In s03e06 of The Thick of It, Ben and Ollie have a rapid exchange which is full of references that I've never heard of... Can anyone explain what these bold parts are about? I assume they're just references to specific elements of British culture.

GLENN: Ah, the prodigal Swain returns.

OLLY: Ben 10! Benstrual cycle. Ben on the 4th of July.

BEN: Olly put the kettle on, on the good ship Olly-pop, Olled Lang Syne

OLLY: How are things going at the, uh, Department of Education Education Education?

BEN: There's shit going up the foot pump, Olly. Mainly because you are the Robin Hood of politics.

OLLY: Well, Robin Hood was a hero.

BEN: No, he was not a hero. He was a terrorist.

What is Ben calling Olly with all these nick names? Why does Olly say Education three times? And what is this "foot pump" reference?


1 Answer 1


Brit here. Allow me to explain:

  1. "Olly put the kettle on" is a reference to the nursery rhyme "Polly Put The Kettle On".
  2. "On the good ship Olly-pop" is presumably a reference to the Shirley Temple song "On The Good Ship Lollipop". (Credit for this one goes to @Yasskier, in an answer he's since deleted - I'd never heard of the song myself.)
  3. "Olled Lang Syne" is a reference to the Robert Burns poem "Auld Lang Syne", which in Britain is traditionally sung at New Years' celebrations.
  4. "Department of Education Education Education" - this is a reference to a famous speech by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which he claimed that his three top priorities in office would be "education, education, and education". Given that The Thick of It is a series about politicians, the reference is quite fitting.
  5. This is a foot pump:

enter image description here

It's used to blow up inflatables: you stamp hard on the pedal and it blows air out through the tube. "There's shit going up the foot pump" has roughly the same meaning as "shit's just hit the fan".

  • 1
    God this makes me love the show even more. The education thing is hilarious. Thanks so much
    – JacobIRR
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:56
  • 1
    5 out of 5 - nice. I do wonder whether there's more to the foot-pump reference though, most Brits would use "shits about to hit the fan" - so I wonder if there's more to that last one.
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 14, 2019 at 22:17
  • 1
    The Thick of It has a reputation for using very colourful language, so I don't think there's anything more to it than just the writers getting creative with the expletives.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 14, 2019 at 22:32
  • 3
    @iandotkelly A foot pump draws in air at the pump, which near, but not on the floor. So, for the pump to draw it in, you must necessarily be in deep shit. Mar 23, 2020 at 15:44
  • 1
    @BCdotWEB: Blair's quote was related to it, in the sense that it's an often used oratory trick that repetition breeds recognition. But given Blair's quote, it's highly unlikely that the reference here was purely towards "location location location".
    – Flater
    Mar 24, 2020 at 0:18

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