The British are often stereotyped as being stoic and reserved, the kind of people who respond to poor customer service with a sternly worded letter and consider the response “it’s fine” to be a withering insult. In celebration of British wit and understatement, join us as we discuss what we believe to be the 10 most British sentences ever uttered.
10. The Quote: “Get up George, you’re embarrassing me.”
The context: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to her bodyguard, immediately after being shot at by the SAS.
The story: Margaret Thatcher is a polarizing topic over in Blighty, and in some places the mere mention of her name can kill the atmosphere in a room and replace it with a whirlwind of flailing snakes, or so we’ve heard. That said, she is begrudgingly admired for her unflappable demeanor, which earned her the incredibly badass nickname the Iron Lady.
Perhaps the single greatest example of Thatcher’s sheer inability to be phased by even the most extreme situation is the time she was involved in an SAS training exercise involving live ammo. The story goes that during her tenure as Prime Minister, Thatcher was meeting with the SAS, who invited her to take part in a hostage rescue scenario using actual bullets, a common courtesy they extend to all high profile guests to show off their skill. Thatcher gladly accepted and sat in a darkened room in the Killing House (the impossibly sweet nickname given to the SAS’s secret training building) along with her bodyguard.
A few minutes later three highly training SAS operatives kicked down the door, threw in a flashbang grenade, and then fired several rounds into the targets flanking Thatcher, who was reportedly sitting calmly at a table with her purse. The moment the SAS started firing, Thatcher’s bodyguard, showing how clearly he sucked at his job, dove under the table, prompting Thatcher to utter the above quote in a testicle shrinkingly patronizing tone of voice.
9. The Quote: “Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.”
The context: Admiral David Beatty, shortly after two of the ships under his command exploded in front of him!
The story: Admiral Beatty was a highly decorated British (duh) naval figure who rose from the rank of cadet to SEA LORD! The literal highest post possible in the British Royal Navy. Beatty earned countless commendations throughout his career and personally accepted the surrender of Germany’s navy at the end of World War I. He is, however, best remembered for being completely nonplussed about two of his ships exploding.
During an engagement during WWI known as the Battle of Jutland, Beatty personally witnessed the HMS Indefatigable, one of Britain’s biggest and most-covered-in-guns ships, explode in the water. Less than half an hour later, while stationed on the bridge of his own ship, Beatty was approached by a nervous crewman who informed him that the Royal Navy’s second best ship, the HMS Queen Mary, had also exploded. Without missing a beat, Beatty calmly turned to his second in command and uttered his most famous quote.
8. The Quote: “I can’t wear beige because nobody would know who I am.”
The context: The Queen, on why she wears bright pastel colors all the time.
The story: Few, if any, people can truly claim to be as easily recognizable as the Queen of England, a woman who has been on so much money over the years you can see her age. Though officially the Queen has a number of rather important duties, such as approving parliamentary bills and meeting with the Prime Minister, her role as monarch is mostly ceremonial. To this end, the Queen has a punishing schedule of public events where she shows her face and meets with people who don’t live in a giant castle.
At such events the Queen virtually always wears a single color, often taking the form of a pastel colored dress and a stupidly pimp matching hat. The Queen’s official reasoning behind this fashion choice is that she believes if she wore a less awesome color, nobody would recognize her. Remember, this is a woman who spends most of her time in a country where her face is on every piece of paper money issued and she still, rather adorably, thinks that people wouldn’t know who the hell she was without wearing a dress that looks like someone turned the contrast all the way up.
7. The Quote: “We had a very serious evening you know.”
The context: Cosmo Duff-Gordon, when speaking about a boat trip he took, aboard the Titanic.
The story: Yes, we’re talking about that Titanic. According to experts, just 706 of the 2,000 or so people aboard (the exact number has never been established) survived the super-liner’s maiden voyage. Among them was Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon. A gentleman through and through, upon hearing that the ship was sinking, Duff-Gordon grabbed a bottle of brandy and some cigars and made his way towards the lifeboats with his wife and secretary. Duff-Gordon is said to have stood unflinching on the deck as the lifeboats slowly filtered away, several of which offered a place to his wife, who refused to leave without him. Duff-Gordon and his wife eventually escaped aboard a smaller lifeboat being piloted by several crewmen, whom the English dandy politely asked for permission to join because being aboard a sinking ship is no excuse to forget your manners.
Letters unearthed in 2012 reveal that Duff-Gordon witnessed firsthand the horror of the Titanic’s sinking, writing that he could hear the screams of those who’d fallen overboard and then, later, a silence that shook him to his core.
While the trauma he suffered on that day was unthinkable, the worst was yet to come for Duff-Gordon when it was rumored he’d bribed his way aboard the lifeboat (he didn’t). During what has been described as a “savage” cross-examination, Duff-Gordon was grilled about why his lifeboat didn’t search for survivors, even though such a decision ultimately fell to the seven crewmen he was sailing with. Showing Herculean amounts of restraint, Duff-Gordon calmly responded to the lawyer basically accusing him of being a coward and screaming questions about why he didn’t usurp control of the lifeboat from the people specifically trained to use it by saying:
“At that time I was attending to my wife, as I think I said just now. We had rather a serious evening, you know.”
Presumably, all while his moustache twitched endless insults about the size of the lawyer’s manhood in Morse code.
6. The Quote: “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”
The context: Lord Uxbridge, upon noticing his leg had been blown clean off by a cannonball.
The story: Henry Paget, better known as the 1st Marquess of Anglesey, is a famed English Army Officer and politician best known for being one of the foremost experts at one of England’s oldest and most popular hobbies, dunking on the French military. Well liked by his men, Paget was known for his bravery, composure under fire, and stoicism, often being seen personally leading charges on horseback.
It was just after one such charge at the Battle of Waterloo that Paget was struck by an errant cannonball that caused the bottom half of his right leg to explode into a red, sticky cloud of viscera. According to all those present, Paget reacted to the injury as if it were a mosquito bite, turning to the man next to him and explaining, rather matter-of-factly, that his leg had just been torn clean off by a screaming hunk of metal traveling at the speed of sound.
But Paget wasn’t done yet, and he continued to play down the extent of his injury, refusing to even cry out in pain while the mangled remains of his limb were being removed without anesthetic. According to his physician, the only sound Paget made during the entire agonizing procedure was to answer a nurse asking if he was okay. Apparently Paget’s only comment was that the knife being used to scrape away the bone and tissue left below his knee felt “rather blunt” before once again sitting in silence. The only question we have after that is how Paget ever found a horse capable of carrying both him and the giant, man-sized balls he clearly possessed.
5. The Quote: “By God, sir, so you have!”
The context: The Duke of Wellington’s response to Henry Paget.
The story: Yes, on the same day Henry Paget went down in history as the man who responded to having his leg amputated with a blunt knife with nothing but mild discomfort, his commanding officer similarly reacted to the frankly astonishing occurrence of a man standing three feet away having his leg blown off like he’d just noticed someone in the room had farted.
Like Paget, the Duke of Wellington was well known for his stoney demeanor and diamond-like testicular fortitude, earning him the nickname the Iron Duke. Wellington was similarly respected by his men for his commitment to a Spartan military lifestyle, with the Duke insisting on dining on the same rations as his men and opting to sleep on a standard issue military cot, even though his rank and social status would have allowed him to eat fresh swan necks every day if he really wanted to.
According to history books, the Iron Duke is said to have only ever dropped his stony facade once, upon hearing that Napoleon had abdicated. Upon hearing this news the Duke is said to have giddily clicked his fingers, spun around on the spot, and danced an excited flamenco before instantly resuming a dignified, statue-like pose, as if nothing had happened.
4. The Quote: “We are still open – more open than usual”
The context: Sign placed in British stores that had been hit by bombs during the Blitz.
The story: During WW2, one of the things Hitler had a real hard-on for was crushing the morale of the British, something he hoped to accomplish by tasking the Luftwaffe with bombing the everloving crap out of major British population centers for two years straight, a time in history now known as the Blitz.
Although the Nazis succeeded in leveling a significant percentage of Britain, the British populace went about as if everything was totally fine. Workers finding their offices had been destroyed would pull their desks out of the rubble and do paperwork in the middle of the street, housewives would gossip about raids like the weather, and stores continued to sell produce, even if they didn’t have roofs. In keeping with the self-deprecating nature of British humor, such stores would advertise the fact they were still open by telling the public that they were simply “more open than usual,” which is apparently the British way of saying “missing half a roof.”
3. The Quote: “I told you I was ill.”
The context: The proposed epitaph for Spike Milligan’s tombstone.
The story: Spike Milligan was a comedian known throughout Britain for his surreal and often black humor. Considered to have been one of the key influences behind Monty Python and held in high regard by the entire British comedy scene, Milligan is often referred to as “the comedian’s comedian.”
Even in his twilight years, when he plagued by a host of health problems, Milligan continued to crack jokes at his own expense, the most famous of which was an offhand remark he made about his desire to have his tombstone bear the epitaph “I told you I was ill.” When Milligan passed away in 2002, his family, in accordance with his wishes, actually tried to buy a tombstone with that joke on it, but the people in charge of the graveyard didn’t feel it would appropriate and told the family to change it. After some consideration Milligan’s family settled on an engraving reading “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite.” For anyone curious about what that means, it’s Irish for, “I told you I was ill.”
Speaking of funerals…
2. The Quote: “Always look on the bright side of life.”
The context: The most popular song played at British funerals.
The story: Despite having the word “fun” right there in it, funerals are often anything but, what with all the crying people and fistfights that break out. British people seem to be a curious exception to this rule, with it being noted that the Monty Python song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is the most popular song requested at funerals.
What makes this particular song choice so deliciously hilarious is that it took the top spot away from actual religious hymns, which had, prior to 2014, been the most popular final song requested by the deceased. So just to clarify, in Britain, the most popular song played at funerals is one that was intentionally written as an ironic piss-take for a film (Life of Brian) poking fun at the idea of religion, about remaining calm and collected in the face of adversity, and it took the top spot away from a genuine, sentimental religious hymn.
If you needed any more proof that the British don’t even pretend to give a crap, the song is also popular at football games when one team is losing, and was once sung by an entire ship as it was sinking.
1. The Quote: “We have time enough to finish the game and win.”
The context: Sir Francis Drake, upon being interrupted during a game of bowls, about an approaching Spanish fleet of ships.
The story: Francis Drake is known in Britain for many things, including beasting on the Spanish so hard they called him “The Dragon,” circumnavigating the globe, and dying of dysentery. In regards to the former, Drake was a key figure in defeating the Spanish Armada, a massive fleet of ships that attempted to invade England in 1588.
According to legend, Drake was so unafraid of the Spanish and so supremely confident in his own skills that upon learning that a fleet of ships large enough to level half of the English coastline had just crested the horizon, he didn’t act on the news until he’d finished a game of bowls. Exactly what Drake said isn’t clear, but multiple sources report that he was happy to learn that the Spanish were still a few miles away, because it meant he could finish his game, reportedly quipping that he’d smash the Spanish fleet after, and only after, he’d finished his game.
True to his word, Drake trounced the Spanish Armada in battle, personally leading a charge that destroyed a quarter of the Armada and captured one of their most powerful ships. Proof that the English do get emotional, but only about things that actually matter, like a game involving rolling small balls on some grass.