8 Of The Funniest BBC Comedies Of All Time [Stuff to Watch]

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stufftowatch logo   8 Of The Funniest BBC Comedies Of All Time [Stuff to Watch]British comedy is typified by dry wit, slapstick visuals and strong comic actors. BBC comedy should, in theory, take the best of what is already a strong bunch and highlight the very best – and that’s what I’ve tried to do here.

I can’t help but apply a personal spin to these articles, and these are the shows I personally remember splitting my sides while I was growing up. Comedy doesn’t always age particularly gracefully, but all of these shows can still have me in fits of laughter to this day.

Blackadder

Lord Blackadder first graced screens in 1983 and soon became a hit comedy with a twist. The show eventually enjoyed four series, each set in a different period of history. Rowan Atkinson takes on the lead role of Blackadder, a scheming and sharp-witted prince determined to take the crown.

Locations include 1485 at the end of the middle ages, the late 1500s during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (affectionately known as “Queenie”), a period known as the Regency around 1800 and during the First World War in 1917 on the western front. While historical accuracy wasn’t the show’s key aim, it still did a good job of delivering jokes that would make your history teacher laugh.

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Red Dwarf

Craig Charles, a man who became synonymous with battling robots, Coronation Street and class A drug use enjoyed his first real success as a comedy actor with Red Dwarf, a 1988 BBC sci-fi misadventure initially set aboard the giant “Red Dwarf” mining spacecraft.

The show was a hit, ran for a total of 9 series and has recently been rebooted by commercial outlet UKTV for another full series after 13 years off the air. In a lesson in how not to spin-off a localised version of a classic, Universal produced a US version of the show in the early 90s with disastrous consequences.

Fawlty Towers

It may comes as a surprise that Fawlty Towers, being one of the most celebrated sitcoms the BBC has ever produced, only ever enjoyed two series of six episodes each. There’s actually a very good reason for this, and that’s because each episode took John Cleese (Basil) and Connie Booth (Polly) six weeks to write.

The finished product is highly demonstrative of this fact, with Basil becoming entwined in an elaborate mouse trap of a plot each week, producing some of Cleese’s finest performances on film.

One Foot In The Grave

Starring Richard Wilson in his most celebrated role as miserable old fart Victor Meldrew, One Foot In The Grave is one of those “when the penny drops” comedies that builds for much of each episode before the explosive – and hilarious – finale takes place.

It’s Victor’s rants and misfortune that provide the real punchlines, along with believable performances from his wife (Annette Crosby) and a neighbour who avoids him at all cost (Angus Deayton) . The American sitcom Cosby (starring Bill Cosby) was loosely based on the One Foot In The Grave premise.

The first two series of the show are one YouTube, you can watch the first here and the second here.

The Office

The Office was Ricky Gervais’ first big success in his role as David Brent, a clueless regional manager for paper merchants Wernham Hogg. The series was created, written and directed by Gervais and Steven Merchant and ran for a total of two top-notch series totalling 14 episodes.

Unlike Red Dwarf, The Office has enjoyed a very successful US spin-off starring Steve Carrel. It’s an entirely different show compared with the original, and that’s probably what makes it so good. There are also French, German, French Canadian, Chilean, Israeli and Swedish versions.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS_WmeALz7E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qurTK_0re3Y

The Thick Of It

Political comedies often rely on the understanding of the audience, and while The Thick Of It is very clever in its own satirical way, it doesn’t require an intricate knowledge of the British political system in order to be enjoyed.

The show’s plot and style bares a striking resemblance to real-life political fumbles and gaffes, with clueless MPs and tyrannical decision makers creating some real foot-in-mouth moments. A joint effort between BBC Films and the UK Film Council resulted in spin-off film In The Loop being released in 2009.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZGb-x0W8Eg

Only Fools and Horses

Only Fools And Horses holds the sitcom record for the highest number of viewers in any one episode at 24.3 million viewers in 1996. That’s over a third of the entire British population! Starring David Jason (Del Boy) and Nicholas Lyndhurst (Rodney) as brothers, the show follows the pair’s attempts to get rich quick from their Peckham flat.

It’s been hard to avoid the impact Del and Rodney have had on British culture, from the iconic yellow three wheeler (a Reliant Regal) to the cockney catchphrases and slang still used by children in schools up and down the country today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IBgk05iL3Y

I’m Alan Partridge

Feeding off the earlier success of The Day Today, a spoof BBC news program that I don’t have room to feature here, Steve Coogan took his Alan Partridge character to the next cringe-worthy level over two series of I’m Alan Partridge.

To briefly set the scene: imagine a greying middle-aged conservative micro-celebrity with an ego the size of BBC Television Centre ambling through life from one faux-pas to the next and you’re roughly there.

Watching BBC Comedy Online

If you’re interested in watching some of these shows then you might want to consider subscribing to the BBC’s paid iPlayer service which is currently available in: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia and Canada.

Visit: BBC Worldwide iPlayer Home

Of course, if you live in the UK (and pay the licence fee) you can watch BBC iPlayer for free.

Conclusion

This list has been kept rather orthodox and I’ve stuck to the mainstays. However if you’re willing to delve a little deeper into the BBC’s back catalogue then you’ll find shows like Nighty Night, Monkey Dust and Time Trumpet amongst classics like Are You Being Served? and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. If you’ve enjoyed this list then don’t forget to add your favourite BBC comedies to the comments, below.

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44 Comments - Write a Comment

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Tim Childers

Great list, but you totally missed Yes, Minister. Definitely one of the funniest comedies of all time!

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Bruce Epper

At least you did mention Are You Being Served? in your conclusions, but you still completely missed Keeping up Appearances.

Steph

I couldn’t agree more. I love Keeping Up Appearances!

Tim Brookes

Ah I’ve never been a massive fan of Mrs Bucket, but I must say it is a classic so thanks for pointing it out.

blueonblue

I love keeping up appearances here in the states, and agree Monty Python should have been included, and if that is the case, then Benny Hill needs to be added. I never got into Allo Allo, Yes Minster, Last of the Summer wine or Vicar of Dibley and AbFAb made me gag. Some of the shows you guys mention I have never heard of here in the US. We don’t get a lot of your older comedies.

But everyone has forgotten one of the FUNNIEST of all time. It starred one of the characters from Red Dwarf–BRITTAS EMPIRE! MY all time favorite Britcom!

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astrogirl

Awesome list! I’d also add Black Books, Spaced and Ab Fab.

Moody

Thanks, Astrogirl! Three must-list greats!

Mark O’Neill

Absolutely Fabulous is one of those shows that drives me to drink. Maybe I just have an aversion to Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders.

I tried watching Black Books not so long ago and just couldn’t get into it. I like Bill Bailey but this show just didn’t appeal to me.

Allan

Black Books and Spaced were Channel 4 not BBC.

astrogirl

Oh, oops! I should have checked that first. Most british comedy aired on the same station here in Australia, so I tend to lump them all into the same one. :)

Tim Brookes

Spaced is bloody brilliant and one of my all-time favourites! Thanks for the reminder. If you have the DVD and turn the alternate subtitles on it tells you which movie is being referenced in the current scene. Practically every single scene has at least one reference to a famous movie, try it!

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Eric Longman

One of my favorites: “The Young Ones” It was absolutely stupid and completely hilarious; ran for two seasons in the early 80’s
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Young_Ones_(TV_series)

spazzactin

Check it out…. I love the One Young Ones. Nobody, and I mean nobody has a clue about this show. You rock dude!!!!!

spazzactin

oooops i meant “the young ones”

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General Melchett

Not even a mention of Monty Python’s Flying Circus! Not exactly a sitcom, which I suspect is what you had in mind, but well worth a mention…

In concurrance with the above, I’d also go for Yes Minister over The Thick of It. And The New Statesman – with Rik Mayall as Alan B’Stard – is worth the BBC licence fee just on its own!

And what about the Young Ones?!! Essential viewing for anyone who wants to be a REAL student, surely?!

Then there’s Father Ted – Imagine three distinctly mediocre, but very different, Catholic priests sharing a parochial house on a God-forsaken island that the rest of Ireland has almost forgotten, and you’d be part-way there – but you’ll still be amazed, to be sure…

Oh, and Jeeves and Wooster (Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie – yes, the chap you Americans know as ‘House’). Absolutely spiffing, old fruit!

Those of a certain age (i.e. getting on a bit) might well appreciate Dad’s Army. A million times better than Sergeant Bilko…
Mind you, I’m only 33 (and not military) and I think it’s great, so give it a try!

I could go on – and I’m sure the author of this highly worthy article could have too! Seriously, give a few of these a try – There’s so much more to comedy than bloody Friends and How I Met Your poxy Mother!

p.s. Anything with Ronnie Barker in it’s brilliant too.

Mark O’Neill

Definitely Yes Minister (and its sequel, Yes Prime Minister). The New Statesman was OK, not Mayall’s finest performance, but not his worst either.

With Jeeves and Wooster, I just want to pull my toe nails out if I have to watch that. I like Fry and Laurie but J&W is just…..uuurgh! Same with Dad’s Army. It isn’t funny in the slightest. BBC just uses it for filler material if they have to waste a half hour here or there.

Father Ted isn’t BBC made – it was made by Channel 4. Saying that, some parts are funny and some parts not. The jokes are rather hit and miss.

Allan

The New Statesman was ITV not BBC.

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john b

Granted…there really are so many choosing 8 is borderline impossible.
but i’d have to include some like . Rising Damp, The Young Ones, Are you Being served and a more recent offering The It Crowd…

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Beatle4

I was a bit surprised that “Last Of The Summer Wine” was not included in the list (maybe you should have made a top 25 list). Some of the stunts and situations by the characters on that show had me busting a gut everytime I watched it, especially if it involved Compo (played by the late Bill Owen)

Tim Brookes

It’s undeniably classic, but I know a lot of people who either never “got” it or just didn’t find it funny in the slightest. It is a different breed of comedy, and by that I mean it’s the sort of comedy that they just don’t really make any more.

Thanks for reminding me though, I remember Sunday evenings as a child punctuated by the Last of the Summer wine theme tune…

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Vipul Jain

Its bad that you missed The Inbetweeners.
Its worse that you missed Coupling.
And its the worst that you forgot The IT Crowd man.. :D

As in ur list all fine but i personally never liked Fawlty Towers.. :/

Mark O’Neill

IT Crowd is not a BBC comedy. It was made by Channel 4.

Pete

And The Inbetweeners was also made by C4

Fawtly Towers was also perfection, the IT Crowd just wasn’t funny,

I can’t forgive the poster for not mentioning the Young Ones though, were you even around in the 80’s?

Mark O’Neill

Well come on, Tim is never going to please everyone. Every person has their own unique tastes when it comes to comedy, and if every single comedy was mentioned, it would be a top 80 list or top 800 list. He just has to exercise his own judgement and narrow it down to a small list.

The Young Ones was very funny but I know people who don’t find it funny in the slightest. So everyone is different.

Vipul Jain

Oh, i really believed till now that The IT Crowd was a BBC show.
Anyhow Coupling sure is a BBC, and i agree with Mark on the point that any list about anything will always miss out someone’s favorite.. :D

Tim Brookes

Haha thanks Mark. The main issue is most of the comedies people are mentioning I watch and love! But yeah, it would be an incredibly long list if I had free reign…

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Mark O’Neill

Blackadder and Fawlty Towers is definitely the best of the lot, but as some of the others have said, let’s not forget The Young Ones. Also, “Bottom” with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson for those who like their comedy a bit more edgy and rude. ;-)

I am also a huge fan of “Allo! Allo!” (“Listen very carefullee, I shall say this only wance”). Here in Germany, Fawlty Towers’ “Don’t Mention The War” scene is actually extremely popular (ironically) but I have never been able to get the Germans to laugh at Allo! Allo! Go figure.

Last Of The Summer Wine is total crap (in my opinion) and Only Fools is totally over-rated.

If you want some Scottish comedy, I highly recommend “Still Game”. It captures Glasgow life perfectly and is absolutely wonderful. Also watch any of the material by Morecombe and Wise. Eric Morecombe was a comic genius and passed away too soon.

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Eric Oudin

‘Yes, Minister’, ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ and, in my opinion, the best of all ‘Coupling’

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sickkid1972

What? No mention of ‘Porridge’?! Shome mishtake shurely?

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michel

The Mighty Boosh.

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Cory Gordinier

I’d say there’s an argument for:
A Bit of Fry and Laurie

and

Top Gear. Maybe not *technically* a comedy, but pretty bloody comedic.

Tim Brookes

Yeah Top Gear could probably be included on this list, though I’m sure it will fit in to another must-watch list somewhere! It is after all the BBC’s most popular program.

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Timothy Sexton

Heou ve got the most annoying British actor of the decade, Gervais on here but no League of Gentlemen? That one fact disqualifies the entirety of the article. Go sell some pegs, Dave, because if you think Ricky Gervais is funnier than the Gents, you are in serious trouble. At least you had the good sense to include Alan Partridge. That still excuse you, however. Death by mao mao!!

Tim Brookes

Trust me, there are so many comedies I’d like to have put down but you’d still be reading the list now if that was the case. League of Gentlemen is indeed funny, though I imagine for many it won’t be laugh-out-loud funny like say Fawlty Towers.

Also Gervais is hilarious, and I maintain that. His funniest work is his podcast, ideally season 1 & 2.

Timothy Sexton

I do hope you realize my tone was meant to be tongue in cheek. Although my contention was serious. As a writer who actually received deaths threats for my Yahoo article suggesting the Star Wars prequels are better than the original trilogy I know what it’s like to be sandbagged my crazies. Your classy reply indicates that you have dealt with enough of those types to recognize when someone is being playful. I do enjoy Gervais in small doses, but I honestly can’t stand to sit through an entire episode. And anyone who doesn’ tlaugh out loud at Papa Lazrou deserves my place in te stomach of a sarlaac.

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Victor Ong

You totally forgot the geekiest comedy ever: The I.T. crowd.

Tim Brookes

It’s good, I watch it, I admit it slipped my mind. While it’s pretty geeky it does gloss over a lot of the tech stuff for RTFM jokes and social awkwardness references at times though.

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dasfunk

I guess I’m in the extreme minority – I thought The Kumars at Number 42 was quite clever. Perhaps because the guy who lives across the street from me is the spitting image of the character Ashwin Kumar (the father). Naturally, he doesn’t see any resemblance. Some of the guests stars seemed completely thrown by the gimmick, but Donny Osmond, of all people, was very much “in” on it, and much funnier than I ever would have imagined Donny Osmond could be.

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Hasitha Chaturanga

lol

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Marc

If by Comedy you mean something that makes you laugh out load and try to remember it so you can tell your friends, something that you can watch clips over and over on YouTube and find it hilarious each time then I strongly recommend QI or Quite Interesting with Stephen Fry.

Case in point I just spend over 30 minutes on YouTube watching clips to pick one out, but they are all good.

Here’s a starting point:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I3qREbKqLw&NR=1

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Jack Jenkins

Good list there! I’m Alan Partridge and Red Dwarf are both debatable in my opinion, but they are two classics that I know people do like,

Nice to see The Thick of It getting in on the list!

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blueonblue

how could you forget the following in the top 10

Monty Python
Keeping Up Appearances
and are you being served is one of the Funniest shows ever.

We don’t get alot of BBC comedies here in the states, but these are funny as hell and yes I agree with you about Red Dwarf.

Some that weren’t funny–my hero and the cook–Lenny something and ABFAB! AWFUL!

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Nicholas Henson

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macwitty

Not to forget “To The Manor Born” with Penelope Keith

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