BROADCAST NEWS by Joanna Moorhead
SAMARITANS, those patient and kindly types who will persuade you in from the 14th floor window ledge when all else seems to have failed, keep their identities to themselves, and you certainly won't find one broadcasting his calling down the pub, or mentioning it on an application form.
Not so the organisation's founder. The Rev Chad Varah, 81 this year, clearly had no compunction in playing a full part in the profile of himself screened this week on Channel 4 (Chad Varah The Good Samaritan, Sunday).
The programme opened with Varah pacing around the graveyard in Lincoln where as a young curate he had conducted his first service. It was a funeral, and the coffin was a small one, containing the body of a 13-yearold girl.
The girl, whose name Varah did not recall, had committed suicide after she began to menstruate and did not know what it was. Shocked. Varah vowed to make it his vocation to "teach children about sex ... even if I got called a dirty old man, and I did."
Thus began a career which was to make Varah one of Britain's most lively churchmen. As a young Anglican priest he began to give talks to youth groups and engaged couples on sex and, when his mission became better known, even contributed an article on the subject to Picture Post. The piece was greeted with a storm clerics were supposed to be shocked by sex, not shocking about it. Varah was a sensation.
He clearly enjoyed both the limelight and the raised eyebrows. One of his volunteers recalled how he always loved being "centre stage", while another spoke of a talk given by Varah in which he used four-letter words and was extremely explicit about sex.
As Varah became known as someone willing to talk and to counsel in an open and candid way, people began to write to him for advice and help. Many had problems so great that they were in a suicidal state but Varah found, to his surprise, that he could often assist. He began to realise that people who threaten suicide are not always nutters: many are just ordinary folk weighed down with burdens they have to carry alone.
Simply befriending them could often prove a solution. Varah recruited volunteers for the task, and so began the world's first helpline, a service which today deals with more than 5,000 calls a day and has 187 centres in Britain and 140 in the rest of the world.
But though Chad Varah's name is most readily associated with the Samaritans, the founding of the organisation represents just a small part of the work of an extraordinary lifetime, as Michael Darlow's film revealed.
Throughout most of his years as a clergyman, Varah has been the rector of St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London, a job he rather touchingly admitted he had neglected for the more pressing task of setting up the Samaritans. But he does not plan to retire before the year 2000, and is now busily devoting his energies to the church and its people.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Sunday August 16: Summer Sunday (BBC1, 9.15am). Soul Singer David Grant leads the singing from the square of the picturesque waterside village of Port Grimaud on the Cote D'A7ur, France, in the first of three live worship celebrations; heart of the Matter (BBC!, 10.05pm). Eight weeks after Morris Cerullo's Earl's Court "crusade", Joan Bakewell meets those who were "healed" by the US evangelist.
Tuesday August 18: Floyd on Spain, 8.30 pm. Keith Floyd looks at the culinary aspects of the Santiago scallop shell, and cooks for a group of monks.