Church History


If you were a member of the Pharisaios Team or contributed to its publications in any way, shape or form - please contact us with any thoughts and memories that you wish to share!

“Remember – all that wobbles is not jelly.”  So ended the editorial statement for the first-ever Pharisaios publication.

 Pharisaios has its roots in a Church of England theological college that has now sadly closed its doors to full-time residential training.  In the early 1980s a small group of students and Salisbury and Wells Theological College produced a number of printed magazines entitled Pharisaios.” Their content ranged from genuine and serious submissions by college members, issues of the term and short essays, to tongue-in-cheek articles cleverly (and sometimes not so cleverly) designed to mock the taboos and holy cows of the college, the church and the wider religious community.

The last of the three Pharisaios magazines appeared in 1983 with a small advertisement on one page. “Coming soon – the Pharisaios Cassette!”  The modus operandi was changing.  One group of students with future Pharisaios members among them, had already been asked to produce a tape – a Lenten course for the housebound, as part of a college communications unit.  What emerged was a deliberate example of how not to produce a Lenten course for the housebound.  Unwittingly the die was cast.  Pharisaios had moved from the printed page to the audio cassette!  So the first tape was recorded.

The first tape, “Tales of the Golden Mitre”, produced in 1984, was the brainchild and product of what may be truly called the “original” Pharisaios team, with its many larger than life characters.  With its opening line, “Has anyone ever told you you’ve got a lovely bum?” it was an instant hit!

The content of much of the scripts was plagiarized from other broadcast and media sources of the time and adapted for church humour.  Instantly recognizable were “Mastermind,” “Yes, Minister” and Desert Island Wobblies!” In amongst these lampoons however were genuinely original scripts that were to be the foundation stones for future productions.  Of note was the first story of the Famous Five by Enid Biltong, a concept that was to run over four tapes, one of which was a full sixty minutes episode! “Tales of the Golden Mitre” and every successive tape produced was for internal distribution only, thus avoiding huge copyright infringement fines!

Flushed with success this team quickly reformed to write and produce “Sonic Shock! – The Pharisaios Album Number 2.”  Again many long hours were spent in the famous sound studio bunker in the college basement, but the effort paid off.  The second tape was another resounding success and was distributed by the dozen.  Lessons had been learned in the intervening months and the editorial layout and sound editing of “Sonic Shock!” far surpassed that of its older sibling.  The scripts were also becoming more original!

Next came what may be regarded as the zenith of college tapes, when “The Induction Course” emerged in September 1984.  Brilliantly written and marketed at the beginning of the autumn term as an official college publication for the Freshers, it was ordered by the score.  People were so convinced by the publicity that questions were even asked on College Council as to which member of staff was responsible for producing this tape!  It was only when one such member carefully studied a poster in the main corridor that the cry was heard, “Bloody hell! It is a Pharisaios tape!”

“Curates in Space” (1985) was the first full-length “total concept” tape written and produced. Owing much to the Star Wars genre it was a somewhat zany, camp and often outrageous ecclesiastical space adventure.  At the time we considered it to be a one-off story, although future developments were to prove that idea wrong.

Another tape soon emerged, again keeping an overall theme and integrity , this time exploring biblical themes and stories.  Titled after the Old Testament book of the same name, the “Song of Songs” (1985/86) contained a poetic version of that famous text – beautiful, until, that is, one noticed the background sound effects and the chorus joined in!  The tape cover was also produced so that the box opened left to right, in deference to the Hebrew nature of the contents.

As the summer of 1986 dawned at Salisbury and Wells there was a call for another tape of sketches, reverting to the original Pharisaios format.  There was no shortage of scripts offered, and halfway through the term “The Last Writes” was released.  (Just to mislead all and sundry the tape was numbered five instead of six!)

Hot on its heels that same summer term was the full-length Famous Five story entitled “Five Explore Al’s Bum” in which the original characters created by Enid Blyton were given an irreverent treatment and somewhat more complicated personalities! Along with Joanna, the besotted old cook, and Timmy the dog (who seemed to want to join with everyone and everyone in sight) the children delved into unexplored parts of both buildings and humour.

Both this and “Last Writes” were moderately successful, but it was becoming clear that the team were tired – and focused on the end of their theological training.  That did not detract from the hilarity of the tapes however, but simply pointed to yet another era slowly coming to an end.

Before moving on mention must be made of what was probably the most ambitious Pharisaios project embarked on to date – the Pharisaios Video.  An enhanced team of participants spent weeks filming sketches at various locations around the college, and a forty-five minute production resulted.  Shaky in places, but with some powerful satire, it was eventually screened before the whole college on Friday nights in the bar!  The problem is that the Pharisaios organization does not have a copy of this rare production – not even any of the scripts.  Perhaps someone out there does and would be willing and able to copy it for us!  All we have are a few photographic still to remind us of what was one of the most hilarious projects ever completed.

By the beginning of the summer of 1986 the whole Pharisaios team (Except one. She waited another sixteen years!) had had hands laid upon them by various bishops, and even ordained, and went their different ways to parishes up and down the lands.

During that summer the editor and a previous editor toasted each others health as (now) co-editors, and spend a nostalgic day with two tape decks and a microphone piecing together the “greatest hits” tape, “The College Years 1984-86,” almost as a tribute to the happy days at Salisbury.  Certainly as much alcohol was consumed during that day in a flat on the outskirts of Poole in Dorset as ever there was in the basement recording studio!

One co-editor was serving his title in a Somerset parish, and his compact Assistant Curate’s house had a large room in the roof space.  His imagination, and that of his co-editor, resulted in a not inexpensive spending spree at a local hardware superstore, and in the spring of 1987 a carpet was laid, a partition wall with door and window was constructed to divide the space, a workbench was built, and yards of sundry wiring took place.  The second Pharisaios sound studio arose like a phoenix from the sawdust!

Sound equipment was costly and there was no way to reproduce the Salisbury standards, but slowly tape decks, a new microphone and a Tascam mixer were installed, and once more the team (although reduced in number) were back in business.

“It All Happened After Evensong” was released later in 1987 with the tried and tested formula of short, unconnected sketches.  Copies were sent out to as many Pharisaios team members that we could contact.  Much fun was had and something of the old spirit was rekindled.  Hopes were high, but perhaps sadly unrealistic, although this has remained as one of the more accessible tapes to the laity as regards script content.

A short tape entitled “The Apocrypha” was then produced.  Distributed only to members and former members of Pharisaios, this contained many of the disreputable “out-takes” from the recording sessions.  Clearly noticeable were the effects of alcohol, nerves, tuna-fish salad, and the general inability to say lines without breaking into fits of giggles.  (The sub-title of the tape, James 3:5, becomes clear only when the text is looked up in the Authorised Version of the Bible. It is also worth mentioning that the team member featured on the cover now hold a responsible post as a chaplain in a major hospital!)

A sequel to Curates in Space was made, “Battlestar Charismatica.”  Few copies were distributed, but those who heard it found that the story-line had moved on.  In effect this was “Curates’” own “The Next Generation.”

Even a third episode (“Return to Zion”) emerged, with liberal applications of gin – only for severe recording faults to be discovered on the master tape months later when it came to the mix, rendering it useless.  It was stored however – and one of the editors is currently looking at repair and filtering.

Time was marching on, and parish and personal lives were changing.  By 1988 it was clear that no further Pharisaios tapes would be recorded, and the team fell apart.  By the following year the Somerset studio was dismantled and the house occupied by a newly-ordained Deacon.  Boxes of tapes, files and equipment were carefully stored away, and would gather dust for many years.  A silence descended on the period that began in 1983.Even occasional exchange of humour and scripts by post during the early 1990s brought no team activity or laughter. 

In 2001 the co-editors were in occasional contact by e-mail when one announced that had had produced a posting site entitled “Rector’s Ramblings.”  This harmless enough title proved to be none other than the first publication of Pharisaios on the World Wide Web – a concept that not even the most daring of thinkers would have imagined back in the early days.  A second site emerged mirroring the same format (actually re-telling the Curates in Space saga with new chapters) but quickly changed due to server problems – and the realization that more could be done.  Within seven weeks two linked, yet separate, web sites were built:  Pharisaios Weekly (which was to evolve into the Pharisaios Journal,) and the Colour SupplementPharisaios 2 – The Basement followed on a few weeks later.

Scripts and materials began to be exchanged and there was a growing level of coordination.  Eighteen years after the genre had emerged from the corridors of Salisbury and Wells Pharisaios was back in business and developing a readership network in the UK, USA and Australia.

The sites continued in these forms for over eighteen months, but there was more to be done.  We were using free servers such as Scriptmania and Tripod – good in themselves, but loaded with distracting features.  We needed somewhere we could really call “home.”  It took a while, but we now own our own internet domain and subsidiary sub-domains.

Now twenty-seven years after those well-thumbed and fading printed publication, and through the days of the audio-cassette, we are back.  During the heady days of the recording studios the Pharisaios catch-phrase heard was, “Tape Running!”

Now it’s, “Log On!”