A list supposedly detailing the 20 best put-downs from television history has been put together by the on-demand service UKTV Play. You can scroll down to the bottom of this article to read them for yourself, but the entire thing is an unquestionable travesty.
The crimes committed by the list are numerous. The entries, almost without exception, are rooted too firmly in the past. They’re drawn from too few shows. On paper, they’re too frilly and smug to work as put-downs. Worst of all, none of them come from Malcolm Tucker.
This is a catastrophic oversight. The list should have only two entries:
1) The moment when Dipsy listens to the other Teletubbies tell a joke, then says: “Not very funny,” and walks off.
Zing! Dipsy tells its like is on Teletubbies.
2) Everything ever said by Malcolm Tucker.
I recently rewatched The Thick of It and, purely in terms of blunt force density, Malcolm Tucker is the rightful winner of this list. For example, the 17th entry on the list comes from The Inbetweeners, when Will says: “A few years ago, I went to see King Kong at the cinema; now I’m on a date with her.” Now, compare that to this Tucker line, from the fourth series of The Thick of It:
You are not a grandee, you are a fucking blandee. No one knew what the fuck you stood for. Political fucking mist; no substance, no weight. You’ve got all the charm of a rotting teddy bear by a graveside. And, by the way, women fucking hate you. I can show you the polling. They think you come across like a jittery mother at a wedding. The best thing you ever did in your flatlining non-leadership was call for an inquiry, because it will fuck the government and it will fuck you. Now, please, just fuck off back to your home, you headless frump, and prepare for your column in Grazia.
That’s not just a great put-down. That’s eight great put-downs in a row, all of which best anything in the official put-down list. That’s astonishing.
There are others, too. “Have you ever travelled, like, a hundred miles per hour, head first, through a tunnel full of pig shit?” “I know politicians and hot air are supposed to go together, but I’ve never actually seen one vaporise.” “Do you know 90% of household dust is made of dead human skin? That’s what you are to me.” “I’ll fucking snap your fucking cock off.” UKTV Play’s list would have been both more accurate and several times funnier if it had just been a hyperlink to The Thick of It’s Wikiquote page.
As great as Peter Calpaldi is in Doctor Who, with his big perm and his quavery voice and his innate sense of humanity, I’m always going to miss him as Malcolm Tucker. That man was a shark, and he understood that a put-down only works if you stand on the victim’s neck and don’t let up until you’re drenched in their blood.
Anyway, here’s that weird, faffy, non-Tucker put-down list in its entirety.
The late, great Caroline Aherne as Mrs Merton.
1 Mrs Merton (The Mrs Merton Show): [to Debbie McGee] “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”
2 Del Boy (Only Fools and Horses): “Dear old grandad, bless him. He was about as useful as a pair of sunglasses on a bloke with one ear.”
3 Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder): “Your brain, for example, is so minute, Baldrick, that if a hungry cannibal cracked your head open there wouldn’t be enough to cover a small water biscuit.”
4 Captain Mannering (Dad’s Army): “You stupid boy!”
5 Basil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers): “Oh dear, what happened? Did you get entangled in the eiderdown again? Not enough cream in your eclair? Hmm? Or did you have to talk to all your friends for so long that you didn’t have time to perm your ears?”
6 Patsy Stone (Absolutely Fabulous): “I told her the only thing she looked good in was a body bag.”
7 Del Boy (Only Fools and Horses): “Look at grandad. His brain went years ago; now his legs have gone. There’s only the middle bit of him left!”
8 Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock): “Don’t talk out loud, you lower the IQ of the whole street.”
9 Father Ted (Father Ted): “Dougal, is there anything on your mind? Let me rephrase that …”
10 Margaret (One Foot in the Grave): [on Victor] “He’s the most sensitive person I’ve ever met, and that’s why I love him and why I constantly want to ram his head through a television screen.”
11 Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder): “The eyes are open, the mouth moves but Mr Brain has long since departed, hasn’t he, Percy?”
12 Jim Royle (The Royle Family): Norma: “Is this hat too far forward? Jim: “No, we can still see your face.”
13 Patsy Stone (Absolutely Fabulous): “One more facelift on this one and she’ll have a beard.”
14 Alan Partridge (I’m Alan Partridge): “Would it be terribly rude to stop listening to you and speak to somebody else?”
15 Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder): “Now, the sort of person we’re looking for is an aggressive lout with the intelligence of a four-year-old and the sexual sophistication of a donkey.”
16 Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey): [To Lady Cora about her American mother] “I’m so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.”
17 Will (The Inbetweeners): “A few years ago, I went to see King Kong at the cinema; now I’m on a date with her.”
18 Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder): “Even when we were babies, I had to show you which bit of your mother was serving the drinks.”
19 Moss (The IT Crowd): “I can see why she’s divorced, she’s very divorceable. As soon as you meet her you can’t wait to take her to court to get rid of her.”
20 Victor Meldrew (One Foot in the Grave): “It’s like hiring a man eating a shark as your children’s swimming instructor.”