Best British Comedies

Comedy and satire has always been a popular medium of entertainment in the United Kingdom. In the late 16th century, Shakespeare paved the way for the introduction of comedies into performing arts with his ground-breaking comedies, which include A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night. A generation of playwrights was heavily influenced by his work, and the effects soon transcended into other mediums of art. In the following couple of centuries, comedy began to manifest itself in serious newspapers (as political cartoons), music halls and street pantomimes.

The concept of modern comedy shows took shape in the first half of the 20th century through radio comedies broadcasted by BBC Radio. Interestingly, Peter Eton, the producer of BBC's Hancock's Half Hour, was credited as the creator of the term sitcom (situational comedy).

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, sitcoms evolved into 30-minute weekly comedy television episodes, and became an important element of British culture. The country simply couldn't get enough of them, and BBC and ITV had as many as a dozen sitcoms on air.


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British TV Comedy
Details of over 900 TV programmes

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John Cleese as Basil Fawlty and Andrew Sachs as Manuel in Fawlty Towers

Sitcoms became powerful mediums as not only do they reflect current news and cultural values, they also nurture social values and establish new paradigms in relationships at home and work. Since these shows tend to avoid the gritty aspects of life in favour of glossy and idealised family or work environments, they tend to make viewers feel good and content - and therein lies the appeal. Of course, these comedies also occasionally push the envelope of accepted social mores - which will inevitably ignite week-long discussion among families and friends. An episode of Rising Damp (1974-1978) where a white female character, Ruth Jones, flirted with a British African character, Philip Smith, generated weeks of debates, radio call-ins and newspaper articles! Remember, this is the pre-internet era - there are literally only a handful of things you can watch and argue about each day.

Such were their popularity, these comedies were shown in Commonwealth countries around the world by the 1970s and 1980s. Children in India, Malaysia, Canada, South Africa and many other nations literally grew up watching British comedies - and developed an unnatural affection for their former colonial masters (how else do you explain the fanatical support of English football clubs in Asia and Africa?).

In the following pages, we'll be taking a look at some of the greatest and most loved British comedies ever aired on television. Remember to fasten your seatbelt though - the memory lane can give you quite a rush!

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