July 7th, 2012Trading on Chesterton without a Trace of Chestertonby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Well, there is such a thing as the Benefit of the Doubt. 


The BBC has announced that it will be filming a new TV series based on G. K. Chesterton's famous fictional detective, Father Brown, starring Mark Williams of the Harry Potter films.  And while the linked article notes that for Father Brown "there is always a scope for forgiveness and redemption," nevertheless we learn that the producers don't seem to have faith that Chesterton's writing, Father Brown's character, and the tremendous plots that GKC penned a hundred years ago can hold up for today's audiences. 

So how will they fix this?  What recurring character will they add to this series to make sure they hook the clueless viewer?  Will they add Chesterton's Flambeau, the brilliant French thief turned detective?  Will they add any other Chestertonian inspired figure?

No, they're giving Father Brown a PARISH SECRETARY.

That's right, a PARISH SECRETARY.

For those of you who don't know this about me, I personally feel that most parish secretaries fit somewhere below DRE's and somewhere above Parish Nurses in the Hierarchy of Hell.

Put fiction aside for a minute.  Ask yourself what we know about the typical Parish Secretary.  We know that she runs the parish, she does everything she can to keep people away from their pastor, and she wields her power with a mercilessness akin to Attila the Hun. 

The brave St. Francis eight hundred years ago took his life into his hands and confronted the Sultan in Egypt, risking torture and death for the sake of peace and the Holy Land.  Today would he be brave enough to try to get past the Parish Secretary and the Desk of Durance?  There's a reason St. Peter sits at the Pearly Gates; if the Parish Secretary sat there, nobody would get in.

But that's not my point.  My point is - how good could this BBC series possibly be?

As Dale Ahlquist said to me, "I have a feeling it won’t be based on anything G.K. Chesterton ever wrote."

Hat tip to Tom Leith for pointing this news out to me and for ruining my day.

Oh ... and if you want to see what a TV show based on the actual Father Brown stories looks like, check out this scenes from my EWTN series, in which I play Father Brown and Frank C. Turner plays the prime suspect.


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  • July 7 2012 | by Sophia Mason

    Out of curiosity, Kevin, have you seen any of this series: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069582/ ?

    I don't think they quite got the feel of Chesterton, and Kenneth More (though a good actor) is not my idea of Fr. Brown; but, all carping aside, they stuck pretty faithfully to Chesterton's plots and ideas. I think the series only ran for two seasons though; I know they didn't get to some of my favorite stories. Well worth seeing though!
  • July 7 2012 | by Sophia Mason

    P.S. Alec Guinness was a GREAT Fr. Brown. But the movie he played Fr. Brown in ("The Detective") didn't really adhere to Chesterton too well.
  • July 7 2012 | by James Morris

    I predict a total travesty.
  • July 8 2012 | by Cheryl Pederson

    How the BBC has the gall to write in characters to classic stories is beyond me, but then, look at who they are casting as Father Brown.

    I understand your attitude concerning parish Secretaries -- they do guard the gates.

    No -- I am not 'one of them' -- but I volunteered in our parish office for nearly three years, scattered hours in the years before -- taking messages; answering phones, filing, etc.

    Yes -- the parish families need to see the Fathers; but I've also repeatedly answered the same phone call three times a day, asking if Father has got their message yet. And seen how Father ends up late for his appointments 20 -30 min. because he can't cross the parking lot from the Rectory to the the Offices without be stopped "just for a minute" by 4-6 people. -- And being late for that appointment, makes him late for basically everything else the rest of the day -- because everyone wants their time with Father.

    I helped a full year with and office basics -- to free up our parish secretary/Office manager/Exec. Assist. the Rector when her husband left to serve in Afganistan for a year, and kids at home ranging from HS to K. -- Oh, and before he left, the parish started a Capital Campaign (and Thank you Divine Infant Jesus of Prague!!!) Our "Parish Secretary" had her hands full.

    There is no such thing as a normal day in a parish office -- although the phone does ring less on Father's regular 'day away'. That the day the parish secretary gets caught up on everything she never has time for, but it all has to be done either by the end of the month; or in time for Parish council meeting or the finance council meeting, and keeping everything CONFIDENTIAL. Not easy to do, when everyone who wanders into the office behaves as if they have a right to know was just now, who was on the phone; or which priest did the person who just left see (and could they see him now -- since he MUST NOT be busy...etc, etc etc.) Numerous times have i seen person CRAING their necks to get a look at "Who is Talking to Father' ---- PEOPLE, it is NONE of your business!

    Parish Secretaries guard the gates by necessity -- so Father really can return phone calls, sign checks from out of the Hunger Fund for people in need; council couples in marriage prep; make it to his required meetings at least half-ways on time -- and so he has time to check with his employees, plan the week, get to the Confessional on time; and to Mass on time; and for his own daily time to PRAY.

    And that is Worth guarding the gates --

    (lowly Private, barely out of Boot Camp)
  • July 8 2012 | by Kevin O'Brien

    Cheryl, of course I was trying to be humorous. There are many good and loyal parish secretaries who do the kind of work that needs to be done, and without whom the pastor would be lost.

    On the other hand, there's that nasty feminist element that has been hungry for power for years and that sometimes takes the form of a parish secretary, though more often a so-called "parish nurse", which is why I place parish nurses in a lower circle of hell.