The Very Rev Dr Ronald Selby Wright, churchman and Radio Padre; born

June 12, 1908, died October 24, 1995 -- An appreciation by R D Kernohan

RONALD Selby Wright was a gracious and gifted man who all but outlived

his fame. He was hardly known to most recent members of the General

Assembly of the Church of Scotland, of which he was Moderator in

1972-73. In recent years he had serenely come to terms with growing


But in his wartime role as the ''Radio Padre'' -- helped by BBC

monopoly and concentration of radio services -- he reached a

congregation almost certainly vaster than any regularly commanded by a

British clergyman before or since.

That was a crowded, if extended, hour of glorious life. The rest was

hardly ''an age without a name'', for it encompassed not only 40 years

as minister of the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh and much other successful

religious broadcasting but a remarkable range of dignified chaplaincies;

to the Queen, latterly as an extra chaplain; to the Royal Company of

Archers; to Edinburgh Castle and its governor; and as an honorary senior

chaplain to the forces.

He also developed a role as a kind of chaplain-consultant to several

leading independent schools and (though not by means the same political

persuasion) spoke kindly of a promising Fettes lad called Tony Blair.

Yet nothing in these diligent services and eminences matched the way

he responded to the opportunity that came his way at the stage in the

Second World War which Churchill called ''the hinge of fate''.

Selby Wright had been a Territorial Army chaplain and continued in the

early stages of the war to serve with the 7/9 Royal Scots, sharing in

their brief and perilous foray into France just before the fall.

But he had already attracted the good will of Melville Dinwiddie,

soldier turned minister turned BBC Scottish controller, and had been

encouraged to broadcast for 10 consecutive Sundays in the style of his

very successful Canongate boys' club, developed from one which he had

led under St Giles' auspices.

Dinwiddie, though often at odds with London on religious matters,

introduced Selby Wright to the great high priest of BBC religion, James

Welch. A series of four ''Let's ask the padre'' talks in November 1941

led to full-time secondment to the BBC in 1942.

Selby Wright flourished as Radio Padre till 1944 (when he went to the

10th Indian Division in the Middle East as senior chaplain) and the role

continued after a fashion till 1947. It broadened far beyond the initial

aims of diverting criticism of inept epilogues and providing a

chaplain-substitute for men in scattered units, espcially on restive

anti-aircraft sites ''with women personnel''.

As a broadcaster he had a direct simplicity of style recognised even

by modern radio historians who find some of his attitudes

''patronising''. At his best, in the straight talk, he had the gift of

sharing his faith and speaking to his audience (usually about 7,000,000)

as if he were talking across the room to each of them individually.

Some of the scripts that now seem incongruous, such as interviewing

Archbishop William Temple about the Church Commissioners' property

holdings and the Church's post-war social programme, were clearly

someone else's idea.

What may now seem patronising was at the time a happy, genuine, and

brilliantly successful middle-way between bogus mateyness and clerical

solemnity that too often in others became pomposity.

Though much of the appeal was to civilians, Selby Wright also

developed Army contacts which he cherished all his life -- and which he

sustained from Scotland for many years as editor of the forces'

supplement to the Kirk's magazine Life and Work.

Ronnie Selby Wright appeared as an ''establishment'' figure, despite

the modesty and simplicity of his lifestyle and demeanour. Yet he

committed himself to his Canongate ministry -- his only parish charge,

though he had been an assistant at Glasgow Cathedral -- when the lower

end of the Royal Mile was far poorer and more populous than today. He

was also a Moderator who overcame the considerable handicap (at least in

that office) of being a bachelor.

He had a popular and personal touch which served the Kirk well,

happily visiting all points between Nunraw Abbey and the Daily Express,

touring Indian churches, and mildly embarrassing the editor of Life and

Work by his eagerness to thank personally in print virtually everyone he

met on his tours.

He was a good and kind Christian, conservative in his ways and ideas,

whose life disproved the ancient taunt that Presbyterianism is no

religion for a gentleman.