Final bow for comical clerics

Four comical clerics made their final appearance at a Norfolk church at the weekend after deciding to hang up their dog collars and set down their hymn books.

The ecclesiastical pilgrims in All Preachers Great and Small have been delighting audiences for 15 years with their light-hearted look at church life.

But, having raised thousands of pounds for the historical buildings, Keith Skipper and Jason Bell from north Norfolk, alogn with Brian Patrick and Ian Prettyman took their final bow at All Saints in Welborne on Saturday, in aid of its �60,000 tower restoration fund.

Writer and broadcaster Mr Skipper, from Cromer, said: 'It was the sweetest of swan songs in a delightful Norfolk village full of people, full of laughter and full of affection for our stirring characters from the past.'

But despite the show's usual enthusiastic reception, the local author, who shares his favourite yarns from church and chapel during the performance as well as giving a Norfolk dialect Bible reading, said it was the right time to end.

'I think we wanted to celebrate it, not treat it as a requiem,' he said. 'In the same way the Press Gang ended after 25 years, we thought that was it. It has run its course.

'Brian is well into his 80s and he feels it will be tempting provenance to plan too far ahead.'

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For two of the characters, who share extracts from their diaries, it was a return to familiar territory as they arrived at Welborne.

Rev Benjamin Armstrong, played by Mr Patrick, was vicar of East Dereham in Victorian times while Parson James Woodforde, played by Cromer town crier Mr Bell after David Woodward stepped down a couple of years ago, had the living at Weston Longville in the Georgian era.

All Preachers Great and Small began its farewell tour in May and has packed churches in Sutton, near Stalham, Mulbarton, Diss and Cawston in recent months.

Mr Skipper, of Cromer, said he was often asked how the show, which includes hymns and songs from Mr Prettyman, was able to fill the historic buildings with such ease.

'We have attracted big gatherings including many who freely admit to not being church regulars,' he said.

'I have had the odd vicar saying that was very good, but I suppose I will go back to my usual half a dozen people on Sunday. A little bit of Norfolk squit goes a long way, even in church.'

Mr Skipper and Ian Prettyman hope to continue to visit the county's churches as a twosome with their Mardling and Music evenings.