We launched in January 1977
28 January 1977: Our first-ever edition was mailed out of a back room at London Bible College, as it was then known. The highlight of the issue was an interview with music journalist Steve Turner about music in the sixties and the emergence of punk rock, which was happening at the time. About the Sex Pistols, he said: ‘If Johnny Rotten is reflecting this anger and anti-apathy stance then he’s got to have some sort of gut in his voice. You can’t croon and sing about life in Southwark.’
Ship of Fools 2, January 1979
January 1979, South Croydon: Ship of Fools 2 led with an interview with the legendary Steve Fairnie of Fish Co, Writz (and later Famous Names and Techno Twins). ‘I’ve changed my job,’ said Fairnie. ‘Instead of an evangelist, I’m a rock’n’roll singer.’
Ship of Fools 3, 1979
June 1979, South Croydon: Our June 79 issue explored Christian celebrity and Christian conversion. We interviewed musician Gordon Giltrap who became a Christian through an intense religious experience but later found Christianity ‘just wasn’t me’.
Our editorial team, 1979
June 1979: Our editorial team pictured in the third edition of Ship of Fools (left to right): Simon Jenkins (editor), Steve Goddard and Iwan Russell-Jones (co-editors).
Ship of Fools 4, 1979
December 1979, Ealing: 1979 was a good year for us: we published three issues of the magazine inside 12 months. SOF 4 demurred from the growing cult of CS Lewis. ‘And so the legend gathers accretions, mostly on the level of the fan-club magazine… the healthy walks, the pipe smoking and the Tuesday lunchtime beer in The Bird and Baby…’
Ship of Fools 5, 1980
August 1980, Ealing: Mind-bogglingly, we didn’t splash it on the cover that the starring feature of SOF 5 was a double interview with theologian JAT Robinson of Honest to God fame, plus author and social critic Os Guinness. We visited them in Cambridge and Oxford and asked them about the state of evangelicalism in the 1970s and 80s. Said Robinson: ‘I always have thought that evangelicals have got some strong characteristics. They present the gospel on a fairly narrow front, which has great strengths…’
Ship of Fools 6, 1981
January 1981, Ealing: Our sixth issue of the magazine led with the plight of the single Christian in churches which couldn’t see them for looking. The feature, by ‘Nikki Stone’ said: ‘Why, when it comes to the subject of boy/girl relationships, is the available teaching so limited? Why are the writers and speakers so obsessed with sex? Isn’t there anything else to be said?’
Ship of Fools 7, 1981
June 1981, Ealing: Folk hero Arlo Guthrie was the star of our seventh issue, in the only interview he gave on a visit to London. Commenting on Bob Dylan’s first album as a Christian convert, Guthrie said: ‘Blowing in the Wind was a far greater song than anything on Slow Train. And its application to spiritual life was far greater.’
Ship of Fools 8, 1981
December 1981, Ealing: The big piece in SOF 8 was an interview with Linda Mbeje, a Christian community worker employed by black churches to encourage self-help projects in Soweto. This was nine years before the release of Nelson Mandela and apartheid ruled South Africa. Mbeje talked about the contamination of apartheid: ‘Each time I go to church and I kneel at the altar rail to receive Holy Communion with a white man kneeling next to me, I know that he’s a potential murderer.’
Ship of Fools 9, 1982
May 1982, Ealing: Pope John Paul II dropped in on the UK in May/June 1982, and our special souvenir issue welcomed him with pieces on papal tat, an analysis of his Polish background… and horoscope readings culled from the press by Madam Romana. ‘I looked up His Holiness’ star sign with anticipation,’ she said. ‘Could he be anything other than a Virgo? Imagine my delight to discover he was in fact born under the sign of Taurus – the Bull!’
Ship of Fools at Greenbelt, 1982
28 August 1982, Knebworth House: Selling Ship of Fools at Greenbelt in August 1982, when the festival was at Knebworth Park, Herts. On duty on the SOF stand in this picture are Iwan and Amanda Russell-Jones.
Final print edition, 1982
October 1982: The last time we were seen in print was October 1982, with our 10th issue. We abandoned Ship of Fools the following April. The lead feature was a splendid exposition of faith and comedy by playwright and director Murray Watts. ‘I believe we need to learn how to be a fool for Christ without being a superspiritual idiot,’ he said. Which was a good message to bring our print days to a close.
The tumbleweed years 1983-97
From 1 April 1983 to 1 April 1998, we did nada on Ship of Fools. Photo: Charles Henry
Website launch, 1998
1 April 1998, Acton: We launched onto the high seas of the Net on April Fool’s Day 1998, reviving Ship of Fools 15 years after the final print edition. The website came complete with the Mystery Worshipper, Gadgets for God and our rapture prediction on the homepage – all of them still going strong.
The 12 Days of Kitschmas, 1999
December 1999: Turn on the Xmas lights, cue the mall muzak, release Santa’s elves into the grotto, stick Cliff’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ on endless repeat, and welcome to Kitschmas. In 1999 we launched our first list of 12 ‘What Would Jesus Buy?’ gifts, as nominated for their wondrous tackiness by shipmates around the world. The 12 Days of Kitschmas proved so popular with the media that we also ran it in 2000, 03, 05, 07, 08 and 2011. Seen here: The St Sebastian Pin Cushion (2007) and the Nativity Rubber Ducks (2008).
Bulletin boards, 2000
9 May 2000: We ran a bulletin board on Ship of Fools from July 1998, but in 2000 we relaunched with a scheme straight out of Dante – three main boards called Heaven, Purgatory and Hell, plus several others. We think our boards are now the longest running religious boards on the Net. They still generate over 1.5m pages per month.
Ned Flanders Night, 2001
25 August 2001: Ned Flanders Night played to packed houses at Greenbelt, first in 2001 and then again in 2002. Our tribute to Ned, Homer’s Bible-loving neighborino in The Simpsons, included Ned lookalikes (see pic), Simpsons clips, our tribute band, Ned Zeppelin, and parody worship choruses Ned would love, which led to revival almost breaking out in the audience. Hi-diddly-ho indeed.
The Ark, 2003
20 April 2003: The Ark was our internet reality gameshow which ran for 40 days and 40 nights in a beautiful 3D ark. Twelve contestants battled it out to avoid walking the plank on the eviction nights, and just one winner made it onto Mt Ararat on Day 40. It was ambitious, it was crazy, it was biblical… but somehow it worked brilliantly. Click the pic for more info. The Ark combined Shockwave 3D with a multi-user server environment and was created by specialmoves.com, producers of the award-winning Osbournes website on MTV. The project was generously sponsored by Jerusalem Productions.
Church of Fools, 2004
11 May 2004: Church of Fools was our four-month experiment in online church, starting in May 2004. It was delivered in a 3D computer game-like environment where worshippers could walk their avatars into a church, sit them in a pew and take part in a genuine service of worship. Church of Fools was succeeded by St Pixels, which has continued as an online church. Church of Fools combined Shockwave 3D with a multi-user server environment and was created by specialmoves.com, producers of the award-winning Osbournes website on MTV. The project was generously sponsored by the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Bishop of London.
Mystery Worshipper Sunday, 2005
24 April 2005: We unilaterally declared Sunday 24th April 2005 to be Mystery Worshipper Sunday in Greater London. Based on the mystery shopper concept, we arranged for 70 Greater London churches to be visited by a team of volunteer sacred sleuths, who reported on (for example) the hardness of pews, the warmth of the welcome and the length of the sermon. The winner of Best Report received her trophy at the Christian Resources Exhibition. Read more here.
The Laugh Judgment, 2005
29 August 2005: While the UK government sought to outlaw the vilification of religion in 2005, we launched a search for the funniest and the most offensive religious joke ever and then debated the 951 our readers emailed us. The competition prompted Julie Burchill, Britain’s spikiest newspaper columnist, to write to The Times: ‘If one must choose a modern symbol of what is so good about Britain I would choose shipoffools.com.’ Read more here.
The Southwark Pilgrimage, 2007
8 December 2007: A year after the Bishop of Southwark participated a wee bit too enthusiastically at a Christmas reception in the Irish Embassy, London, and was soon after found, tired and devotional, in the back seat of someone else’s car in Crucifix Lane, Southwark, we decided to reverence the event with a pilgrimage retracing his steps. We met at the Irish Embassy (see pic) to kiss the steps, and made our way to Crucifix Lane, pausing for refreshments along the way. Read more here.
Chapter & Worse, 2009
30 August 2009: You don’t need to be a purple-faced atheist to notice that the Bible is a pretty mixed book. For every hymn to the loveliness of love, there’s a story about God squishing someone because they worshipped the wrong god. For every wise and helpful saying, there’s an incomprehensible law. For every verse Martin Luther King proclaimed in the streets of Alabama, there’s one that Fred Phelps shouts outside gay funerals. That’s why we launched a search for the Bible’s worst verse in 2009. Read more here.
Roll on Christmas, 2011
18 November 2011: Part pantomime, part viral (we hoped!) game, Roll on Christmas was a nativity play featuring all the usual suspects from the Bethlehem story – played by your Facebook friends. The play was a two-minute farce about how the nativity story gets lost in the madness that is modern Christmas.