back to article Oscar Wilde voted top Brit wit

Oscar Wilde has secured top spot in a poll to discover Britain's top wit - pipping Spike Milligan into an honourable second place. Wilde saw off tough competition from a field which also included Winston Churchill, Jeremy Clarkson, Brian Clough, and Stephen Fry in the top 10 of the Dave poll. Dave is, in case you're wondering …


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  1. Leigh Smith


    I heard they wanted to call the channel Rodney but the execs at UKTV kept calling it Dave.

  2. brendan

    Whats really funny is

    Whats really funny is that both Spike Milligan and Oscar Wilde were Irish.

  3. Eoghan Thompson

    There's something funny about all this....

    Not one to be overtly pedantic, but I'm afraid Oscar Wilde was Irish, not British. We didn't mind when Bob Geldolf suddenly became British after Live Aid, cos we were glad to get rid of him, but this is getting silly... Who's next? Bono (actually you can have him too!)

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Up with which I will not put...

    Except, it seems, there is little or no evidence of him saying it...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I look forward to their poll on the great English mathematicians of all time, and where Ramanujan places for his invention of calculus.

  6. Colin Jackson


    Is this wankery taking blokishness to the extreme or what? A channel called 'Dave'? Liam Gallager and Maggie Thatch are wits now? In what taxi-driving universe did that happen in?

    Spike wasn't born Irish. He took citizenship later on in life, more for kicks than anything else ("We're awful short of people"). I believe he retained his duel citizenship though.

  7. Ian

    And U2 are Britians most successful Rock Band ????

    As usual, the brits decide to claim anything good out of Ireland is british when it suits them. As Brendan stated, Both Oscar and Spike while having been very witty people were both very much Irish. It reminds me of a very embarrasing moment on BBC Sport, when Barry McGuigan was boxing, the clueless commentator called him "One of Britains greatest Sportsmen" at the beginning of the fight, but several rounds later (when McGuigan had been beaten) Barry suddenly became Irish again, when the commentator announced "It was a sad loss for the Irish today". When will you ever get over the fact that we sent you packing a long time ago and are in no way a part of Britain/United Kingdom/Common Wealth or any other British Colony.


  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: Whats really funny is

    Erm, if it was 'top English wit' you would have a point, it's British wit so you don't. The Republic of Ireland was formed after Wilde and Milligan were born; when they were born the entire of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.

    Oh, and Milligan was actually born in India and grew up in Burma - it took him years to get a British passport, so that's more of a reason to exclude him. (Mind you more than one joke he wrote bears more than a striking resemblance to material Jack Benny used a decade earlier - e.g. see the world's funniest joke "let's make sure he's dead")

    What is funny about Wilde taking the number one spot though, is virtually all of the famous lines found in quotation books by Wilde are lines from his plays - which makes many people attribute them to the man's coversational wit, rather than his writing skills.

    Of course, this doesn't mean he isn't one of the greatest wits of all time (contemporaries describe him as incredibly witty), but there are incredibly few examples of his wit in coversation.

    It's worth remembering that there have been plenty of comic writers/playwrights that can produce wonderful witty lines, but only after taking time to craft them and are ratehr humourless otherwise.

  9. Richard Waterhouse

    Wilde's Nationality

    Oscar Wilde was British. This is evidenced by the fact that he was Irish and he lived and died during the period where the RoI was part of the UK.

  10. Paul Johnston


    Spike Milligan was born in India so maybe we can also have Ramanujan

  11. Ferry Boat

    Dave or Die

    Was this survey done by my mate Dave? He's a bit thick sometimes.

    Wilde was Irish. So was Milligan, although he lived and worked in the UK for most of his life. I seem to remember he was born in India.

    That Clarkson chap is not British either. He's a potato in disguise.

    That bloke is nicking something from my coat. 'Hey, you!'.

  12. Ben Parr-Ferris

    They were British

    Oscar Wilde died in 1900, 21 years before the foundation of the Irish Free State, when the whole of Ireland was still part of Britain.

    Spike Milligan was born in British India (what is now Burma), and lived thereafter in England, even serving in the British army. His only connection to Ireland was his father's birth.

    Of course, if you want to be really controversial, you could also point out that Ireland is part of the British Isles, geographically. Even if they don't like it.

  13. shane
    Thumb Down

    so stephen fry is britan's top wit

    seeing as oscar wilde and spike milligan are both irish

  14. Frank Bough


    Typical of the bloody Irish - anyone who's grandfather's even seen Dublin on the horizon gets claimed as a native. Ireland - the country with the world's largest population who have never even been to the place.

    Spike Milligan 'very much Irish' - give me a break.

    Wikipedia says:

    "Milligan was born in Ahmednagar, India, on 16 April 1918, to an Irish-born father who was serving in the British Indian Army. He spent most of his childhood in Rangoon (Yangon), capital of Burma.

    Though he lived most of his life in England and served in the British Army, he was refused a British passport in 1960. This was partly because he had been born outside Britain to an Irish father, Leo Milligan (of Sligo, Ireland), but also because he refused to take the oath of allegiance, despite advice from Prince Charles. Milligan took Irish citizenship instead.[citation needed] He continued to live and work in the United Kingdom"

  15. cor

    Ok guys, lets stop the old sores being opened again....

    Just to be clear on a few things :

    I am not sure of Spike's definite nationality, but a person born, raised and educated in Ireland is, was and will always be Irish, not British.

    That is a *British* decree, not mine.

    If you look through your history you will see that Ireland has never been considered part of Britain by the British government.

    Even today, look at your passports: The Kingdom of Great Britain *AND* Northern Ireland.

    'nuff said.

    But I think this poll should have been titled " Top English Language Wit". Then it could have included far more people, and no-one would feel toe-trodden.

    Now, let's all sit down and have a pint of Guinness brewed in Belgium.

  16. The Mighty Spang


    How do you define an ishness? I know there are dubious examples like greg rusedski but Spike was born in India under the British Raj. He then moved to England and lived his whole life there apart from stints in Australia. After some form of cockup with children of the Raj's nationality he took Irish citizenship.

    Please define why you think he is Irish? My grandfather was italian, that doesnt make me italian.

    anyway the true crime on this is that Peter Cook is missing. Bloody kids.

  17. cor

    Oh, the Spikey question...

    From the BBC:

    "Spike was born in India. Although his father was Irish and his mother English, his attempts to take British nationality were thwarted because he had to swear an oath of allegiance to the crown. This he declined to do since he felt it ridiculous to be taking the oath with a batch of foreigners. So, he took an Irish passport instead."

  18. Paul Slater

    Stephen Fry is a genius

    Stephen Fry once said "I might look stupid, but I'm not clever..." Fantastic

  19. John Stag

    Spike Milligan was Indian

    Spike Milligan was born in India. He took an Irish passport because the British refused to give him one.


  20. Henry

    Wilde was a BRITISH citizen

    Wilde was a British citizen. It's comparable to a contemporary Scot saying they are Scottish and not British - take a look at your passport....

  21. Paul

    RE: Ok guys, lets stop the old sores being opened again....

    I am not sure of Spike's definite nationality, but a person born, raised and educated in Ireland is, was and will always be Irish, not British.

    So hes Indian or English then, since he did non of those?

  22. cor

    What about the greatest of them all ...

    Terry Wogan.


    <coat grabber launched>

    .. on me way..

    <coat stuck in slamming door>

  23. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle


    OK, Oscar Wilde is definitely Irish. But claiming Spike is a little less cut and dried. He had a Irish father, but an English mother, born in India and spent most of his childhood in Burma, served in the British army and then lived most of his adult life in England. He did have an Irish passport, but only after his application for a British one was refused (and he, in turn, then refused to take the oath of allegiance required to get one).

    I'd say, boiling all that down, quite a few countries could claim him. Best bet? He was Indian...

  24. Andrew Moore

    Not again!!!

    Yet another "he's Irish, no he's not" debate.

    In which case I would like to throw in Sir Arthur Wellesley aka The Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin and once famously said "Just because you are born in a stable, it does not make you a horse."

  25. Patrick O'Reilly

    Alas he was Irish!

    Here we go again with the British laying claim to another Irishman.

    All the successful ones they claim as their own.

    You don't see anyone calling Gandi, the greatest british man that ever lived.

  26. Declan

    Great Britain and Ireland

    Ok, here's a question what is "Britain"? Before independence Ireland was part of "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". After the Republic became independent the name changed to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain was the combined kingdoms of England and Scotland so wouldn't that, to some degree, indicate Britain is the island as a whole (does Wales fall under the Kingdom of England???). Add to that the face that the island was called Britannia by the Romans while Ireland was called Hibernia. So prior to independence wouldn't an Irish person still have been Irish not British.

  27. Ferry Boat

    'ishness on a spike

    Humm.... interesting.

    So his mother was English and his father was Irish. So he's half-Irish, half-English. Or the other way around.

    I did not know that.

    Now, how did his mother become English and his father become Irish? Were both their parents from the same nationality? And what about their parents and so on backwards and more backwards? So they were all actually African, as are we all.

    Nationality is an accident. I suppose you could say 'waiting to happen'.

    Anyway, I sort of think that Paul Merton is the best of that bunch. He can do wit very well indeed. Oh yes.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Does not Compute!

    Where is the shining wit of the El Reg hacks in that list?

    Obviously the competition was rigged.

    Or Diebold handled the voting!

  29. TeeCee Gold badge

    @Patrick O'Reilly

    F**k me! Ghandi was Irish? You'd never have guessed to look at him.

  30. brendan
    Thumb Up


    I seem to remember when his coffin was laid to rest , its was donw so with a tri-colour onthe coffiin

  31. cor

    Ok Spike was Indian, but Oscar was Irish....

    From Encyclopedia Britannica online:

    "in full Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde *_Irish_* wit, poet, and dramatist whose reputation rests on his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and on his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and..." etc

  32. brendan

    Just a little bit from grave stone

    Milligan died from liver disease, at the age of 83, on 27 February 2002, at his home in Rye, East Sussex. He had once quipped that he wanted his headstone to bear the words "I told you I was ill." He was buried at St Thomas's Church cemetery in Winchelsea, East Sussex, but the Chichester Diocese refused to allow this epitaph. A compromise was reached with the Irish language translation, "Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite", and additionally in English, "Love, light, peace".

    reference wikipedia

    by the way my favourite Spike quote of all time

    Of his honorary CBE — "I can't see the sense in it really. It makes me a Commander of the British Empire. They might as well make me a Commander of Milton Keynes — at least that exists."

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Peter Cook ?!?!

    "the true crime on this is that Peter Cook is missing. Bloody kids."

    "the true crime on this is that Peter Cook is missing. fucking cunts"


    ''the funniest man who ever drew breath". I think Steven Fry has it spot on.

  34. Jonathan

    Wilde, Milligan etc. and being Irish

    the Duke of Wellington on being called a famous irishman because he was born in Ireland: "being born in a stable does not make one a horse"

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Arrant nonsense

    "Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put"

    Churchill said nothing of the sort.

    Quite the opposite meaning in fact, if (relatively contemporary) reports are to be believed. He had used a preposition* at the end of a sentence in a report (or speech or some such thing). Some pedant in the civil service "corrected" this based on some archaic belief that this should not be done.

    IIRC John Dryden started this myth because you can't do it in Latin so he felt it should not be done in English either, a bit like to boldly split infinitives, another thing it is forbidden to randomly do.

    Anyway, Churchill did not like being corrected in this way when the 'proper' version is far less readable and comprehensible. He apparanently said / wrote "this is the sort of arrnat nonsense up with which I will not put" in an effort to demonstrate through irony the ridiculousness of such constructions. He could of course have written "with which I will not put up" quite rightly, but chose to make it more stupid than necessary.

    Some believe he probably wrote "bloody nonsense" and it was sanitised when being reported in the press.

    "I have nothing to declare except my pedantry" </paraphrase>

    Paul Merton is by far the best of the bunch. Why do I always read poll results, but never see the polls?

    * What's a preposition? A preposition is a word you must never end a sentence with. Do I hear Dryden spinning in the grave he was buried in? That's the thing I am listening out for.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Although Wilde certainly was witty, James Whistler often managed to come out on top in their exchanges. The most famous instance, of course, was when Whistler had come up with some dazzling piece of repartee which caused Wilde to exclaim, "I wish I had said that!" To which Whistler replied, "You will, Oscar, you will".

  37. Richard Scratcher

    Top 10 "wits"? Clarkson and Gallagher? Do me a favour!

    Liam Gallagher thought Spinal Tap were a real rock band! His brother tells how he stormed out of a concert after he'd learned the truth.

    Clarkson is about as witty as Paris Hilton. All he does is follow a pregnant pause.........with a stupid simile. e.g. "Driving the new Golf GIT in the wet is like stirring your tea........with a hammer drill."

    Oliver Reed: "Why do people take such an instant dislike to me?"

    Spike Milligan: "It saves time."

  38. rob

    Turning in his grave...

    Oscar Wilde is Irish. I don't see Britain laying claim to historical Famous folk in Pakistan or other ex colonies. Oscar fits the template! No funny skin color or accent.

    Like pat says "You don't see anyone calling Gandi, the greatest british man that ever lived."

    Ye brits have plenty of great funny men anyways. My vote goes to Eddy Izzard!!

  39. Anonymous Coward

    re : Whistler

    I always thought that was from the Monty Python sketch :

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oscar Wilde was an Irish citizen but

    his work is as British as it gets. He was educated at Oxford, leaving Ireland almost permanently in 1878 (he only went back twice for short visits). Almost all of his critically acclaimed work was written long after he left Ireland and was heavily influenced by the culture of Victorian London. His writings, on which most of his reputation for wit is based, are about as Irish as Shaun the Sheep.

    Anyway, I still think Paul Merton should have won.

  41. Matthew Barker

    Other famous Brits...

    I think you can have George W. & Paris Hilton as well, please.

  42. John A Blackley

    All that aside

    "Dave is, in case you're wondering, an absurdly-titled UKTV channel aimed at young chaps, 3,000 of who"

    A) believe that Britain hasn't produced a true wit since November, 1900 and,

    B) Probably wouldn't recognise wit if it woke up beside them every morning

    Bighead Clarkson's a wit? O tempora! O mores!

  43. Anonymous Coward


    Why is it any time an Irishman excels he is british, and only Irish if it's something shameful? Same goes for the Welsh and Scots.

  44. JonDoe


    These islands on the North Western corner of Europe are the British Isles. The largest of these is called (a bit obviously...) "Great Britain". Hence the country comprising the largest island and (slightly less than) a quarter of the second largest - unfortunately called "Ireland" and not "Little Britain" - whilst simultaneously uniting several formerly independent kingdoms (and a portion of the foremerly independent kingdom - itself a united kingdom of sorts - from the other island) under a single throne - is known as "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

  45. Anonymous Coward


    "Why is it any time an Irishman excels he is british, and only Irish if it's something shameful? "

    Good question. You would have thought just one of them could manage to behave himself well just for once. I ascribe it to defective moral character myself.



  46. Anonymous Coward

    Top 10 "wits"? Clarkson and Gallagher? Yes Clarkson and Gallagher!

    I would say they're definitely among the ten most shining wits of our generation. I would say that, but I've got a terrible spongue for toonerisms, so I'd probably get it wrong. Or right.

    Or, to paraphrase an old SAW, someone slammed the door too hard, and the "half-" fell off.

  47. Magilla
    Thumb Down

    But but but...

    ...what about John Cleese? Rowan Atkinson?

  48. Charley

    Spike Quote:

    "If a cat had kittens in an oven, would that make them biscuits?"

  49. GrahamT
    Thumb Down

    Cleese and Atkinson?

    ...Funny men that they are, their repartee is scripted. Neither is particularly witty when interviewed - unlike Milligan and Fry. I would add the late Linda Smith, Jeremy Hardy and Clement Freud as great wits too, certainly more witty than Clarkson and Gallagher, but then i don't suppose the Dave demographic listens to Radio 4 much.

  50. Anonymous Coward


    You are half your place of birth and half your fathers nationality. That makes Spike Irish/Indian in my book.

    He obviously thought he was a complete nutter though, and so did I.

    I would rather have a "Who would you rather have a night out with" ... yes, I know, no competition really. Just tell them you went for a drink with Ollie Reed !

  51. Anonymous Coward

    What would the great comics make of this!

    I'm Irish so I do take a side, but what would Wilde, Milligan, Fry and even Behan say about this - "not another top-ten/hundred/thousand list..."

    I suggest we conduct a poll to evaluate the level of support to boycott voting for such useless polls!

    Now Boycott was he Irish or British???...

    And on and on and on...

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Great Britain is no longer a country, but simply an island in the United Kingdom. "Great Britain" has always described the combination of England, Scotland, and Wales.

    None of these countries contain the word "Ireland". Ireland (or even Northern Ireland for that matter) was never part of Great Britain but a part of the United Kingdom, hence no person ever born in Ireland was or is considered British.

    Anyway sure back in the 1800's Ireland as far as Britain was concerned was a backward, potato eating, peasant country where none of its inhabitants were even given decent human rights, you can't take Wilde for yourselves while letting 4 million other Irish men starve to death in a famine. (or are THEY British too?)

  53. Adam Maguire


    You're actually quite wrong about what Britain is.

    Britain is the island containing Scotland, Wales and England; Great Britain - or Greater Britain - is the term used to describe the large island (of Britain) coupled with the smaller islands such as the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey etc.

    The term Britain, nor British Isles, does not refer in any way to the island of Ireland which is not a part of the geographical region of Britain and never was, even when it was all under the British throne's control.

    The geographical region of 'Lesser Britain' is actually Brittany in France.

    That is why the UK was always called 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland' and is now called 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'.

    And a comment to the guy who seemed to think that working or learning in a certain country makes you a citizen of it, it doesn't.

    I'm not going to get into a squabble over what Wilde was - frankly I think he would have prefered to be seen as British than Irish - but to say that he going to Oxford makes him British is bizarre.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Adam Maguire

    Unfortunately, you should have consulted Wikipedia before putting forward your completely wrong ideas.

    "The British Isles or British-Irish Isles [1] (French: Îles Britanniques, Irish: Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór, meaning Ireland and Great Britain[2] or Oileáin Iarthair Eorpa, meaning Islands of Western Europe,[3] Manx: Ellanyn Goaldagh, Scottish Gaelic: Eileanan Breatannach, Welsh: Ynysoedd Prydain) is a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe comprising Great Britain, Ireland and a number of smaller islands."

    Since you're already wrong after standing tall on your high horse you seem to have missed the point completely, and I feel I have to post this to correct your drivel and stop others from being deceived. The following is an extract from the Wikipedia article on British.

    "In a political context it can be applied to a person or object from, or the people or nation of:

    * 1707 to 1801 – Kingdom of Great Britain

    * 1801 to 1922 – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

    * 1922 to present – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

    Really, it doesn't particularly bother me, and I can understand not wanting to be included as part of Great Britain, however, at the time, Wilde was definitely British, that's just a fact.

  55. Adam Maguire


    For a start the Wikipedia is not an authority on anything, just a point of reference, and secondly if you were to read through the entire article on it and not just pick from it selectively you'd see that the term 'British Isles' has no set definition, neither geographically or politically, and changes depending on who you speak to.

    It is not an official term in any respect which is why it's inter-changable with things like British-Irish Isles.

    The official political description of Ireland during the 19th century is that it was part of the United Kingdom, as was Britain (and Great Britain).

    The official geographical description of Britain is the island containing England, Scotland and Wales. The official geographical description of Great Britain is the island of Britain plus the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, The Isle of Man etc. The official geographical description of Little Britain, Lesser Britain or Britain Minor is the region now known as Brittany (give or take).

    I'm not on a high-horse about this, it's just the reality. Ireland has never been part of Britain, even when it was part of the United Kingdom.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's inevitable, I guess

    that the subject of wit should draw a thousand pedants into leaden, rambling debate.

    I'd call it irony, if that word still had any meaning.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    That a discussion on 'wit' ends up being a detailed analysis on Geography and nationalities. Touching on a bit of history of the british empire.

    and I though the geeks had all left the reg ! huzzah !!

  58. Charlie
    Thumb Up

    Milligan - brilliant

    Glad Milligan's up there. He may have been a bit backwards on the race issue but he was an absolutely hilarious guy. Who can forget him calling Prince Charles (who'd send him a letter of praise after receiving a lifetime achievement award) a groveling little bastard? :D

    Clarkson ranks lower than Gallagher in my opinion - and he's somewhere below a dustbin lid carpet on a scale of hilarity. At least Gallagher doesn't seem to try to be funny most of the time - Clarkson does and he comes across as merely pathetic.

    p.s. Anyone who 'proves' their point by linking to wikipedia should be strangled. Slowly.

  59. cor

    Wiki what?


    Oh, please. Don't quote Wikipedia as a reliable source if you want anyone to take you seriously.

    My six year old can post content to that.

  60. JonDoe

    @Adam Maguire

    There is an Irish nationalist sentiment which resents that the term "British Isles" has traditionally been used to refer to Great Britain, Ireland and all the smaller islands scattered around.

    Doesn't make them right...

  61. Anonymous Coward

    ehhh... hate to be pedantic but

    Ireland was never part of Great Britain. The Act of Union of 1801 created a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. So Ireland was a kingdom within the United Kingdom. (kind of like the United Kingdom within the EU)

    This recognition of Ireland as a seperate kingdom within the greater United Kingdom is carried over today in the passports of the United Kingdom which refer to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and *Northern* Ireland.

    Wilde was an Irishman and citizen of the United Kingdom.

    Milligan became an Irish citizen by choice by reason of having Irish parents (which qualified him as a citizen, he just needed the paperwork).

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    ermm... even if the definition of the United kingdom circa the time Wilde was born/lived is United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the nationality of the resident still would be British, as is the case today for all the residents of Northern Ireland

    on a side note i'm torn between using the Paris icon and the boffin/pedant icon....

    oh funk it i'm gonna use the Paris icon...because i'd rather sleep with her than that freak with the glasses

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