“Education Isn’t Everything” “You’re Right, For a Start It’s Not Elephants”

Spike Milligan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Education is enormously important, but it is not a cure-all for the ailments of society. An absurdist quip highlights this limitation:

Education isn’t everything; for a start it isn’t an elephant.

The Irish-English comedian Spike Milligan has received credit for this line, but I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1974 Spike Milligan published “Rommel? Gunner Who?: A Confrontation in the Desert”, the second volume of a seven-volume memoir recounting his experiences during World War 2. The book was set primarily in North Africa in 1943. Milligan described an episode communicating with a pilot and a fellow soldier. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

‘He must have had a good education’ Edgington remarked later, ‘I mean, controlling the plane and issuing fire orders at the same time.’
‘Education isn’t everything.’
‘You’re right, for a start it’s not elephants.’

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Milligan died in 2002, and shortly afterward the “Evening Standard” of London published an obituary which Milligan had written for himself back in 1990. A set of quotations accompanied the obituary. Here were two items: 2

If you kill me, I promise you will never take me alive!
Education isn’t everything. For a start it isn’t an elephant.

In 2004 The Mammoth Book of Zingers compiled by Geoff Tibballs included these two lines credited to Milligan: 3

Her mother was a cultivated woman – she was born in a greenhouse.
Education isn’t everything. For a start it isn’t an elephant.

In 2008 the joke appeared in “Dim Wit: The Funniest, Stupidest Things Ever Said” compiled by Rosemarie Jarski. 4

In conclusion, Spike Milligan deserves credit for this joke which appeared in his 1974 memoir “Rommel? Gunner Who?”. The initial version used the plural “elephants”. A version using the singular “elephant” appeared in some of his obituaries.

Image Notes: Public domain picture of an elephant from sasint at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.


  1. 1975 (1974 Copyright), “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?”: A Confrontation in the Desert by Spike Milligan, Quote Page 166, Book Club Associates, London. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2002 February 27, Evening Standard, My Obituary by Spike Milligan and Terry Jones, Quote Page 8, London, England. (ProQuest)
  3. 2006 (Compiled 2004), The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips and One-Liners: Over 8,000 Gems of Wit and Wisdom, One-Liners and Wisecracks, Compiled by Geoff Tibballs, Topic: Mothers, Quote Page 355, Topic: Education, Quote Page 177, Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 2008, Dim Wit: The Funniest, Stupidest Things Ever Said Compiled by Rosemarie Jarski, Topic: Education, Quote Page 517, Ebury Press: An Imprint of Random House, London. (Verified with scans)