Did you know the Minster can change colour? Well, it can and it did – but only briefly. Here’s the story behind it.
If I’d known then what I know now I might not have picked up the telephone when it rang last month. But I didn’t, so I did, so there.
It was a simple enough question, asked by a friendly, young-sounding voice: “Would we like to turn Beverley Minster red for Comic Relief?”
My first reaction was to wonder what on earth she was talking about. Was she proposing vandalism of our sacred stones?
Perhaps she plotted pagan procreative processes in our private parochial precincts.
Maybe murderous mayhem would be meted on Minster members.
Fears of finding felonious financial fraud flew frew – sorry, through my mind – well, as you can tell, it was a quiet period and my brain was wandering.
Anyway, my below-par consciousness finally latched onto something it could understand.
“Do something for Comic Relief” It was like being summoned to see the Queen (who, I remind you, is the head of the church for which I work).
“Comic Relief.” Two words that open even more doors than the magic phrase from my spotty youth: “Jim’ll Fix It!” which made prime ministers come running.
To ignore that summons would be like kicking a lovely little puppy or not buying something endorsed by Jamie Oliver.
You also have to grin like an idiot while doing it and try to make a daft joke to show what a good sort you are.
“Did you know there were two old men sitting in deckchairs…” I began, but she obviously did, and was also used to dealing with twits.
“We just wonder if you’d be willing to have your church filmed to promote the official launch of Comic Relief next week,” she explained carefully. “We’d just need to put some red gels over your floodlights to get the effect.”
That sounded easy enough.
As an extra incentive Look North would probably broadcast the transformation event live on Thursday evening.
“Oh, that’s fine,” I agreed easily, still grinning madly – a complete waste of time as she couldn’t see me down the telephone. However, as I pointed out, it wasn’t my decision to make and, without a vicar of our own at the moment, it wasn’t immediately obvious who could say ‘yes’. “But I’m sure it’ll be OK,” I promised.
After consultations with Car Park Man, fresh from his latest training exercise eating raw grit for breakfast and toning up his muscles, I approached the Churchwardens, trying to explain everything.
Praise be, they all thought it was a nice way to promote a good cause but also suggested that this might be a decision for a wider range of voters.
Luckily the Parochial Church Council was gathering two days later to discuss many things and it was approved without dissent.
One further complication: due to the unique way in which the Minster floodlights are funded (every night is sponsored by someone different, to commemorate a special date or just to show off the building in all its glory) we needed the permission of those who had paid for the relevant illuminations. It was freely granted, which was lucky as I hadn’t fancied going back to the friendly, young-sounding voice with news that would make her suspect me of being an idiot or Beverlonians of being puppy-kickers.
I was asked to record some excepts for Radio Humberside to promote the event, and was also told that a Comic Relief photographer would turn up the night before to stunt up some publicity shots.
So on the evening of my day off I was standing at the Minster expecting to meet a smiling red-nosed Lord Snowdon or suchlike, but to my surprise it turned out to be a perfectly normal and efficient individual who didn’t crack corny jokes– even when we hit our first problem.
“I thought YOU were supplying the red gel” we said simultaneously. Whoops. Sorry, the Minster merely hosts the floodlights – we don’t do son et lumiere.
Anyway, taking a ‘cup-half-full’ approach I must say she got some magnificent photos of the west end of the Minster ‘Before’ the transformation and I’m sure they’ll be very useful to her if we ever do it again, but they weren’t quite what everyone had in mind.
Next morning, in a bit of a panic, I was on the phone to the BBC, No, they were also expecting us to provide the red gels and no, they didn’t have any of their own available.
Oh dear – it might turn out to be a bit of a damp squib if the BBC grandly announced the launch of Comic Relief to the backdrop of Beverley Minster looking exactly the same as normal – it loses its impact.
Luckily, the New Theatre came up trumps and, within two hours, had delivered more than enough gels for us to achieve the effect we wanted, for free – so many thanks to what I can only describe as possibly the finest theatre in the world.
To make the event truly memorable I persuaded our curate, Richard Carew, to be available in case anyone wanted him to say a few well-chosen words, and invited local film actress and World Vision ambassador Eleanor Tomlinson to bring a touch of glamour to the event – a good package that combined the sacred and the germane.
The magic words ‘Comic Relief’ worked again.
So, in freezing, windy conditions, the BBC production van rolled up 90 minutes before the broadcast, a small crowd gathered to watch, an engineer taped the gels in front of the lights, making the Minster look vaguely pinkish, and I dragged out some large hardboard sheets to act as shutters.
Various members of the BBC and Minster teams stood around, ready to push them over on cue, the wind blew, Caroline Davis found out that her new charcoal burner didn’t keep her hands warm, Richard tripped over his lines, I shivered and, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, Beverley Minster turned bright red for Look North viewers – for all of 40 seconds on air! Job done.
The next day a member of our church, who’d been sitting in a car right next to the BBC van while all this was happening around her, asked me: “Was there something going on at the Minster last night?”
Nah, nothing much.