LONDON -- The surprise selection of Church of England Bishop George Carey to succeed Archbishop Robert Runcie as leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans has won near-unanimous approval of the cantankerous British media.

"Coverage has been remarkably extensive, all of it very positive and hopeful," said the Rev. Philip Crow, principal of Bath Theological College, appearing July 29 on the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Sunday Newspaper Review Program.

Crow, who lives next door to the next archbishop of Canterbury and who was introduced as one of Carey's closest friends, said, "I guess the coverage was much more extensive than had the nominee been better-known, such as the archbishop of York," one of the front-runners for the post.

"The appointment captured the imagination of editors precisely because it was such a surprising appointment," Crow said. "Everybody was as much taken by surprise as George himself. It's described as bold and risky and hopeful. The Guardian {a British newspaper} calls him 'one of God's surprises.' Maybe in the future we'll be grateful for it."

Carey, an evangelical, has been a bishop since only 1987 and was not considered among the leading candidates for appoinment by Queen Elizabeth.

But surprise alone would not have been enough to explain the extensive coverage that followed the announcement of the selection of the bishop of Bath and Wells to succeed Runcie, Crow said.

"When the journalists looked beyond the surprise, they found all kinds of goodies there," he said. As evidence, Crow pointed to an editorial in The Independent newspaper: "Dr. Carey provides the church with the opportunity to attract the mass of people for whom it is a wholly alien institution."

The editorial went on to describe Carey as "a clever man and an educated one, a scholar who declines to dazzle others with his scholarship. Most of all he comes from humble beginnings and remains a man of the people. It may be that he proves himself a man of the times."

The Sunday Express, a mass circulation newspaper that sometimes seems hostile to religion in general and prelates in particular, editorialized, "Carey is already giving a clear moral lead for the 1990s."

The paper's top cartoonist depicted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Bishop Carey side-by-side waving huge vacuum cleaners, sucking up what appeared to be the contents of two overflowing garbage cans. The Thatcher pile was captioned "the mess left behind by socialism" and Carey's "the mess the permissive society left behind."

Particularly for England's tabloid newspapers, Crow suggested, it was a gift to have a native of London's working-class East End selected as the next archbishop of Canterbury.

Bishop Carey's name was splashed throughout the tabloid headlines, Crow said, "mainly because he's been the first archbishop this century who has not been born into the establishment, the first not to have studied at Oxford or Cambridge and is generally one of the people."

The strength and richness of the Carey family spirit also impressed journalists, Crow said. The bishop's children and grandchildren took part in the first news conferences and photo sessions.

"It wouldn't occur to the family to have done anything else," said Crow, who is godfather to the Carey children. "They all support one another in difficult situations in a very open and positive way, not making demands of one another but giving each other great support and freedom. It would never have occurred to any of them not to have been there."

In just a week since the appointment was announced, with every major newspaper and television networks running extensive coverage, the Careys are already one of Britain's household family names.