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.
San Serriffe is an island nation in the Southern Ocean. Owing to a peculiarity of ocean currents and erosion, its exact position varies. A recent report locating it in the Bering Sea was presumably an error. On 1 April 2006 The Guardian reported that San Serriffe was then just off New Zealand's South Island.
San Serriffe is an archipelago consisting of two main islands and a number of smaller ones. Of the larger islands, the more northerly (the Caissa Superiore or Upper Caisse) is roughly round and the more southerly (the Caissa Inferiore or Lower Caisse) round but with a promontory extending south-westwards from the south-east, at Thirty Point. The two major islands are separated by the Shoals of Adze, dominated by Cap Em. A major inland feature is a swamp, the Woj of Type. As a result of the shapes and orientation of the major islands, the nation is shaped like a semicolon.
Fictitious Railways of San Serriffe
(as surveyed, 1977)
The capital, Bodoni, is in the centre of the Caissa Superiore, and is served by an international airport. It is linked by fast highways to the major ports, including Port Clarendon and Port Elrod, which both provide ample commercial shipping facilities.
Upper Caisse in particular is well served by a network of railway lines serving Bodoni, the airport, and the major coastal towns, including the phosphate mining and processing region in the north east. The main line, built by the Great North Bodoni Railway Company, had its own golf club, at Port Baskerville.
A ferry connects Adze on the south coast of the northern island to Cap Em on the north coast of the southern island and there were plans to build a west coastal line as far as Gill Cameo, but it is not known if this line was completed.
Possibly because of its reportedly remote and shifting location, the full history of San Serriffe has never been adequately told, but these basic details are known.
- 1421. "Discovered by adventurers recruited by John Street, an English admirer of Henry the Navigator. The crew made their historic landfall in the Shoals of Adze." (Guardian, 1 April 1977)
- 1432–1439. Colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese.
- 1659. Annexed by Great Britain.
- 1796. The schooner Excelsior, under Sir Charles Clarendon, runs aground just east of the islands, prompting Clarendon to observe in his diary that 'the land is being eaten bye the see and raising hazardes to the Island Easte'.
- 1815. Ceded to Portugal.
- 1824–1836. The Condominium - condominium in this context refers to the joint governance of a middle ground by two otherwise sovereign nations.
- 1 April 1967. Independence; a social democratic government takes control.
- June 1967. Colonel Hispalis seizes control.
- August 1969. General Minion seizes control.
- 11 May 1971. General Maria-Jesu Pica assumes responsibility for the government, institutes martial law and assumes full dictatorial powers in response to "foreign terrorist infiltration". This leads to nationwide protests, escalating into civil war and 23 years of chaos and anarchy.
- 1972. San Serrife expelled from Commonwealth and Organisation of Itinerant States (OIS).
- 1973. Oil discovered off Caissa Superiore.
- 1974. San Serriffe readmitted to Commonwealth and OIS, and invited to join NATO.
- 1977. A Guardian feature on the islands prompts $500 million of inward investment in just 12 months.
- 1982. General Pica rescues flagging popularity by personally leading commando force to liberate the island of Ova Mata, a Serriffean protectorate.
- 1989. General Pica is deposed by cabal of senior officers who declare they are tired of listening to his stories about the Ova Mata campaign. General Melior, formerly Pica's gardener, is appointed president in 1990.
- 12 May 1997. First general election. Antonio Bourgeois swept to power.
The native people of San Serriffe are known as the Flong. The dominant group are of European stock, the descendants of colonists, known as colons. There is also a large mixed-race group, known as semi-colons. In the last available census (1973), as reported in the 1 April 1977 Guardian, the population was 1,782,724, with approximately 640,000 colons and semi-colons; 574,000 Flongs; 271,000 Creoles; 117,000 Malaysians; 92,000 Arabs; and 88,000 persons of other ethnic groups.
For many years following independence in 1967, San Serriffe had an autocratic form of government under military strongman General Pica. Democratic elections were held in 1997, and the winner was the charismatic Antonio Bourgeois.
Among the cultural highlights are:
The relaxation of the islands' strict anti-pornography laws under the Bourgeois government has led to the publication of a series of risqué novels by Serriffean journalists, collectively referred to as the "Times Nude Romances".
San Serriffe has made little impression on the international sporting world, apart from their defeat of England at football in 1999. The application of the national Rugby Union team, the Kwotes, to participate in the Rugby Union World Cup 1991 was rejected by a Twickenham official on the grounds that "we don't have any four-figure scoreboards, old boy." The islands' annual endurance challenge race, involving running, mountain biking and windsurfing from Cap Em to the German immigrant village of Ems in the Caissa Inferiore (popularly known as the Two Em Dash), now attracts international participants, and it has been some years since it was won by a Serriffean athlete.
In October 2008 Donald Knuth established the Bank of San Serriffe (in Thirty Point, Caissa Inferiore, San Serriffe), which is an offshore institution that has branches in Blefuscu and Elbonia on the planet Pincus. He opened an account for anyone who received a cheque from him as a reward for discovering errors in his books.
- "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