British sitcom

  (Redirected from British sitcoms)

A British sitcom or a Britcom is a situational comedy programme produced for British television.[1] Although styles of sitcom have changed over the years they tend to be based on a family, workplace or other institution (most often a domestic or 'living room' comedy), where the same group of contrasting characters is brought together in each episode. British sitcoms are typically produced in one or more series of six episodes. Most such series are conceived and developed by one or two writers.

Most British sitcoms are recorded on studio sets, while some have an element of location filming. A handful are made almost exclusively on location (Doc Martin, Last of the Summer Wine) and shown to a studio audience prior to final post-production. A subset of British comedy consciously avoids traditional situation comedy themes, storylines, and family living rooms to branch out into more unusual topics or narrative methods. Blackadder (1983–1989) and Yes Minister (1980–1988, 2013) moved what is often a domestic or workplace genre into the corridors of power.[2] A later development was the mockumentary in series such as The Office (2001–2003).

British sitcoms reflect changes in public opinion and culture through the times. They began at a time in which, for example, 'class and ethnic prejudices were challenged and mocked'.[3] The racial and religious slurs were appreciated for their pure laugh-out-loud and slapstick humour and exploitation of stereotypes that were often the essence of a sitcom series and the butt of the joke line, rather than as offensive issues that are nowadays discredited by modern tastes.[3] Series such as Love Thy Neighbour (1972–76),[4] and Mind Your Language (1977–79, 1986),[5] which attempted to find humour in racial or ethnic conflict and misunderstandings, were increasingly criticised over time.[6] Even Fawlty Towers, considered one of the best sitcom of all, has been criticised for its cruelness.[7]

The debate about censorship of repeats and reruns continues, especially where the watershed, the time after which adult programming is allowed is being eroded by the technology of on demand viewing, and OTT. The standard solution is to provide a warning to viewers of real-time transmissions that the programme contains language which some viewers may find offensive.[3][8]


Writers, directors and producersEdit

John Howard Davies (1939–2011) was an English television comedy producer and director of some of the greatest sitcoms in British television. He first came to notice as a child actor in the 1948 film adaptation of Oliver Twist.[9] After joining the BBC as a production assistant in 1966, Davies became a television director and producer, specialising in comedy and became BBC head of comedy in 1978, and then head of light entertainment in 1982.[10] Throughout four decades, he was a major influence as the commissioning producer, producer or director on many of the most successful laugh-out-loud comedy shows of the era,[9] including Fawlty Towers by John Cleese and Conny Booth; Galton and Simpson's Steptoe and Son; All Gas and Gaiters, The Goodies, and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Davies was the producer of all four seasons of The Good Life. As sitcoms began to wane, when asked what is the best formula for sitcom, he replied ""All the best sitcom characters are relentlessly horrible."[10]

Jimmy Perry OBE who together with David Croft, created Dad’s Army, one of British television’s most memorable and regularly repeated comedy series. The song he had written for the series, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?, won him an Ivor Novello award. Croft and Perry wrote together for over 30 years. Along with Frank Muir and Denis Norden, Simpson and Galton, they were among the dominant writing teams of the period. With Croft, he was in presented with a British Comedy Award in 2003 for lifetime achievement. Perry could send himself up as well as others. His autobiography was to be called A Boy’s Own Story, but it came out in 2002 under the title A Stupid Boy. [11] In Dad's Army, he drew on his experience as a young member of the Home Guard during World War Two, and on his service in India and Burma,[12] in the army during the war for It Ain't Half Hot Mum, and for Hi-de-Hi as a Butlin's holiday camp Redcoat and for which he wrote the song Holiday Rock.[13] When he said he wanted to be a film star or a comedian, his father responded: “You stupid boy!” Perry used the phrase in Dad's Army and it became an immortal enduring catch phrase in British culture. [12] Perry effectively retired after You Rang, M’Lord? finished.[12] One of the Croft/Perry series, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, has been accused of racism and homophobia. Perry defended it saying those elements were true to life.[14] He won Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Writers’s Guild (1995) and at the British Comedy Awards (2003).[12] Perry was awarded an OBE in 1978.[13]

David Croft OBE (1922–2011) was an English television comedy screenwriter, producer and director. He produced and wrote a string of BBC sitcoms with partners Jimmy Perry and Jeremy Lloyd, including Dad's Army, Are You Being Served?, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi! and 'Allo 'Allo!. Like Perry, he served in tropical Asia during WWII. While Dad's Army was still running, Croft began to co-write Are You Being Served? with Jeremy Lloyd. He was to continue both writing partnerships for the rest of his career in several hit series including It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi! and You Rang, M'Lord (with Perry) and 'Allo 'Allo! (with Lloyd). His last full series Oh, Doctor Beeching!, broadcast from 1995 to 1997, was co-written with Richard Spendlove. He created a television pilot in 2007, entitled Here Comes The Queen, with Jeremy Lloyd. This starred Wendy Richard and Les Dennis, but the show was not continued as a series.[15] Together with Perry, Croft was presented with a British Comedy Award in 2003 for lifetime achievement, and in1978 OBE for services to television. He also received the 1981 Desmond Davis award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for his outstanding contributions to the industry.[16]

Jeremy Lloyd, OBE (1930–2014) was an English writer, screenwriter, author, poet and actor.[17] He was the co-writer of several of the most successful British sitcoms, including Are You Being Served? and 'Allo 'Allo!; his sitcoms were 'the essence of Britishness'. The Are You Being Served? series was based partly on his own experiences of working in a London department store as a suit salesman. Its success gave rise a spin-off, Grace and Favour, which was a collaboration with Croft.[18] ’Allo ’Allo was so successful that it ran to nearly 90 episodes. The BBC were able to sell the series to the Germans, who may have liked how its Nazis were depicted 'as harmlessly pervy and bumbling'.[19][17] During 1970 Lloyd was briefly married to actress, presenter and producer Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) with whom he starred in the sitcom It's Awfully Bad for Your Eyes, Darling.[20][21]
In 2014 Lloyd was awarded the OBE in the 2013 for services to British comedy.[22]

Early yearsEdit

Some of the scripts written for Hancock by the wining partnership, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, almost repudiated a narrative structure altogether and attempted to reproduce an everyday environment with the intention of also reproducing its comedy. Both the character played by Tony Hancock in Hancock's Half Hour, and Harold Steptoe played by Harry H. Corbett (1962–1965, 1970–1974), are pretentious, would-be intellectuals who find themselves trapped by the squalor of their lives. The Galton and Simpson comedies are often characterised by a bleak and somewhat fatalistic tone. Steptoe and Son in particular is, at times, extremely black comedy, and close in tone to Social realism drama.[23]

Pinwright's Progress (1946–1947), was the world's first regular half-hour televised sitcom. Broadcast live by the BBC from Alexandra Palace, it is about J. Pinwright, the proprietor of a small shop. He has a hated rival, and his staff only add to his problems by attempting to be helpful. Ralph, the messenger boy, is a deaf octogenarian. The series features an ensemble cast including James Hayter as Mr J. Pinwright, Clarence Wright as Aubrey,[24] Sara Gregory as Sally Doolittle,[25] Daphne Maddox as Miss Peasbody,[26] Doris Palmer as Mrs Sigsbee,[27]Leonard Sharp as Ralph, Benita Lydal as Mrs Rackstraw[28] Charles Irwin as Salesman, and Jill Christie as Pinwright's daughter.[29][30] It was written by Rodney Hobson,[31][30][32] and produced and directed by John Glyn-Jones, the script editor was Ted Kavanagh, who also wrote the BBC Radio comedy series It's That Man Again. Never recorded in the days of live television, only still photos exist.

Hancock's Half Hour (1956–1961) by Galton and Simpson was transferred to television in 1956 after 48 episodes on BBC radio beginning in 1954. It was the first such series in TV sitcom's modern form. While moving away from audio variety towards emphasis on character development, the radio series had been influential in the development of TV situation comedy. The radio series continued to overlap with its TV version.[33] Apart from Tony Hancock, who plays a fictionalised version of himself: a loser whose plans and aspirations are continually ruined by bad luck,[34] its only other regular cast member was the more worldly sidekick played by Sid James later of Carry On fame. Other occasional participants included , Kenneth Williams Carry On,[34] and Patricia Hayes known for her parts in comedies such as The Arthur Askey Show, The Benny Hill Show, Bootsie and Snudge, Hugh and I and Till Death Us Do Part.[35] Hancock's biographer John Fisher dates the first use of the term 'situation comedy' in British broadcasting to a BBC memo dated 31 March 1953 from radio comedy producer Peter Eton, suggesting the format as the ideal vehicle for Hancock's comedic style.[36] "Hancock's persona of the pompous loser out of his depth in an uncomprehending society still informs many programmes today", according to Phil Wickham.[37] The final series of this show was broadcast under the shorter title Hancock.[34] Following the end of the BBC series, changed his writers and moved to the ITV in 1963 for a further series also named Hancock for 13 episodes.[34] The series, though relatively well received, greatly lacked the quality of the BBC productions.[38]

Whack-O! (1956 to 1960 and 1971 to 1972) ran for a total of 60 episodes over 8 series and was written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, starring Jimmy Edwards as Professor James Edwards, the drunken, gambling, devious, cane-swishing headmaster who tyrannised staff and children at the fictitious traditional Chiselbury public school, "for the sons of Gentlefolk". The first six episodes were subtitled "Six of the Best", alluding to the typical, frequent, and traditional caning (now banned) of naughty pupils of the era, but while Muir and Norden caught the spirit of life in the posh schools of the times in which they were writing, viewers from millennium generations would be left in disbelief.[39] The series was revived in colour with updated scripts in 1971–72, slightly retitled Whacko!. Other members of the cast included Arthur Howard (series 1–7), Julian Orchard (series 8), Kenneth Cope, Norman Bird, John Stirling, Peter Glaze, Edwin Apps (Steptoe and Son, My Wife Next Door), (series 1–7), Peter Greene (series 8), David Langford, Keith Smith, Brian Rawlinson, Gordon Phillot (Hancock's Half Hour, Bottoms Up, Sykes And A...)[40] (series 1–7), Harold Bennett (Are You Being Served?) (series 8), Frank Raymond, Gary Warren (series 8), and Greg Smith (Lollipop Loves Mr. Mole)[41] (series 8). A feature film, Bottoms Up, was made in 1960.

The Army Game (1957–1961) by Peter Eton was probably TV's most successful sitcom of this period and ran for 154 episodes.[42] The original cast consisted of William Hartnell, Michael Medwin, Geoffrey Sumner, Alfie Bass, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw and Norman Rossington. The cast of The Army Game would change over the years with actors such as Geoffrey Palmer (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,[43] Fawlty Towers), Bill Fraser, Ted Lune, Frank Williams (Dad's Army), Harry Fowler and Dick Emery appearing in subsequent series. The Army Game follows the exploits of Hut 29, a fictional dysfunctional group of conscripted National Service soldiers during the post-war years.[44] Writers included creator Sid Colin, Larry Stephens, Maurice Wiltshire, Lew Schwarz, John Jowett, John Antrobus, John Foley, Marty Feldman, Barry Took, David Climie (Oh Brother! 1968–1970, Oh, Father!, 1968–1970), David Cumming, Derek Collyer, Brad Ashton, John Junkin, Talbot Rothwell, Sidney Nelson, Stan Mars, Bob Perkins and Alan MacKinnon.[45] At least three episodes are uncredited. In June 1959, a short The Army Game scene was performed Michael Medwin, Alfie Bass, Norman Rossington, Bill Fraser and Ted Lune at the Royal Variety Performance in front of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.[46] This was the last Royal Variety Performance that was not televised. This successful series inspired a film spin-off, I Only Arsked! (1958), and in 1958 just a year after the series debuted, the first Carry On film, the very similar Carry On Sergeant, was released which also featured Hawtrey, Rossington and Hartnell.[47]

The 1960sEdit

In the 1960s, the BBC produced the earliest of Richard Waring's domestic comedies, Marriage Lines (1961–1966), starring Richard Briers (The Good Life (1975–78), and Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers,1975 and 1979), and a then-rare workplace comedy with The Rag Trade by comedy scriptwriter team Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney (1961–1963, 1977–1978).The success of the series was due partly to the strength of the female ensemble playing the workforce, who included (in the main run) Sheila Hancock, Barbara Windsor and Esma Cannon.[48][49]

Waring worked for both the BBC and ITV. In Not in Front of the Children (1967–70), Wendy Craig's dizzy housewife made her first appearance. Waring created ...And Mother Makes Three (1971–73), and its sequel ...And Mother Makes Five (1974–76), also featuring Craig in a similar role, but he did not write all of the episodes. Other series written by Waring include My Wife Next Door (created by Brian Clemens, 1972), Miss Jones and Son (1977–78) and Rings on Their Fingers (1978–80)

Women were usually only cast in secondary roles in this period, though several series with Wendy Craig in the leading role are an exception, including the BBC's Not in Front of the Children (1967–1970), and ...And Mother Makes Three (1971–1973) on ITV. Sitcoms developed by Carla Lane, the first successful female writer in the form,[50] began with The Liver Birds (1969–1979, 1996), initially in collaboration with others.

With Steptoe (and The Likely Lads, 1964–1966), producers began to cast straight actors, rather than comedians,[51] around whom earlier series like Whack-O! (1956–1960, 1971–1972), with Jimmy Edwards, or those featuring Hancock, had been built.[52]

Bootsie and Snudge, (1960–1963, 1974) a spin-off sequel of The Army Game also starring Bill Fraser, and Alfie Bass, was written by a large team for the series over its 154 episodes. Those who wrote for the 1960–63 episodes included Marty Feldman, Barry Took,[53] John Antrobus, Ray Rigby, David Cumming, Derek Collyer, James Kelly, Peter Lambda, Tom Espie, Jack Rosenthal, Harry Driver, and Doug Eden. The 1974 series was written by David Climie, Ronnie Cass and Lew Schwarz.[32] The series established the reputation of actor Clive Dunn leading to his role as Corporal Jones in Dad's Army in 1971.[54]

Marriage Lines (1963–1966) ran for 43 episodes over 5 series. First titled The Marriage Lines, it was written by Richard Waring and directed and produced by Robin Nash and Graeme Muir.[55][56] The traditional domestic comedy about a young couple learning to cope with married life reflected social attitudes of the times, provided its lead stars Richard Briers (The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles) and Prunella Scales (After Henry, Fawlty Towers), with a significant boost to their careers.[57] The supporting cast included Edward de Souza (One Foot in the Grave), Ronald Hines (Not in Front of the Children), and Christine Finn.[55]

Steptoe and Son (1962–65, 1970–74) with its cast of only two regular characters played by Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell, ran for 57 episodes in 8 series and was a Galton and Simpson creation. Producers included Duncan Wood, John Howard Davies, Graeme Muir, and Douglas Argent.[58] In 2000, the show was ranked number 44 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute. In a 2001 Channel 4 poll Albert was ranked 39th on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters,[59][60] The series is derived from a one-off Galton and Simpson comic play"The Offer" from their Comedy Playhouse series on the BBC in 1962. It is regularly repeated and gave rise to four feature films.[58]

Till Death Us Do Part (1965–1968, 1972–1975) by Johnny Speight featuring Warren Mitchell in the role of Alf Garnett. Speight's comedy was an instant hit of its time. Centred around the bigoted character of Alf Garnett, it addressed racial and political issues that had been becoming increasingly prevalent in British society. It was criticised by Clean-Up TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse for its bad language and due to changing attitudes it is seldom repeated.[61][62][63] Speight defended the Alf Garnett character, saying: "If you do the character correctly, he just typifies what you hear - not only in pubs but in golf clubs around the country. To make him truthful he's got to say those things, and they are nasty things. But I feel as a writer that they should be out in the open so we can see how daft these comparisons are."[64]

Dad's Army (1968–1977) by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, is a gentle mockery of Britain's 'finest hour' home guard comedy. One of the most enduring British sitcoms, it starred Arthur Lowe (Coronation Street, 1960–66) and John Le Mesurier whose interaction with Lowe's character Captain Mainwaring was described by The Times as "a memorable part of one of television's most popular shows".[65] It also starred Clive Dunn, John Laurie, Ian Lavender and Arnold Ridley. During its original television run, the show was nominated for multiple British Academy Television Awards, although only won "Best Light Entertainment Production Team" in 1971. It was nominated as "Best Situation Comedy" in 1973, 1974 and 1975. In 2000, the show was voted 13th in a British Film Institute poll of industry professionals of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. In 2004, championed by Phill Jupitus, it came fourth in the BBC poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom.[66]

All Gas and Gaiters (1966–1971) brought the first light-hearted satirical look at the church and with its sequels paved the way for the Bless Me, Father (1978–1981) with Arthur Lowe, and the highly farcical ecclesiastical comedies such as Father Ted in the mid 1990s and The Vicar of Dibley in 2000.[67] Starring Derek Nimmo with Robertson Hare, (Aldwych Farces), William Mervyn (The Railway Children, Upstairs Downstairs), John Barron (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin ), Joan Sanderson (Fawlty Towers, Me and My Girl), and Ernest Clark (Doctor in the House) ,[68] it was written by husband-and-wife team Pauline Devaney and Edwin Apps and directed by John Howard Davies and Stuart Allen.[69][70][70] The successful series which after an initial controversy became a favourite of Britain's clergy,[67] was followed by two spin-offs also starring Nimmo: Oh, Brother! (1968-1970), 19 episodes written by David Climie and Austin Steele, with supporting roles by Shakespearian actor Sir Felix Aylmer, Patrick McAlinney (Bless Me, Father) and Derek Francis and its sequel Oh, Father! (1973) with Felix Aylmer, Laurence Naismith, Pearl Hackney and David Kelly also written by Climie and Steele.[71] Directed by Gareth Gwenlan (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Butterflies, To the Manor Born, Only Fools and Horses and High Hopes. It was not a success and was axed after one series of 7 episodes.[72] All Gas and Gaiters was produced by Stuart Allen, John Howard Davies, and Robin Nash.[68] The music was provided by Stanley Myers.[70]

Me Mammy (1968–1971) was written by Hugh Leonard and produced by James Gilbert and Sydney Lotterby for the BBC. It starred Milo O'Shea, and Yootha Joyce (Man About the House, George and Mildred). It aired on BBC1 from for 21 episodes in 3 series. Bunjy Kennefick (Milo O'Shea) is an Irish mother's boy living in London. He is a top executive of a company and lives a bachelor lifestyle. However, his old-fashioned Catholic mother often puts a stop to his plans, many of them involving his girlfriend Miss Argyll (Yootha Joyce).[73]

The 1970sEdit

The 1970s is often regarded as the golden era of British sitcom. Well-remembered series include John Cleese and Connie Booth's farcical Fawlty Towers (1975, 1979) often cited as the greatest sitcom of all time, and John Sullivan's Only Fools and Horses, (1976–1985, 2001–2003). Family-friendly John Esmonde and Bob Larbey's self-sufficiency comedy The Good Life (1975–78) and To the Manor Born by Peter Spence and Christopher Bond were also highly succcessful. Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (1973–74), a sequel to the earlier show is thought to have surpassed the original, while the same writers (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) provided Ronnie Barker with his most significant sitcom vehicle, Porridge (1974–77). Barker also starred (along with David Jason) in Open All Hours (1973, 1976–85), written by Roy Clarke. Clarke's long-running Last of the Summer Wine began in 1973 and ended in 2010, becoming the world's longest running sitcom. The decade also saw the broadcast of three sitcoms now derided by critical consensus for their racist content Love Thy Neighbour (1972–76), It Ain't Half Hot Mum (1974–81) and Mind Your Language (1977–79, 1986).[6]

The commercial station ITV had popular successes with Rising Damp (1974–78, sometimes called the best of all ITV sitcoms),[74] Man About the House (1973–76) and George and Mildred (1976–79). Rising Damp star Leonard Rossiter also played the lead role in the BBC's highly popular The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976–79). The decline in cinema attendance in this period meant that many of these series were turned into cinema films;[75] the first film version of On the Buses (1969–73) was the biggest hit at the British box office in 1971.[76] According to Jeff Evans, On the Buses is a "cheerfully vulgar comedy" in which "leering and innuendo dominate."[77] Some of the network's other ratings successes from this era are now considered politically incorrect. Series such as Love Thy Neighbour (1972–76)[78] and Mind Your Language (1977–79, 1986),[79] which attempted to find humour in racial or ethnic conflict and misunderstandings, were increasingly criticised over time.[80]

Increasing relaxation in regard to the discussion of sex allowed farce and camp humour to become a familiar form in the 1970s and were used in series like Are You Being Served?, and comedian Frankie Howerd's series Up Pompeii! which ran for 16 episodes (1969–70, 1975, 1991),[81] set in ancient pre-eruption Pompeii, stars included several female stalwarts from the Carry On film series, including Barbara Windsor, Wendy Richard (Are You Being Served? and the soap EastEnders) and Valerie Leon. A feature of the show which inspired three films was Howerd's frequent breaking of the 4th wall. The ITV network had several popular successes, although they were usually not as well received as their BBC equivalents.

Fawlty Towers (1975 and 1979) is described by its BBC profile as "the British sitcom by which all other British sitcoms must be judged, Fawlty Towers is eminently quotable, the repetition in the episode known as 'The Germans' of 'don't mention the war' has become a catch phrase."[82] In two series only 12 half hour episodes were made, because the writers, John Cleese (Basil Fawlty) and his then wife Connie Booth, felt that they could never continue to match the highly fast-paced farcical comedy at the same quality. Fawlty Towers ended before any decline had set in.[83] In 2000 Fawlty Towers was voted the best British television programme of all time in a BFI poll.[83]

Cleese and Prunella Scales (Sybil Fawlty) were supported by Connie Booth (Polly Sherman) and Andrew Sachs (Manuel) in the two other major roles, with several actors regularly appearing in further supporting roles including Ballard Berkeley (Major Gowen), Brian Hall (Chef Terry), and Renee Roberts (Miss Gatsby) with Gilly Flower (Miss Tibbs). Other well known guests from stage and screen, usually two or three for each episode, were featured in various episodes and included Michael Gwynn, Robin Ellis, David Kelly, Michael Cronin, Trevor Adams, Yvonne Gilan, Conrad Phillips, Bernard Cribbins, James Cossins, André Maranne, Steve Plytas, Allan Cuthbertson, Ann Way, Brenda Cowling, Joan Sanderson, Basil Henson, Elspet Gray, Nicky Henson, Luan Peters, Bruce Boa, Claire Nielson, Norman Bird, Geoffrey Palmer, Derek Royle, Richard Davies, Ken Campbell, Una Stubbs, and John Quarmby. The show was produced by John Howard Davies and Douglas Argent, directed by Davies and Bob Spiers and the music is by Dennis Wilson.

The show was ranked first on a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, and in 2019 it was named the greatest ever British TV sitcom by a panel of comedy experts compiled by the Radio Times.[84] Basil Fawlty, played by Cleese, has been listed by Channel 4 as No.2 in the list of 100 greatest TV characters.[85][86]

On the Buses (from 1969 to 1973) starring Reg Varney and Bob Grant was another creation by Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe.[87] Running for 74 episodes in 7 series, it had been initially rejected by the BBC, not seeing much comedy potential in a bus depot as a setting.[88] It was then commissioned by Frank Muir, then at London Weekend Television who said it was "rather at the baked beans end of my menu".[48][89] Despite having its poor critical reception, it gained an audience of up to 20 million. It has been described as cliche-ridden, stereotypical, occasionally racist and totally sexist by today's standards,[90] Varney's and Grant's characters were both lecherous womanisers; women objectified and ethnic minorities used inappropriately for humour.[91][92][7] As David Stubbs wrote for The Guardian in 2008, Grant and Varney were playing "two conspicuously middle-aged men" pursuing "an endless array of improbably available 'dolly birds'". Varney was almost in his mid-50s when the series first began.[93] The series made it to the box office with three films, On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), and Holiday on the Buses (1973).

Clochemerle (1972) is a lavish French farce in English in 9 episodes based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Gabriel Chevallier, adapted by Galton and Simpson for the BBC.[94] Clochemerle is a stark contrast to the usual kind of bleak and somewhat fatalistic Galton & Simpson comedies. The tone is a gentle departure from the doom and gloom and dark comedy of their Steptoe and Son and Hancock's Half Hour.[95] Filmed on location in the charming village of Colombier-le-Vieux, in the department of Ardèche, south of Lyon, France, it starred Roy Dotrice, Wendy Hiller, Cyril Cusack, Kenneth Griffith, Cyd Hayman, Bernard Bresslaw, Hugh Griffith, Micheline Presle, Madeline Smith, Christian Roberts, Nigel Green, Wolfe Morris and Gordon Rollings, with narration by Peter Ustinov. The show produced by Michael Mills was made as a co-production between Britain's BBC and West Germany's Bavaria Film. Incidental music was arranged by Alan Roper and played by L'Harmonie Du Rhone Orchestra, Lyon, under the musical direction of Raymond Jarniat.[94]

My Wife Next Door (1972) was created by Brian Clemens and written by Richard Waring. It was shown on BBC1 and ran for 13 episodes. The series concerns a couple, George Basset played by John Alderton (Please Sir!, Upstairs Downstairs, Thomas & Sarah), and Suzie Basset played by Hannah Gordon (Upstairs Downstairs, One Foot in the Grave) who each try to start afresh after their divorce. They move to the country, only to find that they have moved into adjoining cottages.[96] The music is by Dennis Wilson. In 1973 one episode won a British Academy Television Award for Best Situation Comedy. During a repeat run of the series, in January 1980, one episode gained 19.3 million viewers and was the second most-watched programme that week.[97]

Porridge (1974–77) is a prison sitcom by writers (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) that provided Ronnie Barker in the role of a prison inmate, with his most significant sitcom vehicle, with Richard Beckinsale in the supporting role. It ran on BBC1 for 22 episodes over three series. The series features two major supporting characters, both prison officers: Mr Mackay played by Fulton Mackay, and Mr Barrowclough, played by Brian Wilde. The sitcom focuses on two prison inmates, Norman Fletcher (played by Barker) and Lennie Godber (played by Beckinsale), who are serving time in a fictional British prison. Porridge was critically acclaimed and is widely considered to be one of the greatest British sitcoms of all time. It is ranked No. 35 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute in 2000. In 2004, Porridge placed seventh in a poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom.

Porridge was immensely popular with British prisoners. Erwin James, an ex-prisoner who wrote a column for The Guardian, stated that: "What fans could never know, however, unless they had been subjected to a stint of Her Majesty's Pleasure, was that the conflict between Fletcher and Officer Mackay was about the most authentic depiction ever of the true relationship that exists between prisoners and prison officers in British jails up and down the country. I'm not sure how, but writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais grasped the notion that it is the minor victories against the naturally oppressive prison system that makes prison life bearable."

Only Fools and Horses, (1976–1985, 2001–2003) is one of the most successful British sitcoms of all time and stars David Jason of Roy Clarke's Open All Hours with comedy actor Ronnie Barker) began in 1981 and ran for 64 episodes, with specials, until 2003. It was the most durable of several series written by John Sullivan. The 1996 episode "Time on Our Hands" (originally billed as the last episode) holds the record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom episode, attracting 24.3 million viewers.[98] Critically and popularly acclaimed, the series received numerous awards, including recognition from BAFTA, the National Television Awards and the Royal Television Society, as well as winning individual accolades for both Sullivan and Jason. It was voted Britain's Best Sitcom in a 2004 BBC poll. In a 2001 Channel 4 poll Del Boy was ranked fourth on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.[85] The series influenced British culture, contributing several words and phrases to the English language. It was named one of the top 20 cult television programmes of all-time by TV critic Jeff Evans. Evans spoke of: "[shows] such as Only Fools and Horses, which gets tremendous viewing figures but does inspire conventions of fans who meet in pubs called the Nag's Head and wander round dressed as their favourite characters."[99] The theme music is by Ronnie Hazlehurst (1981) and John Sullivan (1982–2003). Only Fools and Horses, came top in a research and analysis by a team of scientists led by Dr Helen Pilcher, a molecular neurobiologist and stand-up comedian with a speciality in scientific humour.[100]

Open All Hours (1976, 1981, 1982 and 1985) was created and written by Roy Clarke for the BBC.[101] It ran for 26 episodes in four series and stars Ronnie Barker (Porridge) with David Jason (Only Fools and Horses) with a regular supporting cast that includes Lynda Baron, Stephanie Cole, Barbara Flynn, Maggie Ollerenshaw, and Kathy Staff.[102] The programme, produced and directed by Sydney Lotterby, developed from a television pilot broadcast in Barker's comedy anthology series, Seven of One (1973) and centers around the antics of the eccentric and miserly owner of a traditional English corner shop.[101] Barker took his idea for Arkwright's famous stutter from the 1950s writer and performer Glenn Melvyn.[103] Open All Hours came 8th in the 2004 Britain's Best Sitcom poll.[104] Despite being safe, family viewing with much less innuendo and none of the bad language usually associated with slapstick comedy – pre-teens will laugh at the gags and children won't understand them – in 2021, the show started airing on the Britbox streaming service in the US and had a disclaimer at the beginning which reads, "Open All Hours is a classic comedy program which reflects the broadcast standards, language and attitudes of its time. Some viewers may find this content offensive". Although it ended in 1985, Open All Hours remains very popular,[101] and by 2021 has been repeated over 3,000 times.[105] The theme tune was composed by Joseph Ascher (1829–1869).[106] It was arranged for a brass band and performed by Max Harris, who also wrote the incidental music for the programme. A sequel, entitled Still Open All Hours with David Jason and many members of the original cast began airing in 2013.[101]

Miss Jones and Son (1977–78), another Richard Waring scripted series, and produced and directed by Peter Frazer-Jones.[107] It was first broadcast on ITV in 1977 and ran for 12 episodes. It starred Paula Wilcox (Man About the House), Christopher Beeny (Upstairs Downstairs,In Loving Memory, Last of the Summer Wine), Charlotte Mitchell (...And Mother Makes Five) and Norman Bird whose long list of credits include Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Rising Damp, Ever Decreasing Circles, Yes Minister, To Serve Them All My Days, All Creatures Great and Small, Public Eye, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Boon).[108][109] The series depicted the life of Elizabeth Jones (Wilcox), a young woman coming to terms with the responsibility of looking after her baby alone. Emotional support came in the form of next-door-neighbour and friend Geoffrey (Beeny). Difficulties included the reproaches of her parents played by Mitchell and Bird, a difficult social life, and a reduced income. The theme song, "Bright Idea", was written by Roger Webb.[110]

Rings on Their Fingers (1978–80) was written by Richard Waring and produced by Harold Snoad for the BBC.[111] It ran from 1978 to 1980 for 20 episodes in 3 series. It concerns a young unmarried couple (Sandy Bennett and Oliver Pryde) played by Diane Keen and Martin Jarvis. The cast also included Tim Barrett, Barbara Lott, Anna Dawson, John Kane and Royce Mills.[112] Sandy wishes to marry whereas Oliver is happy to remain unmarried. During the first series they do marry and in the second series they adjust to married life.[111] A proposed fourth series would have concerned Sandy becoming pregnant unexpectedly, and Sandy and Oliver adapting to parenthood, but the series was not re-commissioned.[111]

Happy Ever After (1974–979 starring Terry Scott and June Whitfield, with Beryl Cooke (Only Fools and Horses, Waiting for God), was co-written by scriptwriters John T. Chapman, Eric Merriman, Christopher Bond, John Kane and Jon Watkins. It aired on BBC One for 41 episodes over 5 series. On 7 May 1974, a Comedy Playhouse pilot called "Happy Ever After" aired on BBC1 with Scott and Whitfield playing a middle-class couple whose grown-up children have just left home.[32] This was commissioned into the series of the same name[32]

Terry and June (from 1979 to 1987) was spun off from Happy Ever After after it ended. Scott and Whitfield starred in the 65 episodes of the new comedy . Most of the episodes were written by John Kane. Chapman, one of the original writers, said that the programme had run out of ideas and had to come to an end. BBC Comedy, however, were unwilling to end a popular 'cozy' show, and so brought in fresh new writers. For legal reasons the programme title had to be changed and so on 24 October 1979, Terry and June was born. Similar to Happy Ever After (minus Aunt Lucy), with Terry and June's surname changed from Fletcher to Medford, the characters had shifted to Purley.[32] In 2004, it came joint 73rd in Britain's Best Sitcom with Happy Ever After.

The Good Life (1975–1978) aired on BBC 1 in 30 episodes over four series and two specials. The final one-off episode was recorded specially for The Queen and in her presence to mark the Silver Jubilee; The Good Life, was reputedly one of her favourite shows.[113] After the success of The Good Life, the four cast members, most of whom were little known beforehand, were given their own "vehicles" commissioned by the then Head of Comedy and producer of The Good Life, John Howard Davies. The series provided Felicity Kendal (sitcoms The Mistress, Solo, and Honey for Tea; and Rosemary and Thyme, a cosy detective series) with her big break on television and significantly boosted her long and illustrious career on stage.[114] She and Richard Briers (If You See God, Tell Him, Ever Decreasing Circles) starred in the lead roles as Barbara and Tom Goode – a middle-class suburban couple who decide to quit the rat race and become self-sufficient, much to the consternation of their snooty but well-meaning neighbour Margo played by Penelope Keith (To the Manor Born) and her down-to-earth husband played by Paul Eddington (Yes, Minister). Written by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde, in 2004, it came 9th in Britain's Best Sitcom.[115] The Good Life features in an episode of The Young Ones titled "Sick" where Vyvyan (played by Adrian Edmondson) rips apart the title page after the first ten seconds of the opening credits of this show while criticising it, saying, "It's so bloody nice! Felicity 'Treacle' Kendal and Richard 'Sugar-Flavoured Snot' Briers! What do they do now?! Chocolate bloody Button ads, that's what! They're nothing but a couple of reactionary stereotypes, confirming the myth that everyone in Britain is a lovable middle-class eccentric. And I hate them!"[116] The opening theme was composed by Burt Rhodes.[117]

Rising Damp (1974–78), an ITV production of 28 episodes written by Eric Chappell, is sometimes called the best of all ITV sitcoms,[118] starring Leonard Rossiter (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) as Rigsby, a miserly, seedy, and ludicrously self-regarding landlord of a run-down Victorian townhouse who rents out his shabby bedsits to a variety of tenants played by Frances de la Tour as a spinster approaching middle age, Richard Beckinsale, as a medical student, and Don Warrington (The Crouches) as a cultured sales representative, supposedly a descendant of African royalty. Chappell defended the Rigsby character by saying he "was not a racist or a bigot, but he was prejudiced and suspicious of strangers. But he accepted Philip and his only concern afterwards was that he didn't get a leg over Miss Jones." Warrington, who played the black tenant, stated: "There were certain aspects of it that were politically incorrect. On the other, you can see how it held up a mirror to the way we were living."[119] The series won the 1978 BAFTA for Best Situation Comedy.[120] Rising Damp was the highest-ranking ITV sitcom in the BBC's 100 Best Sitcoms poll of 2004, coming in 27th overall.[121] For her performance as Ruth Jones, Frances da la Tour received an Evening Standard British Film Award in the category of "Best Actress".[122]

Man About the House (1973–1976) is a popular flat-share comedy considered daring at the time because it featured a man sharing flat with two single women. Created by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer it starred Richard O'Sullivan, Paula Wilcox (Emmerdale, Upstart Crow, Girlfriends, and since 2020 Coronation Street).[123] Sally Thomsett (The Railway Children, Straw Dogs), and Yootha Joyce with Brian Murphy as their landlord and lady. Six series were broadcast on ITV from 1973 to 1976. 40 episodes were recorded and a film version was released in 1974. The series is regularly repeated on ITV3.

George and Mildred (1976–1979) is a spin-off from Man About the House starring Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy who team up with actors Norman Eshley, Sheila Fearn, and child star Nicholas Bond-Owen who play their neighbouring family in a domestic sitcom focused on a typical 1970s clash of social class.[124] The series is free of racial reference. Written by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, it ran for 38 episodes and is regularly repeated on ITV3. Yootha Joyce died suddenly in August 1980, just before production of a sixth and final series.[125]

Bless This House (1971–1976) starring comedy actor Sid James of Carry On fame, Diana Coupland and Sally Geeson, was created by Vince Powell and Harry Driver, but mainly written by others including Dave Freeman and Carla Lane. It marked a departure from James' characteristic bawdy slapstick and famous 'dirty laugh' and ran for 65 episodes over 10 series. The series ended abruptly in 1976, when just four days after broadcast of the final episode, James died soon after collapsing on stage. Ironically, James had told his co-star Coupland, "It's such fun and so successful, we'll still be working on Bless This House till one of us kicks the bucket."[126] In 2004, it was ranked by a BBC poll as the 67th Best British Sitcom.[127]

Are You Being Served? (1972–85) was created and written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft for the BBC. Although an ensemble cast, John Inman's camp characterisation of Mr. Humphries contributed greatly to its success.[128] Set in a fictional traditional London department store, the show follows the antics of the staff of the retail ladies' and gentlemen's clothing departments.[129] Of the original the original cast, Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richard and Nicholas Smith appeared in all 69 episodes. In 2004, its powerful characters and excellent acting with occasional eruptions into pantomime-style scenes, it ranked 20th in a television countdown of Britain's Best Sitcom.[130] The series proved to be highly exportable. It is regularly repeated worldwide (BBC Two, Drama and Gold in the UK; PBS and BBC America in the United States; and BBC UKTV, Fox Classics and 9Gem in Australia; and Jones! in New Zealand). A spin-off series Grace & Favour with some of the same main cast aired in 1991–1992, and a one-off episode with a new cast in 2016. Its feature film spin-off was not well received.[131][132]

To the Manor Born (1979–1981, 2007) co-starring Penelope Keith of The Good Life, as Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, with TV, stage and film actor Peter Bowles as Richard DeVere in a 'feel-good' series with a clear story arc following the 'will-they-won't they' love story of the leading characters. Written by Peter Spence and Christopher Bond and produced and directed by Gareth Gwenlan,[133] it was one of the most popular sitcoms of the turn of the 70s-80s decades. The final episode of series 1 which aired on 11 November 1979 was the most watched British television programme (excluding live events) of the 1970s, drawing 23.95 million viewers,[134] the highest for a non-live event.[134] The final episode in 1981 received 17.80 million viewers.[135]

Major supporting roles were played by Angela Thorne as Audrey's friend Marjory, and Daphne Heard as Mrs Polouvicka, Richard's mother. Other members of the cast included Alan David, John Rudling, Michael Bilton, Gerald Sim, Michael Cochrane, and Georgie Glen. The music was written by Ronnie Hazlehurst.[133][136] Writing in the Sunday Express on 30 December 2007, Marshall Julius described the 2007 Christmas special as "so cosy and old-fashioned that I could easily have dismissed it with a cynical wave". However, he says he found himself enjoying it "about halfway through" and said "it was a real pleasure to see Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith, for both of whom I feel great affection, once again sparring on the small screen". Julius finished his review by commenting "Not that I'm saying I'd like a whole series of it but as a one-off event it was surprisingly welcome".[137] The British Comedy Guide was more critical saying that "whilst it gained great viewing figures it really wasn't a patch on the original episodes."[138] The series has been repeated over 1,000 times.[139][136]

The 1980sEdit

In the 1980s the emerging alternative comedians began to encroach on British sitcoms, partly as a response to such series as Terry and June (1979–87) being perceived as containing "complacent gentility, outmoded social attitudes and bourgeois sensibilities".[140] The alternatives incursion began with The Young Ones (1982–84), written by Rik Mayall, Ben Elton and others. To help make it stand out, the group opted to combine traditional sitcom style with violent slapstick, non-sequitur plot turns, and surrealism. These older styles were mixed with the working and lower-middle class attitudes of the growing 1980s alternative comedy boom. Mayall was also the star of The New Statesman (1987–92), a series created by Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks, whose biggest success, Birds of a Feather (1989–98, 2014–20), also deviated from British practice in being scripted by a team of writers. The alternative comedy genre continued with Blackadder (1983–89), mainly written by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis and starring Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, and Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Atkinson's Edmund Blackadder came at No.3 in the Channel 4 list of 100 greatest TV characters.[85] Other high-ratings mainstream, slice-of-life shows of the decade included Bread (1986–1991) written by Carla Lane (The Liver Birds, (1969–1979), Butterflies (1978 to 1983). Bread is about a close-knit, working-class family in Liverpool. Running for 74 episodes, at its peak it attracted 21 million viewers.[141]

Hi-de-Hi! (1980–1988) ran for 58 episodes on the BBC and is often repeated. Set in 1959–1960 in a fictional holiday camp, and filmed on location at the real Warner's Holiday Centre at Dovercourt Bay, it was co-written by Jimmy Perry based on his first-hand experience as a Butlin's Redcoat, and director-producer David Croft.[142][143] The series gained large audiences and won a BAFTA as Best Comedy Series in 1984. In a 2008 poll on Channel 4, 'Hi-de-Hi!' was voted the 35th most popular comedy catchphrase. According to comedy researcher Mark Lewisohn 'Plots became somewhat outlandish during the latter episodes and by the time the BBC called it a day in 1988, it is arguable that the show had already outstayed its welcome by a good couple of years. All in all, though, this was a good British sitcom.' [144][145]

Yes Minister (1980–1984) ran for 21 episodes on BBC2, and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister (1986–88, 16 episodes) are political satires both starring Paul Eddington of The Good Life, with Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds (Affairs of the Heart) in the supporting roles. Established Shakespearian actor Hawthorne picked up four BAFTA TV Awards for Best Light Entertainment Performance for his role in the series. Created by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn,[2] the series received several BAFTAs and in 2004 was voted sixth in the Britain's Best Sitcom poll. Writer Michael Dobbs said Jay and Lynn "really got to the heart of so much of what goes on in Whitehall and Westminster".[2] As the series revolves around the inner workings of central government, most of the scenes take place in private locations, such as offices and exclusive members' clubs. Lynn said that "there was not a single scene set in the House of Commons because government does not take place in the House of Commons. Some politics and much theatre takes place there. Government happens in private. As in all public performances, the real work is done in rehearsal, behind closed doors. Then the public and the House are shown what the government wishes them to see."[146] Lynn and Jay explained "After we wrote the episode, we would show it to some secret sources, always including somebody who was an expert on the subject in question. They would usually give us extra information which, because it was true, was usually funnier than anything we might have thought up."[146] In a 2004 BBC programme paying tribute to the series, it was revealed that Jay and Lynn had drawn on information provided by two insiders from the governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, namely Marcia Falkender and Bernard Donoughue.[147] The theme music was composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst. The series was the favourite television programme of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.[148][2] In 2012, just two years in office, Prime Minister David Cameron talking about the series admitted that "I can tell you, as prime minister, it is true to life."[149]

Goodbye, Mr Kent (1982) was written by Peter Vincent and Peter Robinson, and 7 episodes starring Richard Briers and Hannah Gordon were produced for the BBC by Gareth Gwenlan, with music by Ronnie Hazlehurst.[150] Richard Briers stars as layabout journalist Travis Kent who weasels his way into lodging at Victoria (Hannah Gordon's) house. Despite following Briers' highly successful run in The Good Life, the sitcom did not find resonance with viewers and after its first and only series it was 'Good Bye' to Goodbye, Mr. Kent. There are no records of it having been streamed or repeated since, or released on DVD. [151]

L for Lester (1982) written by Dudley Long,[152][153] was directed by John B Hobbs (Allo 'Allo!, Laura And Disorder, Lame Ducks, Mulberry),[154] and produced by Dennis Main Wilson for the BBC.[155] It starred Brian Murphy with a supporting cast that included Hilda Braid, James Cossins, Amanda Barrie, Colin Spaull, Richard Vernon, John Forgeham, and Linda Robson. Created following the death of Yootha Joyce, the other half of the comedy duo of the successful Man About the House and George and Mildred series, it was intended as a new vehicle for Murphy. The programme followed the misfortunes of a small town driving instructor. Wilson has been described by Screenonline as "arguably the most important and influential of all comedy producers/directors in British radio and television".[155] The series was broadcast on BBC2 in October and November 1982. It was both a critical and ratings failure and was cancelled after just six episodes.[156] Following L for Lester, Wilson becoming disillusioned with the BBC, viewing it as increasingly bureaucratic, limiting the freedom of the individual producer, Wilson an otherwise dedicated BBC man, did what would once have been unthinkable - he left the BBC.[155]

Last of the Summer Wine (1983–2010) ran for 37 years on the BBC for 295 episodes over 31 series all written by Roy Clarke and produced by Alan J. W. Bell.[157] It is the longest-running comedy programme in Britain and the longest-running sitcom in the world.[158][159][160] The show is about the antics of a group of male pensioners looking for adventure, 'portraying the elderly in a positive and non-stereotypical light.'[161] The family-friendly show was filmed largely in the village of Holmfirth in Yorkshire, a location recommended by Barry Took,[161] and featured many well known stars of sitcom including Barbara Young, Bill Owen, Brian Murphy, Brian Wilde, Burt Kwouk, Danny O'Dea , Dora Bryan, Frank Thornton, Gordon Wharmby, Jane Freeman, Jean Alexander, Jean Fergusson, Joe Gladwin, John Comer, Josephine Tewson, Juliette Kaplan, June Whitfield, Kathy Staff, Keith Clifford, Ken Kitson , Louis Emerick, Michael Aldridge, Michael Bates, Mike Grady, Peter Sallis, Robert Fyfe, Russ Abbot, Sarah Thomas, Stephen Lewis, Thora Hird, Tom Owen, Trevor Bannister, and many more.[162][163] In 2010 the BBC announced that the series would end.[164] Last of the Summer Wine was nominated numerous times for two British television industry awards. The show was proposed five times between 1973 and 1985 for the British Academy Film Awards, twice for the Best Situation Comedy Series award (in 1973 and 1979) and three times for the Best Comedy Series award (in 1982, 1983, and 1985).[165] The show was also considered for the National Television Awards four times since 1999 (in 1999,[166] 2000,[167] 2003,[168] and 2004[169]), each time in the Most Popular Comedy Programme category. In 1999 the show won the National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Programme.[166] Repeated over 17,000 times, it is regularly broadcast on Gold, Yesterday, and Drama.[162] It is also seen in more than 25 countries.[170] The music is by Ronnie Hazelhurst.

Ever Decreasing Circles (1984–1989) ran on BBC1 in four series and one feature-length special for a total of 27 episodes. It was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, and it reunited them with Richard Briers, the star of their previous hit show, The Good Life. Sydney Lotterby directed 13 episodes and 14 episodes were produced by Harold Snoad. The show also featured guest appearances by Peter Blake, Ronnie Stevens, Victoria Burgoyne and Ray Winstone. Centred around a character who is the eccentric mover and shaker of his local community who feels threatened by the verve and aplomb of a new arrival in the village, its handling was much less brash than most sitcoms, and the Guardian described it as having "a quiet, unacknowledged and deep-running despair to it that in retrospect seems quite daring".[171] Reappraising the series, Andy Dawson notes that "Ever Decreasing Circles strayed far from the well-worn path that other Britcoms trudged along in the 70s and 80s. There was a very real darkness at the heart of it, with Martin existing in what was almost certainly a state of permanent mental anguish."[172] The show was voted number 52 in the BBC's Britain's Best Sitcom poll in 2003. At its peak, it attracted television audiences of around 12 million.[173]

The Mistress (1985–1987) aired on BBC2 for 12 episodes. Starring Felicity Kendal and Jane Asher, it was written by Carla Lane.[32] It features Kendal playing Maxine, a young florist who is having an affair with a married man, whose wife was played by Asher. The series was produced and directed by Gareth Gwenlan.[174] Series 2 was attempted to be rounded out slightly, while still retaining the thread of having an affair, but serving as a more general comedy.

Chelmsford 123 (1988–1990) which ran for 13 episodes is a short lived Roman Britain sitcom. A young Roman general is punished by the Emperor to go and govern cold, miserable Britannia populated by drunken hoards of hooligans.[175] Created and written by Jimmy Mulville and Rory McGrath, and starring themselves with Philip Pope and Neil Pearson it has fallen into relative obscurity. Both series are nevertheless available on All 4.[176] Series 1 and 2 were released on DVD by Acorn Media UK on 15 September 2011.[177]

'Allo 'Allo! (1984–1992) was reminiscent of 1970s sitcoms such as Are You Being Served? and Dad's Army:[178] unsurprising since all three involved the writer/producer team of David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd. Set in World War II Nazi-occupied France and starring Gorden Kaye as René, a café owner, a total of 85 episodes were produced over nine series.[179] Croft and Lloyd, who wrote the first six series (the rest were scripted by Lloyd and Paul Adam) devised the concept as a farcical parody of BBC wartime drama Secret Army (1977 to 1979) from which many elements were directly taken.[180] Some actors from Secret Army also appear in 'Allo 'Allo!: Richard Marner, Guy Siner, John D. Collins, Hilary Minster and David Beckett[citation needed]. Although it did not have the same measure of magic as Dad's Army, it retained a strong family following and proved popular with viewers, with respectable ratings.[180] Its success led to it being reproduced on stage. A special entitled The Return of 'Allo 'Allo!, aired in 2007, featuring a number of cast members returning to reprise their original roles in a special story, alongside a documentary about the sitcom including a highlight reel of episodes, and interviews with the cast, production team and fans.[180]

Among other sitcoms of the decade are Esmonde and Larbey's suburban sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles (1984–89) and the sci-fi-comedy Red Dwarf (1988–).

The 1990sEdit

The new Channel 4 began to have successful long-running situation comedies. Desmond's (1989–94) was the first British sitcom with a black cast set in the workplace,[181] and Drop the Dead Donkey (1990–98) brought topicality to the form as it was recorded close to transmission. Oh, Doctor Beeching which aired from 1995 until 1997 is the final series of the many sitcoms by producer David Croft.

Some of the biggest hits of the 1990s were Father Ted, Men Behaving Badly, Game On, Absolutely Fabulous, I'm Alan Partridge, Keeping Up Appearances, Goodnight Sweetheart, Bottom, The Brittas Empire, The Thin Blue Line, Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson), The Vicar of Dibley (Dawn French), One Foot in the Grave, Waiting for God, and Dinnerladies.

Waiting for God (1990–1994) ran on BBC1 for 47 episodes over 5 series and was a major success.[182] It was written by Michael Aitkens, produced by Gareth Gwenlan, and directed by Gareth Gwenlan and Sue Bysh. It starred Stephanie Cole (A Bit of a Do, Keeping Mum, Doc Martin, Still Open All Hours, Coronation Street) as Diana Trent, and Graham Crowden as Tom Ballard, two elderly but spirited residents of Bournemouth's fictional Bayview Retirement Home, who are determined not to grow old gracefully and spend their time running rings around the home's oppressive management and their own families.[182] With Janine Duvitski in the main supporting role and a regular cast including Andrew Tourell, Sandra Payne, Dawn Hope, Michael Bilton and Paddy Ward, much of the humour is derived from flying in the face of conventional expectations about how the elderly ought to behave.[182] The show became very successful,[183] and is frequently repeated on the Drama and Gold channels.[184] Although the script of the series is set in Bournemouth, the location filming for the first three series was largely carried out in and around Brighton and Worthing. The first genuine appearance of Bournemouth town centre and the nearby suburb of Boscombe is in the 1992 Christmas special. Most exterior scenes at the retirement home were filmed at and around the Oaken Holt Rest Home in Farmoor, Oxfordshire, England.[185]

Absolutely Fabulous (1992–1995) is based on the French and Saunders sketch, "Modern Mother and Daughter", created by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. Written by Saunders starring as one of the two main characters with Joanna Lumley, and Julia Sawalha, and June Whitfield in supporting roles, it ran for 39 episodes.The first three series aired on the BBC, followed a two-part special finale entitled The Last Shout, in 1996. The series features Edina Monsoon, a heavy-drinking, drug-abusing PR agent who spends her time in a desperate attempt to stay young and "hip". Edina is joined by fashion magazine director Patsy Stone, whose drug abuse, alcohol consumption far eclipse Edina's. It returned for two more series and two one-hour specials, airing from 2001 to 2004. In 2000, the show ranked 17th in the greatest British television show of all time by the British Film Institute (BFI).[186] In 1997, the pilot episode, "Fashion", was ranked #47 on TV Guide's "100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time" list.[187] A scene from the show was included in the TV's 100 Greatest Moments programme broadcast by Channel 4 in 1999.[188] In 2004 and 2007, the show was ranked 24th and 29th on TV Guide's "Top Cult Shows Ever" list.[189] In 2019, the series ranked 9th in Radio Times' top 20 British sitcoms of all time.[190] The series has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[191] and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, was released in 2016.

If You See God, Tell Him (1993) is an ingenious BBC1 mini-series in four 45-minute episides written by Andrew Marshall (Dad, 2 Point 4 Children) and David Renwick (One Foot in the Grave, Jonathan Creek),starring Richard Briers (The Good Life), Adrian Edmondson (The Young Ones, Bottom), and Imelda Staunton (Up the Garden Path, Is it Legal?), and also Martin Clunes (Doc Martin). Four episodes were produced. The very dark humour is about a man who after a bump on the head believes he must do everything the adverts tell him, with hilarious catastrophic results. The Independent wrote: "It's not really a disaster but there's something decidedly uneven underfoot here, a feeling that this is the working model for a new type of comedy rather than the finished product. [...] while it's sustained with considerable energy by the actors and direction you have to doubt whether it really stands up for one episode, let alone four."[192] Conversely, a retrospective review in The Guardian highlighted the series as "a gem from an era when the BBC took its black comedy seriously", praising both its dark content and humour, "a Richard Briers sitcom that's the opposite of The Good Life."[193] The series was only broadcast once and never repeated; according to The Guardian ..."possibly because it was too much of a leap for fans of The Good Life, but it has grown in cult status over the years."[194]

The Vicar of Dibley (1994–2007) starring Dawn French, is in ratings terms, among the most successful British programmes in the digital era. In addition to the 20 main episodes the series includes numerous shorter charity specials, as well as 'lockdown' episodes produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Christmas and New Year specials entering the UK top 10 programmes of the year.[195] The main character was an invention of Richard Curtis, but he and French extensively consulted Joy Carroll, one of the first female Anglican priests, and garnered many character traits and much information.[196] The series which centres on the character of Geraldine Granger, the new vicar of the village of Dibley, almost immediately exploited the 1992 changes in the Church of England that permitted the ordination of women. The show included cameos from many actors and celebrities, many appearing as themselves, and included Sarah, Duchess of York, Hugh Bonneville, Mel Giedroyc, Richard Griffiths, Miranda Hart, Alistair McGowan, Geraldine McNulty, Philip Whitchurch, Nicholas Le Prevost, Brian Perkins and Roger Sloman, Pam Rhodes, Kylie Minogue, Rachel Hunter, Terry Wogan, Jeremy Paxman, Martyn Lewis, Darcey Bussell, Sean Bean,Richard Ayoade, Orla Brady, Fiona Bruce, Annette Crosbie, Johnny Depp, Ruth Jones, Hilary Kay, Damian Lewis, Maureen Lipman, Jennifer Saunders, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, Stephen Tompkinson, Dervla Kirwan, and Emma Watson. Dibley received multiple British Comedy Awards, two International Emmys, and was a multiple British Academy Television Awards nominee. In 2004, it placed third in a BBC poll of Britain's Best Sitcoms. In addition to the twenty main episodes between 1994 and 2007, the series includes numerous shorter charity specials, as well as 'lockdown' episodes produced during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic.[197] The theme music is a setting of Psalm 23 composed by Howard Goodall, and performed by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, with George Humphreys singing the solo.[198] The conductor was Stephen Darlington. Goodall originally wrote it as a serious piece of church choral music.

Keeping Up Appearances (1990–1995, 1997, 2008) is a frequently repeated and highly successful series by Roy Clarke. It was confirmed in February 2016 by BBC Worldwide that the hilarious sitcom starring Patricia Routledge (Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River, To Sir, with Love, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates) as the outrageously snobbish Hyacinth 'Bouquet' Bucket "I haven't a snobbish bone in my body", as the corporation's most exported television programme; it sold nearly 1,000 times to overseas broadcasters.[199] As of 2016 Keeping Up Appearances is the most-bought BBC and has outsold every other show to international broadcasters in the past 40 years. According to Roy Clarke : "...the secret to her wide fan base is that everyone knows a Hyacinth"[200] The show which comprised five series and 44 episodes, four of which are Christmas specials TV specials, also stars in the major supporting roles Clive Swift, and Josephine Tewson (Last of the Summer Wine, Shelley, Ronnie Barker's Clarence, Odd Man Out with actor John Inman, and real life wife of Leonard Rossiter of Rising Damp), Judy Cornwell (Farrington of the F.O.), Mary Millar (the musical Lock up your Daughters), in series one only Shirley Stelfox (sitcom Common As Muck, and the soaps Emmerdale, Coronation Street, EastEnders , and Brookside), and Geoffrey Hughes (Heartbeat, Coronation Street, The Royle Family, Till Death Us Do Part). The theme music was composed by Nick Ingman. In a 2004 BBC poll it placed 12th in Britain's Best Sitcom and in a 2001 Channel 4 poll, Hyacinth Bucket was ranked 52nd on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.[85] Production ended in 1995 after Routledge who was made a Dame in 2017 by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to entertainment and charity, had decided to move on to other projects

Jeeves and Wooster (1990–1993) although not an original sitcom creation, is a British comedy-drama television series in sitcom style based on the "Jeeves" stories by novelist P. G. Wodehouse. Twenty-three episodes in 4 series were adapted by Clive Exton for ITV starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie already well known writers and double act stars of their own sketch comedy television series A Bit of Fry & Laurie. The productions were well received. The third series won a British Academy Television Award for Best Design for Eileen Diss. The final series won a British Academy Television Award for Best Graphics for Derek W. Hayes and was nominated for a British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series; it also earned a British Academy Television Award for Best Original Television Music for Anne Dudley,[201] and a British Academy Television Award for Best Costume Design for Dany Everett.[202] In retrospect, Michael Brooke of BFI Screenonline called screenwriter Exton "the series' real star", saying his "adaptations come surprisingly close to capturing the flavour of the originals" by "retaining many of Wodehouse's most inspired literary similes."[203]

Hamish Macbeth (1995–1997) is a series departed from the conventional sitcoms that are mainly filmed in studio and often accompanied by a laugh track. The mixture of comedy and drama (dramedy) of the 20 episodes, was filmed mainly on location in the Scottish Highlands. Loosely adapted from the mystery novels by M. C. Beaton (Marion Chesney) and written for screen by Daniel Boyle starring Robert Carlyle, it is about a fictional police officer. .[204] A further 'dramedy' style sitcom and filmed on location is Doc Martin which began in 2004.

Father Ted (1995–1998) is a highly successful series created by Irish writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews and produced by British Hat Trick Productions for Channel 4. It aired over three series from, including a Christmas special, for 25 episodes. Set on the fictional Craggy Island, off Ireland's west coast, it stars Dermot Morgan as Father Ted Crilly, with fellow priests Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O'Hanlon) and Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly). Dishonourably exiled on the island by Bishop Leonard Brennan (Jim Norton) for various reasons, the priests live together in the parochial house with their housekeeper Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn). The show subverts parodies of low-brow humour as it portrays nuanced themes of loneliness, agnosticism, existentialism and purgatory experienced by its title character; this deeper meaning of the show has been much acclaimed.[205][206][207] The series won several BAFTA awards, twice winning for Best Comedy Series, and remains a popular sitcom in the UK and Ireland. In a 2001 poll by Channel 4, Dougal was ranked fifth on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.[85] In 2019, Father Ted was named the second-greatest British sitcom (after Fawlty Towers) by a panel of comedy experts for the Radio Times.[208]

dinnerladies (1998 –2000) closed the decade with the BBC One sitcom winning many awards including "Best New TV Comedy" at the 1999 British Comedy Awards,[209] and the second won "Best TV Comedy" in 2000.[210][211][212][213] Created, written and co-produced by Victoria Wood starring herself as the main character, Brenda Furlong, it is based on the lives and interactions of the employees of a works canteen and ran for a total of 16 episodes.
The permanent cast occasionally featured guest actors from many of the country's best known stars of comedy and straight drama on TV, film, radio, and stage, including Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey, Liar, Angela Black), Tina Malone (Brookside, Shameless), Dora Bryan OBE (A Taste of Honey, Absolutely Fabulous, Last of the Summer Wine), Lynda Baron (Open All Hours, Coronation Street, EastEnders), Elspet Gray (The Whitehall Farces, Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Solo), Janette Tough (The Krankies, French and Saunders), Simon Williams (Upstairs, Downstairs; Holby City, EastEnders), Kenny Doughty (Coronation Street, Vera), Eric Sykes CBE, an icon of 5 decades of British radio and TV sitcom,[214] and actress in over 100 films, comedian, presenter and writer Dame Thora Hird DBE (In Loving Memory, Meet the Wife, Praise Be!, Last of the Summer Wine), a household name, a British national institution,[215] and one of the "Grandes Dames" of the British entertainment industry.[216]

2000–2010Edit

Around the Millennium period and onward into the 2000s examples of the hyperreal approach pioneered by Galton and Simpson in some of their Hancock scripts, was evident in Steve Coogan's 1997–2002 12-episode sitcom I'm Alan Partridge. It also appeared in sitcoms such as The Royle Family, written by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash for the BBC, which ran for 25 episodes from 1998 to 2000, and specials from 2006 to 2012.[217][218] It centres on the lives of a television-fixated working-class family, the Royles, a stereotype of family life at the turn of the century, sharing elements of kitchen sink drama. In the BFI's 2000 list of the 100 greatest British television programmes The Royle Family was placed 31st. In a 2001 Channel 4 poll, Jim Royle the misanthropic head of the household, was ranked 11th on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.[85] In a 2004 BBC poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom, The Royle Family was placed 19th. The series has also won several BAFTA awards.

Galton and Simpson's influence also found its way into The Office (a mockumentary), Early Doors, and Gavin & Stacey, as well as many British dramedies.[23]

The BBC has also begun using their digital channels BBC Three and BBC Four to build a following for off-beat series including The Thick of It. Channel 4 has had successes with Spaced, Black Books, Phoenix Nights, Peep Show, Green Wing, The IT Crowd, The Inbetweeners, Friday Night Dinner and Derry Girls.

Some popular sitcoms in the UK in the new millennium include Outnumbered; Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, about a group of young people sharing a flat in Runcorn, which ended its ninth series in 2011;The IT Crowd (2006–2013) about IT colleagues.

At the BBC, the late 2000s and early 2010s saw a major resurgence in traditional-style sitcoms filmed in front of a studio audience and featuring a laughter track, such as Not Going Out written by Lee Mack, Miranda, Reggie Perrin (a remake of the 1970s series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin), Big Top, Irish sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys and In with the Flynns. The most successful BBC sitcom of the 2000s and early 2010s was My Family, which ran for 11 series from 2000 to 2011, came 24th in the Britain's Best Sitcom poll in 2004 and was the most watched sitcom in the United Kingdom in 2008.

ITV also revisited sitcoms upon their rebranding in 2013. Birds of a Feather returned with another series over a decade after its conclusion and received critical acclaim. Originally starring Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph, it was created by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who also wrote many of the episodes. The original run ended in December 1998 after nine years, but returned just over 15 years later, in January 2014, this time on ITV, for a tenth series.[219][220] The opening episode of the new series attracted almost eight million viewers, giving ITV its highest-rated comedy since Barbara in 2000.[221] A further two series were broadcast, followed by two Christmas specials.[222][223] There was a further Christmas special in 2020, however, Quirke did not appear in this episode, due to her decision to take a step back from acting to focus on her performing arts academy.[224][225]

Focus on sitcoms has since been redirected to sister channel ITV2, which airs American sitcoms such as The Big Bang Theory.

The Green Green Grass (2005 and 2009) is a spin-off in 32 episodes over four series and three Christmas specials of Only Fools and Horses. Produced for the BBC and created and initially written by John Sullivan, who also wrote the theme music, it stars John Challis, Sue Holderness and Jack Doolan from the original cast of Only Fools and Horses.[226] On an infrequent basis, the show featured several guest stars including Paula Wilcox (Man About the House),[227] American actor George Wendt (Cheers),[228] and Dame June Whitfield (Happy Ever After, Steptoe and Son , Terry and June , Absolutely Fabulous, Last of the Summer Wine, Carry On... films).[229] All three well known actors played important roles in their individual episodes.

Doc Martin (2004 –present) like Hamish Macbeth in the 1990s before it, is another dramedy series. The highly successful medical comedy stars Martin Clunes as Dr. Martin Ellingham the local general practitioner of a Cornish village and Caroline Catz. Created by Dominic Minghella and written and produced by Clune's wife Philippa Braithwaite,[230] it is filmed on location in the coastal village of Port Isaac, with most interior scenes shot in a converted local barn.[231] Beginning in 2004, the ninth and most recent series aired on ITV from September 2019. In 2004, Doc Martin won the British Comedy Award for "Best TV Comedy Drama", having also been nominated as "Best New TV Comedy".[232] As of 2021 a total of 70 episodes have aired. of a length of around 50 minutes. A final run, Series 10, was announced in 2020.[233] Filming was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and episodes are scheduled to begin filming in 2022.[234]

Benidorm (2007–2018) was written and created by Derren Litten and produced by Tiger Aspect for ITV that aired 74 episodes over ten series.[235] The series features an ensemble cast of holiday makers and staff at the Solana all-inclusive hotel in Benidorm, Spain over the course of a week each year.[236] The series had a large ensemble cast.[237] It changed throughout its ten seasons and included Abigail Cruttenden, Adam Gillen, Alan David, Asa Elliott, Bel Powley, Bobby Knutt (Emmerdale), Charlotte Eaton, Crissy Rock, Danny Walters (EastEnders), Elsie Kelly, Geoffrey Hutchings, Hannah Hobley, Hannah Waddingham, Honor Kneafsey, Hugh Sachs, Jake Canuso,, Janine Duvitski (Waiting for God), Jessica Ellerby, John Challis (Only Fools and Horses), Johnny Vegas, Josh Bolt, Julian Moore-Cook, Julie Graham, Kate Fitzgerald (Brookside, Coronation Street), Kathryn Drysdale (Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps), Kenny Ireland, Laila Zaidi, Michelle Butterly, Nathan Bryon, Nicholas Burns, Oliver Stokes, Paul Bazely, Perry Benson (You Rang, M'Lord?), Selina Griffiths, Sheila Reid, Shelley Longworth, Sheridan Smith, (The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Gavin & Stacey), Sherrie Hewson, (Coronation Street), Simon Greenall, Siobhan Finneran, (Coronation Street), Steve Edge, Steve Pemberton, Tim Healy, Tony Maudsley, and also had many celebrity guest stars.[237]
The first series of Benidorm proved to be a fairly modest hit for ITV - with critics saying things like: "beautifully written and performed" and "a gem of wry observation in withering bad taste".[235] On 5 July 2018, series creator and writer Derren Litten confirmed that series 10 would be the last after the series was axed by ITV.[238][239]

Gavin & Stacey (2007–2010) was written for the BBCby James Corden and Ruth Jones and directed by Christine Gernon (One Foot in the Grave) and ran for 20 episodes over three series. The show is about two families: one in Billericay, Essex; one in Barry, South Wales. Mathew Horne and Joanna Page play the titular characters Gavin and Stacey and the writers star as Smithy and Nessa. Alison Steadman and Larry Lamb star as Gavin's parents (Pam and Mick), and Melanie Walters (Gwen) is Stacey's mother and Rob Brydon (Bryn) is Stacey's uncle. Broadcast on Christmas Day 2009 and New Year's Day 2010, episodes of the final series formed a significant part of the prime-time BBC seasonal programming. Acclaimed as both a hit and a breakthrough show for the BBC, it was the most nominated show in the 2007 British Comedy Awards. It won several awards, including the British Academy Television Awards (BAFTAs) Audience Award, and the British Comedy Awards Best TV Comedy Award, both in 2008. In 2019, Gavin & Stacey was named the 17th-greatest British sitcom in a poll by Radio Times.[240] Corden and Jones wrote a Christmas Day 2019 special for BBC One. With 18.49 million viewers, the broadcast in the United Kingdom was the most-viewed non-sporting event in a decade and the most-watched comedy in 17 years.[241][242][243]

Since 2010Edit

Still Open All Hours (2013–present) is a sequel to Open All Hours and was created and written by Roy Clarke for the BBC. By 2020 47 episodes had been broadcast. It stars David Jason (Only Fools and Horses) supported by James Baxter (Alma's Not Normal, Red Dwarf ) with a regular supporting cast that includes Lynda Baron, Stephanie Cole, Maggie Ollerenshaw, Brigit Forsyth (Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?), Johnny Vegas (Benidorm) Kulvinder Ghir (Goodness Gracious Me), Geoffrey Whitehead, Sally Lindsay (Coronation Street ), Tim Healy, Sue Holderness, (Only Fools and Horses, The Green Green Grass), Dean Smith, Archie Panjabi, (Life on Mars), and Nina Wadia, (EastEnders, Goodness Gracious Me,) with Baron, Cole, and Ollerenshaw reprising their original characters from Open All Hours.[244] Directed by Dewi Humphreys (The Vicar of Dibley, The Green Green Grass),[245][246] and produced by David Jason, Alex Walsh-Taylor,[247][248] Sarah Hitchcock,[249] and Gareth Edwards the series continues the theme of Open All Hours while focusing on the life of a much older Granville, who with the assistance of his son now runs his late uncle Arkwright's traditional English corner shop.[244] Whether or not the sitcom will return for a 7th series remains open.[250] The BBC has denied rumours that the show is to be axed: "There is no truth in this and discussions on future episodes are ongoing." and co-producer and lead actor David Jason has stated that the writers have planned to make one last miniseries which will bring all the stories to a natural end.[250]

Breeders (2020–) is a British-American parental black comedy television series created by Martin Freeman, Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell.[251] The series follows two parents who struggle with parenthood and is partially based on Freeman's own experience as a parent. Freeman also plays the lead role in the series.[252][253] The series premiered on March 2, 2020, on the American cable network FX, and on the British network Sky One on March 12, 2020.[253] In May 2020, the series was renewed for a second season which premiered on March 22, 2021.In May 2021, the series was renewed for a third season.[254]

Other recent British sitcoms include Brassic 2019 –present, Chewing Gum 2015–2017, Friday Night Dinner 2011–2020, Bad Education 2012–2014, Cuckoo, The Inbetweeners 2008–2010, Fleabag 2016 –2019, Peter Kay's Car Share 2015–2018, Gavin & Stacey

Music in British sitcomEdit

Ronnie Hazlehurst was the most prolific of composers of music for sitcom and many comedy productions, game shows and other programmes. He joined the BBC in 1961, and became a staff arranger; his early works included the incidental music for The Likely Lads, and The Liver Birds.[255][256] In 1968 he became the Light Entertainment Musical Director and, during his tenure, he composed the theme tunes of many sitcoms, including Are You Being Served?; Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em; Last of the Summer Wine (where he also wrote all the instrumental music for the show); I Didn't Know You Cared; The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin; To the Manor Born; Yes, Minister; Yes, Prime Minister; Just Good Friends and Three Up, Two Down.[255][256][257] He also arranged the themes for Butterflies, Sorry!, and the first series of Only Fools and Horses.[256] His theme tunes often included elements designed to fit the programmes, such as a cash till in Are You Being Served?, rises and falls in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and the Big Ben chimes for Yes Minister.[255][258] For Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, Hazlehurst used Morse code to spell out the programme's title.[259] During his BBC career he composed the music for the opening of the BBC's coverage of the 1976 Olympics.[255] Hazelhurst left the BBC in the 1990s. He died aged 79 in 2007.[258]Jon Plowman, Head of BBC Comedy, said, "He was the composer of many of the best-loved signature tunes of the last 40 years of television - and some of his work is still heard today. He's associated with some of the best-loved shows of our lives."[258]

Burt Rhodes, (1923–2003), born in Guiseley, West Yorkshire,[260] whose theme tune for The Good Life is among his memorable credits.[261] He was a successful light entertainment composer and musical director including his arrangements for comedienne Beryl Reid's 1968-67 Beryl Reid Says Good Evening.[262] He collaborated with many stars including Judy Garland, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr., Vic Damone and Bruce Forsyth. Rhodes was often referred to as "the musicians’ musician". He counted musicians such as Ronnie Hazlehurst, Monty Norman and Phil Phillips among his friends. In 1958 he scored the theme for Dr No, the first James Bond film.[261]

Tony Russell (1929 – 1970) wrote the music for On the Buses TV shows and series such as and the children's programme The Herbs.[263] Russell studied composition with Richard Rodney Bennett and Bill Russo. He was in Russo's London Jazz Orchestra and took over running this when Russo returned to the United States in 1965.[264] He later became a busy a composer and won acclaim in 1966 for the score of the musical Matchgirls.[265][266]

Nick Ingman (b.1948) wrote the title music for Keeping Up Appearances. His collaborators include Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Björk, and the British X-factor.[267] Ingman was a Visiting Professor at the London College of Music. He conducted the original recording of the Oscar-Winning score of Finding Neverland. His arrangements have accounted for 14 No.1 singles and 5 double platinum albums in the UK and he has been nominated for a Grammy three times.[268]

Anne Dudley (b.1956) composed the title and incidental music for Jeeves and Wooster. She was the first BBC Concert Orchestra's Composer in Association in 2001,[269] and was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score for the comedy The Full Monty. She composed the scores over twenty other films.,[270]

Howard Goodall CBE (b.1958)[271] who wrote the title music for The Vicar of Dibley, Blackadder, Red Dwarf, and Mr. Bean is an English composer of musicals, choral music and music for television. He also presents music-based programmes for television and radio, for which he has won many awards. In 2008, he was named as a presenter and Composer-in-Residence with the UK radio channel Classic FM.[272] In 2009, he was named "Composer of the Year" at the Classic Brit Awards.[273]

Film spin-offsEdit

Due to the decline in cinema attendance during the 1970s, by 2020 at least 45 British sitcoms had generated over 50 feature films;[274] the first of the three film versions of On the Buses series (1969–73) was the biggest hit at the British box office in 1971.[275]

In a retrospective review of Are You Being Served? series, Michael Stailey of DVD Verdict regards the 1977 film as "guilty of violating almost every law of comedy and film."[276] In another review, John Pym of The Monthly Film Bulletin gave the film a negative review, stating that "The humour consists mainly of a withering selection of patent British puns; an inflatable brassiere, some let's-insult-the-Germans jokes and a rickety thunder-box which bolts from the outside are thrown in for good measure."[131] The film holds a 58% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the cutoff for a positive rating is 59%.[132]

Other films from the era are Bottoms Up (1960) Till Death Us Do Part (1968), Dad's Army (1971), On the Buses, (1971) Please Sir! (1971), Bless This House (1972), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), Steptoe and Son (1972), Nearest and Dearest (1972), The Alf Garnett Saga (1972) from Till Death Us Do Part, Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973), Holiday on the Buses (1973), Father, Dear Father (1973), Love Thy Neighbour (1973), Man About the House (1974), The Likely Lads (1976), Porridge (1979), and George and Mildred (1980).

As with their regular series, some films have also been later criticised for not meeting contemporary levels of political correctness.[7]

ResearchEdit

Commissioned by the satellite channel UKTV Gold using the BBC's drama Casualty as a starting control, 50 years of British sitcom was analysed by a group of scientists in 2005. The team led by Dr Helen Pilcher came up with a mathematical formula for measuring the success (or failure) of Brtish sitcoms.[100] Based on their research the very worst sitcoms were

  • Eyes Down (2003-2004) starring Paul O'Grady and Sheridan Smith (The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Gavin & Stacey, and Benidorm)
  • According to Bex with Jessica Stevenson, and written by Katie Douglas, Julia Barron and Fred Barron.[277] Critical reception to this show was negative, with The Stage calling it "the biggest sitcom disaster of the year".[278] and the British Comedy Guide describing it as "dull and predictable".[279] Despite reports that a second series had been planned,[280] the show was cancelled after the first series due to low ratings.[281] Stevenson considered the series so bad that she quit her agent, deciding only to do shows she really wanted to do.[282]
  • Sam's Game starring TV presenter Davina McCall and comedian Ed Byrne. Written by Byrne and uncredited contributors it ran for only 6 episode in 2001. According to Mark Lewisohn, "Although the sum of Sam's Game was modest, there were good moments and, refreshingly, it steered clear of the tedious (and unfunny, and unnecessary) vulgarity that tainted contemporary flat-share sitcoms".[283]
  • Babes in the Wood (1988-1989) a flat-share comedy created and written by Geoff Deane. American playwright, director and actress Maggie Brown found it funny though a bit contrived and possibly unrealistic in its portrayal of the girls' living arrangements. She praised Van Outen's repartee with Hayford.[284] Other reactions were less favourable. The Times called it "very shoddy".[285] The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy called it "hackneyed".[286] The Daily Mirror was highly critical of Claire King's guest appearance.[287] In an overview of ITV programmes, columnist Stuart Heritage of The Guardian named Babes in the Wood as one of the worst shows in the network's history. He described Babes in the Wood "a show where some babes live in St John's Wood and literally nothing else happens".[288]
  • 'Orrible (2001) written by and starring Johnny Vaughan and lasting only for 8 episodes, came last.

The top shows and their scores were

  1. Only Fools and Horses (696)
  2. The Office (678)
  3. Father Ted (564)
  4. FawltyTowers (557)
  5. Blackadder (374.5)

The worst shows were

Eyes Down (96)
According to Bex (67)
Sam's Game (22)
Babes in the Wood (8)
'Orrible (6.5)

British sitcoms overseasEdit

United StatesEdit

British sitcoms are often seen on the Public Broadcasting Service, usually thanks to the effort of WGBH and increasingly on cable television, including BBC America and Comedy Central. Are You Being Served?, Keeping Up Appearances and As Time Goes By became sleeper hits when they aired on the Public Broadcasting Service, while Absolutely Fabulous enjoyed a significant following when it aired on Comedy Central and The Office won a Golden Globe award in 2004 for "Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy", beating popular American favourites such as Sex and the City and Will & Grace. Most PBS stations affectionately refer to British sitcoms as "Britcoms".

Several British sitcoms have been successfully remade for the American market. Notable examples include Steptoe and Son which became Sanford and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, which became All in the Family and The Office which was remade into an American series of the same name. Three's Company, a remake of Man About the House, spawned identical spinoffs: The Ropers (George and Mildred) and Three's a Crowd (Robin's Nest). Other American remakes of British sitcoms include The Rear Guard which was based on Dad's Army, and What a Country! which was based on Mind Your Language. More recently, shows such as The Inbetweeners have been adapted, as well as Misfits and The Thick of It as Veep. A large number of US adaptations end up being cancelled early or are not commissioned after their pilots are created. Another notable difference, which has been both positive and negative depending upon the skill of the cast and writers, is the American media culture of 20+ episode seasons as opposed to the British which usually has fewer than 10 episodes per series.

Australia and New ZealandEdit

In Australia, many British comedy series are aired on the ABC, which is the Australian equivalent of the BBC. British shows are also sometimes shown on the three commercial television networks in Australia; in particular Seven Network screened many popular UK sitcoms during the 1970s. In New Zealand, state-run TVNZ also broadcast many popular British series. The majority of British comedies now air in both countries on the subscription channels The Comedy Channel and UKTV.

Australian commercial television channels made their own versions of popular British comedies during the 1970s often using members of the original casts. These included: Are You Being Served?, Father, Dear Father, Doctor Down Under, Love Thy Neighbour. In both countries, locally written and made sitcoms have historically often been heavily influenced by the structure of British sitcoms (such as in the New Zealand sitcom Gliding On).

IndiaEdit

In the 1980s, India's national stations Doordarshan showed Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister and Mind Your Language.

See alsoEdit


ReferencesEdit

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Further readingEdit

  • Cook, Jim, ed. B.F.I. Dossier 17: Television Sitcom, (London: British Film Institute, 1982).
  • Gray, Frances. "Privacy, embarrassment and social power: British sitcom." in Beyond a Joke (Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2005) pp. 146–161.
  • Gray, Frances. "British sitcom: a rather sad story." in Women and Laughter (Palgrave, London, 1994) pp. 80–111.
  • Griffin, Jeffrey, "The Americanization of The Office: a comparison of the offbeat NBC sitcom and its British predecessor". Journal of Popular Film and Television 35 (2008): 154-16
  • Heaney, Dermot. "Taboo infringement and layered comedy: a linguistic analysis of convolution in Gervais and Merchant's Life's Too Short." Comedy Studies 7.2 (2016): 152–168.
  • Hunt, Leon. Cult British TV Comedy: From Reeves and Mortimer to Psychoville (Manchester University Press, 2015).
  • Kamm, Jürgen, and Birgit Neumann, eds. British TV comedies: Cultural concepts, contexts and controversies (Springer, 2016).
  • Kilborn, Richard. "A golden age of British sitcom? Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son." in British TV Comedies (Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016) pp. 23–35.
  • Lewisohn, Mark (2003) Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy. 2nd Ed. Revised – BBC Consumer Publishing. ISBN 0-563-48755-0
  • Mills, Brett. Television Sitcom (London: BFI, 2005).
  • Mills, Brett. "The television sitcom." in The Routledge Companion to British Media History (Routledge, 2014) pp. 469–477.
  • Mortimer, Claire. "Angry old women: Peggy Mount and the performance of female ageing in the British sitcom." Critical Studies in Television 10.2 (2015): 71–86.
  • Schwind, Kai Hanno. "'Chilled-out entertainers'–multi-layered sitcom performances in the British and American version of The Office." Comedy Studies 5.1 (2014): 20–32.
  • Wickham, Phil. "Twenty-First Century British Sitcom and 'the Hidden Injuries of Class'." in Social Class and Television Drama in Contemporary Britain (Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2017) pp. 201–213.
  • Zalmanovich, Tal. "Sharing a laugh: Sitcoms and the production of post-imperial Britain, 1945–1980" (PhD disssertation, Rutgers University, 2013) online.

External linksEdit