The best cult British sitcoms of all time
In a recent survey for UK TV channel Gold, Fawlty Towers was named best British sitcom by comedians from up and down the land, with fellow regulars to these kind of polls, I’m Alan Partridge, Blackadder and The Office, also making the top five.
We’ve decided to shine a light on some of the less heralded, but no less hilarious British sitcoms that more than make up for their lack of recognition with fervent fanbases. These are our top five cult British sitcoms.
Despite running for nine series on Channel 4 and earning heaps of critical praise, this sitcom starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb as dysfunctional flatmates was nearly cancelled on more than one occasion due to low ratings. Thankfully, Peep Show proved a hit on DVD, as fans of the programme couldn’t get enough of the adventures of socially awkward, cynical Mark (Mitchell), and juvenile slacker Jez (Webb). Unique to other sitcoms, the show was shot exclusively from the point of view of the characters, with viewers also able to hear Mark and Jez’s thoughts. It wasn’t all about the El Dude brothers, though, thanks to the range of hilarious supporting characters, from Johnson to Dobby and of course Super Hans.
The Royle Family
The Royle Family rewrote the rulebook when it came to sitcoms. Focusing on the lives of a working class family from Manchester, it pioneered a minimalist production style, plotless narratives and didn’t use a laughter track (which was unfashionable at the time), influencing much of what came after it, including The Office. The fact that the show was such a success – transferring from BBC Two to BBC One after series one, was testament to the warm and hilarious writing of Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who both starred in the show. Audiences could relate to the characters, from foul-mouthed Jim, to put-upon Anthony the teenager and dotty Nana. Re-watching the show now, it captures a bygone age, when families sat round the television together before smartphones and social media existed.
Spaced marked the first collaboration of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright, acting as a springboard to their later success with the “Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy”. Pegg co-wrote the series with Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson), and they also star as twenty-something flatmates Tim and Daisy. Tim, an aspiring comic book artist, is something of a manchild – rarely seen without his skateboard or PlayStation controller, and an avid follower of cult video games and Star Wars. Daisy is a would-be writer, though she spends most of her time procrastinating. They’re joined by their oddball friends, including army-obsessive Mike (played by Frost). The show is chock full of cultural references, and the DVD even keeps track of these with a homage-o-meter. Like The Royle Family, Spaced was born at the tail-end of the 20th century, influencing many sitcoms that came later on.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
Just one series and six episodes long, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a witty satire of eighties horror television, as well as being a show-within-a-show. The fictional television series Darkplace is a hospital melodrama built upon the gates of hell, full of cheesy acting, continuity errors, poorly-dubbed dialogue and poor special effects. It’s presented as a lost classic, and the show features commentary from many of the “original” cast, such as fictional author Garth Marenghi and his publisher Dean Learner (played by Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade, respectively). Originally broadcast in 2004 in a late timeslot, the show initially received poor viewing figures, before developing a following on the internet, leading to Channel 4 repeating the series and producing a DVD release.
The Mighty Boosh
Like Vic and Bob before them, Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt brought surrealism to the comedy world with their “journey through time and space”. Adapted from a radio series of the same name, The Mighty Boosh features everything from talking moons, to a hermaphroditic merman, to an army of evil grannies. Fielding plays a gothy comedian, while Barratt plays a jazz enthusiast who considers himself a sophisticated ladies’ man, and both work together as zoo-keepers. The Mighty Boosh featured incoherent narratives and bizarre characters, and transported Fielding and Barratt to something approaching superstardom.