Remembering Paul Almond: Anglican author, film/TV producer and lay minister

By Barbara Burgess

Canadian writer, producer and director and Anglican Paul Almond often dealt with Christian characters and themes in his productions and novels. Photo: Jay Iversen


(Editor’s note: The author shared this article with the Anglican Journal.) 

Paul Almond, OC, beloved by so many in the North American Anglican community, died on April 9. He was a lay eucharistic minister at St. Aidan’s Anglican Church in Malibu, and also preached at Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City, Trinity Memorial Anglican Church in Montreal, St. Andrews in New Carlisle, Que., St. Martin’s-in-the-Woods Church in Shediac Cape, N.B., as well as at St. Paul’s in his native Shigawake, Que.

Paul was also known internationally for his work as a writer-producer-director in television and motion pictures, and later in life as the author of the eight-volume Alford Saga, covering 200 years of his family’s history. Some 140 newspapers around the world published articles about him after his death. Most of them highlighted his work in film and television, notably the creation of the legendary Granada TV documentary Seven Up! (1964). What was less talked about was his active role in the Anglican community and his creation of televised religious plays for the CBC.

In the 1950s, when Paul started his career at the newly created CBC, he collaborated with the Rev. Brian Freeland, head of religious programming at the corporation. In his autobiographical novel, The Inheritor, he recalls discussing his next project with Brian: “Probably another religious play at Christmas, Our Lady’s Tum­bler, by Ronald Duncan…From a story by Anatole France, based on a 13th-century medieval legend.” Paul also wrote, produced and directed The Hill, a portrayal of Christ’s ascent of Golgotha. It was telecast in Canada in 1956, coast to coast on CBC television; its impact was such that in 1959, Paul was asked to produce and direct it live on Good Friday for the BBC.

In the early 1960s, Freeland asked Paul to produce a documentary about the Holy Land, also described in The Inheritor: “The idea was to capture on film images that Our Lord might have seen two thousand years ago as He walked His land, preaching and healing…Here at last, Paul could walk the land where God had been made flesh. Now, he could know Jesus better by feeling how hot or cold He’d been, where He walked each day, what clouds He’d seen, what rain cooled Him, what clothes He’d worn. Imagine!”

Paul went on to produce a second religious documentary, Journey to the Centre, described as “a meditational film, [which] used extra footage of churches and monasteries that marked key moments in the ministry of Jesus.”

No fewer than four of the novels in Paul’s Alford Saga feature Anglican ministers: his father, World War I veteran, the Rev. Eric Almond (The Gunner and The Hero), and his uncle, the Rev. John Almond (The Pilgrim and The Chaplain). The Gunner and The Hero recount how Eric suffered terrible “shell shock”—what we would call PTSD today—and eventually became a minister. In The Pilgrim, we learn about John’s adventures as a young clergyman on the Lower North Shore of Quebec, while The Chaplain details his exploits as one of the first Anglican chaplains in Canada’s military.

Following his numerous launches of these books in churches and cathedrals across Canada, Paul arranged that, on most of these occasions, 50 per cent of the proceeds from book sales at the event would go directly to that particular church. In 2011, the Anglican Journal reported that more than $4,000 had been raised in this way.

I was privileged to have known Paul as a friend and colleague, handling much of his correspondence and working with him for the past two-and-a-half years. Paul’s last words to me, in his letter sent April 4, from Cedars-Sinai Hospital, L.A., were about prayer and the Lord.

Barbara Burgess worked as a publicist for Paul Almond and handled some of his literature-related correspondence for the past three years.

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Anglican Journal News, April 24, 2015

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