From Feathers McGraw to Mr Burns: kids’ TV’s all-time evillest villains

<span>Flew the coop … Feathers McGraw, seen on his release from prison.</span><span>Photograph: Aardman Animations</span>
Flew the coop … Feathers McGraw, seen on his release from prison.Photograph: Aardman Animations

He’s back. Aardman Animations have delighted fans by confirming the return of the infamous Feathers McGraw in Wallace & Gromit: Vengeance Most Fowl – the 70-minute film that will premiere on the BBC and Netflix this Christmas.

But how evil is he? How does he compare to, say, Wolf from Gladiators? Read on for our countdown of the all-time rogue’s gallery of children’s TV baddies.

20. Grotbags

Broadway musical Wicked popularised green-faced witches but the original and best was the antagonist of Emu’s World. Warty, snaggle-toothed Grotbags, played by Carol Lee Scott, dismissed children as “brats” and plotted to kidnap Rod Hull’s beloved blue bird. The self-styled “bestest witch in the whole wide world” proved so popular she got her own solo spin-off, set at Gloomy Fortress.

19. Baron Silas Greenback

Crikey, chief! Bond-spoofing cartoon Danger Mouse found the rodent spy and bumbling sidekick Penfold battling the schemes of this wheezing toad with crow henchmen. In a poignant backstory, it was revealed that Greenback turned to a life of crime in his schooldays when other children let the air out of his bicycle tyres.

18. The Demon Headmaster

Children often suspect their teachers are evil monsters hellbent on world domination. This Jack Straw doppelganger, played by piercing-eyed Terrence Hardiman, proved such fears were all too true. In the mid-90s series based on Gillian Cross’s books, he used hypnosis to control pupils at St Champions School. Look into my eyes, not around the eyes … And you’re under.

17. Dr Heinz Doofenshmirtz

No wonder Phineas and Ferb’s “Dr Doof” turned bad. Both parents failed to attend his birth and his only childhood friend was a balloon with a face drawn on it. The deranged scientist from the European country of Drusselstein is now intent on conquering the “entire Tri-State Area” with nefarious inventions from his company, Doofenshmirtz Evil Inc. He’s always defeated by Phineas and Ferb’s duck-billed pet. “Curse you, Perry the Platypus!”

16. Evil Edna

Well, what could be more evil than television itself? In trippy 80s cartoon Willo the Wisp, voiced by Kenneth Williams, the villainous witch ditched the pointy hat and broomstick, coming in the shape of a cackling TV set with crooked teeth who could zap people with her aerials. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

15. Ethel Hallow

CBBC series The Worst Witch, adapted from Jill Murphy’s proto-Harry Potter novels, starred Bella Ramsey as magic trainee Mildred Hubble. Her Malfoy equivalent was spoilt, snobbish Ethel, her vindictive classmate at Miss Cackle’s Academy. It was impossible not to air-punch when Ethel got turned into a pig.

14. Dick Dastardly

Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races saw 11 cars compete in road rallies. Among the drivers were Penelope Pitstop, Peter Perfect and “double-dealing do-badder” Dick Dastardly, partly based on ’tache-twirling actor Terry-Thomas. With snickering dog Muttley riding shotgun, he drove the rocket-powered Mean Machine, cheating heavily – which always backfired. “Drat and double drat! Foiled again!” Actor Paul Winchell also voiced Gargamel, sworn enemy of the Smurfs.

13. Justine Littlewood

At the children’s care home known as the Dumping Ground, gobby heroine Tracy Beaker (Dani Harmer) soon found a nemesis in the ghastly Justine (Montanna Thompson). Their feud began when she “stole” Tracy’s best friend and favourite bedroom, and continued across five series. She later became an estate agent. Enough said.

12. Swiper

Swiper no swiping! When seven-year-old Latina heroine Dora the Explorer and her monkey mate Boots embark on adventures, out to spoil the fun is thieving fox Swiper (known as Zorro in Spanish versions). Nickelodeon originally wanted to scrap him for “modelling bad behaviour and unsettling kids”, but he cunningly survived the cull.

11. HIM

The flamboyant alpha villain of 90s Cartoon Network fixture The Powerpuff Girls was the satanic agent of chaos known only as HIM. Creepy and cruel with a Pennywise the Clown-esque high-pitched voice, he aimed to drive a wedge between our inseparable preschool superheroines. Note to Beatles nerds: HIM was based on the Chief Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine.

10. Megatron

“Transformers, more than meets the eye / Transformers, robots in disguise.” The badass boss of the Decepticons was a tyrannical tin alien who wanted to turn Optimus Prime and his heroic Autobots into scrap metal. Menacing Megatron transformed into a Walther P38 handgun and other cool weapons, meaning he was secretly every schoolkid’s favourite. Don’t tell Mum.

9. Zelda

Gerry Anderson’s 1983 series Terrahawks, his last puppet production, was set in the year 2020. How, um, futuristic. As the taskforce defended the planet from invasion, the alien threat was led by warmongering Queen Zelda of Guk. The fright-wigged misanthrope was partial to calling humans “Earth-scum”, “Earth-wretches” and best of all, “Earth-pukes”. Charming.

8. Wolf

If there’s one thing the BBC’s hit reboot of Gladiators is missing, it’s a proper pantomime villain. The 90s original was blessed with big bad Wolf, AKA bodybuilder Michael Van Wijk. He cheated. He threw his helmet. He baited the baying crowd. He snarled at match referee John Anderson and ate his yellow card. Maybe he was just angry about having that mullet.

7. Bill Cipher

The evil adversary of Emmy-winning cult cartoon Gravity Falls is a sentient yellow triangle in a top hat and bow tie. The All-Seeing Eye lookalike’s daft exterior conceals a powerful inter-dimensional dream demon who can warp reality, possess minds and destroy worlds. Director David Lynch was asked to voice him. When he declined, series creator Alex Hirsch did it himself with what he calls a “bad Lynch impression”.

6. Davros

As cultural cliche dictates, the Daleks were already enough to send young Doctor Who fans scurrying behind the sofa. They hid under the soft furnishings in fright when the deadly pepperpots’ creator trundled on screen. Megalomaniacal scientist Davros had the bottom half of a Dalek and the top half of a pickled walnut. Throw in his rasping voice and a cybernetic eye in the middle of his forehead for full nightmare fodder.

5. Mumm-ra

“Wherever evil exists, Mumm-Ra lives!” The demon-priest in 80s cartoon classic ThunderCats was creepy enough in his everyday guise as a zombie magician. Thanks to the Ancient Spirits of Evil, though, he could transform into the giant, shape-shifting “Mumm-Ra the Ever Living” and throw energy bolts at his feline foes. Luckily, he had a weakness: seeing his own hideous reflection in a mirror. Metaphor, much?

4. Mr Bronson

He hated children so much, it’s hard to imagine how Grange Hill deputy head Maurice Bronson ended up in the teaching profession. The bow-tied disciplinarian barked orders down corridors and made pupils quiver. However, it was his campaign of terror against troubled teen Danny Kendall that marked him out as truly sadistic. A rare light moment came when Gonch and Hollo stole his toupee and hid it in a bin. Michael Sheard, the actor who played him, also portrayed Hitler not once but five times during his career, which figured.

3. Skeletor

Having discovered the secrets of Castle Greyskull, homoerotic 80s hero He-Man had the power, but even he feared (and arguably fancied) his arch-enemy. The bony-faced, blue-skinned sorcerer was cunning, power-crazed and capable of teleporting around to cause trouble. The ram’s skull that topped his “havoc staff” made Skeletor even more scary. It was only his penchant for employing useless minions that stopped him from conquering Eternia and becoming Master of the Universe. Unlucky, mate.

2. Mr Burns

E-e-excellent. For fully 35 years, billionaire C Montgomery Burns has been terrorising residents of Springfield with his dastardly deeds. This finger-steepling embodiment of corporate greed owns nuclear power plants, experiments with flying monkeys and is coldly indifferent to his aide Smithers being inexplicably in love with him. He was shot by Maggie Simpson for literally trying to take candy from a baby. Creator Matt Groening originally based him on a praying mantis with Ronald Reagan’s voice. Release the hounds.

1. Feathers McGraw

Step off, Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader. Take a hike, Keyser so-called Söze. The definitive screen villain of our age is a penguin with a red rubber glove on its head. The gun-toting, 3ft tall criminal mastermind first terrorised viewers in 1993 Oscar-winning short The Wrong Trousers. More than three decades later, he’s out of prison and waging a vendetta on his old enemies, inventor Wallace and his trusty beagle Gromit. News of Feathers’ comeback saw him “beak the internet” last week. The fact that he’s mute with expressionless beady eyes only makes him more terrifying. It’s enough to make you comfort-eat wensleydale cheese.