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“Dressed in an Angel's Nightshirt”: Jesus and the BBC


This article examines images of Jesus broadcast on the BBC from the 1930s through the 1950s. During these years, the BBC sought to use its cultural influence to replace popular religiosity with what the clerics who staffed its Religious Broadcasting Department (RBD) regarded as a more masculine, modern, and vigorous national religious faith. To achieve this aim, the RBD marshaled the might of British New Testament scholarship and its image of a warrior-like, apocalyptic historical Jesus. Yet the RBD's hopes of bridging the gap between popular religiosity and its own vision of Christianity went unrealized. Programs on Jesus that reached a genuinely national audience—The Man Born to be King, Dorothy L. Sayers's wartime radio drama, and Jesus of Nazareth, a popular television series from the 1950s—instead featured Anglicized and ahistorical images deeply embedded within British popular culture. The story of Jesus on the BBC highlights both this popular culture's strength and Christian Britain's fragmentation.

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David Nash , Christian Ideals in British Culture: Stories of Belief in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke, 2013), 160–83

Donald Hall , ed., Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age (Cambridge, 1994)

Pamela J. Walker , Pulling the Devil's Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain (Berkeley, 2001)

Catriona Noonan , “Piety and Professionalism: The BBC's Changing Religious Mission,” Media History 19, no. 2 (May 2013): 196212

S. C. Williams , Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark c. 1880–1939 (New York, 1999), 87104, 117–23, 143–47

T. W. Manson , “The Gospel Miracles” (broadcast to schools, November 19, 1951), in Religion in Education 19, no. 2 (1952): 4551, at 45, 51, 49

Hugh McLeod , The Religious Crisis of the 1960s (Oxford, 2007)

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Journal of British Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9371
  • EISSN: 1545-6986
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-british-studies
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