Over the years British television has produced a whole raft of hilarious comedies, many of which have stood the test of time. I came across this neat infographic that highlighted some of these and we’re going to uncover some more classic British comedy gems.
The 1950s saw the emergence of a number of satirical shows aimed squarely at taking the rise out of the establishment. The genre was led by Oxford and Cambridge University graduates, including Peter Cook, David Frost, John Bird and Bernard Levin, and the most well-known television program from the time was probably ‘That Was the Week That Was’.
Interestingly many of those who started out in satire went on to have much more serious careers in writing and journalism, including Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Paul Foot.
‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ pushed the boundaries of comedy and in the process forged a new breed of comedians who are just as famous today, as they were in the early 1970s. In a 2005 poll to find the top comedians of all time, Cleese, Idle and Palin still featured in the top fifty.
Heavily influenced by the Pythons, and in fact the writing partner of Graham Chapman for a brief period, Douglas Adams created a new form of surreal comedy in the late 70s. This time the focus was science fiction when ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ was first heard on Radio 4 in 1978.
It went on to spawn a television program, a number of books and ultimately a film.
The double act had its birth in the British music halls and the American Vaudeville scene of the late 19th century. From the 1950s onwards, double acts came to our television screens en masse and we were introduced to a whole host of partnerships who still make us laugh today. Among them: Morecombe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, French and Saunders and Fry and Laurie.
Many of the individuals from these duos went on to star in sitcoms and films in their own right and Hugh Laurie even managed to cross the pond, and genre, to appear as the irascible House M.D.
Probably best loved of all British comedies is the sitcom. There have been literally hundreds over the years and they cover almost every gamut of human experience.
Comedy has even been found against the background of war with ‘Allo, Allo’, ‘Dad’s Army’ and Blackadder Goes Forth’, helping us to find humor in the bleakest of circumstances.
In 2004 a public survey was held by BBC2 to find the most popular 50 sitcoms of all time. Whilst favourites do vary from poll to poll, you will almost certainly find the following somewhere near the top.
Only Fools and Horses: Del Boy and Rodney made us laugh from 1981 to 2003. Del Boy’s plunge through the bar is still one of the most remembered scenes of all time, even being replicated by David Beckham for Sport Relief in 2014.
Blackadder: Blackadder had four iterations taking us from the 1400s to the First World War. While Blackadder plotted, Baldrick always had a very cunning plan.
The Vicar of Dibley: The hugely successful duo of French and Saunders both found individual acclaim with sitcoms. While Jennifer was absolutely fabulous, Dawn took us in another direction with the ‘Vicar of Dibley’. The series was not loved universally by the critics but it definitely made its way into the public’s heart.
Dad’s Army: Running from 1968 to 1977 and with nine series, Dad’s Army is one of the most loved of all sitcoms. Grandkids still watch it today and it will be further immortalized next year when it is turned into a feature film starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Toby Jones and Michael Gambon, amongst others.
Fawlty Towers: Unbelievably there were only ever 12 episodes of this iconic sitcom, which people still quote today. Basil, Sybil, Polly and Manuel are instantly recognizable as are many of the episode titles including: ‘The Germans’, ‘The Hotel Inspectors’ and ‘Basil the Rat’.
Many of these programs are repeated on television and every year they garner more viewers. With the advent of Netflix they are also reaching a whole new generation as people watch from their TV, their tablet and even their mobile phone. This only goes to show the timeless quality of the comedy, as we are still laughing almost sixty years later.
I’m currently half way through season 4 of Red Dwarf, but what Great British programs are you guys watching?
This post was written by James Timpson, a resident Brit who’s also a big fan of GuysGirl. Be on the lookout for more of his witty takes on GG from across the pond.