TRAINEE church ministers in the Capital have been learning from one of the most famous names in their field – the Rev IM Jolly.
`The legendary comedy character created by Rikki Fulton was best known for pessimistic sermons on Scotch and Wry and at Hogmanay.
Now as he prepares to leave his role at Edinburgh University’s School of Divinity (New College), elocution expert Richard Ellis has described the Rev IM Jolly as a “wonderful teaching aid”.
The 71-year-old, who was taught how to play golf by the children’s author Enid Blyton on her golf course in Dorset, has trained hundreds of budding preachers in the art of speech-making over the last 35 years.
He is moving south to Lincoln after watching his students in action at more than 800 church services – the equivalent of never missing a Sunday sermon for 16 years.
Mr Ellis said: “I never met Rikki Fulton, but I must say his Rev IM Jolly was a wonderful teaching aid. I also introduced recording candidates in action so they could watch themselves back, which was a great help.”
One of his predecessors in the post, which he has held since 1981 and is known as the Fulton Lectureship, was the actor Alastair Sim, who went on to star in the St Trinian’s films.
He said: “It has been wonderful. I planned to stay for three years but it has been a very interesting job. I think they were a bit worried [at the start] that this guy with a beard and longish brown hair was going to revolutionise the Church in some dramatic fashion.
“I quickly discovered many ministers had been taught how to convey meaning through a range of sweeping arm movements and hand gestures.
“That may have been useful when addressing very large congregations, but times have changed.
“There may be fewer people in the pews now, but often the minister is addressing more people who are watching the service online through a webcam so the techniques have to be different.”
Mr Ellis, who won a Bible-reading prize at school, studied at the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama.
Recalling the most memorable sermon he heard in church, Mr Ellis said: “During the height of the Cold War in 1983, the candidate at Gorgie Parish Church gave an apocalyptic sermon on the nuclear winter which was then being discussed.
“He got up and there were rumbles of thunder in the background.
“When he went up to the pulpit there was a flash of lightning and all the lights went out except for a small glow over the pulpit.
“He started this sermon with the lightning and the thunder playing about around him – it was absolutely enthralling.”
Mr Ellis hails US president Barack Obama as one of the greatest orators of modern times.
“He’s a master at the use of pause,” said Mr Ellis. “If you want to pose a rhetorical question in your sermon you have to pause.”