From Harambe To Farage, Here Are The Real Heroes And Villains of 2016

It's been a funny (and terrifying) old year

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It's been a funny old calendar year. It's seen the usual ups and downs and more than its share of lefts and rights. But who made it better, and who made it worse? Here are our heroes and villains of 2016.

HEROES

1 | ANDY MURRAY

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British people shouldn't be good at tennis – it's one of the things that makes us British. But then Andy Murray burst onto Centre Court, all snorts and nostrils, and started actually winning, as if empowered by some Faustian pact. Even those giant ankle supports he wears make his feet look a little like hooves from certain angles.

Then this year, it all clicked into place. First he won Wimbledon (for a second time), then Olympic gold (for a second time) and then, last week, he finally became World Number One.

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Finally, after 77 years of hurt (or 117, if you are a Scottish nationalist), the boy gone an' done it. We're top of the world again. Is there any sport (apart from snooker and bicycles, neither of which really count because one's technically a leisure activity and the other's a way of getting places faster than walking) that Britain is definitively, unequivocally a-hundred-percent The Best In The World At?

The only conceivable reason Ridley Scott hasn't made a movie about Murray yet is that Ewan McGregor was unavailable. Forget the empire, we've got Andy Murray. British power and influence has finally returned home.

2 | NICOLA STURGEON

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OK, she looks disturbingly like 80s comedy midget Wee Jimmy Krankie, but that's where the laughter stops. Nicola Sturgeon is a serious politician, once described by the Daily Mail as "the most dangerous woman in Britain".

But whatever your opinion of her, it is hard not to appreciate her commitment to the people who voted her in, namely the Scots. In the modern climate where most politicians seem more interested in furthering their own careers than the progress of the country, she just seems to really, really care.

You won't see her blundering down a zip wire or flipping her second home. And can you imagine her awkwardly drinking a pint like she's playing the clarinet ("That's what the working classes drink, right?") when clearly her every sinew is screaming out for nice a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

2016 was a great year for Sturgeon. She was about the only Remainer who came out of Brexit with a positive result. She is so straight a political shooter that this year she even published her tax return to reveal she declared an income of £104,000, despite being eligible for a £144,687 salary. That showed a level of class few politicians nowadays could dream of.

3 | JOHN OLIVER

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John Oliver's always been well-known, on both sides of the Atlantic, for his biting political satire – he's a witty and intelligent Brummie who looks like a penguin accountant. What's not to like? But recent years have seen Oliver become more than just a comedian with a voice to project.

His show, Last Week Tonight has made him one of the most revered, and feared, TV hosts in America. His satire has crashed government websites, boosted charitable donations and even inspired legislators to push for new laws.

But in 2016 he entered a league of his own. With Donald Trump's emergence onto the American political stage came Oliver's emergence as a one-man battering ram against the gold-plated hypocrisy that defined The Donald's presidential campaign.

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Whether it was lampooning Trump's tiny hands, branding him a sociopathic narcissist, or warning the world's cicadas of a Trump armageddon, he became the funniest and most-articulate voice of the reasonable half of America. Move over Downton Abbey, America has a new British export that it wishes were its own.

4 | KEN LOACH

Aim your remote at any 24-hour TV news channel, and you'll invariably be greeted by a privately-educated Brexiteer politician, decked out in a herringbone waistcoat and bruise-coloured dockers, claiming to represent the true voice of the struggling working classes.

It's all a bit disingenuous, obviously. Which is why legendary director Ken Loach's reappearance on the social justice filmmaking scene is a saving grace in a year where the struggles of working class life have been co-opted by posh public servants for their ambitious machinations.

I, Daniel Blake, released earlier this year after a Palme d'Or win in Cannes, tells the heart-breaking and true to life story of a man who struggles against a rigged welfare system to prove that he is unfit for work, after a heart attack leaves him unable to earn his keep.

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Regardless of whether you agree with his politics, Ken Loach's dedication to hiring working class people to tell the tragic, kitchen sink stories that are never usually listened to is a far more palatable alternative to the political class' plum-voiced appropriation.

Words: Nick Pope

5 | BARACK OBAMA

Remember the humour, the compassion, the all-round amiability – Obama's been our hero for years. But this year, Barry revealed a superpower no mortal man should possess. Did you see the photos of the day he met president-elect Donald Trump?

Like when Christopher Reeve is forced to shoot the tree with his laser eyes to save Lois Lane from Niagara Falls in Superman 2, Obama revealed his power to hide the sheer panic of a man sitting opposite another man who's talking about all the ways he plans to destroy the first man's hard-fought legacy.

How Obama managed to not punch Trump in his pout is, frankly, mind-blowing. You can see that he wants to. That's betrayed by his eyes – burning with controlled hatred. Yet he sat there with all the dignity and stoicism of a newly-divorced husband meeting the man now sleeping with his ex-wife. For your loyalty and integrity, Obama, we salute you.

VILLAINS

1 | DEATH

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Dear Death,

Fuck you! First you stole Bowie, then Rickman, then Wogan. But they weren't enough, were they, Death? Not in 2016. So you took Harper Lee then Paul Daniels, Victoria Wood then Prince. You even helped yourself to Mohammad Ali, you bastard. So why, after them, did you take away Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder and Leonard Cohen?

Did something happen in the Great Beyond? Did you convert the loft, or move things about to make extra space? Perhaps you failed to meet your death quota for 2015. Or is this the first tranche of afterlife austerity measures, designed to reduce your celestial deficit – a bailout with celebrities' lives?

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Whatever the reason, we won't stand for it. It's been a shitty enough year as it is, what with Brexit and Trump. Fuck you, Death, we want our celebrities back – they help us forget.

2 | BORIS JOHNSON

Has there ever been a more self-serving, opportunistic vulture of a British politician than Boris Johnson? Of course. But in 2016, as he drove Britain of the cliff as snake-oil-salesman-in-chief of the #VoteLeave campaign, he entered a class of his own.

We could probably have forgiven him the untruths and manipulation if we felt he actually believed in the cause as a whole. But in hindsight, it's not actually clear that Boris even wanted to leave the European Union. It turned out, really, he just wanted enough Tory-fringe life-sceptics onside to ballast his party leadership bid.

What made it worse was that we sort of quite liked him before Brexit. Not so much as a politician – he was always laughably incompetent – but as an oddly loveable buffoon. Naturally, his leadership failed when his co-Leave mastermind Michael Gove slithered up behind him and shoved him down the stairs.

Still, Bibbledy Boris clown-rolled out of it landed on his feet, didn't he? Ta-daa! Now he's Foreign Secretary. So really, it all worked out for Bojo in the end. He got his big job and Britain got its clown.

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3 | SAM ALLARDYCE

In the pantheon of great England managers, Big Sam will forever rank at the top. With a 100% win rate, he is technically England's most successful-ever boss. One game, one win, one monumental cock-up.

It's not even completely clear why he got the job in the first place. The FA wanted Wenger, until he declined. After that, the Allardyce appointment did feel a little like if a Hollywood studio found out that Martin Scorsese was unavailable to direct a romantic drama set against the Italian Renaissance, so went for Guy Ritchie instead.

There's no suggestion that Allardyce broke the law when the Daily Telegraph stung him into agreeing to impart his hard-earned wisdom on how to dance around FA transfer rules for cash. But still, WOW! In isolation, the blunder was bad. But in context, it was horrifying. Britain was already the laughing stock of the Western world before Allardyce blundered in.

First, it came weeks after one of England's most humiliating performances in memory after crashing out of Euro 2016 to Iceland. A few weeks before that there was Brexit, the rationale for which few seemed to understand except for 17.4m Brits. For outsiders, it was the wormy cherry on our mouldy cake.

4 | NIGEL FARAGE

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Nothing says "men of the people" more than a guffawing photo op in a giant golden lift. Yeah, well done Don and Nige, you've really shown those out-of-touch elites how to free the workers from their chains! It was a gold-plated Robin Hood moment, that.

The photo was meant to be a celebration of "freedom and winning", according to Nigel Farage. But to any normal human being, it looked more like two demons demonstrating how to unlock the Gates of Hell with a game of paper, scissors, thumbs up.

It also told you everything you need to know about Nigel Farage. After sailing Britain headlong into Brexit, he swiftly abandoned ship, and crew, and swam to America for asylum. Now, he's touting himself out as a freelance consultant on how to break electoral promises gently (*not sure if that's what's on his business card).

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On Trump's widely-reported misogyny, Farage purred, "The alpha male says and does boastful things." It's easy to see what Trump gets out of having Farage – a seasoned political agitator – onside. But what does Farage get? Kudos? Free drinks? A job?

5 | HARAMBE THE GORILLA

Thankfully, Internet memes usually have a short and predictable lifespan that they very rarely surpass.

First, said meme will arrive on social media, then it will go viral, and then, out of nowhere, its life will be tragically cut short by brands that co-opt it for promotional campaigns, thereby gouging away its charm and appeal.

But that didn't happen with Harambe, the 17-year-old silverback gorilla who became a phenomenon after being shot dead at Cincinnati Zoo. Because of the morbid reality of the meme, brands steered well clear, meaning it could grow and mutate with free reign.

He became the subject of bizarre Twitter tributes, and sparked the popular call-to-arms "dicks out for harambe". His popularity stretched far and wide, and while he was briefly exploited by a racist Aussie rules Facebook page, for the most part it was harmless and inexplicably funny.

That is, until the American presidential election came along, and over 11,000 people decided to vote for Harambe as the next leader of the free world - proving once and for all that the human race can't be trusted with a good thing.

That's not Harambe's fault. It's our fault. But we need a scape-gorilla – something to reassure us that humans aren't solely to blame for the baffling, absurdist hellscape that we currently find ourselves in.

And it's not like he could answer back, anyway. So: pitchforks out for Harambe?

Words: NP