Compiling a list of Britain's top 10 classic sitcoms isn’t as easy as it sounds. We all broadly agree on recent shows that are great examples of British comedy, but when it comes to casting our minds further back it can be hard to tell if some shows are still loved because they remind us of our childhoods, or whether they actually stand up as credible comedy.
The 70s sitcom, The Good Life, is celebrated by Giles Coren and Sue Perkins in a new documentary this Monday--35 years after it first aired--and it's got us thinking: what other golden oldies deserve similar reminiscence? Below are our favourite classic sitcoms feel free to add yours to the comments box below.
10. Red Dwarf (1988-1999)
Recognising that sci-fi is an often absurd genre, yet offers huge creative potential, this show had an unconventional sitcom setting. Yet it relied on the evergreen premise of a group of mismatched strangers sharing a space (or sharing Space, if you like). Lister and Rimmer’s mismatched pairing was central to the premise, with Kryten the robot and The Cat half human/half feline joining in the mayhem. Not to everyone’s taste, but its fanbase is devoted. It’s so popular another series may be on the way to UKTV.
9. Allo! Allo! (1982-1992)
Set in France during the Second World War (yet famously running far longer) this is the kind of farce that Britain does best. Starring Gordon Kaye as put-upon café owner Rene Artois, ‘Allo! ‘Allo!’s speciality was national stereotypes and broad farce. Once you saw this you never viewed strait-laced WW2 dramas in the same way. Ridiculously convoluted plots, physical humour and faintly smutty gags make it a hilarious product of its time.
8. The Good Life (1975-1978)
Back in the days when ‘organic’ and ‘self-sufficiency’ were still seen as kooky, The Good Life used a culture clash to great comedic effect. Tom and Barbara Good’s attempts to live the rural dream in suburbia both perplexed and amused their socially conventional neighbours Margo and Jerry Leadbetter. Felicity Kendal became a sex symbol to legions of men, while Richard Briers, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington would all go on to front equally successful sitcoms themselves. While reflecting the Abigail’s Party era of Seventies suburbia, this show was also years ahead of its time.
7. Dad’s Army (1968-1977)
It’s endlessly repeated, and it may be one of your Gran’s favourite shows, but take another look at Dad’s Army. The Home Guard was set up in 1940 during World War II, with men under and over conscription age invited to volunteer as a local “defence force.” The Walmington-on-Sea division are enthusiastic but not exactly fit for purpose. With plenty of lovable characters spanning an impressive nine seasons, the key thing to remember is “Don’t panic!”
6. The Vicar of Dibley (1994-2007)
From the prolific Richard Curtis and starring the hilarious Dawn French this is a gentle comedy which is also laugh-out-loud hilarious. Rev. Geraldine Granger is a caring woman who takes her duties seriously, yet is also fun-loving and extroverted. She is surrounded by a kooky collection of parishioners and friends, including the ditzy Alice. We love the scenes at the end of each episode where Alice fails to understand a joke Geraldine has told, thereby killing it. Not edgy comedy, but still deservedly popular.
5. Absolutely Fabulous (1992-1996; 2001-2004)
“Lights! Models! Guest list! Just do your best darling.” The honour of having a song dedicated to them by Pet Shop Boys speaks volumes as to how radical this show was in the early Nineties. It’s easy to forget now, but we’d never seen women behaving so badly in sitcoms until AbFab came along. Skewering the worlds of fashion and PR, Edina and Patsy were fantastically monstrous. The mother/daughter role reversal of Eddy and poor Saffy was a joy to behold, and the marvellous June Whitfield (Nan) often stole the show. Endlessly quotable, the title says it all.
4. Are you Being Served? (1972-1985)
Yes, it's corny. Yes, Mr Humphries is the epitome of a gay cliché. But this department store sitcom is still hilarious. Firmly in the tradition of double entendre, a la the Carry On films, Mrs Slocombe's quips about “my pussy” today seem even more risqué. Set in a fusty, garish world that’s now long gone, the brilliant comedic skills of John Inman and Mollie Sugden are complemented by a great ensemble cast. And if you only know Wendy Richard as Pauline Fowler, her turn as the foxy Miss Brahms is a revelation. Why is shopping never this much fun?
3. Hi-de-hi! (1980-1988)
“Morning campers!” Set during the late Fifties/early Sixties, this exercise in nostalgia was a show the whole family could watch. Yet although it had a big heart, it wasn’t twee. The fictional Maplins holiday camp and its Yellowcoats harked back to an era when the British only holidayed at home. With a decidedly pantomime feel, the struggles between management and the entertainment staff fuelled many plots. Characters were either awaiting an elusive big break, or at the end of their careers. Su Pollard easily stole the show as the hapless chalet maid Peggy.
2. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)
The definition of “leave them wanting more”, this show should be a constant reminder to TV executives--don’t milk shows beyond their shelf lives! At a perfect twelve half-hour episodes, it is a master class in situation comedy. John Cleese’s deluded hotel owner is thwarted at every turn by his snobbish wife, inept staff, annoying customers and mostly by his own incompetence. Always teetering on the brink of madness, when he does crack it’s incredibly satisfying for viewers who have worked in the hospitality industry. Very British and very, very funny.
1. Blackadder (1983-1989)
A must-see history lesson, the four series of Blackadder covered different eras in time, which helped keep the show fresh. The public schoolboy-type humour is spot on, with a cream of acting talent on board. (Including Miranda Richardson as ‘Queenie’ - our definitive version of Queen Elizabeth I, plus Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie). Rowan Atkinson holds the whole shebang together with panache as the scheming Blackadder. But it’s Tony Robinson’s dim-witted Baldrick who lingers in the memory as a brilliant comic creation.