Comedy is always a tricky subject, since one man’s (or woman’s) comic genius is another man’s (or woman’s…damn political correctness) load of old rubbish.
With the wealth of material available, it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to just 10, but This is Entertainment is proud to present to you, the excitable masses, the first installment of the Top 10 British comedy programmes of all time:
10. Red Dwarf (1988-1999) – Lister and co took comedy to space in a way which hadn’t ever been done before (at least not so successfully) and in their eight series managed to cover a wide range of (vaguely) scientific subjects, and keep the overall narrative of the series’ working so that the show never became stale, despite welcome and unwelcome changes throughout the years.
Despite Craig Charles‘ Lister being the centre of the show, the only surviving human after a radiation leak kills everyone else aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf, it remains an ensemble piece, with the early series playing on the juxtaposition of Rimmer (Chris Barrie) and Lister’s personalities, helped along by the classic interjections of the ship’s computer Holly (Norman Lovett), while the latter series were more dramatic, and were a generally effective, if unusual change of pace.
Best Moment: The episode “Backwards” when the crew find themselves on a planet where time goes in reverse, leading to a number of quirkily hilarous situations, particularly Lister getting into a fight for un-eating someones pie. (Watch it here)
9. Never Mind The Buzzcocks (1996-present) – You might say it’s splitting hairs to include a show which isn’t an out and out comedy, but ‘Buzzcocks is one of the most consistantly funny comedy quiz shows on the box.
The music-based panel game was prestented first by Mark Lamar (1996-2002) and then Simon Amstell (2002-present), two teams consisting of a captain and two guests answer music based questions, often about the guests own songs or careers.
Best Moment: In one episode, Simon Amstell made a joke about Ordinary Boys vocalist Samuel Preston’s then-wife Chantelle Houghton by reading an extract from her autobiography, leading to Preston saying “That is out of order!” and walking off the show, only to be replaced by a member of the audience who looked a it like Preston, picked out by Bill Bailey, for the rest of the episode. (Watch it here)
8. Black Books (2000-2004) – Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig starred in a sitcom centered around a bookshop of the same name, run by cynical alcaholic Bernard Black (Moran) and his Egor-ish assistant Manny (Bailey).
The show ran for three seasons on Channel 4, and in that time attracted a cult following, and featured guest stars including Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, David Walliams, Peter Serafinowicz and Julian Rhind-Tutt.
What makes the show so good, is that it’s very British, with all the British cynicism, complaining and resistance to change epitomised by Bernard, while Manny being more optimistic, and constantly coming up with ideas of how to attract more customers to the shop. Fran Katzenjammer (Greig) is the mother figure, as well as giving the pair relationship advice, but the funniest aspect of her character is her general quirkiness, particularly around men she likes.
Best Moment: The perfect embodiment of the show is when Fran and Manny are both trying to convince Bernard to do things with them in the series 2 episode “Fever”, to which Bernard replies “Oh, I dunno, walls, thermometers, it’s an impossible decision. I’ll just have to hope that when I flip the coin it somehow explodes and kills me.”
7. Have I Got News For You (1990-present) – The show that gave the news a funny bone hit screens back in the 90s accompanied by the satirical trio of Angus Deayton, Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. Now, 36 series and a scandal or two later, the show survives to bring current affairs to a new generation.
Since Deayton’s departure in 2002 the show has been graced with a range of guest presenters (of varying success), while it searches for someone to fill his shoes.
The ever-updated title screen is a telling satirical portrait of modern life, and in itself manages to raise a smile or two.
Best Moment: Aside from the episode after Deayton’s affair with a prostitute is exposed, which is not only hilarious but brutal, an episode from the late 90s sees Piers Morgan on the panel suggest “jam” is the answer to an ‘odd-one-out’ question. When asked why he replied that Eddie Izzard had said it the previous week and everyone thought it was very funny, to which Hislop explained: “Yeah, but people like him!” (Watch it here)
6. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) – A post-Python John Cleese stars as one of the most iconic comedy characters of all time: Basil Fawlty. Along with Andrew Sachs (who is, in fact, not from Barcelona, but Germany) as half-wit Spaniard Manuel, the quiet little Torquay hotel gives rise to an impressive catalogue of golden moments, despite it’s criminally short life-span, with only 12 episodes ever broadcast.
The other characters give Basil his stage, particularly Prunella Scales‘ shrieking Cybil Fawlty and Connie Booth‘s Polly. Interestingly it was Booth not Scales who was Cleese’s real wife at the time, and Booth also co-wrote the programme with him.
When a show integrates with British society so easily it’s hard to deny it a position as one of the greats, how many times have you heard someone mutter “Don’t mention the war!”
Best Moment: The oft-quoted Germans episode passes the test of time (particularly since so much is crammed into one story), but the greatest single exchange is the Gourmet Night episodes’ finale, which sees Fawlty, finally believing to have sorted out his series of unfortunate mishaps with food, unveils not duck with orange sauce, but a trifle. (Watch it here)
Five down, five to go, but who will make the top spot? Stay tuned for the hilarious conclusion…