The Top British TV Comedies

by topukactors | created - 06 Oct 2015 | updated - 09 Oct 2015 | Public

The best UK TV comedies (mostly conventional sitcoms).

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1. Fawlty Towers (1975–1979)

TV-PG | 30 min | Comedy

Hotel owner Basil Fawlty's incompetence, short fuse, and arrogance form a combination that ensures accidents and trouble are never far away.

Stars: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth

Votes: 72,958

Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) was the most brilliantly hilarious sitcom of all time. All the cast were excellent, even the small guest parts. However, there were two key elements that made it a success: 1 The writers John Cleese and Connie Booth took much longer than normal to write this sitcom. The scripts were incredibly detailed and, because it was a farce comedy, the movements of the characters were all planned in great detail. 2 The performance of John Cleese as Basil was utterly brilliant. He maintained the intensity throughout every episode, appearing in most scenes and carrying the majority of the dialogue. Although the scripts were brilliant, without Cleese as Basil the show would not have succeeded.

2. The Office (2001–2003)

TV-MA | 30 min | Comedy, Drama

The story of an office that faces closure when the company decides to downsize its branches. A documentary film crew follow staff and the manager David Brent as they continue their daily lives.

Stars: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis

Votes: 82,782

The Office (2001-2003) was a big hit at the time, yet somehow is not rated as highly as it should be. The scripts were brilliant. The Office had many quick little moments in each episode (sometimes the camera panned round for two seconds and showed someone's face), yet in all these moments the characters showed something of themselves and their feelings about the situation they were in. Ricky Gervais gave his best ever performance as David Brent, but Mackenzie Crook as Gareth and also Martin Freeman as Tim were crucial to the success of the show and all the actors were so natural that I never felt aware that anyone was acting. In fact when it was first broadcast many people mistook The Office for a documentary. But of course the difference is a documentary would be boring, whereas The Office took all the boring bits out, exaggerated the characters to make them even funnier and had lines of clever dialogue that would not exist in a real office. People often underrate how funny The Office is.

3. Ever Decreasing Circles (1984–1989)

30 min | Comedy, Drama

Martin is a committee man. He has numerous schemes and committees organised around the neighbourhood. He is so obsessive about every detail of everything he does he is driving his long ... See full summary »

Stars: Richard Briers, Penelope Wilton, Peter Egan, Stanley Lebor

Votes: 720

Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-1989) is probably the most underrated TV show of all time. Sitcom legend Richard Briers starred as the hilarious Martin Bryce, an obsessive busybody who drove his wife mad. Penelope Wilton gave a brilliant performance as Martin's long suffering wife Ann. Peter Egan was excellent as suave next door neighbour Paul, who was brilliant at everything without trying, which infuriated Martin. There was also a level of depth and complexity to the relationships between the characters. The scripts by Esmonde and Larbey maintained an excellent standard throughout four series and a feature length final episode. Briers preferred it to his better known show The Good Life and Ricky Gervais (amongst other sitcom stars) is a fan.

4. Porridge (1973–1977)

TV-14 | 45 min | Comedy, Crime

The prison life of Fletcher, a criminal serving a five-year sentence, as he strives to bide his time, keep his record clean, and refuses to be ground down by the prison system.

Stars: Ronnie Barker, Brian Wilde, Fulton Mackay, Richard Beckinsale

Votes: 4,503

Porridge (1974-1977 & 1979 film) was one of the best shows from the golden age of sitcom, the 1970s. The legendary Ronnie Barker gave his best performance in this series set in Slade Prison. Yes, it showed some of the harsher sides of prison life, yet at its' heart was a camaraderie between the inmates, particularly Fletcher and Godber. Key to the show's success was the banter between Fletcher (Barker at his best) and warder Mackay (the brilliant Fulton Mackay). Clement and La Frenais' scripts were consistently good, but Barker decided enough was enough after three series and a film version.

5. Till Death Us Do Part (1965–1975)

TV-PG | 40 min | Comedy

A working-class Cockney bigot with a biased and experienced opinion of everything shares them bluntly and carelessly.

Stars: Warren Mitchell, Anthony Booth, Una Stubbs, Dandy Nichols

Votes: 718

Till death us do part (1965-1975 including 2 films) was a massively influential sitcom. Although not the first successful sitcom to feature actors (rather than comedians playing versions of themselves), it was arguably the funniest seen at that point. It was a show about a family and at its' heart was Warren Mitchell's brilliant performance as the fiercely opinionated Alf Garnett. Alf sat in his living room and bellowed his opinions at his son-in-law, who shouted back at him. Alf's wife often did the knitting or read the phone book, but would interject with brilliantly timed one-liners. Mitchell, Tony Booth and Dandy Nichols were superb. The writing was variable and only a handful of episodes were brilliant. The show declined after Dandy Nichols left. Her last full series in 1974 was the most consistent and contained most of the best episodes.

6. A Bit of a Do (1989– )

60 min | Comedy, Drama

This series was set in a fictional Yorkshire town and based on the books by David Nobbs, the creator of Reginald Perrin and Henry Pratt. Each episode took place at a different social ... See full summary »

Stars: David Jason, Gwen Taylor, Nicola Pagett, Stephanie Cole

Votes: 131

A bit of a do was a comedy drama by Reggie Perrin author David Nobbs. Over 13 episodes, the show followed the lives of a group of people in a small Yorkshire town over a few years in their eventful lives. Each episode was set entirely at a function. As each episode passed, the characters became gradually more familiar. Amongst the cast were sitcom greats such as David Jason, Stephanie Cole and Gwen Taylor. A bit of a do had many funny moments. At its' heart was great writing and acting.

7. Outside Edge (1994–1996)

30 min | Comedy

A comedy based around the activities and problems that 2 very different couples experience whilst running the local cricket team.

Stars: Brenda Blethyn, Robert Daws, Timothy Spall, Josie Lawrence

Votes: 140

Outside Edge (1994-1996) was an underrated sitcom. It featured Brenda Blethyn give a great performances as repressed housewife Mim Dervish. Her husband Roger (a brilliantly pompous Robert Daws) was in charge of a cricket team and many episodes took place at cricket matches. A well written, well acted and funny show.

8. Good Neighbors (1975–1978)

28 min | Comedy

The perils of "escaping the rat race" and dropping out of society - to start a farm in Surbiton (and to drive Margo nuts).

Stars: Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith, Paul Eddington

Votes: 2,253

The Good Life (1975-1978) was another classic from Esmonde and Larbey. At its' heart was a warmth between the characters. People often say all four actors (Richard Briers, Penelope Keith, Felicity Kendal and Paul Eddington) were brilliant and they were, but the great Briers outshone them all.

9. Open All Hours (1973–1985)

30 min | Comedy

Arkwright is a tight-fisted shop owner in Doncaster, who will stop at nothing to keep his profits high and his overheads low, even if this means harassing his nephew Granville. Arkwright's ... See full summary »

Stars: Ronnie Barker, David Jason, Lynda Baron, Barbara Flynn

Votes: 3,946

Open All Hours (1976-1985) was the second successful sitcom for Ronnie Barker in another great role as miserly grocer Arkwright, which was the main reason for the success of this show. He was given good dialogue by writer Roy Clarke and the other characters were good if not great.

10. Keeping Up Appearances (1990–1995)

TV-PG | 60 min | Comedy

A snobbish housewife is determined to climb the social ladder, in spite of her family's working class connections and the constant chagrin of her long suffering husband.

Stars: Patricia Routledge, Clive Swift, Geoffrey Hughes, Judy Cornwell

Votes: 11,827

Keeping up appearances (1990-1995) featured an ensemble cast, yet at its heart was a masterful performance by the great Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket. Hyacinth was selfish, snobbish, obsessed and completely unaware how awful she was. Routledge's physical movements created many of the laughs and these weren't always scripted. Also Clive Swift was very good as her long suffering husband Richard. Scenes not featuring Hyacinth were not as good.

11. Marion & Geoff (2000–2003)

30 min | Comedy, Drama

Keith is a taxi driver who records a monologue on his video camera, which relates the story of his failed marriage after his wife Marion left him for her work colleague, Geoff.

Stars: Rob Brydon, Regina Freedman, Stuart Maconie, Mark Mason

Votes: 338

Marion and Geoff's first series in 2000 featured short episodes featuring Rob Brydon as taxi driver Keith. The second series in 2003 featured episodes of the conventional sitcom length of 30 minutes. Brydon was alone in his taxi (in the second series he had become a chauffeur). He spoke of his ex-wife Marion and her boyfriend Geoff. Gradually the viewer began to build up a picture of Keith's rather desperate life. Sometimes the viewer could see things before he could (for instance, Keith's second son was fathered by Geoff). It is quite dark humour but very cleverly done.

12. Dad's Army (1968–1977)

30 min | Comedy, War

A ragtag group of Home Guard volunteers prepare for an imminent German invasion during World War II.

Stars: Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie

Votes: 4,690

Dad's Army (1968-1977 plus 1971 film) was one of the great shows from the golden era of sitcom. People often say it had a great ensemble cast, but actually it was the characters more than the actors that were so good. Writer Jimmy Perry was in the home guard in the war and used these experiences in writing the show with David Croft. Arthur Lowe was excellent as Captain Mainwaring. I also like Clive Dunn as Jones, playing much older than his actual age. Unusual for such a long running show, the episodes were of a consistently good quality, with good situations.

13. Steptoe and Son (1962–2016)

TV-PG | 45 min | Comedy

A thirty-something year-old man named Harold and his elderly father, Albert, work as rag and bone men (collecting and selling junk). Harold is ambitious and wants to better himself, but his... See full summary »

Stars: Wilfrid Brambell, Harry H. Corbett, Frank Thornton, Tim Buckland

Votes: 2,244

Steptoe and Son (1962-1974 plus 2 films) was not the first successful sitcom to feature actors rather than comedians playing extensions of themselves (The Army Game for instance ran for many years in the late 1950s). However, it was the earliest sitcom to have stood the test of time and is still remembered today. Many episodes just featured rag and bone men Steptoe and Son (Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett) in their house or yard bickering. Episodes varied in quality (many of the best episodes were in the 1972 series). Superb acting from the leads.

14. After Henry (1988–1992)

30 min | Comedy

Sarah France is the 42-year-old widow of a GP, Henry. She lives in an often volatile family situation with her mother, Eleanor Prescott, and her daughter, eighteen-year-old Clare France, ... See full summary »

Stars: Prunella Scales, Janine Wood, Jonathan Newth, Joan Sanderson

Votes: 101

After Henry (1988-1992) was a successful ITV sitcom featuring great performances from Prunella Scales as Sarah and Joan Sanderson as Eleanor. The writing was good if not great. The show ended when Sanderson (one of the great comic actresses) died.

15. Waiting for God (1990–1994)

30 min | Comedy

When Tom Ballard moves to Bayview Retirement Vilage, he meets Diana Trent, a feisty old woman who complains about everything and wants nothing more than just to die. Much to the dislike of ... See full summary »

Stars: Graham Crowden, Stephanie Cole, Daniel Hill, Janine Duvitski

Votes: 1,331

Waiting For God (1990-1994) featured the great Stephanie Cole as Diana Trent, who was growing old disgracefully in a retirement home alongside Tom Ballard (Graham Crowden). Earlier series were the best.

16. The Royle Family (1998–2012)

45 min | Comedy

A British sitcom about a family going through everyday life in the Royle family house.

Stars: Ricky Tomlinson, Sue Johnston, Caroline Aherne, Craig Cash

Votes: 5,295

The Royle Family (series 1998-2000, specials 2006-) was a show set virtually entirely in one room (the living room of the Royle's house). Sometimes they showed the kitchen, or occasionally upstairs. For three series, life continued much as normal. Jim was lazy, opinionated, rude at times and could be a verbal bully, but in Ricky Tomlinson's hands he became loveable. The other characters were also well drawn and acted, yet Jim is the only one I find consistently funny. The writing was very good (better in the three series than in the specials). Like The Office, has a high level of realism.

17. Rising Damp (1974–1978)

30 min | Comedy

Popular sitcom set in a seedy bedsit lorded over by the mean, vain, boastful, cowardly and racist landlord Rigsby. In each episode, his conceits are debunked by his long suffering tenants.

Stars: Leonard Rossiter, Don Warrington, Frances de la Tour, Richard Beckinsale

Votes: 1,845

Rising Damp (1974-1978 & 1980 film) was the top ITV sitcom from the 1970s. It featured Leonard Rossiter as landlord Rigsby. Episodes varied in quality but this show is rightly still held in very high regard today. Certainly gives the best example of Rossiter's comic ability (Reginald Perrin was a much darker show).

18. Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (1973–1974)

30 min | Comedy

Terry and Bob from The Likely Lads (1964) continue their life after Terry arrives home from serving in the Army to discover that Bob is about to marry his girlfriend Thelma. Can Thelma lead... See full summary »

Stars: James Bolam, Rodney Bewes, Brigit Forsyth, Sheila Fearn

Votes: 966

Whatever happend to the likely lads (1973) was another hit from writers Clement and La Frenais, a follow on from their 60s show The Likely Lads. It featured Rodney Bewes and James Bolam as the two leads. Bolam went on to great things after this. The writing was consistently good and the show had its' fair share of laughs.

19. As Time Goes By (1992–2005)

TV-PG | 60 min | Comedy, Romance

The Korean War and a long lost letter separate the lives of young lovers Jean and Lionel, whose paths cross again by happenstance.

Stars: Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, Moira Brooker, Philip Bretherton

Votes: 3,262

As Time Goes By (1992-2005) was written by Bob Larbey. Episodes were consistently good and it featured one of the great sitcom actors Geoffrey Palmer, alongside Judi Dench. If you were a TV executive and were told there would be a new sitcom written by Larbey and featuring Palmer and Dench, you'd probably be pretty sure of having a successful show resulting from it.

20. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976–1979)

30 min | Comedy

Disillusioned after a long career at Sunshine Desserts, Perrin goes through a mid-life crisis and fakes his own death. Returning in disguise after various attempts at finding a 'new life', ... See full summary »

Stars: Leonard Rossiter, Pauline Yates, John Barron, Sue Nicholls

Votes: 1,388

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-1979) was a conventional sitcom featuring a laughter track from a live studio audience, but was a very dark show. Although it featured some funny moments, particularly from CJ (the great John Barron), it was essentially a story about a man being driven mad by being trapped in a mundane life. Rossiter gave another fine performance as Reggie. Some of the other characters were over-simplified stereotypes to the point of being irritating. The first series was the best of the three and the last series was the worst. David Nobbs is better known for this than A bit of a do, though I prefer A bit of a do.

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