The Mystery of Father Brown

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BBC Radio 4, 10 May 2011
This documentary had Ann Widdecombe trying to discover the inspiration behind G. K. Chesterton's famous detective. Chesterton was a prolific writer; when he published his first Father Brown tale in 1911, he was already writing novels, articles and short stories, as well as publishing and financing his own short-lived magazine G. K.'s Weekly.
Never the most assiduous of writers, Chesterton believed in churning stories out with little heed paid to coherence of characterization. Nonetheless he managed to create a memorable detective, who unlike his illustrious near-contemporaries Hercule Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey, was someone who actively withdrew from the limelight. Father Brown never says much; he spends much of his time in the shadows, listening to what others have to say and in many cases incriminating themselves. When he does speak, he usually utters pithy statements without getting angry in any way; as a priest he believes it is his responsibility to offer succour to rather than censure criminals.
The programme also touched on Chesterton's Catholicism. He based Father Brown on a real person, Father O'Connor, whom Chesterton regularly consulted on matters spiritual. We learned that O'Connor was a gregarious man, quite unlike the rather diffident figure in the books; but both shared that quality of humanity. It was chiefly due to O'Connor's advice that the author rediscovered his faith.
Father Brown has been the subject for several adaptations on film and television, most famously by Robert Hamer in 1954 with Alec Guinness in the name part. We learned that the experience of playing Father Brown hastened the actor's conversion to Catholicism, especially when a little boy kept pestering him while he was filming in France, dressed in costume. When Kenneth More played the part two decades later in an Anglia Television adaptation, nothing of the same kind happened.
Chesterton's books might not be great literature, but they have entertainmed readers like Widdecombe for a cantury now, proving beyond doubt the author's ability to create good stories.