Voices: The Top 10: Top 10s of 2021

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, a character described by his creator Agatha Christie as a ‘detestable, egocentric little creep’  (Rex)
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, a character described by his creator Agatha Christie as a ‘detestable, egocentric little creep’ (Rex)

What the world needs now is more lists; or better still, a list of lists. Here are my favourite Top 10s this year. Thank you to all the contributors who make this silliness possible; I am merely the curator.

Inversions of Well-Known Phrases

1. Trouble Over Bridgwater. Album by Half Man Half Biscuit.

2. “Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his friends for his life.” Jeremy Thorpe on Harold Macmillan’s cabinet reshuffle of 1962.

3. “Hollywood goes to Frankie.” Acton Gazette headline when a cinema bar called Hollywood Greats became a club called Frankie’s.

4. “Don’t you know who I think I am?” The Libertines, “The Boy Looked at Johnny”.

5. “There but for the God of Grace go I.” Roger Moore, when his stunt double Martin Grace was injured in a fight scene.

6. “The wrath of grapes.” Leonard Wibberley’s description of a hangover.

7. Electric Landlady. Album by Kirsty MacColl, 1991, homage to Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968.

8. “Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”.

9. “Britannia waives the rules.” The pun dates back to 1842.

10. Do Dice Play God? A 2019 book on the mathematics of uncertainty, by Ian Stewart.

Things people are remembered for that they didn’t actually do

1. Eating a hamster: Freddie Starr. He was a vegetarian.

2. Eating an apple: Eve. The kind of fruit is not specified.

3. Being emperor of Rome: Julius Caesar. His highest title was “dictator for life”; his successor Augustus was first to be declared emperor.

4. Fiddling while Rome burned: Nero. He was in Antium (now Anzio) at the time, and violins hadn’t been invented.

5. Circumnavigating the world: Ferdinand Magellan. He died in the Philippines, although 17 of his original crew of 270 made it back to Spain in 1522.

6. Inventing the guillotine: Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. He was against capital punishment and proposed an existing device to replace crueller methods.

7. Inventing the steam locomotive: George Stephenson. Richard Trevithick did that in 1802; Stephenson’s was the first to take members of the public as passengers, in 1825.

8. Sitting in the “White” section of the bus: Rosa Parks. She sat in the “Coloured” section and refused to give up her seat when the “White” section was full.

9. Closing many of Britain’s railways: Richard Beeching. He was chair of (nationalised) British Railways, who merely carried out the policy set by Ernest Marples, the Conservative minister of transport.

10. Mistaking mushy peas for guacamole in a northern chip shop during a by-election campaign: Peter Mandelson. Never happened.

Deaths of Famous People Eclipsed by Deaths of Even More Famous People

1. CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley both died on 22 November 1963. John F Kennedy was assassinated the same day.

2. John Adams, the second US president, died on 4 July 1826, the same day as Thomas Jefferson, the more famous third president.

3. Sergei Prokofiev and Joseph Stalin, 5 March 1953.

4. Rudyard Kipling and King George V, 20 January 1936.

5. Reginald Pole, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary Tudor, died the same day as she did, 17 November 1558.

6. Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, 25 June 2009.

7. Mother Teresa, 5 September 1997, eclipsed by Diana, Princess of Wales, six days earlier.

8. Debbie Reynolds died the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, in December 2016.

9. Benny Hill died the day after Frankie Howerd in April 1992.

10. Guangxu, penultimate Emperor of China, died (presumed poisoned) on 14 November 1908, the day before China’s actual ruler, Dowager Empress Cixi, died, so the succession passed to her two-year-old grandson.

Diminutive Names that are Most Unlike the Originals

1. Peggy for Margaret. (Via Maggie and Meg to Peg.)

2. Daisy for Margaret. (Via marguerite, French for daisy.)

3. Polly for Mary. (Via Molly.)

4. Dick for Richard. (Via Rick.)

5. Jack for John. (No one knows.)

6. Senga for Agnes. (Backwards spelling.)

7. Nancy for Ann.

8. Sasha for Alexander or Alexandra.

9. Jed (as in Mercurio) is short for Gerald.

10. Maud for Matilda.

Artists Begrudging Their Creation That Made Them Famous

1. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

2. Alan Moore: Batman: The Killing Joke. “It’s not saying anything very interesting.”

3. Mikhail Kalashnikov: AK-47 assault rifle.

4. Radiohead: “Creep”. Band refused to play it, saying: “We’re tired of it.”

5. Dorothy L Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey.

6. Vincent Connare: Comic Sans typeface.

7. Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot. She called him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep”.

8. Dave Greenfield of The Stranglers: “Golden Brown”.

9. Ian Fleming: James Bond. “The keys creak as I type.”

10. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus. He later said it was all wrong.

B-sides that should have been A-sides

1. “Green Onions”, Booker T and the MGs: B-side to “Behave Yourself”, 1962.

2. “A Change Is Gonna Come”, Sam Cooke: “Shake”, 1964.

3. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, the Rolling Stones: “Honky Tonk Women”, 1969.

4. “Your Song”, Elton John: “Take Me to the Pilot”, 1970.

5. “Bell Bottom Blues”, Derek and the Dominos: “Layla”, 1971.

6. “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart: “Reason to Believe”, 1971.

7. “The Man Who Sold the World”, David Bowie: B-side to reissue of “Life on Mars?”, 1973.

8. “Liza Radley”, The Jam: “Start!”, 1980.

9. “How Soon Is Now?” The Smiths: “William, It Was Really Nothing”, 1984, had two songs on the B-side, the other being “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want”, which should also have been an A-side.

10. “Half the World Away”, Oasis, the B-side to “Whatever”, 1994.

Obsolete ministries

1. Northern Department and Southern Department, 1660-1782 (they were originally the only two).

2. War Office, 1694-1964.

3. Ministry of Munitions, 1915-21.

4. Ministry of Blockade, 1916-19.

5. Ministry of Information, 1918-46.

6. Burma Office, 1947-48.

7. Ministry of Materials, 1951-54.

8. Department of Technical Cooperation, 1961-64 (early form of “international development”).

9. Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2007-10.

10. Department for Exiting the European Union, 2016-20.

Disastrous rebrandings

1. Consignia. Reverted to Royal Mail after 18 months in 2002.

2. Monday. Name of the consulting arm of PwC for six months in 2002 before it was sold to IBM.

3. Qwikster. Netflix tried to rebrand its DVD business for a few weeks in 2011.

4. mmO2. The holding company for the O2 brand when it was separated from BT in 2002, until 2005, when it was renamed O2 plc.

5. Choco Krispies. Kellogg’s went back to Coco Pops as quickly as decently possible.

6. Enco. Humble Oil, owner of the Esso brand, used the name Enco in parts of the US, and thought of adopting it worldwide until someone pointed out that it meant “stalled car” in Japanese. Which is how we got Exxon.

7. Aviva. Name adopted by Norwich Union in 2002. Not actually disastrous, but I so admired the way Jeremy Warner, then The Independent’s business editor, replied to a complaint from the company that he had called it Arriva by mistake. He was completely unapologetic and said it was their fault for choosing such a silly name.

8. Cardiff City’s football kit, 2012. A new owner decided to put the team nicknamed the Bluebirds in a red strip and changed the logo from a blue bird to a red Welsh dragon. The fans weren’t having it.

9. The New Orleans Jazz basketball team moved to Salt Lake City in 1979 and called themselves Utah Jazz.

10. Voltswagen. Not an official rebrand, but an April Fool stunt by Volkswagen in the US to advertise an electric car, which only managed to annoy people.

Tribute bands

1. Proxy Music.

2. I Wanna Cher (shares facts about Cher as well as singing).

3. Ziggy Sawdust, who played at the Nag’s Head in Only Fools and Horses.

4. Lez Zeppelin.

5. Purple Reign.

6. Kings of Leigh-on-Sea.

7. Antarctic Monkeys.

8. AD/BC, the Christian rock version of AC/DC in The Simpsons.

9. Hayseed Dixie, who play bluegrass/hillbilly AC/DC covers.

10. Fake That.

Countries now in a different place

1. Benin. Named after the Bight of Benin, which is named after the kingdom of Benin which was in present-day Nigeria.

2. Mauritania. Takes its name from the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania, in present-day Morocco and Algeria.

3. Ghana. Named after the empire of ancient Ghana, also known as Wagadou, which was inland and hundreds of miles to the north of modern Ghana.

4. Holy Roman Empire. Didn’t even include Rome after the 12th century. Romania is another legacy of the original.

5. England. There is still an Anglia or Angeln in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, by the border with Denmark.

6. New England. Before the American one there were English exiles who fled the Norman conquest and made their way via Constantinople to settle in Crimea. If true, it didn’t last.

7. Scotland. Scotia was originally a Roman name for Ireland, and it transferred when the Scoti invaded Caledonia in the 5th and 6th centuries.

8. France. Modern France includes only a sliver of the historic Kingdom of the Franks, which was on the Rhine, and its capital Tournai is now in Belgium.

9. Macedonia. Philippopolis, its capital, is now Plovdiv in Bulgaria.

10. Bulgaria. “Old Great Bulgaria” was in southern Ukraine and Crimea until the Khazars drove the Bulgars into the Balkans in the 7th century.

Previous years’ compilations are here: 2020; 2019; 2018; 2017; and 2016