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Location: Wellington, New Zealand

October 16, 2007

Fry and Merton among wittiest Brits

from The Western Mail

Oscar Wilde named greatest wit

Brits have named Oscar Wilde as the greatest wit – while Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson also has a place in the wittiest top five.

The survey of 3,000 comedy fans named Wilde, who even on his deathbed purportedly muttered "either those curtains go or I do", the wittiest individual of all time.

Goon show creator Spike Milligan, who once said: "All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy" and whose headstone contains the immortal line "I told you I was ill", came second.

QI host Stephen Fry, who famously quoted Wilde through airport security, saying: "I have nothing to declare but my genius", and mused on the dwindling lengths of a cliche with: "It is a cliche that most cliches are true, but then like most cliches, that cliche is untrue", is third.

Top Gear host Clarkson is fourth in the poll – commissioned to mark the launch of digital TV channel Dave – thanks to his caustic humour.

Of Alfa Romeo cars, he once said: "You cannot be a true petrol head until you’ve owned one...it’s like having really great sex that leaves you with an embarrassing itch."

Sir Winston Churchill claimed fifth place due to his penchant for putdowns.

When accused by Labour MP Bessie Braddock of being drunk, he is said to have replied: "Bessie, you’re ugly. And tomorrow morning I will be sober, but you will still be ugly."

Have I Got News For You team captain Paul Merton was next.

Merton’s remarks have included: "I’m always amazed to hear of air crash victims so badly mutilated that they have to be identified by their dental records. What I can’t understand is, if they don’t know who you are, how do they know who your dentist is?"

Noel Coward, who once commented: "Wit ought to be a glorious treat, like caviar. Never spread it about like marmalade", took seventh place.

Shakespeare is eighth for a host of polished one-liners on life, love and death, including: "Maids want nothing but husbands, and when they have them, they want everything".

The late football manager Brian Clough, who said: "I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one", was ninth, followed by Liam Gallagher.

Gallagher gets into the top 10 thanks to his put-downs.

The Oasis star once summed up Posh Spice with: "She can’t even chew gum and walk in a straight line at the same time, let alone write a book."

No women made it into the top 10, but Margaret Thatcher was the highest ranking female at number 12.

The former prime minister’s comments have included: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t."

Jonathan Ross (11th), Boris Johnson (13th), British dramatist Alan Bennett (14th), and Jane Austen (15th) just miss the top 10.

More than half (57%) of people surveyed deemed men wittier than women, saying they were most likely to be confident at delivering one liners, compared with women who showed more talent at being sarcastic.

Steven North, the head of the new TV channel Dave, said: "Witty banter is an everyday staple of life in Britain that is undoubtedly essential in helping us deal with all the ups and downs."

Top Ten

1. Oscar Wilde

2. Spike Milligan

3. Stephen Fry

4. Jeremy Clarkson

5. Sir Winston Churchill

6. Paul Merton

7. Noel Coward

8. Shakespeare

9. Brian Clough

10. Liam Gallagher


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