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The Top 10: Fictional Clergy

John Rentoul
·3-min read
<p>Father Ted, played by Dermot Morgan (left)</p>

Father Ted, played by Dermot Morgan (left)

This list was suggested by Robert Hutton after Patrick Kidd said that he was being followed on Twitter by the Bishop of Tatchester, from The Box of Delights, the 1935 fantasy novel by John Masefield.

1. The Reverend Harold “Stinker” Pinker, who went to Oxford with Bertie Wooster in the PG Wodehouse novels. Starter for 10 from Patrick Kidd.

2. The Preacher, the Clint Eastwood character in Pale Rider, 1985. “People think he’s a clergyman – apart from his deadly enemy, who thinks he’s a ghost. The film’s title alludes to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and he is Death,” said Richard Morris. He is therefore doubly fictional, pointed out Matthew Colbeck.

3. Father Ted (Crilly), played by Dermot Morgan. Nominated by Andrew Kitching, Tessa Grave, Andrew Ruddle and Robert Hutton. Entries also received for Father Dougal and Father Jack, Ted’s co-exiles in the show originally broadcast 1995-98.

4. Ralph de Bricassart, played by Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds, 1983, the second most popular US TV mini-series. Nominated by John Peters. I like him because D’Brickashaw Ferguson, an offensive tackle for the New York Jets, was named after him.

5. Lancelot became a bishop (and then starved himself to death) towards the end of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Not many people know that, said James of Nazareth.

6. The Vicar of Dibley, played by Dawn French, with bonus points available if you can name the character.* Nominated by Steven Fogel.

7. Adam Smallbone, played by Tom Hollander. “If you’ve grown up in an inner city vicarage as I did, Rev is like a fly-on-the-wall documentary,” said Naomi Grimley.

8. William Collins in Pride and Prejudice. All of Jane Austen’s characters are superb, and so is he, described by Elizabeth as “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly”. Thanks to Edna Milgram.

9. Obadiah Slope, from Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, 1857, “a good old slimy Dickensian intriguer and upstart”, said Cole Davis.

10. Rabbi Bengelsdorf in The Plot against America. “A Trumpish clerical thug who helps whitewash Charles Lindbergh’s antisemitism as he rises to power in Philip Roth’s dystopia,” said Steven Fogel.

No room, therefore, for Derek Nimmo, the BBC’s “go-to guy for fictional clergy” in the 1960s and ’70s (nominated by Paul T Horgan); Michael Gove, who played the school chaplain in A Feast at Midnight, 1995; or for Abbe Faria, who sprang the Count of Monte Cristo from prison in the Chateau d’If, apparently based on a real Goan priest who spent time in the Chateau and who later conducted some of the first scientific research into hypnotism, highlighting the importance of suggestion (Stewart Slater).

*Geraldine Granger.

Next week: Perfect gaffes, that is, something that is true but highly embarrassing and unwise to say, such as Boris Johnson saying that devolution had been a disaster north of the border.

Coming soon: Underrated Christmas Songs, such as “Underneath the Tree”, by Kelly Clarkson.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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