NEXT week, Sarum College plays host to a crime writer with a religious twist. James Runcie is the author of the bestselling Grantchester Mysteries series, featuring his part-time detective and full-time priest, Sidney Chambers. The series has gone on to become an equally popular ITV series, an understandable crossover given Runcie once described the books as ‘Morse with morals’.

Runcie’s latest book, The Road To Grantchester, is slightly different to the rest of the series. While the Grantchester Mysteries take place in a fifties Britain recovering from the war, The Road To Grantchester is an ‘origin story’, taking the reader back to before Chambers found his calling. It’s a more thoughtful, delicately written coming of age story of war, love and faith – the struggles of a young man finding his way in the world. Although not directly related, the timing draws parallels with the life of Runcie’s own father, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, who also fought in the Second World War and joined the clergy soon after.

The success of the Grantchester series is just one example of a wider fictional trend that heralds a new breed of clergymen in our books and TV shows. For a long time, the role of the fictional vicar was more of a deliberate figure of fun. From Dick Emery to Derek Nimmo, Peter Cook’s Impressive Clergyman to the League of Gentleman’s Bernice Woodall, the local vicar was the perfect vehicle for a comic turn, all helped along with a skewering of religion on the side.

More recently, however, the role of the fictional reverend has been redefined. Characters such as Tom Hollander’s Adam Smallbone in the series Rev, or Andrew Scott’s priest in the most recent series of Fleabag, depict clergymen as warmer, more nuanced figures – more human and as much concerned with the struggles of their own faith as telling others how they should behave.

There is still humour in the mix, but now it’s of the laughing with, rather than of the laughing at variety. It’s a shift that has occurred alongside the rise of real life reverends like Giles Fraser and Richard Coles, both regulars on Radio 4, which has also helped to build this growing image of a more reflective, self-aware clergy (even if Coles’ appearance on Strictly Come Dancing fell more into the ‘laughing at’ category).

Back when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, his press secretary Alistair Campbell famously told him ‘we don’t do God’, as he felt talking about religion would turn people off. The ongoing success of Runcie’s Grantchester books, however, suggests that plenty of people out there remain willing to listen.

James Runcie is at Sarum College on Wednesday, April 10, 6.30pm.