The UK's Most Iconic Villains

Revealed: The UK’s Most Iconic TV Villains

There are certain TV characters that we ‘love to hate’. Nothing makes a series or film quite like an iconic villain. They leave a lasting impression and, in some cases, are the sole reason as to why we keep watching the show. 

To discover the UK’s most iconic villains and in celebration of some of the storylines on TV right now, tombola surveyed 1,000 Brits to compile the ultimate list of characters we love to hate…

The Joker takes the crown as the UK’s top villain they love to hate

Iconic TV villains

1 in 8 (13%) Brits surveyed stated the Joker was the most iconic villain, appearing on both TV and film. First created in 1940, Batman’s archenemy has gained a huge following, considered one of the most recognisable fictional characters. 

The Joker has inspired theme park roller coasters, numerous films and even some of the most iconic internet memes. However, arguably, some of his most iconic moments are the different origin stories of the character, which could be why so many Brits voted for him as their ultimate TV villain. 

Surprisingly, 2% of the 1,000 people surveyed actually stated that Batman was their most iconic villain, suggesting that, actually, a large number of people are rooting for his nemesis.

Biggest soap villain: 1 in 10 voted for Dirty Den

Coming a close second to the Joker is Dirty Den, an iconic soap villain. The EastEnders personality is part of soap history, with 1 in 10 (10%) of the public surveyed stating he is the TV character they most love to hate. 

Dirty Den, or Den Watts, appeared in the first episode of EastEnders back in 1985. The famous moment he served his wife, Angie, with divorce papers is still the most watched TV episode in UK history (and what the character is best known for), viewed by 30.1 million households. Not only that but the aftermath to their divorce is the second most watched UK episode, with 28 million viewers.

Nick Cotton is the second most recognisable soap villain

You have to hand it to EastEnders. Not only did 10% vote for Dirty Den, but a further 6% stated that Nick Cotton was TV’s worst baddie. 

Like Den, Nick Cotton also appeared in the soap’s first ever episode in 1985. He has had multiple feuds with no less than 15 other characters, including his mother and father, and is considered an out and out ‘bad guy’ of the show. So, it’s little surprise that he is recognised as an iconic villain. His ‘nastiness’ was actually once voted the 25th greatest moment in all of soap history! 

Coronation Street’s Pat Phelan and Emmerdale’s Cain Dingle and Meena Jutla also make an appearance in the top 24 TV villains.

Sherlock’s Moriarty is voted the UK’s most iconic villain from a crime drama  

1 in 14 Brits voted Moriarty, the enemy of Sherlock, as their third most iconic TV villain, and the ultimate in crime dramas. 

The criminal mastermind first appeared in the books in 1893, and his character is so villainous in the series that he is the third most popular TV villain in 2021 - 128 years after his initial debut. 

One of his most shocking moments is when he kidnaps Dr Watson in the Sherlock, BBC TV series, highlighting just how far he is willing to go to hurt his enemy. With rumours abound that Sherlock could get a fifth series in the near future, we could be seeing him again on our screens. 

Other baddies from crime dramas include Killing Eve’s, Villanelle.

40% of the most iconic villains are British

Have you ever noticed that a lot of TV villains are, in fact, British? Well, there’s a reason. 

Of the complete list of villains - as voted by the British public - 40% of them are British. But why is that? 

Studies  have shown that speaking in the ‘posh’ version of the British accent - or the Queen’s English - makes you appear more educated and intelligent. Likewise, further research also found that this accent makes you appear ‘less sincere and trustworthy’ - the perfect recipe for a baddie. 

Not only that but the British accent has been voted the world’s sexiest. The British accent took a quarter (25%) of the overall vote, suggesting that there is a reason we root for the villains in our TV series, especially if they are British.

Why do we love to hate these fictional characters?

Clearly, there are plenty of iconic characters that we remember - even years after their first appearance. But why do they make such a big impact? 

Psychotherapist, William Chum, spoke to tombola as to why, saying: “We learn to function in the world primarily from observing others' behaviours. We observe what is acceptable, what is unacceptable, what is safe, and what is dangerous. 

“Because of this, audiences are particularly captivated when a TV character acts out of the socially acceptable norm, as is in villains. It is a way of experimenting with the boundaries of what is socially acceptable from a safe vantage point.” 

Would you agree with these iconic TV villains? If you are a fan of crime thrillers and hunting down the baddies, we can even reveal what your favourite crime drama series reveals about your personality… Hint, you could be detective material.