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Live Action TV / The Knowledge

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"We live, we learn; what we, in our ignorance, call Knowledge."
It's a big place, London.

The Knowledge is a 1979 made-for-TV comedy, written by Jack Rosenthal, about the extremely demanding test of the geography of London, known as "the Knowledge", which must be passed by all those aspiring to drive the famous black London taxis. London is a big place: they have to bone up in their heads a grand total of approximately fifteen thousand, eight hundred and forty-two streets, and the few thousand buildings on those streets, by heart. No other taxi driver in no other city, in no other country in the world has to know a fraction of what they have to know.

The film follows the attempts of four working-class "Knowledge boys": the nervous Chris and his crotchety girlfriend Janet, the Nice Jewish Boy Ted, the cocky Gordon, and melancoly "Titantic", as they embark on their marathon quest to pass the Knowledge, which might take a year, or two, or seven, or ten, often to the exclusion of everything else in their lives. To do this, they learn routes (known as "runs") through London, while they ride on mopeds.


They regularly have to present themselves for tests, known as "appearances", in which they have to recite "runs" in a manner of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness such as "The journey from Manor House station to Gibson Square is: left Highbury Grove, right St Paul's Road, comply Highbury Corner, leave by Upper Street, Islington town hall on left, right Theberton Street, Gibson Square." These appearances are conducted by the ultimate Deadpan Snarker, Mr Burgess (played by Nigel Hawthorne), known by the Knowledge boys as "The Vampire", who drills them not only in Knowledge, but their ability to deal with people, who are a very peculiar form of life: compared with people, the Knowledge is a piece of marzipan.

There was a theatrical adaptation of The Knowledge, directed by Maureen Lipman (widow of Jack Rosenthal), which had a brief run (no pun intended) at the Charing Cross Theatre: forward Whitehall, comply roundabout, forward Northumberland Avenue, left Villiers Street, set down on left.


The Knowledge contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Ted, who passes the Knowledge in a record thirteen and three-quarter months.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Ted and Val call each other "Doll".
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: This is assumed by a cafe owner, who throws Gordon out of his cafe, when he arrives in his bike attire.
  • All for Nothing: The day he receives his green badge, Ted is charged with drunk driving, and disqualified from cab driving. It is also revealed he lost his job at a laundry the same day.
  • And Another Thing...: Just as Gordon leaves Mr Burgess's office for the last time, Mr Burgess cheerfully asks "tell me something: do they still call me 'the vampire'?". See The Reason You Suck below for the full scene.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Janet's little sister Margaret-Louise catches Janet and Chris smooching when Chris has been banned from Janet's flat. However, having made the Comically Small Demand of a skateboard, Margaret-Louise later becomes an accomplice, when Janet pays her to keep watch for their parents returning.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: inverted when Chris gets his green badge, noting that after three years of hard grafting, there was no fanfare of trumpets, no choir of angels, nothing.
    Young lady at the appointments window: (in usual brisk tone) Mr Matthews! Your green badge. That'll be 15p. (To the next applicant) Next! Knowledge, is it?
  • Awful Wedded Life:
    • The middle-aged "Titanic" and Lillian have a loveless marriage, where Lilian has not spoken to Titanic since their honeymoon, and spends all her time doing crosswords and other competitions by the thousand.
    • Chris and Janet (engaged, but not married) are regularly sparring and snapping at each other, with only occasional moments of affection.
  • The Bore: Any Knowledge boy, most of whom devote their lives to their subject.
    • Chris lampshades this, explaining in a voiceover that real people know what's going on by what's happening in the world, like Elvis Presley dies, or Argentina win the World Cup. With the Knowledge boys, it's different; they know when roadworks start and when they finish, or if a new roundabout appears on Fulham Palace Road. The only thing they would know about Elvis Presley dying is about a concert paying tribute to him, and what's the quickest way to get there from the Hilton Hotel.
    • This is shown in a scene with Janet and Chris, on their way to a Sunday afternoon meet up of the Knowledge boys and their wives:
      Janet: Is it their own place, or rented?
      Chris: Dunno.
      Janet: They got any kiddies?
      Chris: Er, dunno.
      Janet: Are they happy, or what?
      Chris: How do I know?!
      Janet: Don't you ever talk to each other?!
      Chris: 'Course we do!
      Janet: What about?
      (Cut to the boys earnestly discussing Knowledge, while their wives sit apart from them on the other side of the room, looking extremely bored, reluctantly making small talk)
  • The Bully: Gordon, when he bullies the teetotal Ted into drinking on the day he passes the Knowledge.
    Gordon: What's Jewish for champagne?
    Ted: I don't drink.
    Gordon: (to Chris) You got any money on you?
    Chris: Only three quid, but...
    Gordon: Come on, hand it over. I've got eleven; that's fourteen quid's worth of champagne.
    Ted: I don't drink!
    Gordon: You stand there, a little Jewish fellow with big earlobes, you pass the Knowledge in fourteen months, and you tell me you don't drink?
    Ted: Cards, yes. Women, certainly. Drink: This much (indicates tiny amount) at Christmas, tops.
    Gordon: It's Christmas, cabby.
    (Gordon and Chris drag Ted off. Cut to Titanic, sitting alone in a cafe; in their excitement, they've forgotten about him.)
  • Captain Oblivious: Ted tells a story of how he completely failed to notice a naked woman jogging, because he was too busy clocking points on a run.
  • Cheating with the Milkman: Gordon is a serial philanderer, calling on housewives for a bit of extra crumpet on the side; and later, he becomes a milkman.
  • Contagious Laughter: During one of Chris's appearances, Mr Burgess starts deliberately laughing hysterically, while Chris is trying and failing to keep a straight face; then he instantly switches to his usual serious manner with "something amusing you, Mr Matthews?".
  • Companion Cube: Because Lillian flatly refuses to talk to her husband Titanic, she instead talks to her crinoline lady on the mantelpiece.
    Lillian: So I said to her: 32p? It was only 29 last week. And she said "well, chocolate's gone up". And I looked at her, and I says "why?", just like that. She says, "because the world price of cocoa's gone up." And I says, "I don't want cocoa, I want a bar of bloody chocolate!". I was a lady though, I didn't swear. I said, "I don't want cocoa, Miss, I want a bar of chocolate." "Well", she said, "chocolate's made out of cocoa." "Oh is it?" I said. "Well, I'm not made out of money," and walked out. So, she didn't get no profit out of me; that showed her, couldn't answer that. (pause) 'Course, I didn't get no chocolate.
  • Cool Bike: Inverted in that the bikes ridden by the Knowledge boys are very basic mopeds.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mr Burgess, in spades. Also Janet.
    Janet: Hang on. What's the building on the left?
    Chris: Islington Town Hall?
    Janet: If it is, some slimy bastard's moved it.
  • Deer in the Headlights: Titanic, during his first appearance, staring fixedly at Mr Burgess, his eyes full of terror.
    Mr Burgess: (Quietly exasperated) Thank you, Mr Walters. Take your card. Go through the door, that's the door; with your legs. Those are your legs; thank you
    Titanic: (Not moving) Thank... you... sir.
  • Did Not Do the Bloody Research: Chris, applying for the Knowledge, in ignorance of what it is, when he and Janet overhear Knowledge boys discussing it in a cafe, in the very first scene.
    Chris: What are they on about?
    Cafe owner: Knowledge boys, they're on the Knowledge.
    Chris: What is it?
    Cafe owner: It's a form of euthanasia.
    Janet: (to one of the Knowledge boys) This Knowledge, how do you get on it?
    Knowledge boy: Metropolitan police public carriage office, down the road.
    Janet: Ta. (To Chris) All right, there we are, off you go.
    Chris: Hang on, we don't know what it entails, or nothing! It'll entail things, won't it?
    Knowledge boy: Blood, sweat and tears, that's all.
    Chris: (voiceover) So that was that, how it all started. I applied to go on the Knowledge, and I didn't even know what it was! I found out, though. By hell, I found out.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: In the opening and closing credits, a song about "The Knowledge" is sung by Mick Ford, who plays Chris.
    "Wormwood Scrubs in Upton Way, where villains do their porridge;
    Grateful their judge didn't say they'd have to do The Knowledge."
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Inverted in that Mr Burgess says "if any of you wishes to call me 'sir', I shall try not to be offended"; and thereafter, they mostly do call him sir.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Mr Burgess the "vampire", in a deadpan fashion. He makes no secret of how difficult the Knowledge is, and goes out of his way to make the Knowledge boys feel uncomfortable during their appearances, which even reduces the cocky Gordon Weller to silence. He eventually explains his reasoning (see "The Reason You Suck" Speech), but only after giving Gordon a very hard time.
    For his first appearance, Gordon is determined not to be phased by "The Vampire", despite all that he has heard.
    Gordon: (striding in confidently, picking up a chair, and moving it close to Mr Burgess's desk) How d'you do?
    Mr Burgess: Pickfords?
    Gordon: What?
    Mr Burgess: Are you a furniture removal man, by trade, or a kleptomaniac?
    Gordon: (confused) Er, Weller, G. Mr Gordon Weller.
    Mr Burgess: Where it was, please, the chair.
    Gordon: Chair?! I see. (moves it back)
    Mr Burgess: Thank you, now sit on it. (Gordon does so) Well done. Now your first appearance, Mr Weller.
    Gordon: Yes, spot on, my very first. Quite correct.
    Mr Burgess: (after a pause) What do you think about the American fraternity, Mr Weller?
    Gordon: You mean film stars? Sean Connery's very good, why?
    Mr Burgess: I ask the questions, Mr Weller. The Irish?
    Gordon: What Irish?
    Mr Burgess: (angrily) Don't have me repeat every syllable, Mr Weller. I've had a long day ahead of me ever since I woke up, and it's getting longer, and I've still to go to Sainsbury's on my way home. What do you think of the Irish?
    Gordon: Sean Connery's one, isn't he?
    (Mr Burgess suddenly turns his back)
    Gordon: (very confused) Is it something I've said? I've come about the Knowledge.
    Mr Burgess: (after a long pause, stands, turns round slowly, speaks very quietly) I'm standing outside St Mary's Hospital, and I want to go to the Great Eastern Hotel.
    Gordon: Er...
    Mr Burgess: (still quietly, pouring water into a glass) I'm standing outside St Mary's Hospital, Praed Street, Edgware Road, and I want to go to the Great Eastern Hotel, Lewisham Street.
    Gordon: Er...
    Mr Burgess: And it's raining. (Suddenly empties glass over window sill) I'm outside Arding and Hobbs, and I want to go to the London Fire Brigade Headquarters; to report a fire, in the bedding department. (snaps fingers fiercely)
    Gordon: (uncertainly, while Mr Burgess is pointing fiercely at him) Forward Lavender Hill, Wandsworth Road, left... no... right... no... forward Nine Elms Lane...
    (Mr Burgess picks up a pencil pot, and tosses the contents over the room)
    Gordon: Excuse me, you appear to have thrown your pencils on the floor, Mr Burgess.
    Mr Burgess: Never mind what I'm doing; just concentrate on what you're doing.
  • Driver of a Black Cab: The aspiration of all the Knowledge boys.
  • Drunk Driver: Poor Ted, having been bullied into drinking the day he passes the Knowledge.
  • Everybody Smokes: As they did in the 1970s, especially indoors; many characters are seen smoking, especially at home.
  • Family Business: Ted is from a family of cabbies: his grandad, his father, his father-in-law, his two brothers; so he sets out to become "the best Margolies who ever pushed a cab".
  • Family Versus Career: many of the Knowledge boys spend every waking moment "clocking runs", sometimes to the detriment of their families. Ted's wife Val muses that their daughter will never know her father, and that on her wedding day, she'll see her father and not recognise him. Janet becomes bored with Chris's devotion to the Knowledge, even though she pressed him into taking it up.
    Chris: You do Knowledge full time, all the time. You do nothing else. There is nothing else.
    Janet: Yes there is the bloody life, Chris! What's Knowledge? A few months ago we'd never even heard of it! There's other things in the world: there's us.
  • Forbidden Love: Chris and Janet.
    Chris (voiceover): The only place we could be on own was her dad's garage. You see, I was banned from her mum and dad's flat, and she was banned from mine. Her old man didn't want her getting serious with a deadleg on the dole; and mine thought she was only after me for my dole money. Then, one night, Janet's sister Margaret Louise caught us discussing the American involvement in Cambodia.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At the very beginning, when Chris and Janet wander into the Knowledge boys' cafe, they are carrying a skateboard: see It Began with a Twist of Fate below.
    • Mr Burgess tells them that run number one on page number one is Manor House Station to Gibson Square: not that anybody's ever wanted to go from Manor House to Gibson Square, but they have to know how to. At the end, one of Chris's passengers asks to make that very journey, to Chris's astonishment. The viewer is reminded of this first run by a voiceover shortly before this scene.
    • Mr Burgess has this warning for Knowledge boys with a criminal past, present or future: "If your hobby is mugging old ladies, or driving a vehicle with a gallon of martinis inside you and a cherry on your head, go into politics, not cab driving; because one conviction EVER... and you're back in the bus queue". Later, Ted is disqualified for drink driving.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Phlegmatic: Chris.
    • Sanguine: Ted.
    • Choleric: Gordon.
    • Melancolic: Titanic.
  • God: the Christian variety, mentioned frequently.
    • Mr Burgess mentions God:
      Mr Burgess: How long it takes before you get your licence and your pretty green badge is up to you. And, no doubt, God. If you're a genius, it might take a year. On the other hand, it might take two, or seven, or ten.
    • Chris mentions God a few times.
      Chris: He must have one hell of a memory: God, thousands of streets, millions of people. One day two mormons came to door and asked "Do you believe in God?", and my dad said "Of course. I'm just not sure he believes in me," and that was before he turned nasty.
    • While Gordon is having his first appearance, his wife Brenda prays "please don't let him be cocking it up, he's always cocked everything else up; Our Father, which art in heaven..."
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: Mr Burgess points his finger at Gordon during is appearance, one of his many tactics to make Knowledge boys uneasy.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The swear words of choice are "sodding" and "bloody". The script contains several "buggers", which were watered down for TV.
  • Happy Dance: Just after mastering his first run (with great difficulty), Chris does an exaggerated happy dance in the street, kicking rubbish about, repeatedly yelling "I know the way from Manor House station to Gibson Square!!" Ted also does a happy dance when he passes the Knowledge.
  • Hidden Depths: Chris and Janet. Despite his lack of confidence and street wisdom, Chris eventually passes the Knowledge; and despite her sharp tongue, Janet has a kind heart.
    Janet: You know what I think of when I'm at work bored out of my bloody skull? The little kid whose house we went to for the skateboard, crying his little cross eyes out 'cause we'd come for it, and his pig-headed father who was selling it, belting him across the head 'cause he was crying, so all he did was cry all the more.
  • Housewife: The wives of the Knowledge boys are often seen at home doing housework.
  • I Have This Friend...: Rather than speak to the office in person, Chris uses a phone booth to reschedule his disastrous first appearance, introducing himself as "a mate of Mr. Matthews", to hide his shame.
  • In-Series Nickname:
    • Mr Burgess is known by the Knowledge boys as "The Vampire". Most of the boys despise him, although Chris seems to develop an affection for him towards the end.
    Chris (voiceover): I went to the Vampire's office to say goodbye, but I didn't go in. When I got to the door I could hear a Knowledge boy in there with him, crying.
    • The melancoly middle-aged Knowledge boy Mr Walters is known as "Titanic"; because his wife reckons he's a disaster.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • The routes which the Knowledge boys have to learn are called "runs".
    • The book containing these runs is called "the Blue Book", even though it's coloured pink.
    • The tests the Knowledge boys take are called "appearances".
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Chris and Janet, interrupted from smooching in Janet's dad's garage, by Janet's younger sister Margaret Louise, who has to be bribed into silence.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: When Janet's sister Margaret Louise demands a skateboard, Chris and Janet see one advertised second-hand, and on their way from buying it, they wander into a cafe populated by "Knowledge boys", earnestly discussing their subject. Janet persuades Chris to apply for The Knowledge, without him knowing what it really is.
  • It's a Small World After All: Chris lampshades this, as he runs into Gordon leaving his mistress's house late at night, instead of being out on the Knowledge.
    Chris: It's a big place, London. It's so bloody big, you forget how small it is.
  • Jack-of-All-Trades: Gordon.
    Gordon: (voiceover) I'd tried everything in my time, hadn't I? Cowboy plumber, cowboy carpenter, cowboy electrician, and since April, cowboy kitchen installer; and I made a right cow out of all of them. Three cocked up kitchens later, I thought: hang up your boots, cowboy, let's find a cushier number, e.g. charging Arabs fifteen quid for a taxi ride from London airport.
  • Jerk Jock: Gordon, who is cocky and over-confident, a serial philanderer, and bullies Ted into drinking the day he gets his green badge. He also thinks he is above the law, as Mr Burgess points out to him.
    Mr Burgess: You didn't quite tell the truth, did you? You're not averse, I noticed, to standing on your accelerator: November 18, 1996, Brixton Road, forty-five miles per hour.
    Gordon: 1966? I wasn't even bloody born.
    Mr Burgess: I told you we checked, watch it.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama: the background most often shows the less glamourous parts of London, contrary to many films based in London.
  • Long List: Mr Burgess lists the buildings the Knowledge boys have to know.
    Mr Burgess: Every street and what's on every street: every club, every hotel, every hospital, every department store, every shop, government building, park, art gallery, theatre, cinema, restaurant, church, synagogue, mosque, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And et cetera. Every building or amenity in public use, you name it: you've got to know it.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Ted.
  • No Name Given: the receptionist at the Public Carriage Office, who is regularly referred to as "the young lady at the appointments window".
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Mr Burgess the Vampire regularly invades the Knowledge boys' personal space during their appearances, as one of the many things he does to make them feel uncomfortable.
  • The Notable Numeral: Mr Burgess's pearls of wisdom are awash with numbers.
    • There's not one page, there's twenty-six; not one run on each page, as eighteen; so that's four hundred and sixty-eight runs altogether. Which means that the amount of macaroni you have to bone up in your head, Mr Weller, is a grand total of approximately fifteen thousand, eight hundred and forty-two streets. And the few thousand buildings on those streets. By heart. Now don't blame me: Knowledge goes back three hundred and fifty years, slightly before my time.
    • I'll tell you a little secret: seven out of the ten of you sitting here today will never make it.
    • Your next appearance will be in fifty-six days' time; eventually, if you're still with us, it will be every twenty-eight days; finally, every fourteen.
    • There are only sixty suburbs in London.
    • If you're a genius, it might take a year. On the other hand, it might take two, or seven, or ten. If it looks as if it's taking longer than that, I should pack it in and have a go at ballet dancing.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The officious young lady at the appointments window.
    Young lady (to Chris, who is loitering nervously): Applying for the Knowledge?
    Chris: No, I've done the applying. I'm here for the acceptance interview.
    Young lady: Room 12.
    Chris: That's what it says here.
    Young lady (coldly): Well, that's where you go.
    Chris: Er... which way is room 12?
    Young lady: Where you're going. (Closes the window)
  • On the Rebound: It is strongly implied that Chris and Miss Stavely get together, after Chris separates from Janet.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: A very stilted conversation between Ted and Titanic, who is not used to conversation, because of his silent wife.
    Titanic: You got a better memory than me, mate.
    Ted: Photographic, they say.
    Titanic: What, for a living? It's a good trade, by all accounts.
    Ted: What is?
    Titanic: Eh?
    Ted: Oh, I'm a Hoffman presser by trade, in a laundry.
    Titanic: The photographic's just a hobby, is it?
    Ted: Yeah.
    Titanic: I enjoyed that discussion. I don't often get the chance of a good discussion. Swapping points of view, pros and cons and that...
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Having told Chris in his usual deadpan manner that he has passed his Knowledge, Mr Burgess has a moment of sudden warmth, seeing that Chris is not reacting at all to the good news.
    Mr Burgess: (deadpan) That's the last run I'll be asking you, meaning that you've passed your Knowledge of London. So now I've put you down for a driving test. In the meantime, you'd better start swotting up your knowledge of the suburbs. There's only sixty of them, got a list?
    Chris: Er, yes sir.
    Mr Burgess: I don't detect a note of doubt there, do I?
    Chris: Er, no sir.
    Mr Burgess: (still totally deadpan) That was a joke. I tell jokes, I have a very comical nature. Your next appearance will be in fourteen days' time. You should know most of the suburbs by then, it's child's play. (Suddenly warm) Well, cheer up, laddie! You've passed your Knowledge. You're entitled to crack your face a little; what we in the Carriage Office refer to as happiness.
  • Open the Door and See All the People: When Chris nervously makes his way to the acceptance interview, he knocks timidly at the door of room 12; then opens it, to find a large number of people silently seated in the small room.
    Chris: (very nervously, wondering if he should be there) Is this the room 12 for starting the Knowledge? (Gordon points at the 12 on the door) I expect there's only the one. (He tentatively takes a seat)
  • Potty Emergency: Twice, Gordon is desperate for a Jiminy Riddle, after dressing up in his extensive motorcycle leathers.
    Gordon: It takes me half an hour to find the thing, let alone get it out.
    Brenda: I know the feeling.
  • Product Placement: A passing Arab man seems to have a fondness for Marks and Spencer's department store, while Ted is studying his map beside the road.
    Arab man: Do you need some assistance?
    Ted: No thanks.
    Arab man: Where do you wish to go to?
    Ted: I don't, I'm not lost. I'm trying to sort out the one-way system across Oxford street.
    Arab man: You want to go to Marks and Spencer.
    Ted: ...What?
    Arab man: They're very good. You want the one near Oxford Circus, or you want the one near Marble Arch?
    Ted: I'm going to Grosvenor Square.
    Arab man: There is no Marks and Spencer in Grosvenor Square.
  • Proverbial Wisdom: A Gunnersbury Park proverb: you'll never drop your pants if you never raise your hat.
  • Pursue the Dream Job: Being a London cabby, and the marathon of studying which the Knowledge boys have to do for this, for the much-coveted green badge.
    Mr Burgess: Now, the Knowledge sounds impossible. It isn't; otherwise there'd be no such phenomenon as the London cabby. It's true that no other taxi driver, in no other city, in no other country in the world has to know a fraction of what you have to know. Not many brain surgeons either.
  • The Reason You Suck: Gordon finally loses his temper with Mr Burgess.
    Mr Burgess: Well?
    Gordon: (resigned) I don't know.
    Mr Burgess: (deadpan) You never do know, do you, Mr Weller?
    Gordon: (also deadpan) I know one thing, your Highness. I know that you've been getting up my nostril ever since the day I met you; and as a consequence, any minute, Your Majesty, you're gonna get my fist up yours.
    Mr Burgess: I think it's safe to say that you are officially off the Knowledge as from now? Goodbye, Mr Weller.
    Gordon: (starting to lose his temper) I come here, every two months, "yes, Sahib; no Sahib". Who do you think you are? I'm a grown bloody man; at least I thought I was, before I came into this torture chamber. Do you know something? I've shrunk three inches in height; straight up, I've measured myself. I sit here like Red Rotten Riding Hood, scared to open my mouth, while you're shouting, bawling, needling, whispering, cracking on you're deaf, scratching your backside. You don't want us to pass, you do everything you can to stop us. (Now furious, his face close to Mr Burgess's) You're driving me bloody coco, mate! I used to be a smart fellow, birds used to give me the eye in Selfridges. Now I wake up in the middle of the night, and my belly's shaking!
    Mr Burgess: Mr Weller...
    Gordon: One more poncy insult from you, and you go on a chartered flight through that window.
    Mr Burgess: (still calmly deadpan) Mr Weller, has it ever crossed your mind... why?
    Gordon: Why what?
    Mr Burgess: There are two things a cabby has to know. One is the Knowledge, the other is people, because it's people who ride in cabs. And people are a very peculiar form of life; compared with people, the Knowledge is a piece of marzipan. They mumble, they can't hear you, they don't know where they want to go to, they get up both your nostrils, they treat you like rubbish. They spend their lives doing it to each other; in a cab, they do it to you; and I have to find out if that bothers you at all; because if it does and you do it to them, you're no cabby.
    Gordon: (surprised) Right, I think you've got your answer, darling.
    Mr Burgess: (holding up Gordon's card) Shall I tear this up, or will you?
    Gordon: I'll do that! That I can do. (Tears it up and throws the pieces over the desk) Merry Christmas.
    Mr Burgess: Tell me something: do they still call me "the vampire"?
    Gordon: The others do. I call you a part of the vampire's anatomy: a very small part.
    (Mr Burgess chuckles to himself, when Gordon is out of earshot)
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder
    Mr Burgess: This brings us to question number one: namely, what exactly is The Knowledge?...
    Gordon: Well, all it is really is boning up in our heads all the macaroni...
    Mr Burgess: Thank you, Mr Weller! That was known as a rhetorical question. I know what The Knowledge is, in other words, I tell you. In other words, you keep your mouth shut and listen. You might learn something: namely, what exactly is The Knowledge?
  • Romantic Spoonfeeding: Janet does this in the opening scene, when she is persuading Chris to take up the Knowledge.
  • Running Gag:
    • The spiel given by the brisk, officious young lady at the appointments window, which is heard several times.
      Young lady: Applying for the Knowledge? Got your birth certificate and driving licence? That's your application form, you fill that in. That's your medical form, your doctor fills that in. And that's your slip for the photographer in Upper Street, for your photos, six copies.
    • Titanic is very wobbly on his bike. When he passes the church, he falls off because he is distracted by the church noticeboard, which has a quotation involving the word "Knowledge", which is amusingly topical:
      "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Knowledge" (when he is starting out).
      "He that hath Knowledge spareth his words" (when he vows not to speak to his silent wife).
      "He that increaseth Knowledge increaseth in sorrow" (when his mates have apparently deserted him).
      "Knowledge is Power" (when he gets his green badge, and does not fall off his bike)
    • Janet frequently berates Chris, before asking in a softer tone "what's wrong?".
  • Screaming Woman: The Knowledge widows, mourning their husbands who are earnestly discussing which page of the Blue Book they are on.
    Val: Do you ever feel you want to scream?
    Brenda: (weakly) All day. I just haven't the energy.
    Val: I sometimes cry, in the supermarket.
    Brenda: I haven't the energy. (Suddenly screams very loudly; Val weeps)
    Gordon: (From afar) What's wrong?
    Janet: We're here! We're here, an' all. What bleeding page are we on??
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The manner in which the Knowledge boys have to recite their runs. This is most notable in a scene where Janet is asked for directions by a passing football fan in a car, made especially funny by Janet merely being a Knowledge widow, rather than studying the Knowledge herself:
    Janet: (in one breath, without hesitating at all) Forward to the main road. Filter left by first set of traffic lights, filter left by second on left, right Aily Street. Forward Goodman Style into Commercial Road, City of the London Gunmakers' company on right. The London College of Furniture on left, Bishop of Stepney's House on right. Forward East India Dock Road, Blackwall Tunnel Approach on left, comply roundabout. Leave via Barking Road, left into Green Street, set down on right.
    Football fan: (after a long pause) I go down to main road, and then I what?!
  • Silent Treatment: Titanic's wife, Lilian, who hasn't spoken to him since their honeymoon, seventeen years previous. She never said why. Poor Titanic is desperate for conversation with anybody, and after a brief exchange with Ted in which hardly anything is said, he says "I enjoyed that discussion, I don't often get the chance of a good discussion".
  • The Smurfette Principle: Among the Knowledge boys, there is one Knowledge girl, Miss Stavely. She has little role in the film, apart from smiling at Chris. In the theatrical adaptation, she has a bigger role.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Chris and Janet.
    Chris: All right, I said I'm sorry.
    Janet: Did you?
    Chris: Yes, I bloody did.
    Janet: Well, I wasn't bloody listening!
  • Spit Take: Gordon spits out his drink when Ted mentions that he is on page 25 (out of the 26-page marathon task).
  • Spot of Tea:
    • Mr Burgess is seen drinking tea during Gordon's final Knowledge appearance, without offering any to Gordon.
    • Chris and Gordon would drink tea after their appearances.
      Gordon: Churches. He asks me: Westminster Cathedral to St Paul's Cathedral, like some kind of religious maniac. I sit there like a bloody Toby jug, saying nothing. Next appearance, fifty-six days, as per bloody usual. If only he'd ask me: Piccadilly Circus to Piccadilly Circus, do me a favour.
      Chris: Fancy some tea?
      Gordon: Why not? If you can't drown your sorrows, might as well take them for a paddle.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Mr Burgess goads Ted into shouting during his first appearance, by pretending to be "a little hard of hearing".
  • Take That!: Janet delivers a particularly nasty insult to Chris, given that she bullied him into doing the Knowledge.
    Janet: It's like a bloody illness with you! Streets and streets, and squares and roundabouts to comply, names and names, and what are you at the end of it? A cabby?!
    Chris: A cabby, I'll be a cabby.
    Janet: Oh nice! Not a bank manager, you notice; not a doctor, or an architect: a bloody tuppenny ha'penny cabby!! (pause) What's wrong?
  • The Teetotaler: Ted, who doesn't drink, until Gordon bullies him into doing so.
  • This Loser Is You: Chris, at the beginning, who has been unemployed since leaving school, has low self-esteem, and little purpose in life, apart from meeting Janet after work. Janet only rarely shows him affection, and is yelling at him the rest of the time.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: Chris provides voiceovers, which sometimes do not match what happens on-screen, especially concerning the final fates of the characters.
    Chris: (voiceover) All I had was Janet, she was all I wanted; she loved me, an' all. (Chris takes her arm when she leaves work; she pulls herself away.)
    Janet: Let me get out of the bloody gates!
    • When Margaret Louise interrupts Chris and Janet smooching, Chris's voiceover says that they were discussing the American involvement in Cambodia.
    • On Gordon:
      Chris: It seems he'd landed on his feet after he was kicked off the Knowledge, got a job with Lotus Cars as a test driver. (Gordon is seen as a milkman) Oh, and the other thing he told me was that he was totally faithful to his missus now. He'd stopped fixing himself up with spare crumpet on the side. It was all down to willpower, mind over matter, and an old Gunnersbury Park proverb: you'll never drop your pants if you'll never raise your hat. (Gordon raises his hat, while calling on a housewife)
    • On Titanic:
      Chris: The only other Knowledge boy that started when I did, and got his green badge, was Titanic. The next day, he packed all his bits and left home, for good. (Titanic is seen leaving the house with his green badge, and some small parcels attached to his bike) According to him, his missus came to the door and spoke to him for the first time in nineteen years, pleading for him to stay.
      Lillian (at the door): Piss off and don't come back!!
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Just before his first appearance, Chris is so terrified that he vomits into his hand, and rushes off.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In the closing credits, a brief montage of each of the main characters is seen, hinting at their futures:
    • Mr Burgess in his office, accidentally pricking himself on a potted cactus.
    • Chris at the wheel of of a cab, stuck in traffic.
    • Janet looking pregnant, inspecting prams in a shop.
    • Ted memorising routes, with a map of Tel Aviv in the background.
    • Titanic at the wheel of a cab, yelling at a woman on a bicycle.
    • Gordon hanging up his milkman's hat, and walking in on his wife Brenda, who waves at him, while hugging somebody else.
  • The Woobie: Titanic, with his wife of seventeen years who never speaks to him. Also Chris, who has low self-esteem. Even at the end, he barely seems excited about being a cabby, after his years of grafting at the Knowledge.
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: Just after the acceptance interview, Ted eagerly tries to impress Mr Burgess with his family tree of cabbies.
    Mr Burgess (deadpan as usual): Yes, Mr Margolies?
    Ted: I just wanted to say that my father's a cabby, and his father before him, and my wife's like, and two of my brothers... and it's all in the blood, really I expect... (Mr Burgess is staring at him, totally unimpressed)...and I feel as if I'm already, well... not already... (Mr Burgess continues to stare coldly)... Anyway, they all wish to be remembered to you, well, not my grandad of course; and they pass on their very best wishes, and...
    Mr Burgess: Mr Margolies, passing the Knowledge is different from everything else in the world. It's unique. It's not who you know, it's what you know. Know what I mean? (Goes out of the room, leaving Ted perplexed)


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