Top 30 Characters You Never See: out of sight, but in your mind

The device of the off-stage presence has been deployed through the ages

My Top 10 Characters You Never See in The New Review, the Independent on Sunday magazine, was so popular that I have expanded the list to a Top 30.

This list was suggested by Stewart Wood, shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband, who nominated the first four.

At first there seemed to be a theme, of domineering women. But male authority figures also feature, often powerful baddies or male bosses who strike fear into their employees…

1. Her Indoors, Arthur Daley’s wife in Minder.

2. Bob Sacamano, Kramer’s friend in Seinfeld.

3. Maris, Niles’s rich first wife in Frasier, once shown as a shadow through a shower curtain and on another occasion completely covered in bandages.

4. Godot.

5. Elizabeth, Captain Mainwaring’s wife in Dad’s Army (above). Nominated by Tim Mickleburgh. The closest we got to seeing her was a heavily sagging mattress in the top bunk of an Anderson shelter.

6. Big Brother, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nominated by Steve Van Riel.

7. The man upon the stair. “Yesterday, upon the stair,/ I met a man who wasn't there.” (“Antigonish”, by Hughes Mearns, 1899.) Alastair Stewart. 

8. Any character over 140 on Twitter. Very droll, Feldspar.

9. Any of the Prime Ministers in The Thick of It. Thanks to John Blake. And in Yes, Minister (thanks to James Ball). Similarly, the President in Veep (Ronan O’Donnabhain).

10. The teacher in Peanuts, by Charles M Schulz. Tony McCabe. Also, the Little Red-Haired Girl, object of Charlie Brown's unrequited love, nominated by Rafael Behr.

11. Columbo’s wife. Nominated by LMCB. This prompted a scholarly dispute about the spin-off series, Mrs Columbo, which was generally agreed to be “not canon”.

12. Dr Claw, in Inspector Gadget. Sam Freedman, Mitchell Stirling.

13. Mrs Wolowitz, Howard's mother in The Big Bang Theory. Pamela Hikwa, Martyn P Jackson. Although her wonderfully raucous tones, voiced by Carol Ann Susi until her death last year, were frequently heard, we never saw her.

14. Abigail, of Abigail's Party. The 15-year-old who is also having a party while her mother, Susan, is invited to Beverly and Laurence’s next door. Nominated by Rob Warm.

15. Glauce, daughter of Creon, in Euripides’ Medea. Graham Kirby thinks she is the earliest example of an unseen character.

16. Reggie Perrin’s mother-in-law, in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, 1976-79. In Reggie’s imagination she was represented by a hippopotamus. Nominated by Martyn P Jackson.

17. Joe Maplin, owner of the holiday camp business in Hi-de-Hi! As well as Maplin, the fearsome Miss Cathcart, supervisor of the chalet maids, was also never seen. “Two in one show,” says Graham Thorne.

18. Mr Papadopoulos, owner of the haberdashery store in Coronation Street, which was managed by Leonard Swindley (Arthur Lowe) with the assistance of Miss Nugent. Graham Thorne. Also in Coronation Street: Fat Brenda, from the minicab office. Nominated by Dr Anthony Ingleton and Simon Wilder.

19. Captain Zlog, Star Trek. “Mentioned in almost every episode.” Very funny, Tym Honeybone.

20. Sir Roysten Merchant, the megalomaniac proprietor of Globelink News in Drop The Dead Donkey. Satirically represented the Murdoch/Maxwell-esque media mogul, who enforced his will through his minion, Gus Hedges. Nominated by Martyn P Jackson. Update: I am informed (by David Boothroyd) that he appears in the final episode (played by Roger Hammond). It is a good thing I have some spares at 10, 17 and 18, above.

21. Rebecca, in Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, 1938. Dinah Rose. Not present in the novel, or seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s film.

22. The Banker, in Deal or No Deal. Mitchell Stirling.

23. Diane, in Twin Peaks. Mitchell Stirling and Andrew Meldrum.

24. Mrs Glum in “Take it from Here”, BBC radio comedy programme 1948 to 1960, written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden. “Pa Glum was played by Jimmy Edwards, Ron, the dim son, by Dick Bentley and Ron’s fiancee, the long-suffering Eth, by June Whitfield. Mrs Glum was mentioned and made very strange noises, but never spoke,” says Graham Thorne. Colin Cain also nominated her. Mrs Glum was of course unheard rather than unseen, but an exception has been made.

25. The Government Inspector, in Gogol’s play. Issy Flamel.

26. The Mysterons in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, created in 1967-68 by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. “This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us, Earthmen.” Nominated by Dougal.

27. Vera, Norm’s wife in Cheers. Sam Freedman.

28. Sheridan Bucket, son of Hyacinth in Keeping up Appearances, BBC sitcom 1990-95. Sam Freedman.

29. The Thing Upstairs, Berk’s master in The Trap Door, the children’s animated series from 1984-86. Hannah Gosling.

30. Father Bigley in Father Ted. Apparently he wears women’s perfume, looks dead, and may have sent arms to Iraq. Nominated by Martyn P Jackson.

Thanks to all nominators and apologies to those omitted or misattributed by my copying and pasting. And thanks LMCB for drawing my attention to these lists of He Who Must Not Be Seen at TV Tropes.

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