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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
'I'm free' takes catchphrase crown
John Inman in Are You Being Served
John Inman played Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served
A comedy historian given the task of choosing his top 20 sitcom catchphrases has plumped for the camp classic "I'm free", uttered by Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served?

Robert Ross, who has written books about Fawlty Towers and the Carry On films, was asked to pick the one-liners to co-incide with the release of comedies from the BBC Radio Collection.

His second favourite rib-tickler was the hapless Basil Fawlty's blunder "Don't mention the war", while grumpy Victor Meldrew's oft-heard cry of "I don't believe it!" came in third.

Mr Ross' list takes in both classic and modern sitcoms from Harold's sneering "You dirty old man" remark in Steptoe and Son to Jim Royle's "My arse" cuss in The Royle Family.

'Naff off'

Several of them would probably only be instantly recognisable to sitcom aficionados such as "Stop messing about" said by Kenneth Williams' character Snide in Hancock's Half Hour.

1. "I'm Free" - Mr Humphries, Are You Being Served?
2. "Don't mention the war" - Basil Fawlty, Fawlty Towers
3. "I don't believe it" - Victor Meldrew, One Foot in the Grave
4. "You plonker" - Del Boy, Only Fools and Horses
5. "You stupid boy" - Captain Mainwaring, Dad's Army
Mr Ross said: "Comedians have always appreciated the powerful clout of a good catchphrase whether it's Sandy Powell's 'Can you hear me mother?' or Frankie Howerd's mine of them: from 'Nay, nay and thrice nay' to 'I was amazed'.

"It is the comic's signifier, their trademark, and more importantly, their guaranteed laugh.

"The situation comedy writer, although often aiming to avoid the easy hook of a regular catchphrase, has created some of the most beloved and hilarious."

Some catchphrases have become commonplace in conversation including "Naff off" which was said by Stanley Fletcher in Porridge and the famous "You plonker" line that Del Boy often delivered to Rodney in Only Fools and Horses.

What is your favourite sitcom catchphrase?
'I'm free' - Mr Humphries (Are You Being Served?)
'Don't mention the war' - Basil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers)
'I don't believe it' - Victor Meldrew (One Foot in the Grave)
'You plonker' - Del Boy (Only Fools and Horses)
'You stupid boy' - Captain Mainwaring (Dad's Army)
1316 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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