October 15, 2007 / 3:41 AM / 12 years ago

Keeping their wits about them

A copy of a signed photograph of Oscar Wilde at the Sotheby's auction house in London, October 25, 2004. Wilde, who even managed to mutter on his death bed "Either those curtains go or I do," was named in a poll Monday as Britain's greatest wit. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - Playwright Oscar Wilde, who even managed to mutter on his death bed “Either those curtains go or I do,” was named in a poll Monday as Britain’s greatest wit.

He captured 20 percent of the vote, just two points ahead of comedian Spike Milligan, who had engraved on his tombstone the epitaph “I told you I was ill.”

In the Top 10 of famous wits, wartime leader Winston Churchill made it to number five for his notorious putdowns.

When accused by Labor parliamentarian Bessie Braddock of being drunk, he said: “Bessie, you’re ugly. And tomorrow morning I will be sober but you will still be ugly.”

The playwright Noel Coward comes in at number seven, saying of humor: “Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar. Never spread it about like marmalade.”

Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, more renowned for her steely personality than her roustabout humor, was the highest ranked woman in the poll, taking 12th place.

She once quipped: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

The poll of 3,000 comedy fans was conducted to mark the launch of a new UKTV digital television channel called Dave under the banner “The home of witty banter.”

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