Minister Men

29 05 2021

We’re sure there are many readers out there who will have fond memories of the Mr Men series of children’s books, written (and drawn) by Roger Hargreaves. The Mr Men have just reached their 50th anniversary and have come a long way since Mr Tickle first appeared in print in 1971.

Mr Grumpy, Mr Happy and all the other colourful characters, brought hours of entertainment to generations of kids, so it is very pleasing to see all this anniversary praise being directed towards Mr Hargreaves. 

But in all the fuss of the Mr Men celebrations, it’s been easy to overlook another slightly less high profile  50th anniversary – that of the locally produced ‘Minister Men’ books, written by Roger Harristweed. 

Harristweed was a third cousin of Roger Hargreaves on his great granny’s Cromore side. Amateur genealogists from Comunn Eachdraidh Phàircend have also worked out that both men were the maternal grandmother of the other famous Mr H*rgre*ves – thon R*ver*nd from L*nd*n who produced all them gay disco records and tried to be our MP a few years back – but they propaply weren’t.

Roger Harristweed first got the idea for his Minister Men books when his young son asked him to tell him who all the local Ministers were. Harristweed Jr, like many other folk in Lewis, had a hard time distinguishing the different men of the cloth, as they all looked and dressed the same. 

Grey hair, (fashioned by Johnny Geeper), Sunday hat from Mackenzie and MacSween’s and a black suit from Murdo MacLean’s was the in-look amongst the island’s fashionable Ministers, but if you saw one proceeding along Cromwell St on a Thursday morning, you’d be hard pushed to put a name to him, let alone a Denomination.  

Harristweed took the same approach to writing all his books. He would draw one of his, now iconic, Minister Men figures and come up with a short story telling a humorous aspect of a Minister’s day. The figures were colourfully illustrated using a wide pallet of greys and blacks.

The first Minister Men book, Minister Gloomy, was published in 1971 by the Gaelic publishing company Machair. 

Some of the most well known books in the series are:

Minister Trendy: A young, newly ordained Minister tries out mainland approaches to religion. He nips downtown to get new strings for his guitar from Fonn, but he goes out without his dog collar. He tries to get back into his Church for the Praise Band rehearsal but the Elder on the door doesn’t recognise him without the dog collar and won’t let him in. The praise band start playing AC/DC songs instead. 

Minister Gloomy: He inadvertently laughs at a joke from a Xmas Cracker and so has to leave the Church in disgrace.

Minister Strict: So strict he doesn’t approve of walking up stairs on a Sunday, so can’t get into his pulpit.

Minister Schism: Has to barricade himself into the Manse to stop the ‘stay behinds’ from reclaiming it, following the latest church fall out over a spelling mistake found in the 1751 Parish Records. 

Minister Longprayer: Goes for the World Record for Praying on a whim, but has to contend with the congregation trying to sneak out after an hour so they don’t miss ‘Call The Midwife’.

Minister Òrduigheantourist: Invites himself to guest preach at all the other ministers’ communions so that he can score a slap-up dinner at their manses afterwards, but lays on stale scones, cold tea and out-of-date sgadan when it’s his turn. Spontaneously combusts in an act of divine retribution after a surfeit of guga in Cross.

Harristweed had huge problems keeping up with demand for new Minister Men books every time there was a church schism and breakaway. In all he produced 2,598 Minister Men books. 

The author expired from exhaustion in 1988 when his publisher faxed him to demand another 300 new titles, because they’d heard that the FP/APC split was brewing. 

Plans for a series of ‘Little Ms Minister’ books (to reflect the success of the Little Miss books) did not make it through the planning stage due to the amount of tutting that took place in pulpits across the islands.