Glancing around the theatre at the start of this show it crossed my mind that the audience looked like a perfect cross-section of Middle England. Perhaps the last people in the world you might expect to turn up to see a gay, former Marxist atheist turned Jewish scholar who has a distinct penchant for telling dirty jokes.
But then again, perhaps not. For Rabbi Lionel Blue is a national treasure, a tireless campaigner for tolerance and a fervent champion of human diversity. Known to millions through his broadcasting, he’s a regular on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, has made countless TV appearances and written many books.
He landed his frequent Monday Thought for the Day gigs some 40 years ago when the BBC powers-that-be decided that because Anglican priests had such busy Sundays they ought to get a few spokesmen for ‘other’ religions in. He was a near instant hit. To this day he is the only religious talking-head that I’ve ever heard address the fearsome John Humphreys as “dear”.
This extraordinary 81-year-old is cherished for his offbeat sense of humour and a wealth of light-hearted stories that thinly disguise a bedrock of learning and common sense.
At Poole he discussed everything from God to the holocaust while cheerily cracking jokes about sex and dementia.
His aim, he says, is simply to give people the courage to face the world and their problems. He achieves this by drawing on a lifetime of experience that has included a breakdown and several serious illnesses. It has also taught him the power of kindness and compassion.
Although clearly frail and by his own admission “falling to bits”, his stamina is remarkable. He eschewed the armchair offered on stage and stood for two solid hours supported by his stick. He broke only to spend 20 minutes signing books and talking to fans during the interval and then returned for a question and answer session. Even as I left the theatre he was promising to stay behind for as long as it might take to meet every single person who still wanted to speak to him.