Can I do you now, sir?
Stop messing about.
Just like that.
The answer lies in the soil.
And now for something completely different.
You are awful, but I like you.
I shall say this only once.
Rock on, Tommy!
So it's goodnight from me...and it's goodnight from him.
I do not believe it!
Suits you, sir.
I was very, very drunk.
Comedy catch-phrases are tribal passwords. We all know them, we can all perform our version of them, whenever they turn up they guarantee a laugh. They help glue a society together. The odd thing is they're rarely funny in themselves. I guess they work by distilling the essence of a character or situation. Because, of course, a catch-phrase isn't just words, it's an accent, an intonation and a set of accompanying actions. And it briefly conjures up a whole world of hilarity. "I'm free" isn't just Mr Humphries prancing on stage- it's the Grace Brothers store and Mrs Slocombe's pussy and doddering old "young" Mr Grace with his dolly-bird nurses all rolled up into a ball. Of those I've listed, and I could have listed many, many more, only the two Ronnies' sign-off catch-phrase, "so it's goodnight from me..." is anything like a joke. Catch-phrases aren't immortal, but they often outlive the comedians that launched them. The first on my list belongs to the great George Formby, which means it must be at least 70 years old.
And now there's Little Britain- the biggest, most inescapable TV sketch show since Monty Python- and it's stuffed with catch-phrases
Yeah but no but...
I want that one.
Write the theme song, sing the theme song...
Computer says no.
I'm the only gay in the village.
I'm a lady.
The critics, offended by Little Britain's popularity, are ganging up on it. "It's not funny," they say. Actually it is. But even if it wasn't, there's no arguing against catch-phrases, especially when they turn up mob-handed.