The boring list: 20 titans of tedium
Wednesday's Budget has been described as the dullest in history. But the chancellor who delivered it was merely continuing a great British tradition. John Walsh celebrates
Friday 14 March 2008
Anyone who watched Alistair Darling's Commons performance on Budget Wednesday must have marvelled at how extravagantly dull it was, although Mr Darling was a welcome newcomer after 10 years of grindingly tedious Budget speeches from Gordon Brown. He managed to hit new levels of ennui, as he brought us the gripping news about plastic bag legislation and winter fuel payments. Much of what he said had been announced a year ago by his looming predecessor – he merely reworded it through a filter of weapons-grade dreariness, inducing a kind of hypno-narcosis.
The press were not kind. "The most boring Budget in history" said The Daily Telegraph. "You really have to try to be this pulverisingly boring," sneered the Daily Mail. "Is Alistair Darling the most boring Chancellor ever?" asked Simon Hoggart in The Guardian. "Put it this way: he sent Geoffrey Howe to sleep. This is an epoch-making achievement... a portent that the torch has been passed to a new generation."
Are we a nation that has an affinity with boringness? Perhaps. Two years ago, a VisitBritain survey of 25,000 people from 35 countries established that we are considered the most boring nation on earth. It is, of course, a noble British tradition to promote boring politicians to the topmost offices. Clement Attlee, the least charismatic politician in history, ("An empty car drew up outside the Commons," Winston Churchill once told a friend, "and Clement Attlee got out") used to revel in his own colourlessness. Likewise, Geoffrey Howe: parliamentarians used to joke that the least inviting sentence you could overhear on arriving at a party was: "Sir Geoffrey's in sparkling form tonight."
Some would argue that dullness is a virtue in politicians: better grey efficiency than charismatic recklessness. But the Mogadon tendency isn't confined to politics. British sportsmen have for years been heroic in their devotion to colourlessness. Steve Davis and Nigel Mansell set the gold standard for monotony, not just in driving round and round a circuit or clearing a green table of balls, but in their post-match commentaries – until, of course, they were both eclipsed by Tim Henman. Even the presenters of sports programmes (Sue Barker, Des Lynam, Clare Balding) seem to have been affected by the leaden tedium of many of its practitioners.
Bores do not all live in the public eye. Full many a stiff was born to bore unseen and waste his dullness on the desert air. But bores on the airwaves are special cases, because they grate on the spirit as well as fatigue the ear and brain. Among the current ranks of soi-disant celebrities are many colossal drones, but they are like Caesar and Cleopatra compared to the high-priestess of boredom, Anthea Turner – a simpering television starlet of oceanic self-regard but no personality, the details of whose messy private life infiltrated the minds of the viewing public until they screamed, "I can't stand to hear another word about Anthea Bloody Turner's new boyfriend!" and dumped her.
Will we turn against Mr Darling for being the new Doge of Dreariness, the latest Sultan of Stupefaction? It's hard to say. We seem to embrace bores and deadbeats, to clutch them to our bosom. But who are the nation's megastars when it comes to screaming drag-iosity? Here we suggest the 20 most obvious snoozemakers. You can vote here for you choice of biggest bore, or, tell us who you'd nominate.
How does Alistair do it? In 2003, he was named by CyberBritain.com as Britain's most boring politician – and won the prize again a year later. He was then Transport Secretary. Becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer is a shift from a world of concrete nouns and moving metal objects into a territory of opaque language and economic arcana, which should give full rein to his dreich Edinburgh dullness. Despite the exciting details of his career – he was named after Alistair McLean the thriller writer, he's been in the Cabinet since the 1997 landslide, he lives in the same street as JK Rowling – he can't shake off a reputation for being a robotic "managerial technocrat". Even though his favourite music is, apparently, Coldplay, Leonard Cohenand Pink Floyd.
Even being an IRA man's granddaughter, and becoming an MP while nine months pregnant, couldn't save Ms Kelly from being a card-carrying crasher. It's the voice: low, deep, liquid, faux-reassuring, tumbling over its words to convince you that, for instance, it was perfectly OK to let a man on the sex offenders' register have a job at a Norfolk school. A photograph from December 2004, just after Kelly became the youngest woman to sit in the Cabinet, shows Kelly addressing that august body on her Extended Schools Initiative. It's quite a picture: 20 grown men and women, connoisseurs of dull rhetoric, staring grimly before them unable to believe the tedium, clutching their brows and fighting off sleep.
The man who rewrote the rulebook of drabness for the late 20th century. On TV's Spitting Image, he was always grey, while other characters were flesh-coloured. The Guardian cartoonist portrayed him as wearing his underpants outside his trousers, a confused, negative Superman. Paddy Ashdown called him "a decent and honourable man," but he was fatally undermined by both his dull initiatives (like the Cones Hotline) and his tics: his curious voice, his nodding delivery, his use of the phrase "not inconsiderably," his inability to control the philandering ways of his colleagues. When his affair with Edwina Currie was revealed he briefly seemed less boring, as the nation cried, "Eeeww!!" But it didn't last.
Nobody knows exactly how, with little talent for singing, dancing, acting or anything else, Vicky Adams came from nowhere to world stardom, via the millions-spinning Spice Girls and marriage to a god-like footballer, but her number should surely be up by now. She's become a pose without any suggestion of a real person behind it, a walking retail-opportunity, a painfully skinny-legged, black-leather-clad, damson-bosomed freakshow. Whether attempting to "conquer" America by showing that British girls can go shopping just as frantically as Paris Hilton, or flying to G8 summits for the paparazzi attention, she's become globally ubiquitous. Can you really stand to see that pout and those shades one more time?
The Duke of York
Many of the royals are terrible bores – it goes with the genetic disposition – but Andrew is a special case. While other princes display a passion for their hobbies and interests (Charles for organic farming, Edward for showbiz, Harry for cocktails, chicks and guns), Andrew seems content just to visit agreeable golf courses in sunny lands. His flighty wife, Sarah, divorced him for wanting to spend every night in, watching TV. His pronouncements are, without exception, leaden. Visiting the US last month, as our special representative for international trade, when asked if he thought the situation in Iraq was getting better, he said, "That's almost a university PhD question." There is no such thing, Andrew, as a PhD question.
Well of course he used to be a big hero on the rugby pitch. He played in the England under-16s. He shone in the under-18s. He body-swerved university to be a rugby star. In the World Cup semi-final against France in 2003, he scored all the winning 24 points. He won England her first World Cup with a drop goal in the last minute. Yeah, brilliant, whatever. After these glory days, his career became a succession of injuries, to knee, groin, kidney and something called his "right adductor". His once-lauded, praying- mantis kicking technique was pilloried. He's been dropped for the England game against Ireland tomorrow. We hate to kick a chap when he's down, but heroes with boring injuries don't stay heroes long.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
A real hoo-hah engulfed the nation last month when the Archbishop appeared to suggest that sharia should be used in the British legal system. Bishops queued to denounce the idea. Politicians from left and right swooned with horror at "British values" being stretched to take in stoning to death and chopping hands off thieves. The press went ballistic. Even British Muslims were appalled. Then the truth emerged: Dr Williams had merely tried to "tease out" the idea, in a 7,000-word speech. All that fuss, because listeners were so bored by the prolix intellectual's words, that they seized on the one concrete suggestion in a howling gale of academic persiflage.
It had all been going so well. She was Saint Delia, patron saint of not-very-good cooks everywhere. Devoutly Catholic, she offered succour, Virgin Mary-style, to kitchen-bound women and men who could hardly boil an egg. Celebrity chefs came and went, but her faithful stayed faithful. Delia was a mousy church-committee little woman, but by God she could lay out ingredients in little plates and make you understand how a boeuf bourgignon worked. Then, after an eight-year layoff, she returned last month with a reprinted book telling you How to Cheat at Cooking and recommending factory-farmed chicken. Abruptly, the scales fell from millions of eyes. She'd been a plain, suburban, Sainsbury's-loving fake all along!
Well on the way to becoming one of the nation's most disliked figures, Burrell has forged a career out of telling people very small things about his life as Princess Diana's butler. A career of standing behind famous people uttering discreet coughs has left him flogging his tiny expertise to ever-less-interested audiences. Most recently he was seen in Memphis, Tennessee, trying to interest an audience of elderly ladies in his own range of furniture. It's not the opportunism that makes him such a bore, though – it's that bumptiously oily delivery. "I tell it as it is," he told the Sun. "I tell it straight – that's who I am, I can't change who I am. I tell it as it is, and some people don't like that, but I am telling the truth." Oh do go away.
The Razorlight guitarist and front man is a tiny, curly-haired fellow with a huge ego. When the band's first album, Up All Night, was released in 2005, he startled critics with his conceit: "I'm the greatest songwriter of our generation" and the appraisal that he was "better than Dylan". Every new wave of rock bands throws up arrogant frontmen spouting vainglorious stuff, but Johnny B was a special case because his lyrics were such ordure. Most especially "America": "Well I go out somewhere/ Then I come home again/ I light a cigarette/ Cause I can't get no sleep/ There's nothing on the TV, nothing on the radio that means that much to me." Yes, that certainly knocks "Chimes of Freedom" into a cocked hat.
Lantern-jawed Formula One driver and natural successor to Nigel Mansell (but not in a good way).
Director general of the BBC, grimly presiding over a succession of disputes, scandals and sackings.
Tantalising, chronically disappointing, tease of the British tennis circuit, now retired – a dull wraith.
Permanently belligerent, hectoring pricker of British consciences and wearer of Ruritanian decorations.
Charisma-free Geordie striker turned irritable Match of the Day pundit.
Perma-nattering, jumper-sporting, fruity-voiced, any-subject-will-do logorrhoea sufferer.
Pretty, perky, utterly pointless presenter of prattling Pop Idol-type piffle.
Ant and Dec
Smirking, cute-as-cup-cakes, light-entertainment midgets, connoisseurs of dross, impresarios of jungle misery.
Veteran actress of Medea-like gravitas with leadenly boring, outspoken political views.
Canadian-English tycoon-turned-jailbird of dismaying, unceasingly fluent, charmless volubility, notably in print.
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