James Runcie is the author of the Grantchester Mysteries, the books upon which the ITV detective series (on Mondays) are based. He is also the son of Robert Runcie, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 2000. James says that crime-solving vicar Sidney Chambers (played by James Norton in the TV series) owes a lot to his late father: both clerics were shaped by the appalling scenes they witnessed in the Second World War.
“Sidney fought in the Scots Guards, which is exactly what my dad did; he was there at the Normandy landings, just as Dad was; and he was one of the first people into Bergen-Belsen, like Dad.”
Robert Runcie won the Military Cross for his bravery. How many clerics have deliberately killed another man, as the Archbishop did on the battlefield? “Well, yes. And of course he never talked about it. And that’s the same with Sidney.”
James says that he wanted to explode myths about Anglican priests: “I wanted to get as far away as possible from Dick Emery and Derek Nimmo… the idea that vicars are soppy and never make any decisions.”
Did Runcie senior, like Chambers, fall in love with a woman he couldn’t have?
“I don’t entirely know the answer to that,” says James, “but women fell in love with my dad because they thought he was a caring, sensitive person. He did have his fair share of what’s rudely called ‘spinster adoration’. There’s no doubt about that. And my mother went mad about all of this.”
Grantchester is on Mondays at 9.00pm on ITV