Telly for Anglophiles | The 20 Best British TV Shows Ever (Mainly Classics!) [Word Magazine]
20. Dad’s Army
Masterful Perry/Croft creation, rapidly becoming a social document as well as deathless comedy.
19. Fawlty Towers
The most accurate depiction of impotent male rage in telly history, never less than paralysingly funny and better than Monty Python.
18. Doctor Who (so unfair! Only 18th?)
Once described as the perfect TV programme, capable of adapting to any format from western to comedy to avant-garde and even changing its whole cast while remaining consistent.
17. The Office
The comedy classic of the 21st century so far, mirrored in the working lives of cubicle jockeys worldwide. David Brent is a monster for modern times but he’s just one of a marvellous cast, including the widely worshipped Dawn and that eternal stranger to tact Keith.
16. Steptoe and Son
The sitcom “Waiting For Godot” – ‘Arold imprisoned in his poverty-stricken timewarp with Albert but always dreaming of freedom. Seen from today it reaches back to an almost-Edwardian notion of back street England.
15. The Day Today
“Peter, you’ve lost the news!” The credibility of current affairs never entirely recovered from Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci’s satirical blitzkrieg. If you can watch “Newsnight” with a straight face then you haven’t seen enough of this.
14. Top of the Pops
Unmissable for most of its 40 years and the victim of the most scandalous tinkering and mismanagement of a big TV brand that we can recall. If the children of tomorrow want to know what was special about it show them this clip of David Bowie doing “Starman” in 1972. Would anyone let an actual member of the public drift into shot nowadays?
In both “gritty anti-Thatcher Derek Hatton” phase and “lesbian kisses and bodies under the patio” incarnations, it was fantastic telly. Its high point was in 1990 when the Jordache family at number 10 killed their child abuser father and buried him under the patio.
12. Coronation Street
So ingrained in the national identity that the PM demanded the release from prison of Deirdre Rachid, apparently failing to grasp that “it’s not real, you know”.
Ronnie Barker’s finest half-hours in a show that never dates and never fails to put a spin on making the best of a bad job.
10. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
Leonard Rossiter is perfect as a man going slowly doolally in the corporate world – and even barmier in its alternative counter-culture counterparts.
9. Father Ted
Both a straightforward sitcom (priest trapped with idiots) and a sprawling psychedelic ramble (rabbit plague? Hairy hands?) It also has the inestimable asset of Father Dougal and the most vacant facial expression in the history of humankind.
8. The Singing Detective
It seems incredible now but Dennis Potter’s complex, multi-layered musical mystery without a solution was a mainstream hit when it first went out. It could have had something to do with Joanne Whalley and the perennial popularity of these songs from the Depression.
7. Harry Hill’s TV Burp (I’m sorry, but I disagree!)
“Cataracts?” Best thing on ITV by a country mile, which is ironic given that it recycles clips of (mostly ITV) shows to have a laugh their expense. If you don’t feel the need to watch the soaps, Harry will do it for you.
6. Top Gear
A not very interesting car show until the Clarkson/Hammond relaunch, whereupon it became a magazine show with the loosest connection to cars. At its best it is constantly answering the question “what would it be like if we did this?”
5. Morecambe and Wise on the BBC
The gold standard of double-act comedy and one of the few shows to be more treasured than most members of the Royal Family. At their best they did sketches that entered the language, as in this routine with “Andrew Preview”.
4. Grange Hill
Coronation Street in blazers and Kickers, just cancelled by the BBC on the grounds that a series set in a school doesn’t reflect children’s lives today.
3. Prime Suspect
Our hardest-nosed cop show proved that grit doesn’t always require flying about in Cortinas or dishing out kickings to “slags”. And, as you can see, in the United States, they accept it as high culture.
2. Ready, Steady, Go!
As the sole source of pop entertainment for much of the country during the 60s, it’s hard to match Ready Steady Go! for a show that truly changed Britain. Here’s Otis Redding, at that time a cult soul singer who was barely known in his own country, let alone here, tears it up in the Kingsway studio. Truly, this is live-er than most of us will ever be.
1. The World At War
Every home needs the DVD box set of Jeremy Isaacs’ breathtaking survey of World War Two, which included last-chance interviews with the likes of Albert Speer, “Bomber” Harris and Lord Mountbatten. It also had the incalculable added value of Laurence Olivier’s narration.