Interviewed in 1979 when his father Robert Runcie was announced as the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, James Runcie, then a 20-year-old Cambridge student, told a reporter he wasn’t terribly certain about things of faith. In the years that followed, almost imperceptibly, that started to change. Towards the end of his time at Canterbury the elder Runcie hinted as much. “For our children growing up, music was compulsory, religion was optional.” Now, he said, both his offspring seemed much “more interested” in the latter.
Religion and faith are at the fore in James Runcie’s Grantchester, which premiered on ITV October 6. His fourth novel in the series is due for publication next May. The chief character is a clergyman-cum-sleuth Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton), whom Runcie cheerfully admits is a loosely based on his late father.
James Runcie builds in characters bearing associations with family and friends. Sidney is named after Sidney Smith, one of his father’s favourite vicars. In the first of the series Chambers is intrigued by a piano-playing German woman who loves Bach (James Runcie’s mother, Lindy, was a piano teacher). “I didn’t intend them to be a fictionalised, alternative biography of my father ”” and I still hope they aren’t ”” but one cannot easily escape a strong paternal influence.”