WHEN people tune in to the new series of ITV sitcom Rev. on Monday, few will know the role played by a sharp-eyed, real-life ‘Rev’ living in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close.
But when series creators James Wood, the lead writer on the show, and Tom Hollander, who plays the title role, wanted to ensure their show about the life of a vicar had its roots in reality, they turned to Bishop John Cavell for advice.
Bishop Cavell, 97, has spent his life ministering to his flock, including several decades as a parish vicar – so he knows what he’s talking about.
And he’s known Wood and his parents for many years – preparing the writer’s mother for her confirmation when he was a vicar in Cheltenham and conducting her wedding. He later also conducted Wood’s own marriage service.
“When James was first thinking about a comedy series about a vicar, he came down to Salisbury to see me two or three times with Tom Hollander, the actor who plays Adam Smallbone, the vicar in the series,” says Bishop Cavell.
“As I was already in my nineties, I thought they should meet younger clergy, so I arranged for them to meet with different groups of people here. Although Rev. is set in the East End of London, Salisbury has had quite some influence on it.”
Bishop Cavell has seen a lot of changes over 74 years in ordained ministry. He entered Holy Orders in 1940, and his first months as a young curate in Croydon’s Addington Estate were at the height of the Battle of Britain. Addington is four miles from what was Fighter Command HQ at Biggin Hill, so bombing was a part of life.
“As well as that, the estate, which was part of a huge slum clearance scheme in South London, was only part-finished when the war broke out and construction stopped,” he says. “We had to make do without all sorts of amenities which were delayed for many years. We didn’t have an adequately sized church or even a hall to worship in.”
He later worked for a mission agency and then as a parish vicar in different parts of Southern England.
He was made Bishop of Southampton in 1972, and spent 12 years there before retiring to Salisbury 30 years ago. So what does he think of the series Wood and Hollander came up with?
“I think it’s very good indeed”, he says. “In the middle of all the absurdities that make up a situation comedy, suddenly there are moments where one thinks, ‘Oh yes, that’s true!’.”
• Rev. can be seen at 10pm on Mondays on BBC2 as well as on iPlayer.