The Third Leader: Funny women

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The Independent Online

A list of Britain's top wits of all time featuring Baroness Thatcher as its first woman, at 12th, is the sort of joke you would expect from a television channel renaming itself Dave.

Your response might be to select the phrase most often employed by the star of one of Dave's shows, Catherine Tate. But because subtlety isn't such a practised male trait as rising to the bait, we thought we might cross the road for an argument. Besides, it could be prudent.

There are those, of course, who argue that providing amusement has traditionally been a big part of the man's role at least since they were persuaded that the clever thing to do was to try to kill highly dangerous animals rather than stay behind and do the cooking.

Margot Asquith put this view of showing off and thrusting oneself forward very well, on hearing a man praised for his riding to hounds: "Jump? Anyone can jump. Look at fleas."

I rush to add, surely superflously, that women can be as witty as men; it was Lady Asquith who famously corrected Jean Harlow's pronunciation of her first name: "My dear, the 't' is silent, as in Harlow".

Nor should women's humour be thought only whimsical, discursive or sophisticated. Think Jane Austen, but also Hylda Baker. And Jordan. And of that adopted Brit, Coral Browne, outside the Brompton Oratory after mass, dismissing a friend's attempt at scurrilous gossip: "I don't want to hear this filth. Not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace."

Finally, if I have failed to amuse, blame it on the hormones.

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