Bob's Your Uncle: Antedating and History

Tue Aug 26 10:51:32 UTC 2014

Can you point to the ADS-L archive?  It didn't show up in an archives search.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Stephen Goranson
Sent: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 4:17 AM
Subject: Re: Bob's Your Uncle: Antedating and History

The 1924 use in Scotland is noted in ADS-L archives, as well as three uses in a 1932 book, the bulk of which 'originally appeared in the Glasgow "Evening Times" and other portions in the Glasgow "Evening News" and "Daily Record and Mail" and the "Scottish Field."'

Stephen Goranson 
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Baker, John <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
Sent: Monday, August 25, 2014 6:52 PM
Subject: [ADS-L] Bob's Your Uncle:  Antedating and History

"Bob's your uncle" is a British catch-phrase; the OED defines it as "everything is all right," although my own admittedly non-British impression is that it is closer to "you're all set" or "it's that simple."  The earliest attestation in the OED is from 1937.  However, there are a number of earlier examples in the British Newspaper Archives.  I summarize these categorically, rather than simply setting them out chronologically.

Musical Comedy

The earliest use I found is in the name of a musical comedy or revue first known to have been performed at the Victoria Theatre in Dundee, Scotland, in 1924.  The first mention is in a teaser advertisement in the (Dundee) Evening Telegraph and Post on June 10, 1924, when "Bob's Your Uncle" was mentioned without further detail in an advertisement for an "all Scotch week" at the Victoria Theatre.  There were several mentions of the production in advertising in the Evening Telegraph and Post over the next few days, none of them very detailed.  For example, on June 17 the advertisement stated:  "If you want a good laugh, see Bob's Your Uncle, with good singing, mirth, dancing, and beauty chorus."  These mentions are in all caps, although I have regularized capitalization for readability.

The musical next is found at the Regent Theatre (Albert Hall), Barnstable, in 1929.  There were advertisements for it in the North Devon Journal on April 18 and 25, 1929, and the same newspaper had a brief review of it on May 2, 1929:  "The revuesical musical comedy, "Bob's Your Uncle," presented by C. A. Stephenson, is providing an excellent programme at the "Regent" this week.  C. A. Stephenson as "Bob Spiphins" is a big success, no less a favourite being Miss Ina Lorimer as "Sarah Spiphins."  Others contributing to the evening's entertainment are Hyde Clarke, Lance O'Dare, and Nellie St. Denise."  Incidentally, the term "revuesical is new to me, and it does not seem to have caught on.

These scattered references might seem to indicate a musical of only modest impact, but a review in the Hull Daily Mail on January 22, 1935, seems to imply greater success:

"The Two Leslies (Holmes and Sarony) have not previously appeared at a Hull theatre.  They have become known to us mainly through the radio, yet when the Tivoli curtain was raised for them last night they received a reception that any old stager might well have envied.

Song writers may be numerous; "hit"-song writers are not so numerous; and songster-"hit"-song-writers are but few.  Of the latter class are these Leslies, writing all their own material, and scoring "hits" nearly all the time.  Think of "Rhymes," "Tweet, tweet," "Ain't it grand to be blooming-well dead?" "The Old Sow," "Wheezy Anna"-and wait for "Try" and "Bob's Your Uncle" (this last title will eclipse all the rest)."

Mr. A.H. Solder (Bob's your Uncle)

The next example is more mysterious.  It appears in the Essex Newsman on March 3, 1928, and is headed "Bob's Your Uncle."  It reads in full:  Mr. A.H. Solder (Bob's your Uncle) wishes to THANK all good friends for their congratulations on his successfully defending the action in the High Courts this week.-Advt."  It is not clear whether the otherwise unknown Mr. Solder was referring to some connection with the musical, or if the phrase had some other significance.

Card Game

The next example is again hard to decipher, although not as confounding as the Essex Newsman item.  It's from a description in the Hull Daily Mail, November 12, 1932, of a dance and whist tournament held by the Plumbers', Glaziers' and Domestic Engineers' Union:  "Whist was played in the Windsor Rooms, where the winners included Mr E. Walton and Mrs Rickett, Mr and Mrs Andrews, Mr Whitehead, Key and Co., "Bob's your Uncle," "Not Sharks," and "Ham and Cheese."  Here "Bob's your Uncle" apparently refers to a card game.  There was an advertisement for "Bob's your Uncle," a party card game selling for 1s 6d, in the (Dundee) Evening Telegraph and Post on October 18, 1935, and there are various advertisements for it thereafter.


A racehorse named Bob won the Derby Cup on November 18, 1932.  In writing about this event, the Dundee Courier on November 19, 1932, wrote, "It was a case of "Bob's your uncle" at Derby yesterday, for the three-year-old of that name put up a splendid performance to win the Derby Cup."  This seems to show that the catch-phrase was in use by then, although we have not yet seen an actual example of its use.  Of course, it's possible that that writer was inspired only by the musical comedy or the card game.

Subsequently, a different horse was actually named Bob's Your Uncle and had a racing career beginning in 1936.  The first reference to it is in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer on June 2, 1936, and there are various references thereafter.

The Modern Phrase

A reasonably clear example of the phrase in its contemporary use shows up in the Chelmsford Chronicle, December 11, 1936, in an account of an arrest for drunk driving.  The motorist is quoted as saying, " I have been a naughty boy.  Had one over the eight.  Not so bad.  Bob's your uncle."  The period after "Not so bad" is missing in this newspaper, but included when the same account was printed elsewhere.

A better example comes from the Yorkshire Evening Post on January 11, 1937, in an account by a parson of a conversation with a man who thought he had an easy job:

"'So long as you behave yourself, nurse your congregation, say a few commonplace and trite things to your folk every week, Bob's your uncle.'

For the moment I could not recall an avuncular Robert, but I knew what my acquaintance meant."


While I previously thought of "Bob's your uncle" as a cockney expression, this history seems pretty clearly to show origins in Scotland and northern England.  Might the musical comedy have been enough to spawn the phrase?  Or was it named for a pre-existing catch-phrase, perhaps deriving from the adjectives "bob" and "bobbish," meaning well or in good health and spirits, or the related phrase "all is bob," meaning that everything is safe, pleasant and satisfactory?  In any case, there does not seem to be any support for the theory that it relates to the appointment of Arthur Balfour by his uncle, Robert Cecil, as chief secretary of Ireland in 1887, see

John Baker

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