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Nigel Rees selects his 40 favourite quotes from 40 years

Nigel Rees marks the 40th anniversary series of Quote ... Unquote by choosing 40 favourite quotes out of the thousands featured on the show over the years.

Nigel Rees
  • "Nothing matters very much and very few things matter at all." – Arthur Balfour

  • "I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure." – Boscoe Pertwee (who never existed – his alleged remark made its first appearance on the programme in 1977)

  • In answer to the question: "Where do you get your incredible ideas from?": "There’s this warehouse called Ideas R Us." – Terry Pratchett

  • The diminutive Mickey Rooney is supposed to have approached a statuesque chorus girl with the suggestion that they might enjoy sex together. Replied she: "All right, but if you do and I ever get to hear about it, I’ll be very, very cross indeed."

  • To Nina Hamnett: "We have become, Nina, the sort of people our parents warned us about." – Augustus John (attributed)
  • "Try to learn something about everything and everything about something." – TH Huxley

Terry Pratchett
  • "The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they’ve been in." – Dennis Potter

  • On sex: "The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, the expense damnable." – 4th Earl of Chesterfield (but after 40 years we are still unable to verify this)

  • "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." – Gore Vidal

  • "You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk-dancing." – "a sympathetic Scotsman" – now thought to be Guy Warrack – quoted by Sir Arnold Bax

  • When challenged in court over a letter intended to convey a misleading impression: "It is perhaps being economical with the truth." – Sir Robert Armstrong, using an established phrase

  • "This proves what I’ve always maintained; parents are precisely the people who ought not to have children." – caption to cartoon by T Prince in Punch (1933)

  • "Any fool can play tragedy, but comedy, sir, is a damned serious business." – David Garrick

  • "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."– Samuel Johnson

  • "If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in good repair."– Samuel Johnson

  • "The report of my death was an exaggeration." – Mark Twain, reacting to a false report in 1897

  • When Lord Astor denied any involvement with her: "Well, he would, wouldn’t he?" – Mandy Rice-Davies

  • When asked, during his last illness, why he was reading the Bible: "Looking for loopholes."WC Fields
  • "The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feeds the hand that bites it." – Laurence J Peter

Mandy Rice-Davies
  • "Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetuate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings." – Arthur Quiller-Couch

  • "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings;
    ... And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God." – John Gillespie Magee, High Flight

  • "His Grace returned from the wars today and pleasured me twice in his top-boots." Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, wife of the 1st Duke of Marlborough (attributed)

  • When asked in about 1795 what he had done in the Reign of Terror: "I survived." – French revolutionary and prelate, the Abbé Sieyès

  • "Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained." – 1st Duke of Wellington
  • "All political lives, unless they are cut off in mid-stream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs." – Enoch Powell

Nelson Mandela
  • "I have made my choice. I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days." – Nelson Mandela, in 1961

  • "Champagne for our real friends, real pain for your sham friends." – a toast known by 1838

  • "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity." – WB Yeats

  • "The curse of the working class is the fewness of their wants, the poverty of their desires, the overloading of a few sensuous tastes, the absence of a varied set of elevated and healthy desires." – John Burns MP, in 1902

  • "In England, you see, age wipes the slate clean ... If you live to be 90 in England and can still eat a boiled egg they think you deserve the Nobel Prize." – Alan Bennett

  • "I told you I was sick." – epitaph on the grave of a hypochondriac (and long before Spike Milligan had it put on his)

  • "A week is a long time in politics." – Harold Wilson
  • At the graveside of his daughter, Anne, who had Down's syndrome: "Now she is like the others..." – Charles de Gaulle

Dennis Potter
  • "No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main ... any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." – John Donne

  • "‘Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’ ‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’ ‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’ ‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes." – Arthur Conan Doyle

  • "I recently turned 60. Practically a third of my life is over." – Woody Allen

  • "80 per cent of success is showing up." – Woody Allen

  • Last, dying words: "It has all been very interesting." – Lady Mary Wortley Montague (but there is no proof she said it)

  • "Look, love, what envious streaks
    Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
    Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
    Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
    I must be gone and live, or stay and die." – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet