February 13, 2007
Daze of the Conder
It is very nearly 10.30am. Howard Conder, the founder and face of Revelation TV, should be about to present the Christian satellite channel’s newspaper review, but he can’t find his glasses.
More worryingly, he can’t find his camera operator (delayed by snow); he can’t find his director (snow again). He can’t find his newspapers. “No one’s bought the newspapers,” he concludes. “Would someone go to the newsagent’s and buy some? Just get anything with nice headlines.”
… In a tiny studio in central London, Mr Conder and his wife Lesley— the Richard and Judy of the Christian air-
waves—say they are looking forward to meeting their guests: Dr Laura, for “Health in Focus”, and a former Ugandan child soldier.
Then Mr Conder imparts the good news: “Ofcom has been very kind to us and allowed us to ask for assistance with fundraising.”
The broadcasting regulator has just decreed that, for the first time, UK-based religious television channels may appeal directly to viewers for funds, a privilege previously only open to those beaming in their programmes from abroad. It could prove a landmark ruling. For Mr Conder, 60, a one-time pop star and a full-time Christian, it is a sign that “God has allowed us to be on a level playing field”. The Lord no longer wants him to keep remortgaging his £500,000 [about $1 million] house to help meet the £150,000-a-month costs of a station attracting “a few hundred thousand” viewers.
He doesn’t exactly have the support of Britain’s religious establishment:
Doubters—including the Church of England, which has warned of a “clear potential for exploiting viewers”—fear the ruling risks creating British “televangelists” to match those who achieved notoriety in America: black sheep like Jimmy Swaggart (donations of about $150 million a year, sex scandal in 1988), and Jim Bakker (Palm Springs mansion, gold-plated taps, air-conditioned dog kennel, sex scandal in 1987).
… Revelation TV has entertained its viewers since it started broadcasting on St Valentine’s Day in 2003. (Soon afterwards, the studio clock fell from the wall in mid-programme.) Highlights include 2¼-hour programmes with titles such as Goodbye Cash, and Goodbye Sovereignty, as well as the teachings of a now-deceased American evangelist known as Brother Barry, who, in a book of Nostradamus-like predictions published in 1999, wrote: “By January 1, 2000, the economy as we know it would cease to exist!” In April 2000 he explained: “In the rush to get the book out, I used the word ‘would’, instead of ‘could’. I can there-
fore assume I have lost credibility. Yet I continue to look forward to speaking to anyone who will listen.”
“We have a lot of Barry on,” confirms Howard.
Yeah, he sounds like a great catch.
In the beginning, there were the 1960s, when Mr Conder spent a few months as “Howie”, the youthful drummer in that legendary pop combo the Barron Knights. But, disillusioned by the excesses of the music business, Mr Conder began seeking God and talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then God himself popped in for a chat during Songs of Praise. “I was watching that programme, saying: ‘Who is going to be saved by this rubbish’? And then this voice said: ‘What are you going to do about it, Howard?’ I nearly fell off my sofa.”
And so it came to pass that Revelation TV was born. Mr and Mrs Conder’s family are very much behind them, and in fact all around them. His 11-year-old daughter Bethany is a children’s presenter and his other daughter and two sons work behind the scenes, as part of a staff of about 20. The viewers seem like family too. Howard and Lesley smile as “David” tells them: “I was just reflecting how much the Devil hates children......” They seem fascinated as John from Cumbria talks about excellent food for the brain: “If you look at a walnut, it’s like a brain..... a miniature brain, that is.”
Off-air, Howard insists he would never exploit the likes of John and David. Of course he believes in miracles, but insists: “I would never promise miracles or salvation in return for money. I would never be like the Americans and scream ‘Get to the phones now!’ We have agreed with Ofcom that when we ask for money, it will be for a specific project, and we will be accountable for that.”
An accountable televangelist? Must be a British thing. (Although the channel does have a few, uh, issues.)
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