LIGHTS dim in ABC’s Didsbury studios. The electric clock points to after midnight. The stars, the extras and most of the cameramen and technicians have gone home.
One man walks alone through the main glass doors and says “Goodnight” to the red-coated commissionaire.
The Rev Eric Geddes’ Sunday has begun.
For 15 months Mr Geddes has been giving Epilogues at the end of the ABC Saturday and Sunday programmes — five minute talks on living with God’s help. His are words that have brought comfort to many viewers.
Speaking before the cameras means more work for Mr Geddes, for his task does not end when he removes his make-up. Viewers write him many letters; some to thank him for his words, others to ask for advice. Many want to see him, saying they would prefer to discuss a problem with him — a friendly stranger — than with their local priest.
But they seldom call on a Sunday. Like other pastors. Mr Geddes conducts four services at his own church — St Marks, Gorton … the church whose football club became Manchester United.
This extra television work does not mean that Mr Geddes neglects his parish or parishioners. He is always “at home” to them; he visits and helps them. Television means he works harder, longer hours than the average priest. But he does not begrudge a moment.
When Mr Geddes leaves the studio in the early hours of Sunday morning he takes with him a recording of his Epilogue, which he plays back in the book-lined drawing-room of his home. Then he gets four or five hours’ sleep before he is up again to take the early morning service at his church, five minutes’ walk from his home.
Outside, it is not a beautiful church. But the interior is pleasing. It stands among rows of tiny, grimy houses in which live, says Mr Geddes, some of the best people he has met. The area is a change for him and his wife. They moved to Manchester from a Norfolk village.
After the early service Mr Geddes goes home for a short break before Matins. He does not write his sermon; he thinks of his subject and when he reaches the pulpit he speaks from the heart.
There are usually four or five baptisms before he leaves for lunch. Then there is a children’s afternoon service to conduct before he can read the day’s news. He does this because he likes his television Epilogues to be topical. They are not scripted. Mr Geddes speaks off the cuff.
At one time he had to arrive at Didsbury early in the evening to rehearse his talk. “As I wasn’t working from a script I used to find that difficult,” he told me. “I could never be quite sure whether 1 had said something at the beginning of my talk or during the rehearsal.”
So now it is several hours after Sunday evening service that Mr Geddes makes his way to Didsbury — arriving an hour before he is due to appear, to give him time for make-up.
It is again after midnight when Mr Geddes leaves the studio after his Sunday night telecast. He has a busy week before him. I asked him whether he was nervous in front of the cameras and how he managed to think of something new and interesting to say each time. “I’m not nervous,” he replied. “And many of the things I say are related to personal experiences … the stories one can tell most vividly are of things that happen to oneself.”