Real world bad bosses make your life a living hell, but in fiction, the ghastlier they are, the more we love them. Shows like The Office, The Thick Of It and Fawlty Towers are considered absolute classics thanks to the excruciating antics of David Brent, Basil Fawlty and Malcolm Tucker, who thoroughly torment their poor, unfortunate staff. The secret of their success? They are an exaggeration of the feckless, tyrannical, incompetent leaders we’ve all had to suffer under from time-to-time. But even the very worst bosses don’t get everything wrong, so we thought we’d have some festive fun and find one thing that redeems each of this trio of terrors just slightly.
David Brent, a man of the people
David Brent wants two things most in his life – to be universally loved by his staff and to find success as the born performer he is. An eternal optimist, David doesn’t let being in middle management at a Slough paper firm inhibit his ambitions, he just uses his day-to-day life as a dress rehearsal. What follows is the most cringe-inducing comedy the world has ever seen, a cacophony of offensive jokes and bantz that need to be binned immediately. His meditations on life, work and the universe are sprawling and bizarre, and he invented a dance so disturbing that once seen, it can never be forgotten.
Yet David, who is an appalling boss to his mortified and often horrified staff, has a heart of pure gold. He genuinely cares for each and every one of his people and goes out of his way to make them feel supported and included. His quest for a culture of inclusivity often hits obstacles, like him inappropriately touching someone, or lying to his bosses about making redundancies because he can’t bear to lose any of his team. As unforgivable as most of his behaviour is, David Brent is the consistent champion of those around him, and for his unwavering commitment to their welfare, he earns a double-thumbs-up from us.
Malcolm Tucker, instant feedback
Human hand grenade Malcolm Tucker is the sort of boss who believes in a brutal, no-nonsense leadership style. He stalks the corridors of Westminister ready to pounce on ministers, their beleaguered teams and the plucky journalists daring to cover them. Armed with an all-pervading air of menace and a sweary vocabulary that’d make a dock full of sailors blush, Scot Malcolm strikes fear into the hearts of all he encounters, provoking senior Government officials to hide in cupboards to avoid him. He is, quite simply, one of the worst human beings you could imagine, and we include Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and Katie Hopkins on that list.
There is one area, however, in which Malcolm is faultless – instant feedback. Nobody who works for his Government is ever left with a question mark over what he thinks of their performance. Almost the moment they finish a task – whether it’s a radio broadcast, a sit down with the Guardian or five minutes in the company of Jeremy Paxman – Malcolm is ready to deliver his verdict. OK, that verdict will usually involve violent sexual imagery and screaming, but it will be direct and clear. Nothing is allowed to fester in Malcolm’s regime, he just won’t let anything lie, and in some small way, that has to be a good thing.
Basil Fawlty, recruitment genius
For a man that hates his wife, hates guests and hates hotels, Basil Fawlty has taken the unexpected decision to run a hotel in a busy seaside tourist town alongside his better half, Sybil. Although this hotel is modest and operates with only a handful of staff, it generates the kind of stress you’d usually associate with running the world. For Basil, a man whose cardiologist must be in a perpetual state of blind panic, the demands of his job are all-consuming and incite fury. When he’s not physically abusing his poor waiter, Manuel, terrorising the guests or managing a gastronomic crisis, Basil is busy being racist, classist and thoroughly vile.
You may consider our argument that Basil is a recruitment genius to be questionable given that he hired Manuel, but give us a chance to explain. Of course, Basil’s man from Barcelona is a disaster, but he’s not the only person on the payroll. In bright, likeable waitress and maid Polly, Basil uncovered a total gem. Not only does Polly skillfully navigate the marital battleground between the Fawltys like a pro, but she’s also quick-thinking in a crisis, going over and above to help them cover up their cockups. The guests love her, she can work almost anywhere in the hotel, and even Basil never says a word against her. He is smart enough to know that Polly is often the only person standing between him and total disaster, so he trusts her to get on with it. God help them all if Polly ever leaves.
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