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In Pictures: Greatest office characters

From Brent and Schrute to Gecko and O’Brian, Kipp takes a look at some of the greatest business characters ever committed to the big – or small – screen.

January 24, 2011 5:27 by

  • This guy is the uber-geek of this gentle UK comedy, highly intelligent but with a total lack of social skills. High points range from his successful email to the fire station alerting them to an office fire, to his status as a Countdown champion drawn into the world of ‘Street Countdown.’ Marvelous stuff.

  • Let’s face it, we couldn’t even start this list without having these two penciled in. For the uninitiated (presumably you’ve been living in a hut some place), David Brent was the original boss from hell. Played by Ricky Gervais, the British comedian currently under fire for his hosting of the Golden Globes, the character was not evil, just misguided, inappropriate and annoying. He was the star of the BBC’s The Office, which was later remade in America with Steve Carell taking over the role, renamed Michael Scott. High points include reducing an employee to tears when a joke goes wrong and a terrible, terrible dance.

  • If you haven’t watched Mad Men yet, you’re missing the only decent thing on TV these days. The star of the show is supposedly ad man Don Draper, but it’s receptionist-cum-office manager Joan Holloway that steals every scene. Ice cool and sharp as a tack, she does not suffer fools gladly. Well, at all, in fact. High points include smashing a vase over her fiancés head.

  • Before the BBC/US versions of The Office, the perils of life as a white collar slave were charted in this MTV movie and cult hit. Peter Gibbons is a man who hates his mindless, office drone job, which he says is ensuring that every day is worse than the day before. “So that every time you see me, that’s the worst day of my life.” He sees a hypnotist to try to get over things, but the hypnotist dies mid session, leaving Peter in a constant trance-like state. The result is a new, utterly relaxed attitude to work which, rather than get him fired, has him earmarked for promotion. High points include destroying the office printer and snubbing his boss with magnificent simplicity.

  • The man who, along with protégé Bud Fox, inspired tens of thousands of Wall Street careers. Gecko was slick, heartless and utterly, utterly corrupt. He was brought down when Fox turned the table on him, but not before he could utter the immortal lines “Lunch is for wimps” and “Greed, for want of a better word, is good.”

  • If you are looking for a close friend, someone to hang out with and gossip by the water cooler with, then this is not her. It would be fair to say that this girl has some serious personality issues – she’s rude to just about everyone, and is only slightly less rude to her only friends, including Jack Bauer. But it doesn’t matter, because people skills is not her department. Instead she’s a computer expert, opening ports, patches, and satellite uplinks, and sending stuff direct to Jack’s PDA. That’s pretty much all she does, but she does it well.

  • These two get to share an entry because their double act is white collar perfection. Dwight is the jobsworth nerd of the US version of The Office, and Jim is his ultra laid back tormentor. Jim’s pranks have been legion, but the highlights include Jim convincing Dwight that it is Friday, and Jim sending faxes from “future Dwight.” It’s genius.

  • This one isn’t even a character, it’s a real person, but she gets an inclusion because with a relative short amount of screen time she established herself as one of the understated greats of the white collar world. For those who don’t know, the UK version of the Apprentice features Amstrad millionaire Alan Sugar as the boss, and until recently Margaret was his right hand woman on the show. Her understated, scathing, but totally fair assessments of the candidates made her a legend with fans of the show. “Edinburgh is not what it once was,” she said unblinking to one graduate of Edinburgh University.

  • It’s easy to forget that the West Wing was once one of the most popular TV shows on the planet. It hasn’t dated well, but that does mean it isn’t remembered. Toby Zeigler was the Jewish Director of Communications at the White House, whose job was to ‘craft the message.’ Unfortunately he was practically a borderline manic depressive known for being sad pretty much all the time. High points include managing to be miserable for years, without a single let up. Far more interesting than the rest of his colleagues put together.

  • If you haven’t caught this bizarre US show about New Zealand’s 4th most popular novelty folk rock duo, then you really need to give it a go. It’s almost impossible to explain the appeal of the pair, who are complete nerds that frequently launch into genre-specific comedy songs. We can’t even make it sound good describing it, but it is brilliant. Murray is the boys’ band manager, when he’s not an employee of New Zealand’s embassy in New York (a dilapidated building with, at best, 70s decor). High points include arranging a gig for the band in an elevator, and hosting the Matrix-obsessed New Zealand Prime Minister, who becomes convinced he has seen a ‘glitch.’ Priceless.


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