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The Vicar

Here's a health to the Anglican Vicar,
And his church without meaning or faith
For the foundation stones of his temple are
The bollocks of Henry VIII.
Brendan Behan

Vicars are inherently funny.

British vicars are generally portrayed as docile and gentle elderly chaps, with white hair and little glasses and ever so prim and prissy ways. They drink take afternoon tea ("more tea, vicar?"), have a tendency to be a bit liberal with the altar wine and don't believe that anything remotely sexual happens ever, despite the fact that Church of England vicars are allowed to marry. So, to be caught in flagrante delicto—or even mistaken for being so—by the vicar is, of course, the second funniest thing ever. Catching the vicar in the act is the only thing funnier.

A more recent trope is the "trendy" vicar, who is younger, and probably plays the guitar, but is really just as clueless, especially when it comes to attracting young people to the church. Expect them to make air quotes while using thirty-year-old slang.

For those of you who are non-Brits: Vicar is a term used to refer to a parish priest of the Anglican Church. This is the official established religion of England, a faith that was designed — long, long story — to be Catholicism without the Papal allegiance. Eventually, other aspects of Protestantism immigrated over. Thus the clergy of the Church of England are often called "priests" and dress as such, but nevertheless are free to marry like Protestant ministers.

The word "vicar" technically just means "deputy"; one of the Pope's titles is "Vicar of Christ," for instance. In the Middle Ages, the word 'rector' meant the person that had the right to collect the income of the parish (known as the 'living'), but this could be a bishop, a canon, an abbey, or a pluralist rector with multiple livings. The 'rector' would hire a deputy, the vicar, who was a priest who did the actual work that we associate with ministers and priests. So folks got into the habit of using the term 'vicar' to refer to any 'working priest'note , even though today most 'vicars' are really 'rectors'.

Since 1992, women have been able to become vicars. The first woman vicar in England was appointed (despite some serious strugglesnote ) in 1994. However, female clergy have been ordained in the Anglican communion worldwide for some time, the first in 1944 in Hong Kong.note 

In Bonnie Scotland, they will be replaced by the Minister of the local Church of Scotlandnote  congregation, who is often portrayed as dour and grim, and generally the opposite of their prim English counterparts. He will frequently be from the isles.

It is usually used in a religious context, but not always; a memorable exception is E.R. Eddison's Mistress of Mistresses, starring an Evil Chancellor known only as The Vicar.

See Nuns Are Mikos, Naughty Nuns, Sexy Priest, and Nun Too Holy for other "subversions" of traditional Catholic clergy.

In terms of rank, the Authority Tropes arguably equal are Badass Preacher, Corrupt Corporate Executive, Good Shepherd, Irish Priest, Landlord, Preacher Man, Pedophile Priest, Schoolteachers, Sexy Priest, and Sinister Minister. For the next step down, see Student Council President. For the next step up, see Dean Bitterman.

Examples

Comedy
  • Eddie Izzard's famous "cake or death" routine revolves around how silly it would be if The Spanish Inquisition were run by the Church of England instead. "You must have tea and cake with the vicar or you die!"

Comic Books
  • Entertainingly subverted in Hellblazer, where Rick the Vic looks the part; quiet, neatly dressed and wearing half-moon glasses. However, he deals in blasphemous "foreskin bibles", collects "angel spunk" for unspecified reasons, does cocaine, laughs up his sleeve at the scriptures, fornicates in the vestry, is best friend of Violent Glaswegian Header, and on one occasion - and because of "a bet with the Pope" - asks his congregation to join in worship with a really bizarre group of Satanists, and STILL would've gone to heaven if he hadn't shot himself instead of facing satan himself...
  • The "Nice Little Vicar" terrorised by Fungus in Fungus The Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs. A footnote explains that bogeys resent Vicars for conflating them with devils.
  • Subverted in Father Spikes, a comic strip which circulated in various British "adult humour" publications during the 1990s. He appeared in a memorable send - up of The Exorcist, where he was more vile than the demon.
  • Subverted also in Paul Whicker, the Tall Vicar in early issues of Viz. He had very little time for the usual Church activities.
  • The Hard Gay, sociopathic Midnighter ends up as one in a issue of The Authority, while fighting a British reality altering villain.
  • Cedric features a "vicaire" (of the young, trendy type, more or less.)
  • Sterotypical vicars are often used as one-off characters in The Beano, with them always ending up getting menaced or minxed by one of the comic's main characters.

Film
  • Bridget Jones' Diary, understanding this, hangs a lampshade on it with a "Tarts and Vicars" costume party.
  • Hot Fuzz has a British Vicar who fully fits this trope, at first. He turns out to be a vicious killer, just like every other authority figure in the town. Being played by Belloq / Ivan Ooze might have been a giveaway.
  • Reverend Hedges in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Basically a broad parody of this trope as applied specifically to early UK horror films. Albeit that doesn't exactly explain the "Nun Wrestling" magazine on his desk...
  • Heavily subverted in Natasha, where the vicar is dark-haired and handsome and makes love to his wife so noisily that their daughter in the adjacent room hides her head under a pillow, and where a woman with adulterous ambitions tries (and failing) to lure him into sin. Considering the movie's other convoluted erotic activities it is probably a Take That on the cliches regarding Britons and sex.
  • The Princess Bride contains a vewwy memowwable one played by Peter Cook.
  • Lesbian Vampire Killers features a typical English vicar who attempts to be a Badass Preacher.
  • Whistle Down the Wind
  • Keeping Mum is Rowan Atkinson being this.
  • Subverted in Anita and Me, where the vicar is a friendly hippie who gets on well with all the kids. He also doesn't exclude or try to proselytise to the non-Christian Meena.
  • The Rev. Playfair in The Quiet Man is a semi-subversion, in that he's a former lightweight champion boxer and still follows the sport avidly.

Literature
  • The Reverend Leonard Clement in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series, notably the narrator of Murder At The Vicarage (the first Miss Marple novel). A partial subversion/lampshading, since while he outwardly conforms to this trope he's actually quite a bit more on-the-ball than his village parishioners assume.
  • The protagonist of Margaret Craven's novel I Heard The Owl Call My Name is a relatively young vicar, assigned to minister to a remote First Nation village in British Columbia. He sort of fits the trope at first, but slowly goes native, and by the end of the novel is pretty much a total subversion.
  • Jane Austen's vicars are never quite as saintly or as pure as the stereotype. Mr. Collins is an unctuous Smug Snake; Mr. Elton is a two-faced Gold Digger who desires Emma mainly for her money. Edward Ferrars is your standard-issue good vicar in the epilogue of Sense and Sensibility, but not in the main novel.
  • Dr. Primrose from The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) by Oliver Goldsmith. Cloud Cuckoolander, Wide-Eyed Idealist, Bumbling Dad and oodles more at the same time.
  • The Nightside has a rogue vicarage, to do good among the evildoers. Originally Pew was the rogue vicar; Just Another Judgement Day introduces his replacement. She lives in a wholesome cottage whose windows show fields of wildflowers instead of the dark, grimy buildings of the Nightside, and she serves tea and biscuits while making polite conversation. She's also the daughter of a famous prostitute/assassin and has a demon for a live-in lesbian lover.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in G. K. Chesterton's "The Vampire of the Village", where it is only the Catholic priest Father Brown who can see that the "parson" ("far more easily shocked than the old ladies") is not a real Church of England clergyman, but an impostor using this trope.
  • Subverted in GMW Wemyss' Cross And Poppy not only with Father Paddick the local Anglo-Catholic rector, but with all the clergy, including
  • The Parson (another generic word for "Vicar" in common English parlance) in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is one of several religious figures on the pilgrimage - and the only one who isn't either a pious bully or a worldly lush:
    But Christ's own lore, and His apostles' twelve. He taught, but first he followed it himself.
  • Patera Silk, protagonist of Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, is initially presented as somewhere between this and a Catholic priest, albeit one who sacrifices animals to read the future.
  • Anthony Trollope's Barchester Chronicles series is full of vicars, including Smug Snake Obadiah Slope, Henpecked Husband Bishop Proudie, and Archdeacon Theophilus Grantley.
  • The main character of Lord Dunsany's The Blessing of Pan is a country vicar whose parish is the site of a sudden revival of the pagan cult of Pan. Naturally, he tries to stop this. He converts at the end, and his wife's only response is "We've been waiting for you."
  • Yorick of Tristram Shandy, whose passing is commemorated with a black page.

Live-Action TV
  • Proof that Vicar is an Inherently Funny Word: Friends features Joey reading Rachel's pornographic novel that includes the word "Vicar." He then pokes fun at Rachel, despite the fact that he has no idea what a Vicar is.
    Joey: It's like a goalie, right?
  • The Vicar of Dibley is a highly noticeable subversion of this character type; the overturning of the stereotype being the main premise of the comedy.
  • Long before Dibley, a sketch on French & Saunders hung a lampshade on the trope when Dawn French announced she was to be the first female comedy vicar. Her "kit" included thick glasses, false buck teeth, an unflattering wig, etc. The outfit referred to was a clear reference to the comedy vicar played in the 1970s by Dick Emery.
  • The Reverend Timothy Farthing in Dad's Army, which also features the verger of the parish.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus, of course, had the "Dirty Vicar", "Loony Vicar", wine merchant vicar, the black market vicar, failed action hero "The Bishop", the Church Police, the school Pastor delivering an incomprehensible sermon in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, and the Bishop of Leicester sponsoring Treadmill Lager on a Python record. The church seems to have been a favourite target for the Pythons.
  • The Rector in To The Manor Born the perfect archetypal vicar.
  • The affable Rev. Stephen Wentworth (played by Richard Briers) in the Midsomer Murders episode Death's Shadow embodies this trope down to a tee, although it turns out he is responsible for the brutal murders of several of his parishioners, to avenge the accidental death of the illegitimate son he fathered in a passionate affair with a young post office worker forty years previously. In fact, entering the clergy in Midsomer is generally equivalent to a death wish. If you're a vicar, and you appear in a substantial role other than at a wedding or a funeral, you're probably not going to finish writing that sermon. If you do, chances are you'll be unmasked as the killer before you get chance to preach it.
  • The Doctor Who story "The Unicorn and the Wasp", being an Agatha Christie spoof (with Agatha Christie as a character) of course features a vicar.
    • The classic series also has a rare example, in "Curse of Fenric", of a Vicar character played straight and given genuine character development.
    • The Reverend Magister in The Daemons is another matter entirely...
  • A Vicar appears in the classic serial Quatermass And The Pit, but he's played straight as a decent man of the cloth confronted by forces he can't begin to understand.
  • Foyle's War - "Eagle Day". Samantha Stewart's father is a vicar (along with all her uncles) who is not happy about his daughter being in uniform and away from his protective gaze. However some of his concerns about women in the services being abused are shown to be justified in that episode.
  • Anything played by Derek Nimmo. He was a monk in Oh Brother, later spoofed in a series of ads for crisps, a vicar in Comedy Playhouse and All Gas and Gaiters, a priest in Oh Father and the Rev. Green in Cluedo.
  • Michael from Keeping Up Appearances is a classic subversion. A young, handsome, well-adjusted man with an attractive wife, he is nevertheless in perpetual fear of Hyacinth—who keeps trying to strong-arm him into attending her innumerable social functions—and her sister Rose—the past-her-prime village bicycle who rather fancies the young, hot vicar. None of the other characters are remotely concerned about being caught mid-coitus, as many of the women besides Rose are attempting to get him into their own beds. His relationship with his wife makes it clear that sex itself doesn't unnerve him - he's just terrified of predatory women (while his wife finds it highly amusing).
  • A sketch in Do Not Adjust Your Set features a group of people discussing the immense party the night before, all of the accidents and misfires leading back to "the bishop".
    • The joke rests in part on the existence of a deceptively strong alcoholic drink often served at parties in the Good Old Days called "bishop". It was made of fortified wine (usually port), sugar, and spices.
  • Rev is a comedy set in an inner London parish, so for once (OK, for twice) The Vicar is the main character. As a result it subverts a lot of the usual tropes, with Rev. Adam Smallbone being a youngish, married, ordinary modern bloke who tries to be the Good Shepherd but doesn't always have his heart entirely in it.
  • The original Survivors did a Day in the Limelight episode about a man deciding to resume his pre-apocalyptic duties as a Vicar. Then in a Shoot the Shaggy Dog moment, a couple of episodes later he is casually murdered by a thug.
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie did several sketches involving Church of England clergy, including the famous "Light Metal" sketch, featuring "The Bishop and the Warlord." With Stephen Fry as the Bishop reciting metal lyrics in a fashion describable only as "Stephen Fry as a vicar".

Magazines
  • The Reverend Tony Blair, in the old "St Albion's Parish News" column in Private Eye; the then PM's speeches reminding the magazine of a sermon by a "trendy" vicar. Made into a TV series, A Message From St Albions starring Harry Enfield as Rev Tony. This has become Hilarious in Hindsight since Blair converted to Catholicism right after his resignation as PM. He had always evinced High-Church/Anglo-Catholic sensibilities (and had married the Catholic Cherie Booth), but the actual conversion made the characterization at once much better and more ridiculous.

Music
  • English punk band Toy Dolls makes fun of a vicar in their songs "Bless You, My Son" and "My Girlfriend's Dad Is A Vicar".
  • "And the bloody Church of England, in chains of history, requests your earthly presence at the vicarage for tea."
  • One of the plots of Mansun's first album Attack of the Grey Lantern involves the protagonist's girlfriend's father being a vicar who moonlights as a transvestite stripper and finally commits suicide.
  • Richard Stilgoe and Petern Skellern's song Mrs. Beamish is about a 'trendy' vicar and an old-fashioned parishoner who does not approve of his innovations, hilariously poking fun at both stereotypes.

Newspaper Comics
  • Andy Capp has one of these as a recurring character.

Theatre
  • An early Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Sorcerer, includes a village vicar, Dr. Daly, who practically embodies this trope. Despite the rather gentle treatment he gets, Gilbert was nonetheless criticized for mocking the Church. More criticism might have followed had Gilbert followed through on his plan of making the principal male character of Patience a vicar instead of a poet.
  • Dr Chasuble, a minor character in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, is a standard-issue vicar.
  • Reverend John Witherspoon is portrayed this way in 1776 (though he was Presbyterian, not Anglican). He's noticeably polite and courteous, and rather shocked when one of Washington's dispatches describes a plague of whoring, drinking, and venereal disease in New Brunswick.

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