Having a colonial history leaves its marks. Aside from being a bilingual nation with red letterboxes all over the place, BBC Prime – now re-branded as BBC Entertainment – has been our portal to British sitcoms since 1995, and has managed to deliver the most iconic shows which, to this day, still have us hooked, despite most of us knowing what comes next. Here are a few of our favourites:
Keeping Up Appearances
Roy Clarke’s 90s hit has just been announced as the BBC’s most popular export. First aired in 1990, a worldwide audience never tires of Hyacinth Bucket’s attempts to climb the social ladder, and nothing bursts her bubble better than the entrance of her disreputable relations. Clarke remarks that the show’s success is partly due to the fact that “everyone knows a Hyacinth.” However, due credit must be given to Patricia Routledge’s stellar performance as the lead. Considering that she was 61 when playing the role, her physical energy on screen is insurmountable, and some of the funniest scenes required great physical comedy, such as her tumbling off a ‘yacht’ into a river, or just sprinting to catch “someone important”.
Only Fools and Horses
The late John Sullivan has been hailed as the Charles Dickens of television, and proof of this are the outstanding characters he had created within the working class context of Peckham. The show first aired in 1981, and the beauty of the programme is how the characters chronologically developed throughout the years. Sullivan created a sitcom that had more to it than just comedy. Del Boy (Sir David Jason) and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) went through heartbreak, joy, anger, confusion and frustration, and their viewers experienced this range of emotions with them. The genius in the cast’s performances led to a cult following which is still going strong, and the series has had two highly successful spin-offs. Only Fools and Horses is often deemed as the pinnacle of British sitcoms.
When Richard Curtis and Ben Elton had come up with a “cunning plan” to compose a parody of English history, they were not aware that they’d be reviving every history student’s street cred. This series brought together some of the greatest British comedians and bestowed them with possibly some of the most memorable quotes in TV history. Despite a shaky start in 1983 with The Blackadder, Elton entered the scene for the rest of the series and transformed Stephen Fry into a raving Duke of Wellington, Miranda Richardson into a whimsical Elizabeth I, and Jim Broadbent as a bumbling Prince Albert. Of course, acclaim must be endlessly given to the late Rik Mayall for his rampant Lord Flashheart. Also, be warned never to refer to Hugh Laurie as House in front of a Blackadder fan.
Voted the best British series of all time in 2000 by the British Film Institute, Fawlty Towers features one-sixth of the Monty Python clan and is proud to boast three BAFTAs under its belt. John Cleese portrays impulsive and neurotic Basil Fawlty, whose antics never fail to please the show’s wide audience. His character is fantastically supported by Andrew Sachs’ Manoel, who’s responsible for some of the show’s greatest comedy moments. Incidentally, the series’ most popular episode, The Germans, has been heavily edited by the BBC for the sake of political correctness, and broadcasters can only air the full version after the watershed.
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
Who’dve thought Frank Spencer would go on to be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original Phantom? My parents have often informed me how Maltese audiences in the 70s would refer to this programme as Dak ta’ nhar ta’ Sibt (the Saturday programme), as the actual title was a bit of a mouthful for many. Michael Crawford flexes both his comedic and acrobatic muscles in this unforgettable series which follows disastrous Frank Spencer through numerous mishaps and misunderstandings. His memorable catchphrases are an absolute hoot, as is his sense of physical comedy which truly form the character.
Are You Being Served?
This is the show that churned some of Britain’s best double entendres and sexual inuendos. Incidentally, the Manoel Theatre housed a fantastic production of a special episode back in 2010, starring Polly March, Ray Calleja and Edward Mercieca. The series follows the working lives of the retail staff at Grace Brothers, and entertains us with its quick witted banter and sharp jibes. There’s plenty of physical comedy as well, alongside plenty of catchphrases such as ‘I’m free!’ and ‘You’ve all done very well!’ Such a classic.
The list is endless of course, and it’s impossible to include them all… Therefore, we turn to you and ask…
Which other British comedies do you enjoy? Let us know in the comment section below!