San Serriffe is a fictional island nation created for April Fools' Day, 1977, by Britain's Guardian newspaper. An elaborate description of the nation, using puns and plays on words relating to typography (such as "sans-serif" and names of common fonts), was reported as legitimate news. Because typographic terminology had not yet spread through widespread use of desktop publishing and word processing software, these jokes were easily missed by the general public, and many readers were fooled.
A seven-page hoax supplement appeared in The Guardian on 1 April 1977, published in the style of contemporary reviews of foreign countries, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the island's independence, complete with themed advertisements from major companies. The original idea was to place the island in the Atlantic Ocean near Tenerife, but because of the ground collision of two Boeing 747s there a few days before publication it was moved to the Indian Ocean, near the Seychelles Islands.
San Serriffe was one of the most famous and successful hoaxes of recent decades; it has become part of the common cultural heritage of literary humour, and a secondary body of literature has been derived from it. The nation was reused for similar hoaxes in 1978, 1980 and 1999. In April 2009 the geography, history and culture of San Serriffe featured heavily in the paper's cryptic crossword. A reader registering on the Guardian website may select San Serriffe as his or her country of origin.
The idea for the hoax came from the Guardian′s Special Reports Manager Philip Davies. In a 2007 interview he said "The Financial Times was always doing special reports on little countries I'd never heard of. I was thinking about April Fool's Day 1977 and I thought, why don't we just make a country up?" Special Reports editor Stuart St Clair Legge suggested the name San Serriffe. Geoffrey Taylor designed the semicolon-shaped map of the island, based on a shrunken version of New Zealand.
Initially, the supplement featuring the fictitious archipelago was to be a single page. However, the newspaper realized that a larger, more in-depth review would generate greater revenue in the form of advertising.
Despite many people being fooled, many others recognised the joke and became part of it. The Guardian received hundreds of letters from readers describing memorable holidays to the islands. It also received a letter from the "San Serriffe Liberation Front" critical of the pro-government slant to the supplement.
A large body of secondary work about San Serriffe has been written since 1977. A Friends of San Serriffe club was established, with its "life president" writing annual April Fools' Day letters to the paper. Bird & Bull Press published several books about esoteric subjects relating to the country, including Booksellers of San Serriffe, First Fine Silver Coinage Of The Republic Of San Serriffe and The Most Inferior Execution Known Since the Dawn of the Art of Marbling Collected by the Author During a Five Year Expedition to the Republic of San Serriffe.
- Phaic Tăn (subtitled Sunstroke on a Shoestring) which is another fictitious country, created as a parody travel guidebook examining imaginary country Phaic Tăn. The book was written by Australians Tom Gleisner, Santo Cilauro, and Rob Sitch. It is the effective sequel to Molvanîa which was also published by Jetlag Travel and written by Tom Gleisner, Santo Cilauro, and Rob Sitch.
- Molvania (subtitled A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry) is a parody travel guide for another fictitious country, in Central Europe, by the creators of Phaic Tăn.
- San Sombrero (A Land of Carnivals, Cocktails and Coups), provides travel advice for the adventurous reader. (See, for example, http://www.molvania.com/sansombrero/ which contains video clips and detailed notes on food and drink, and local history and culture. Travel books will never be the same.)
- "Visit San Serriffe". The Guardian. 1 April 1978.
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (1978). The World's Worst Marbled Papers: Being a Collection of Ten contemporary San Serriffean Marbled Papers. Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Co. (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (1980). The Private Presses of San Serriffe. Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Company (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (1988). The first fine silver coinage of the Republic of San Serriffe: the Bird & Bull Press commemorative 100 coronas: including an account of this legendary republic and its connection with the Bird & Bull Press: with description of similar numismatic rarities and a 30-year checklist of work produced by the Press, 1958-1988. Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Company (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (2001). The Booksellers of San Serriffe. Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Company (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (2010). The San Serriffe Postal Service. Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Company (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Foolish things, David McKie, The Guardian, 1 April 2006 explaining how the original hoax came about and the impact it caused
- Some rough guides to San Seriffe, The Guardian, 5 April 1999
- How young Tony Blair tuned into a new type of politics, The Guardian, 2 April 1999
- Return to San Serriffe, Berlin Sans, The Guardian, 1 April 1999
- The leader's rise to power in San Serriffe, Mark Arnold-Forster, The Guardian, 1 April 1977
- Spiking the cultural roots, Tim Radford, The Guardian, 1 April 1977
- San Serriffe travel guide from Wikivoyage - 2007 April Fools Project.
- Museum of Hoaxes the history of the hoax
- San Serriffe history with coin image