The gaffes that made Philip internationally famous

The Gaffes That Made Philip Internationally Famous
Philip was known for his outspoken comments, © PA Archive/PA Images
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By Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter

Britain's Duke of Edinburgh was perhaps best known for his gaffes.

He shocked and sometimes delighted the public with his outspoken remarks and clangers.


His reputation for plain speaking often led to controversy, but he was once branded a “national treasure” by the press for his inability to curb his off-the-cuff remarks.

The Duke of Edinburgh
Philip could be relied on to say something he shouldn’t (Leon Neal/PA)

He claimed he was misunderstood.


In fact, the duke was “misunderstood” almost everywhere he went.

Here are some of Philip’s famous comments:

“British women can’t cook” – in Britain in 1966.

“What do you gargle with – pebbles?” – speaking to singer Tom Jones after the 1969 Royal Variety Performance.


“I declare this thing open, whatever it is” – on a visit to Canada in 1969.

“Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed”  – during the 1981 recession.

Philip on duty
The duke jokes with the Cambridge University rowing team in 2009 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)


“If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it” – at a 1986 World Wildlife Fund meeting.

“It looks like a tart’s bedroom” – on seeing plans for the Duke and Duchess of York’s house at Sunninghill Park in 1988.

“Yak, yak, yak; come on, get a move on” – shouted from the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia in Belize in 1994 to the Queen, who was chatting to her hosts on the quayside.

“We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun, asking ‘Are you all right? Are you sure you don’t have a ghastly problem?’ You just got on with it” – about the Second World War, commenting on modern stress counselling for servicemen in 1995.


The duke at a reception
Philip jokes with cricketers about getting broken fingers while playing the sport (PA)

“How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?” – to a driving instructor in Oban, Scotland, during a 1995 walkabout.

“If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?” – in 1996, amid calls to ban firearms after the Dunblane shooting.

“Bloody silly fool!” – in 1997, referring to a Cambridge University car park attendant who did not recognise him.

“It looks as if it was put in by an Indian” – pointing at an old-fashioned fusebox in a factory near Edinburgh in 1999.

“Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf” – to young deaf people in Cardiff in 1999, referring to a school’s steel band.

Philip and General Sir Mike Jackson
The Duke of Edinburgh shares a joke with General Sir Mike Jackson (Matthew Fearn/PA)

“They must be out of their minds” – in the Solomon Islands in 1982, when he was told that the annual population growth was 5%.

“You are a woman, aren’t you?” – in Kenya in 1984, after accepting a small gift from a local woman.

“If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed” – to British students in China, during the 1986 state visit.

“Your country is one of the most notorious centres of trading in endangered species in the world” – in Thailand in 1991, after accepting a conservation award.

“Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease” – in Australia in 1992, when asked to stroke a koala.

“You can’t have been here that long – you haven’t got a pot belly” – to a Briton in Budapest, Hungary, in 1993.

The duke meeting the public
Philip laughs as he shares a joke with cleaners during a visit to Salford University (PA)

“Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?” – to a wealthy islander in the Cayman Islands in 1994.

“You managed not to get eaten, then?” – suggesting in 1998 to a student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea that tribes there were still cannibals.

In Germany, in 1997, he welcomed German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at a trade fair as “Reichskanzler” – the last German leader who used that title was Adolf Hitler.

“You’re too fat to be an astronaut” – to 13-year-old Andrew Adams who told Philip in Salford in 2001 that he wanted to go into space.

“I wish he’d turn the microphone off” – muttered at the Royal Variety Performance in 2001 as he watched Sir Elton John perform.

“Do you still throw spears at each other?” – in Australia in 2002, talking to a successful Aboriginal entrepreneur.

Philip in Australia
The duke talks to Aboriginal performers (Fiona Hanson/PA)

“You look like a suicide bomber” – to a young female officer wearing a bullet-proof vest on Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, in 2002.

“Do you know they’re now producing eating dogs for anorexics?” – to a blind woman outside Exeter Cathedral in 2002.

“Well, you didn’t design your beard too well, did you?” – to designer Stephen Judge about his tiny goatee beard in July 2009.

“There’s a lot of your family in tonight” – after looking at the name badge of businessman Atul Patel at a Buckingham Palace reception for British Indians in October 2009.

“Do you work it a strip club?” – to 24-year-old Barnstaple Sea Cadet Elizabeth Rendle in March 2010, after she told him she also worked in a nightclub.

“Do you have a pair of knickers made out of this?” – pointing to some tartan – to Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie at a papal reception in Edinburgh in September 2010.

“Bits are beginning to drop off” – on approaching his 90th birthday in 2011.

“How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?” – meeting disabled David Miller, who drives a mobility scooter, at the Valentine Mansion in Redbridge in March 2012.

“I would get arrested if I unzipped that dress” – to 25-year-old council worker Hannah Jackson, who was wearing a dress with a zip running the length of its front, on a Jubilee visit to Bromley, south-east London, in May 2012.

“The Philippines must be half empty as you’re all here running the NHS” – on meeting a Filipina nurse at a Luton hospital in February 2013.

“Most stripping is done by hand” – to 83-year-old Mars factory worker Audrey Cook when discussing how she used to strip or cut Mars Bars by hand in April 2013.

“Do you get bonus points if you knock her off?” – after spotting a toddler sat on an inflatable ball during at activity class at a care home in 2013.

“(Children) go to school because their parents don’t want them in the house” – prompting giggles from Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban after campaigning for the right of girls to go to school without fear, in October 2013.

Philip with Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai reacts the duke’s comment at Buckingham Palace (Yui Mok/PA)

“Just take the f****** picture” – losing patience with an RAF photographer at events to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in July 2015.

“You look starved” – to a pensioner on a visit to the Charterhouse almshouse for elderly men in February 2017.

“Well, I can’t stand up much longer” – to mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah, who told him was sorry to hear he was standing down from public duties, in May 2017.

“You all should be locked up” – to Royal Marines who had completed a 1,664-mile trek – on August 2 2017 on his final official royal engagement as he began his retirement.

“Is that a terrorist?” – pointing at a bearded man in the crowd at Sandringham on New Year’s Eve 2017.

Other quotes:

“I’m just a bloody amoeba” – on the Queen’s decision that their children should be called Windsor, not Mountbatten.

“Gentlemen, I think it is time we pulled our fingers out” – to the Industrial Co-Partnership Association on Britain’s inefficient industries in 1961.

“Are you asking me if the Queen is going to die?” – on being questioned on when the Prince of Wales would succeed to the throne.

Philip and Anne
The duke and his daughter, the Princess Royal (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“If the man had succeeded in abducting Anne, she would have given him a hell of a time while in captivity” – on a gunman who tried to kidnap the Princess Royal in 1974.

“I hope he breaks his bloody neck” – when a photographer covering a royal visit to India fell out of a tree.

“If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she’s not interested” – on the Princess Royal.

“When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife” – on marriage.

“It’s a pleasant change to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people” – to Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner.

“Where did you get that hat?” – supposedly to the Queen at her Coronation.

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