The Sandford St Martin Awards were presented at a superb ceremony at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday evening. I chair the Trust and had the privilege of presenting awards to winners whilst celebrating all shortlisted entries in the television and radio categories.

The Sandford St Martin Trust aims to reward excellence in religious broadcasting and  – despite fewer entries being submitted this year – the quality of submitted entries was very high. The winners were:

Television award

Winner: The Bible, Howard Jacobson’s episode on Creation and his loss of faith (Channel 4)

Runner up: History of Christianity, episode 1 (BBC4), presented by historian Professor Diarmid MacCulloch, also the winner of the Radio Times readers’ award

Merits: 1984: A Sikh’s Story (BBC1); Did Darwin Kill God? (BBC2)

Radio award

Winner: Two Sisters: Two Faiths (Radio 4)

Runner up: The Understanding (Radio 4)

Merits: Treasures out of Darkness, from the All Things Considered series (BBC Wales); Dear God (BBC Coventry & Warwickshire); Something Understood presented by Mark Tully in conversation with Jean Vanier (Radio 4)

The judges had worked hard (amid strong debate) to come to their final conclusions, but what was remarkable (to my mind, at least) was the fact that these programmes weren’t just examples of brilliant religious broadcasting – they were fantastic broadcasting per se. They were always intelligent, creative, imaginative, often moving, beautifully crafted and wonderfully produced and presented.

Maybe it wasn’t my place to do so, but I felt hugely proud to be presenting awards to such talented people who had made such excellent and (sometimes) provocative programmes. Clips from all of them can be listened to from the Sandford St Martin website.

Interestingly, it was the speech by BBC presenter (and chairman of the television judges) Roger Bolton that has provoked most of the press coverage today. (For a selection, try Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Mark Damazer‘s blog.) Introducing the Television Awards, he argued for a Religion Editor at the BBC. This is not special pleading for religious people to be given their own sad little mouthpiece (as some will no doubt represent it); rather, it was a serious claim based on the ubiquity of religion across global societies and the need for intelligent understanding and interpretation of both religious events and other phenomena (news, economics, politics, ethics, science, arts, culture, sport, etc) from a perspective that understands religion as a phenomenon.

This will doubtless irritate those who find religion irritating and inconvenient. But, the claim is not staked on any religious commitment, but, rather, on the sheer phenomenon of religion that has a powerful impact on and place in the world and demands intelligent comprehension if we are to better understand that world. What has worked well for business, finance, defence, etc. is needed for religion.

We’ll watch this space, though, and note that the BBC submitted a number of classy entries – whereas none were received from ITV, Channel 5 or Sky.