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Note: none of these mums are real. All British mums are wonderful, especially mine. Mind you, the British Mothering Sunday was back in March so we can afford to be a little barbed without the risk of being sent to bed early. Hopefully.
And let’s face it, this list would be just as damning if we did the dads. I mean c’mon, Darth Vader? Absentee despot with a bad case of workaholism? The social workers would have a field day…
Petunia Dursley (Harry Potter)
Never mind how appallingly she treated her reluctantly-adopted nephew Harry Potter, whose only crime was to be born to magical parents in a noticeable and socially embarrassing way, Petunia raised her only child Dudley to be a spoiled bully. She and her husband Vernon (who must shoulder an equal share of the blame) allowed him to believe that it’s possible to have everything you want, whenever you want it, just by throwing tantrums. And he’s been encouraged to be unkind to his cousin. So while she’s clearly an appalling aunt, she’s no great shakes as a mother either.
Zinnia Wormwood (Matilda)
Another instance where the responsibility for appalling parenting must be shared equally between both parents, but whatever Zinnia lacks in her husband’s brutality, she makes up for in plain disinterest. Even at the very end of the tale, when signing over her daughter to be adopted by the far nicer Miss Honey, all she can say (in the book, where she’s British) is “it’ll be one less to look after,” and (in the film, where she is not) something lame and mumbled about how she hardly knew her daughter at all. Well, whose fault is that?
Mrs. Janet Croombe (Mr Stink)
Janet is a social climber who wishes to become a Member of Parliament, with particular interest in cleaning dirty, smelly homeless people off the streets. She is only hindered in this aim by her family, who are a little embarrassing from time to time, and her daughter Chloe’s new friend Mr. Stink, who is a tramp. She not only sets a terrible example, but fails to encourage anyone to follow it. Luckily it all turns out OK in the end.
Sylvia Noble (Doctor Who)
Sometimes it’s important to have a mentor or parent figure that openly criticizes your ideas and actions. It forces you to push harder, to use the strength of your personality to achieve a result that you would not be able to if you had experienced nothing but support. Sylvia Noble believes she is doing the right thing by reining in her daughter Donna’s attempts to better herself, because she’s seen Donna fail time and again. That said, if it takes the knowledge that your daughter saved the universe and then had to have her memory wiped of the entire episode to convince you to ease up on the snipey remarks, maybe that’s a good time to take stock.
Marisa Coulter (His Dark Materials/The Golden Compass)
It would be bad enough that Mrs. Coulter is the head of a Church organization seeking to kidnap street children and cut them away from their spirit animals, or dæmons, to protect them from original sin. That’s not a great place to start, mum-wise. But then she seeks to use her own daughter Lyra as a pawn in her meticulous plans, showing flashes of cold rage amid the smooth purring tone whenever she is thwarted. And again, if it takes a threat to your daughter’s life to remind you that you love her, it’s perhaps a sign that you’re working too hard.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic