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Classic TV Revisited: The Vicar of Dibley

Vicar of Dibley

When the 102-year-old vicar of St. Barnabas dies in the pulpit, the villagers of Dibley expect his successor to be a bright young man capable of boosting attendances. Instead they find that the new incumbent is a woman, Geraldine Granger (Dawn French), a wise-cracking chocoholic with a soft centre.

The motley assortment of locals react to her arrival in different ways. The idea may not sound very promising on paper but in the hands of writer Richard Curtis (Black Adder, Four Weddings And A Funeral etc), the Book of Revelations could raise a few laughs.

Who were the main characters?
Geraldine herself; her doting verger Alice Tinker, a naive young woman who is a few pages short of a hymn book and who spectacularly fails to get any of Geraldine’s dirty jokes; Geraldine’s chief adversary, David Horton, domineering head of the parish council; his mild-mannered son Hugo who, to his father’s chagrin, married Alice at the end of the 1998 series; Frank Pickle, the ineffectual parish clerk; and fellow parish council members Jim Trott, a man who speaks in mysterious ways, blunt-talking man of the soil Owen Newitt and cook extraordinaire Letitia Cropley whose recipes owed more to science fiction than to Delia Smith. Letitia was killed off in the Easter 1996 special.

Who wrote it?
Richard Curtis, no stranger to religious themes in Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Who were the star turns?
Dawn French as Geraldine, Emma Chambers as Alice, Gary Waldhorn as David Horton, James Fleet as Hugo Horton, John Bluthal as Frank Pickle, Trevor Peacock as Jim Trott, Roger Lloyd Pack as Owen Newitt and Liz Smith as the late Letitia.

Does Dawn French identify with Geraldine?
Yes, especially her chocolate consumption. Geraldine’s idea of a good Christmas is to work her way through 130 chocolate advent calendars and Dawn, in full Cadbury mode, confesses: ‘I love a nibble. Chocolate’s as important to me as fags are to a smoker. I have a huge, sacred area in my fridge stacked with it.’

What is a typical Dibley joke?
Jim’s Christmas Cracker joke (that’s right, a Jimmy riddle): ‘What do you do when you see a spaceman?’ — ‘Park in it, man’.

Who watches it?
Vicars of both sexes watch it religiously. And for a show about rural English life, it is surprisingly popular in the States.

Any complaints?
The Rt. Rev. John Gaisford, Bishop of Beverley, objected to what he saw as the propagandist content of the show. ‘It disappoints me,’ he said in 1996. ‘At least a third of the population of the Church of England is opposed to the ordination of women and its views should be represented.’

Any real-life resonance?
A collection box full. Many women vicars see Geraldine as a role model, admiring her strength and wit. An Oxfordshire woman vicar even confessed to puffing her chest out whenever she walked into a room full of men so that she could look more like Dawn French.

Any distant cousins?
Ever since Leslie Phillips (an unlikely vicar if ever there was one) donned A dog collar as the Rev Andrew Parker in Our Man at St. Mark’s back in 1963, religious sit-coms have answered the prayers of comedy producers. Derek Nimmo cornered the market in clumsy clerics with All Gas and Gaiters which begat Oh Brother!, Oh Father! and Hell’s Bells, Arthur Lowe took a turn at the altar for Bless Me, Father and Richard Briers worked minor miracles with All In Good Faith. And then, lo, there was Father Ted. As for women, until Dibley they had to make do with The Flying Nun…





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