Brow Beat

Eccentric Vicars in British Pathé Newsreels, Ranked

A color still of a wrestling match in the 1960s. In the foreground, one wrestler is getting to his feet as a vicar, refereeing, counts him out. The second wrestler watches from the right.
Rev. Thompson referees a wrestling match. British Pathé

British Pathé’s extraordinary collection of newsreels is an essential record of the defining images and experiences of twentieth century life, from creepy puppets to stuntmen riding motorcycles off cliffs while wearing faulty parachutes. And like any comprehensive history of the twentieth century, it also features plenty of films about eccentric vicars! Here, at long last, is Slate’s official ranking of the greatest collared weirdos who have ever appeared in Pathé newsreels.

#5: Milkman Vicar

There’s nothing that absurd or amusing about a vicar and his wife delivering milk, beyond the novelty of seeing anyone delivering milk, but because this newsreel was created in 1963, the footage has been incongruously set to a horn-heavy cha-cha number, specifically “Cha-Cha-Mobile,” by the Skymasters Hilversum Dance Orchestra. If you happen to be a milkman, a vicar, or a milkman vicar, consider incorporating this classic from the Music de Wolfe library into your daily routine!

If you’re not a milkman, vicar, or milkman vicar looking to freshen up your playlist, however, this British Pathé newsreel holds limited appeal.

#4: Traveling Vicar

A vicar driving a bus is nearly as dull as a vicar delivering milk, but what a bus! That’s a Bedford OB with a beautiful two-tone paint job, and Rev. Bill Rodda at the wheel with a cigarette dangling off his lip. To critics who accuse me of ranking this higher than “Milkman Vicar” on the sole basis that it amuses me to think of the bus-driving vicar as Rev. Bill “Hot” Rodda, I say, “You are absolutely right, and you are right to think less of me for it, but my decision on this matter is final.”

#3: Vicar Sells Mobile Church

What’s cooler than driving a bus to church? Driving a bus that is also a church. What’s cooler than that? Deciding the whole church-on-a-bus thing was a bad idea and offering your church bus for sale, in the hopes that a wealthy American wants to purchase a church on wheels. It’s hard to believe Rev. Apps found a buyer, though: What’s the point of having a double-decker bus-church in a country where they don’t make newsreels about eccentric vicars?

#2: Railway Vicar

It’s good for people to have hobbies, it’s delightful that Rev. Teddy Boston of Cadeby built himself an elaborate model railway, and it seems entirely credible that, as the narrator notes, “he uses this elaborate toy of his to win the hearts of youngsters in his parish.” But creating a replica of the Great Western Railway’s run from Newton Abbot to Totnes as it appeared three decades earlier is one thing; spending three straight hours carefully reenacting a complete 24-hour cycle of GWR railway timetables from the 1930s is something else entirely. How does someone so visibly obsessed with precisely following arbitrary instructions just because they were written down years ago end up working for the Church of England to begin with?

On the other hand, Rev. Boston was the model for the “Fat Clergyman” in Rev. W. Audrey’s series of railway books (first appearance: Small Railway Engines), which was the basis for Thomas the Tank Engine, and he also installed a real narrow-gauge railway in his rectory garden, which is more than enough for a solid second place finish.

#1: Wrestling Parson

Wrestling parson? Wrestling parson! WRESTLING PARSON!!! Rev. Reg Thompson was not only a wrestling parson and a former Canadian ranch hand, but he also had a horse named Flossie that, according to this newsreel’s narrator, “he bought from the gypsies to do his parish rounds.” The horse drinks beer, the wrestling match footage splashes vivid colors on a pitch-black background, and at the end, for no apparent reason, are 34 frames of what appears to be some sort of Pathé promotional footage of a woman in a showgirl outfit tipping her hat while sitting atop a golden rooster:

A woman in a showgirl outfit tips her hat while sitting sidesaddle atop a giant golden statue of a rooster.
“Well, hello! I didn’t see you come in.” British Pathé

For all these reasons and more, we are thrilled to announce that the Rev. Reginald Thompson of Moulton Chapel is Slate’s British Pathé Newsreel Archive Eccentric Vicar of the Year!