assassination in Prague by Czech parachutists trained by Britain’s Special Operations Executive, of Reinhard Heydrich, the acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia,.
The reason I got the invitation to appear was entirely due to Jana Michálková, who teaches at the Janácek Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno. I met her earlier this year when one of her students kindly played the keyboard for our January service in Brno. Jana had studied at Royal Holloway College in London where her College Chaplain had been Christopher Cocksworth who she proudly told me, was now the Bishop of Coventry. I in turn told her, that I was born in Coventry and had spent the first eighteen years of my life living in the city.
Jana had encouraged one of her contacts in Czech Radio, to broadcast some of the musical events surrounding the Golden Jubilee of Coventry Cathedral, not least a new performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’. And it was her suggestion to another friend working in Czech Television that led to the feature about Coventry Cathedral on ‘Studio CT24’ last Friday and the invitation for me to appear as a guest on the programme.
Having been picked up by taxi from the Chaplaincy flat and driven to the studio, the procedures that followed were very similar to those I had experienced in 2011 for the Royal Wedding. First there was a quick bit of make-up to ensure I looked my best under the glare of the TV lights! Then there was a cup of coffee to lubricate the throat whilst I chatted with my interpreter Martin, fortunately the same translator as for the Royal Wedding. He remembered me as I remembered him!
Whilst talking with Martin, particularly about any unusual ecclesiological or theological terms I might use, a technician ‘wired me for sound’ with a clip-on microphone on my lapel and the battery pack clipped to my back trouser pocket. I was also fitted with an ear piece through which I would hear what I was being asked in Czech, being translated by Martin into English.
I reminded Martin of the technical problems I had for the Royal Wedding with a loose connection somewhere, which led to me to having a rather intermittent English translation coming into my ear. He too, remembered the problem and insisted we had a thorough technical test of the system before going live on TV.
I have to admit that I still found it quite disconcerting, being spoken to in Czech by the presenter Daniela Písarovicová and hearing a slightly delayed English translation coming into one ear, all at the same time. I roughly knew what I was going to be asked and could also understand some of the Czech being used. But I had to both look intelligently at Daniela, whilst simultaneously concentrating on every word of English entering my left ear. Not easy – I assure you!
I was asked about the bombing raid on Coventry by the Luftwaffe on the night of 14th November 1940. What did I know about it? What parts of the old Cathedral had been destroyed? I explained that whilst I am now sixty years old, I wasn’t alive at the time to remember the events, but rather knew about them from my parents. But I was able to explain that the bombs had been incendiary devices which had destroyed the roof of the mediaeval Cathedral but had left most of the external walls intact and, most surprisingly, also the Cathedral spire.
I was particularly pleased to be able to explain that, not long after the bombing raid that destroyed so much of the mediaeval Cathedral, the Provost had made a cross from two of the charred roof beams and erected it behind the altar and had the words. ‘Father forgive’ carved on the east wall of the old sanctuary. For me, this is such a powerful symbol of the Christian message of reconciliation. Reconciliation between God and humankind – but also, reconciliation between nations and peoples who have previously been at war with each other.
I was also asked about the events of fifty years ago. Had I been at the Consecration Service? Of course, as a ten year-old school boy I wasn’t invited! But as I explained, about three weeks after the Consecration Service, I did attend a service in the new Coventry Cathedral, for schoolchildren from the Diocese of Coventry and was able to show the bookmark given to each of us to mark the occasion. As you will see, it has suffered a little from regular use in one of my Bibles.
After I was interviewed, the presenter Daniela Písarovicová, conducted a telephone interview with Czech Television’s London correspondent. He was asked how the Golden Jubilee of the consecration of the new Cathedral was being celebrated and he explained that there was a special service being held, attended by Princess Anne on behalf of the Queen. But when asked what Coventry was like, he had the audacity to compare it to Kladno, a small industrial town a short distance north-west of Prague.
With sincere apologies to all the residents of Kladno, Coventry is four times bigger by population and I thought his comparison to be both somewhat inaccurate and rather rude. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right of reply!
The interview with me is currently still accessible online though I do not know for how much longer this will be the case. Click on this link and then scroll forwards to 84 minutes.