At some time in our lives, we’ve all got our tongues twisted and our muds wordled, often in a situation where we wanted to get it just right. Except pressure frequently severs the link between brain and mouth. Fortunately, our gaffes are bared only to local audiences, but for broadcasters and public figures, they must be a recurring nightmare.

Who can forget Ronald Reagan’s “We begin bombing in five minutes”, ignoring the golden rule to treat any microphone as live?

Cricket commentator Brian Johnston is reputed to have said: “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey”, but it seems largely apocryphal, as he’d been warned specifically by the BBC not to do it.  Good joke, though!

One unfortunate lady broadcast over the airport tannoy that “British Caledonian is pleased to announce its inaugural flight to Bong Hong and Hangkok”.

Commentator David Coleman made so many verbal cockups, they were nicknamed ‘Colemanballs’ by Private Eye. Three of his best were:

“That’s the fastest time ever run – but it’s not as fast as the world record.”

“And the line-up for the final of the women’s 400 metres hurdles includes three Russians, two East Germans, a Pole, a Swede, and a Frenchman.”

“It’s a great advantage to be able to hurdle with both legs.”

Formula 1 presenter Murray Walker became known as Muddly Talker, because with his excited, trousers-on-fire style, he’d come out with some beauties. People loved them and he took it all in good part, naming his autobiography ‘Unless I’m very much mistaken’ in tribute to one of his finest.

“The lead car is unique, except for the one behind it which is identical”, “Jenson Button is in the top ten, in eleventh position” and “Nigel Mansell is the last person in the race apart from the five in front of him”, were just some of his outpourings that kept us in fits of laughter.

Having said all this, the one announcer’s job I didn’t envy was he or she that introduced a British country and western singer on his BBC2 show. His name? Hank Wangford!

With that, I’d better close before I split my infinitive.


  1. Love it, Nigel. Made me think of the funny things my students came out with in English lessons. “I have to leave early, Angela, I’m going soliciting” was always a particular favourite. False friends rather than spoonerisms!
    My Dutch girlfriend asked for a pair of testicles at Boots, the chemist, (she meant tweezers) bet they are still chuckling about that one…

  2. Love it Angela. One of my friends was in French class and was asked by the teacher if she knew the word for roadside verge. ‘La verge?’ At this, the teacher burst into fits of laughter. ‘That means a penis!’. Doh!

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