Nobby Nobbs

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Nobby Nobbs
Nobby Nobbs by Kit Cox
Name Cecil Wormsborough St John Nobbs
Race Human, he has the papers to prove it
Age forty-something, about eight years younger than Sam Vimes
Occupation member of the Ankh-Morpork Watch
Physical appearance described as sidling even when standing, monkey-like, and small.
Residence Ankh-Morpork
Death
Parents Father, Sconner Nobbs and Mother, Maisie Nobbs
Relatives Brother, Errol Nobbs and cousin, Vincent; Granny Nobbs (deceased)
Children
Marital Status
Appearances
Books Watch Series
Cameos Moving Pictures, Hogfather, Maskerade, Soul Music, The Truth, Going Postal, Making Money, I Shall Wear Midnight

Cecil Wormsborough St John Nobbs (St John pronounced as Sin-jun), usually called Nobby, has a long history in the Pratchett world, most of which is unsavoury. This probably pertains to his person rather than any particular act: Nobby, perhaps, should have been disqualified from the human race (for shoving). Nobby, shall we say, acquires things. He is good at acquiring things. He keeps moving rooms at Pseudopolis Yard owing to his habit of filling them up. Nobby likes to take small things that nobody is watching, but that perhaps is not very rare in Ankh-Morpork. He had been a street urchin, and it appears that he has never grown out of the habits he acquired back then. He has been playfully described as "only bad in the same way that a weasel is evil," lacking the maliciousness, stupid bravery. or hubris of genuinely unsavory characters. In short, Nobby ain't half bad, and he looks after his mates, but he looks after himself first, as you do, "and I didn't do it, it was Fred, see?"

Nobby is the only human known to need to carry a declaration, signed by Lord Vetinari to the effect that; "following affidavits from the midwife and a doctor, I confirm that the bearer is, in all probability, human." Characters up to and including Death (Hogfather) are sometimes hesitant to comment.

Nobby has been a corporal in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch for quite a while, and is quite determined to stay at that rank. He is unusually perceptive about being used by authority, and like Rincewind, knows all about why not to volunteer no matter how many incentives are offered. He has been in many military regiments, and was once Quartermaster for the Pseudopolis army (who coincidentally lost wars due to weapon shortages); when Carrot asked who he sold them to, Nobby said that they merely spent a long time away for cleaning. In his spare time, Nobby is a member of the Ankh-Morpork Folk Dance and Song Society and the historical re-enactment society, the Peeled Nuts, which he takes quite seriously.

During his old friend Fred Colon's short and tyrannical reign as Captain of the Watch, Nobby served as the opposition leader, President of the Watchmen's Guild. It should be added that shortly before, Nobby had been dropping some most uncharacteristic hints to the effect that if Colon had been promoted Acting-Captain, he, Nobbs, should therefore be given a crack at Acting-Sergeant. This one-and-only attempt to get a further promotion having been ignored completely, it is possible that Nobby's later action in leading a strike was at least partially motivated by pique at his old friend's inability to see a clear hint when written in unsubtle six-foot neon-glowing letters. Until then, Nobby had been a loyal supporter of the Colon regime and had been doing his best to mitigate dissent on the shop floor. (And it also displayed the essential difference between a Corporal Nobbs and a Corporal Strappi: even when placed in a potentially Strappi-like position, Nobby would not have grassed on any of his mates.) Despite the image of dual buffonery, Nobby is often more insightful and cunning than Fred or at least less apt to let pride and bravado cloud his thinking.

Nobby is both a romantic and a cynic. He is enthusiastic about folk-dancing and historical re-creation, activities considered by the average Ankh-Morporkian to be the pursuits of a twit. On the other hand, he is good at picking out weak points in other people's arguments, and he believes there is always a catch in a good offer. One day he hopes to have a young lady, but he's not easily pleased. Recently the incredibly gorgeous Tawneee fell for him, (suffering from the worst-known case of Jerk Syndrome,) but its been implied that he has turned her down for her lack of culinary skill. Other women have tended to throw things at him - especially Verity Pushpram. Following a trip to Klatch, he has become worryingly enthusiastic about the prospect of undercover work, particularly that which involves dressing up as a woman.

Nobby has a tattoo on his arm saying "WUM." It was supposed to be "MUM" but he passed out through alcohol and Needle Ned didn't spot that he was upside-down.

Picture of Nobby's tattoo by Matt Smith

Nobby is shorter than many dwarfs, and due to a personal hygiene problem he can tarnish and corrode any metal near him. One of his hobbies is doing tricks with his spots. He lodges many half-smoked cigarettes behind his ears. People who meet him for the first time usually think of him as either a dwarf or a monkey. Currently, he carries a affidavits signed by Lord Havelock Vetinari attesting to his species, as the Patrician has heard testimony from the midwife Mrs Slipdry: both of Nobby's parents were humans:

Nobby is son of Sconner Nobbs and Maisie of Elm Street (also reported as Old Cobblers : the family sometimes moved quite suddenly, usually at night.) Nobby grew up in one of those impoverished families in Ankh-Morpork. He is probably the youngest child, since it is unthinkable that any parent could look at baby Nobby and decide to try to have another. He has, or had, a brother, Errol, after whom the heroic swamp dragon was named. In the extended family, Nobby's cousins and relatives include several petty criminals. Little is known about Nobby's mother Maisie, but from Nobby's own words, it can be gathered that his father Sconner Nobbs used to hide from the military police and make all the family hide in the cellar, and that Sconner used to beat Nobby, and presumably his brother Errol too, sometimes to the point of breaking bones (according to Night Watch). Nobby has a couple of scars, and a trick elbow by which to remember his father (see Feet of Clay). Nobby's cousin, Vincent, was once charged with indecently assaulting the Duchess of Quirm's scullery maid.

According to Dragon King of Arms in Feet of Clay Nobby was descended from the Earl of Ankh, though this can not be proven. The only 'proof' is a corroded ring which Nobby claims to have gotten from his father, but considering he was the one sent to retrieve the corpse of the unfortunate Edward d'Eath, the last person known to hold the ring, this proof is... well, it's clearly not. On the other hand, the ring Edward d'Eath held was royal jewelry, not earldom jewelry, and may not have been the same one Nobby had (see Men at Arms). He owns also a tiara, a coronet and three gold lockets (see Feet of Clay)...

At the end of Snuff, after being tragically spurned by Verity Pushpram, (who is marrying another), Nobby's luck appears to have changed for the better - well, changed, anyway. He is seen to have acquired a very singular girlfriend, Shine of the Rainbow, who is completely matched to him and who in a very fittingly Quirmian way has switched him on to eating snails. Although his prospective in-laws might still be fearful their daughter is trading down... Nobby also finds himself promoted, at least to acting-sergeant, as Fred Colon is on long-term sick leave. This is justified by his being attached to the new Waterside Constabulary, under the command of Chief Constable Feeney Upshot, to get it off the ground and provide on-the-job training in the, er, realities of police work.

Annotation

Iona and Peter Opie's Lore and Language of Schoolchildren notes that Nobby is a slang term for a policeman.

The reason his first name is Cecil may be due to Terry Pratchett being a fan of the US Cecil Adams' series called Straight Dope. Alternatively, Cecil Sharp was an avid collector of English Folk song and dances. He was the founder of the English Folk Dance Society, now known as the English Folk Dance and Song Society.[1]

In the TV adaption of Hogfather he was played by Nicholas Tennant, who went on to play Horace Worblehat/The Librarian in the TV adaptation of The Colour of Magic.

Trivia

  • In its entirety, the writ Nobby carries around with him, as shown in Feet of Clay, reads: I, after hearing evidence from a number of experts, including Mrs. Slipdry the midwife, certify that the balance of probability is that the bearer of this document, C.W.St John Nobbs, is a human being. Signed, Lord Vetinari.
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