And his church without meaning or faith
For the foundation stones of his temple are
The bollocks of Henry VIII."
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 that epitomize British Stuffiness. They 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.
The opposite of this, now largely a Forgotten Trope due to the decline of the social prestige of the Church, is the Sexy Vicar who appears mainly in nineteenth and early-twentieth-century works. He is young, handsome and idealistic, and often the romantic target of the heroine. He will usually be entirely aware of the lust he arouses in his female congregation, but attempt to deal with things by ignoring it and scrupulously avoiding even the appearance of having favourites. He will eventually fall in love with the heroine, but will still be self-denyingly concerned that she is attracted to him for himself rather than for the glamour of his office, and ready for the tougher aspects of being a clergy wife.
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.
In terms of rank, the Authority Tropes arguably equal are Badass Preacher, Corrupt Corporate Executive, Good Shepherd, Irish Priest, 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.
- 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's a a violent, dishonest, hard-drinking, lecherous, foul-mouthed hypocrite who has 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.
- The Sandman: In the Hob Gadling arc, the story starts with the Orphaned Punchline "Hunting for rabbits again, friar?" At the end (several hundred years later, with almost the same dialogue), the friar is replaced with a vicar.
- Andy Capp has one of these as a recurring character.
- Bridget Jones' Diary, understanding this, hangs a lampshade on it with a "Tarts and Vicars" costume party.
- Hot Fuzz has Reverend Shooter, who fully fits this trope, and exists to establish early on that Nicholas Angel is an atheist. 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.
Rev. Shooter: Stop! Stop this, please! Let us stop this mindless violence! Nicholas my son, you may not be a man of God, but surely you are a man of peace.
Nick Angel: I may not be a man of god, Reverend, but I know right, and I know wrong, and I have the good grace to know which is which.
Rev. Shooter: Oh, fuck off Grasshopper. (pulls guns out of his sleeve robes and shoots Angel)
- 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 fails) 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.
- 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.
- In I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, the unnamed priest initially appears to be an ineffectual and camp stereotype, but reveals himself as a badass demon-slayer when he realises that he's facing a real supernatural evil.
- In Curse of the Crimson Altar, Eve rouses the local vicar in the middle of the night to comb through parish records. The very pleasant vicar helps her do this and turns up the information she needs, breaking the mystery wide up. He later unknowingly saves the day by making a phone call to Professor Walsh.
- In The Ghoul, Nigel Hartley presents himself as a bicycle riding country parson, who accuses Morlant of paganism and fears for the fate of his soul. However, it actually turns out to be a case of Bad Habits.
- The vicar in Deadly Advice has a habit of preaching sermons especially apposite of Jodie and Beth's situation without realizing it.
- The Man Who Could Work Miracles: Because Fotheringay cannot decide on how to use his newfound powers, he contacts Mr. Maydig, the local vicar. The vicar thinks up a plan to bring about a Golden Age and have Fotheringay abolish famine, plague, war and poverty—and, while they're at it, the British ruling class.
- The Reverend Leonard Clement in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series is a subversion. While his elderly parishioners see him as a harmless shepherd who is far too unworldly and trusting for his own good, he is actually quite perceptive, and he plays a significant role in helping Miss Marple find the truth in The Murder at the Vicarage, which he narrates. He does, however, discourage the Gossipy Hens from spreading untrue scandals, which is why he's often thought as being "unworldly".
- 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 father and two of her brothers were vicars, which might explain the variety of churchmen depicted in her work: Edward Ferrars is quiet and gentle, William Collins is an unctuous Smug Snake, Philip Elton is a two-faced Gold Digger, Henry Tilney is charming and witty, and while he gets better before he actually takes orders, Edmund Bertram starts out a hypocritical prig.
- 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' Village Tales series, from Cross And Poppy onwards and not only with Father Paddick the local Anglo-Catholic rector, but with all the clergy, Anglican and other, including
- RC colleague Monsignor Folan,
- the (Church of England) Bishop, and indeed
- Sher Mirza's imam, Dr Jettou.
- Father Paddick is, after all, a widower, capable of punching out a footballer, a former schools boxing champion, and perfectly well aware of what a sexy same-sex couple he and Sher Mirza would make were it not that each just wants the other to be happy including by being each at ease with his conscience.
- He and and Fr Campion, his ranking curate, are Good Shepherd Sexy Priests ("Becks in a biretta" and "a young Jonny Wilkinson in a cassock", respectively), for whom Good Is Not Soft and Good Is Not Dumb. Incoming curate Fr Bohun is a Retired Badass with a Military Cross to his name; a baronet; and a long-time Home Missionary living in deliberate poverty: Real Men Love Jesus; incoming curate Fr Harry Gascelyn Levett is a Cambridge Fellow, a newly-retired professor, a member of numerous learned bodies, and the primary expert on church architecture in Britain. Canon Judith Potecary in Beechbourne is an Iron Lady of the cloth; the Dean and the Archdeacon are not to be trifled with; and even the Bishop has a spine and, although a Grauniad-ista, is a former chaplain RN. As Fr Paddick preaches in a Evensong sermon, "We are the Church of England, quiet in our ways, redolent of tea and cakes, yet terrible as an army with banners."
- 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 The Chronicles of Barsetshire 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 is the parson of a rural parish somewhere north of the Trent and close friends with the local squire, Tristram's father.
- Graham Oakley's The Church Mice series of children's books feature the peace-loving church cat Sampson and his flock of mice who tend to the church. They are given free rein by the kindly vicar who features prominently.
- The Church Mice at Bay sees the vicar go on holiday at which point he's replaced by a curate who fits the "Trendy Vicar" mould, right down to having hippies redecorate the vestry with rock'n'roll angels. The thrust of the book is Sampson and the mice plotting elaborate ways to get rid of him.
- Conversational Troping in The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch, where Hex explains that the vicars of 19th century England were mostly concerned with natural history and making fireworks. The wizards ask about praying, and Hex says some of them did that as well, but it was seen as showing off, since all the god of the English asked of his followers was that they kept the noise down and didn't make a fuss.
- Sherlock Holmes once went undercover as a vicar with an air of amiable cluelessness. A vicar also shows up in a later story, but this one is extremely rude and wants nothing to do with Watson and the Victim of the Week (for good reason: Holmes only sent the pair off to be able to find evidence that the "victim" was the murderer).
- In Wylder's Hand, the local vicar, the Reverend William Wylder (younger brother of the title character), is a humble and pious man with the happiest family life of anyone in the novel.
- Vicars often turn up in the comedic stories of P. G. Wodehouse; a typical example is the initially-timid Augustine Mulliner, who rises to vicorhood thanks to a nerve tonic created by his uncle Wilfred.
- 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.
- In Are You Being Served? he is never seen but often mentioned when Mr Humphries is speaking with his mother.
- 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".
"I'm a hard-headed woman,
I'm a bitch on heat!"
- Averted in Broadchurch. Reverend Paul Coates is a 30-something guy who is up on the times and teaches computers at the local school. He's also played by Arthur Darvill, so he might turn a head or two.
- Tom Harewood in Call the Midwife is a transitional form between the earlier "Sexy Vicar" and the later "Trendy Vicar". A young man of the cloth, he can, because it's the late '50s, be both as alluring as his natural handsomeness makes him and be actually "cool"—as evidenced by his relationship with the emphatically modern Trixie.
- The Reverend Timothy Farthing in Dad's Army, which also features the verger of the parish. The actor who played Rev. Farthing, Frank Williams, also got to play him in the 2016 film adaptation, and was also a bishop in You Rang, M'Lord?.
- Doctor Who:
- The Reverend Magister in "The Dæmons" is another matter entirely...
- "The Curse of Fenric" is a rare example of a Vicar character played straight and given genuine character development.
- "The Unicorn and the Wasp", being an Agatha Christie spoof (with Christie as a character) of course features a vicar. He's the killer, and an alien to boot.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Sidney Chambers, the main character on Grantchester, is a vicar who's become bored with life as a small town minister and starts solving murder mysteries to help pass the time. Unusually for such a character, the show also explores his personal life and depicts Sidney as sexually active, albeit frustrated at how his social standing limits his options in such endeavours.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- In a sketch in Not the Nine O'Clock News, Mel Smith plays a classic trendy young vicar with one eye on TV exposure, who argues that Satanism is wholly compatible with the Anglican Church and who expresses a hope that Satanists will one day be welcome in the Church family. He wonders if Christianity might have misjudged Satan and considers it's time for a re-evaluation of Church doctrines on the lord of all Evil.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Rector in To the Manor Born, the perfect archetypal vicar.
- 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. The vicar is not just a (gasp) woman, but a self-described "babe with a bob cut and a magnificent bosom". She's worldly-wise and boisterous with an earthy sense of humor, about as far from prim or stuffy as you can imagine. Naturally this requires a bit of adjusting for the quirky townsfolk.
- 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.
- 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 Peter 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.
- The Vicar of Bray cares about very little other than the length of his tenure, and goes through some quite fascinating mental contortions to maintain his principles in the religious turmoil that plagued the British Isles in the late 17th-early 18th century. The actual office of Vicar of Bray was held by multiple during this period, and it is unclear which, if any, of the churchmen involved were role models for the song.
And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!
- 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 characters of Patience rival vicars instead of rival poets.
- Dr Daly also reminisces on how, when he was young, he used to be other sort described above, the vicar all the young women in the parish were in love with (while being oblivious to the fact that one of them loves him now, despite his age).
- 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.
- Albert Herring has a Vicar given to recondite definitions of virtue and sermons on "Living Chaste For the Hereafter."
- The affable but woolly-minded Reverend Bishop, who gets roped into the show-within-the-show in The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Operatic Society's Production of The Mikado.