The story behind Port Clarendon

There’s no Port Clarendon without San Serriffe.

Since we have started we wanted to share our passion for design with other people: fellows creatives, clients and with onlookers. We were looking for an idea that could show our love for design and typography.

During that time we, me and my wife, were living in London and it came to our knowledge the existence of San Serriffe.

On April Fools’ Day, 1977, the British newspaper The Guardian published a seven-page “special report” about San Serriffe, a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semi-colon-shaped islands. 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.

We decided to name our design boutique ‘Port Clarendon’ after that article. Port Clarendon is the name of a port city in the upper island, Upper Caisse.

Map of San Serriffe archipelago by Port Clarendon. Soon available on the store.

An April
Fools’ Day

The Guardian.

The Guardian produced a seven-page travel supplement on the tiny tropical republic of San Serriffe, “a small archipelago, its main islands grouped roughly in the shape of a semicolon, in the Indian Ocean”, which was apparently celebrating ten years of independence.

The country was in fact completely made up as an April Fool’s joke. The name San Serriffe and the shape of the islands were just the first clues; everything connected with San Serriffe was named after printing and typesetting terms. The name itself refers to sans serif typefaces; Bodoni, the capital, is a variety of typeface; the two main islands are called Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, phonetics of uppercase and lowercase; the indigenous islanders are known as flongs, a mould for making type, and the whole Republic is ruled over by the dictator General M J Pica, named after a unit of measurement in type.

If readers were not familiar with the professional printers’ terms, there were further suggestions that the feature was a joke in the articles describing different aspects of San Serriffe. The introduction celebrated the fact that parliamentary democracy had been “in part successful”, and the caption for one photo described “the many beaches from which terrorism has been virtually eliminated”. A section about education explained “in addition to the mainstream subjects a San Serriffe teenager may well be offered pearl-diving as an “A” level choice”.

The idea for the spoof supplement came from Philip Davies, an advertising rep who worked on special reports within the advertising department, regularly producing exactly this kind of advertiser-funded supplement for The Guarditan. In his book all about April Fools, Fooling Around, Martin Wainwright quotes Davies describing how he came up with the idea: “‘I was thinking about April Fool’s Day in 1977 and I thought, why don’t we just make a country up?’ Special reports editor Stuart St Clair Legge suggested the title that was to become a legend: San Serriffe, part typographical pun, part credible name for a tropical isle.”
Geoffrey Taylor took care of the editorial content, designing the islands and editing the feature. He enlisted a crew of other writers, including Mark Arnold-Forster (writer of The World at War TV series), Tim Radford, and Stuart St. Clair-Legge.

The report generated a huge response. The Guardian’s phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. However, San Serriffe did not actually exist. The report was an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke — one with a typographical twist, since numerous details about the island alluded to printer’s terminology.

The success of this hoax is widely credited with inspiring the British media’s enthusiasm for April Foolery in subsequent years.

Above: Page one of seven pages form the original article published by The Guardian in 1977, featuring the map of San Serriff by Geoffrey Taylor.

Links & References

For further reading, a selection of external links.

Pages from the Guardian on San Seriffe
Resource of the month from the GNM Archive – April, The Guardian. Spiking the cultural roots article from San Serriffe special report. The Leader’s rise to power in San Serriffe article from San Serriffe special report. Return to San Serriffe report from 1999, 22 years after the first. Every Guardian April Fools’ Day prank listed since 1974, The Guardian. San Serriffe report, by Berlin Sans. Extract from Fooling Around about San Serriffe. The Guardian Book of April Fool’s Day, Aurum Press, 2007. Foolish Things, April 1, 2006.

External pages about San Serriffe
San Serriffe, scanned pages form original Guardian spoof travel supplement from 1977 ( San Serriffe secrets of Guardian spy trial exhibit (Part 1), Operation Billiards. San Serriffe secrets of Guardian spy trial exhibit (Part 2), Operation Billiards. Republic of San Serriffe, Links To Micro-National and Fantasy Coins. Republic of San Serriffe, Chiefa Coins. Museum of hoaxes web page on San Serriffe. Museum of hoaxes Top 100 April Fool’s day hoaxes of all time. Wikitravel page on San Serriffe. The semicolonial island nation of San Serriffe article on the UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography website. Wikipedia page on San Serriffe. Cybernations page on San Serriffe.

External pages about Clarendon
Wikitravel page on Port Clarendon. Wikipedia page on Clarendon (typeface). Know your type: Clarendon, Idsgn a Design blog. We Love Clarendon. MyFonts Clarendon. I loveTypography, A Brief History of Type—Part 5.