Whence "More tea, vicar?"

You know, the stock “polite company” phrase, usually used facetiously to cover an awkward silence when someone drops a gaffe at the dinner table or in similar posh surroundings.

Does anyone know where it comes from? A play, a book, a film? Or is it just one of those little clichés that popped up out of nowhere?

One bump or two?


It comes from Whitehall farce.

A cliché (probably never actually said) in which characters in the farce are attempting to cover up an embarrassing incident while an important/respectable personage is in the room.

Unfortunately “Whitehall farce” has become such a hackneyed political columnists’ phrase that I can’t actually find anything about the actual plays, and there’s no Wikipedia entry. You might look up Alan Ayckbourn, but I think he followed Whitehall farce as an homage, rather than contributing directly to the genre, which I dimly recall from my drama degree as being huge in the 1950s.

Closest I could find is a Wikipedia entry for Brian Rix who ran a theatre company at the Whitehall.

I don’t know if this has anything whatsoever to do with it, but the juxtaposition of “tea,” and “vicar,” and wily shenanigans in an indisputably English setting arises in Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1877 operetta, The Sorcerer.

At a village feast celebrating the betrothal of his son, Sir Marmaduke urges his guests to enjoy themselves and to partake in a spot of tea:

The chorus chimes in:

There is, to the best of my knowledge, no implication being made here that the Vicar has spiked the tea with alcohol. That the tea actually has been spiked (with a powerful love philter, as it happens) is a plot point as yet unknown to Sir Marmaduke and the members of the chorus.

Whether the eschewal of alcohol in favor of tea on the part of the clergy was a common image in the Victorian mind, I cannot say with any certainty. But that would be my guess. Mr. Gilbert, possessed of a keen eye for satire, seems to be banking on the recognition of this characteristic as the basis of a joke that otherwise makes no sense.

I remember the line being used as a repeated line in a British sitcom Potter, only memorable because it starred Arthur Lowe.

Can’t swear this is the earliest usage, but it’s certainly where I heard it.

In my exalted circles, we have started using “Another bun, your Eminence?” :slight_smile:

We usually say “Good one, I’ll pay for that”

Me, I usually ask the youngest person present, “Did you hear a duck?”


If a dog is present, then an alternative is “Bad dog, Rover!”

To cover up embarassing lapses and conversational gaps in my vicinity, I sometimes use “So… how about those Blue Jays?”

You can, of course, fill in the name of a different sports team.