TV Review:  Inside the Freemasons.

Jonathan Spence Peter Lowndes and Sir David Wootton (c) Sky (2)

Jonathan Spence, Peter Lowndes and Sir David Wootton (c) Sky

In April of this year, SKY® TV screened a 5 part documentary series entitled “Inside the Freemasons”  which for the very first time allowed cameras to film inside Grand Lodge, Provincial Festivals and in Private Lodges.

Fearing a sensationalist approach, which would only serve to reinforce old stereotypes, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE ) had declined all previous attempts to produce TV programmes about Freemasonry,  but were finally persuaded,  partly due to the fact that the series was to be made by Emporium Productions, an independent producer with a track record of making balanced and sensitive access documentaries.

UGLE, whilst consulted over matters of fact had no editorial or financial input.

Producer Emma Read explained her approach to the series…

“It’s not an investigation. I wanted to understand why men joined…It fulfils a need in a world that basically ignores a certain type of middle-aged man, and puts them on the scrap heap, Freemasonry doesn’t do that. People want a bit of flamboyance….and to be recognised for what they do. It’s for people who like structure in a world where there isn’t much….People who want to know where they stand, who like history and order, that’s the kind of man who is a Freemason.” 

“It’s been a real eye-opener. Some are there for the tradition but for many it’s about making new friends. It’s the oldest social network in the world.  The Freemasons may be a traditional institution but it’s also a major support network for men and I was taken aback by that… When you’ve fallen on hard times – emotionally or physically – you have a real group of friends you can turn to. Coming out of the show I thought it was a force for good.”  

Emporium’s own website described the series with no mention of secret societies, handshakes or trouser legs….

“Welcome to one of the oldest social networking organisations in the world; a fraternal order that welcomes members regardless of their status, creed or political persuasion – Freemasonry.

‘With unique and unprecedented access to the Freemasons, ‘Inside the Freemasons’ asks who are Freemasons and what do they do? As the United Grand Lodge of England celebrates its tercentenary in 2017, we go beyond the myth and legend to discover what it means to be a Freemason today through the words and lives of Freemasons themselves.”

The tone of the programmes is considered, occasionally light hearted, factually accurate,  non- confrontational and completely non-judgmental.

One particularly noticeable effect of the camera work is to emphasise the highly colourful nature both of the regalia worn during meetings and of the interior of Freemasons Hall in London.  One of the finest Art Deco buildings in the country.

The series received mixed reviews in the mainstream press.  Some journalists remained relentlessly cynical and refused to accept the show’s content at face value, still looking for subterfuge and cover up;  but others adopted a more even handed and open minded approach which resulted in some positive, if occasionally patronising, comment.

So did it work?  Has the public’s perception of Freemasonry changed?  Well if the sudden increase in membership applications on our website is anything to go by, then some people certainly were persuaded.  The comparatively small size of satellite TV audiences means that it’s impact will be less than if it had aired on Terrestrial TV but hopefully it marks a watershed in the process of improving the general public’s impression of Freemasons.

In seeking to look beyond the grandeur of Freemasons Hall, and by focusing on ordinary masons, the show reveals Freemasons to be simply a group of ordinary men united in their desire to do something positive to improve themselves and in doing so, to bring about a better world.

Its major importance however is that it has, once and for all, slain the myth that Freemasonry is somehow a malign influence in society.  It confirms the organisation as being about Friendship, Kindness, Generosity, Compassion, Respect and Integrity; and by showing not just what Freemasons do but why they do it,  “Inside the Freemasons” finally shows the public at large that it is in Emma Read’s words “a force for good”.

If you missed the original broadcasts you can now judge for yourself as the entire series is available on a DVD (Price £17.99 inc postage) from the UGLE website….

Richard Carney – Provincial Communications Officer.

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