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Hilarious British TV Sit-Coms To Add To Your Must-Watch List

Updated on March 24, 2011
Benny Hill (an example of British comedy)
Benny Hill (an example of British comedy)

What's On TV Tonight - Raw British Humor

I am an American, but I grew up with a glimpse of British comedy in my life. As a child, I recall catching Fawlty Towers on our local PBS station and then eventually, my father owned the complete series on VHS. Although it was primarily adult humor, I remember sitting on the living room floor finding myself entranced by the comedic talents of England’s John Cleese. I wouldn’t necessarily say Faulty Towers is suited for children, but my point is that this TV sit-com was hilarious to me then and it is hilarious to me now. I have gathered four British sit-coms (three based in England and one in Ireland) that are must-sees for anyone looking for a bit of tummy-bouncing and perhaps even a touch of politically-incorrect humor.

John Cleese of "Fawlty Towers"
John Cleese of "Fawlty Towers"

Fawlty Towers

Fawlty Towers aired a total of two seasons, in 1975 and then again in 1979. In Fawlty Towers, John Cleese stars as Basil Fawlty, a bumbling innkeeper who owns Fawlty Towers alongside his stalwart wife, Sybil. Bantering and bickering back and forth, it is clear Sybil has the upper-hand in this comedy-induced TV series. Think of the married stars of Everybody Loves Raymond and the misunderstandings of Three’s Company and then multiply that by ten. The audience sympathizes with Basil in the extraordinary guests he comes across, but shakes their head at how ridiculous he makes each and every situation. Throw in a couple of staff (a maid who’d rather be creating art, a Spanish-speaking waiter, and a lackadaisical chef), two elderly women who permanently reside at Fawlty Towers, and the regular wacky guests and you have a hilarious television show. When watching Fawlty Towers, be sure to pay attention to their inn sign in the opening scene of each show (except for the sixth episode) as the letters are often mixed to spell out something else. For example, on the ninth episode, the sign reads “Flay Otters”; and, at the beginning of the final episode, the sign reads “Farty Towels”. Juvenile humor, perhaps, but fun. The disheveled inn sign is the epitome of poor frazzled, confused, often misunderstood Basil Fawlty. My personal favorite episode is “The Germans”. Think how inappropriate this episode can be when you throw in an English military general and the catchphrase, “Don’t mention the war”. Snobbish, yet eager to please, Basil Fawlty is soon spiraling out of control when his guests for the night happen to be German. Fawlty Towers is so rich and never tiring that it is hard to believe that the complete series only ran twelve episodes.

Fr. Jack, Mrs. Doyle, Fr. Ted, and Fr. Dougal of "Father Ted"
Fr. Jack, Mrs. Doyle, Fr. Ted, and Fr. Dougal of "Father Ted"

Father Ted

Move up the coast a bit and enter Ireland where another hilarious comedy TV series is based. Father Ted is sit-com centered in the parochial house of a good-natured, yet competitive, Catholic priest named Father Ted. There, he resides with Father Jack, a drunk elderly priest who is best known for shouting out his two desires:  “girls!” or “drink!”, and Father Dougal, a young simple-minded priest who acts more like an eight-year-old boy than the twenty-something he actually is. The trio presides over the Irish parish of Craggy Island, a village that is depicted as bleak, sparse, dull, and miserable. Mrs. Doyle, the housekeeper for the rectory, is frequently around hounding the men with little cakes and tea. Aside from the priesthood, Father Ted has big dreams of making it big as a singer or having the chance to be moved to a parish in America. Unfortunately for him, his overseer, Bishop Len Brennan, a snobbish man of the cloth, revels in punishing him instead. Father Ted ran 25 episodes from 1995-1998. You don’t have to be Catholic to understand the humor of Father Ted . It’s good comedy for anyone.

Craggy Island, Father Ted's parochial house
Craggy Island, Father Ted's parochial house
Moss, Jen, and Roy of "The IT Crowd"
Moss, Jen, and Roy of "The IT Crowd"

The IT Crowd

Currently running, The IT Crowd is gradually acquiring an American audience. At the heels of the wildly popular American spin of England’s The Office, the United States was also prepared to air an American version of The IT Crowd. However, that idea was scrapped in 2008. As of the summer of 2010, however, there is word that there may still be interest in producing an American series of the same name. Based in England, The IT Crowd revolves around the tech support department of Reynholm Industries, which happens to be a forgotten office located in the basement. This stings the trio, but also is a blessing as they play games and chat more than actually work. It is almost a thrill whenever one of them is requested to bring their services upstairs to another floor. The IT team’s underdogs are Roy, Moss, and their glorified supervisor, Jen. The threesome often find themselves in awkward situations where their intentions or another party’s are misunderstood. The IT Crowd reminds me a lot of the American sit-com, Seinfeld, where the episodes start off innocent enough, but then quickly go awry as seemingly minor details pop up again, causing a great laugh at the end of the show. There are minor characters that stir up conflict or add to the comedic stunts within the IT department, such as the womanizing Head of Reynholm Industries, Douglas Reynholm, and the goth who lives in the IT server room, Richmond.

Bernard, Manny, and Fran of "Black Books"
Bernard, Manny, and Fran of "Black Books"

Black Books

Black Books aired on BBC from 2000-2004, an English comedy series based in a small dirty book shop called Black Books. The owner, Bernard, is a depressed belligerent anti-social sort whose only two friends are Fran, the woman who owns the knickknack shop next door and Manny, with whom he resides in an apartment attached to the shop. Bernard and Fran are pessimistic and enjoy drinking and smoking in excess as they wallow in their dislike of happy-go-lucky customers. Manny, on the other hand, is the optimistic, bumbling and loveable one. While misadventures abound primarily for Bernard, Manny and Fran regularly find their way into mischief as well. Although their MO may seemingly be of rot and snobbery, the viewer can really empathize with Bernard and Fran in their day-to-day trials. Black Books is another comedy well worth seeing.


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    • denkmuskel profile image

      Michael Schmitz 6 years ago from Berlin

      I didn't find Father Ted too funny. Guess I was missing the cultural background and on the surface it is rather slapstick and a bit oldschool. Whereas IT Crowd and Black Books are just so beautifully universally sarkastic that it is also suited for Germans ;) Basil and Manuel made my days a few years ago. Sweet stuff and there is nothing, really absolutely nothing comparable with these over here in Germany. We have wonderful political cabarett though but that is limited to native-speakers, I fear. So, once more, thanks you British and Irish comedians and writers and to all those voting for it. You make this world a better place.

    • DougBerry profile image

      DougBerry 6 years ago from Abilene, TX

      Hey, I just linked to this from one of my Hubs about bad customer service (Fawlty Towers was referenced). I nearly didn't link because of the Benny Hill pic. Your actual choices have always been high on my list, though!

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 6 years ago from United States

      Ah, British humo(u)r. I was a huge Benny Hill fan. I also caught Chef! years later and found it to be an awesome comedy.

    • Howard Allen profile image

      Howard Allen 6 years ago

      Good Hub. Fawlty Towers and Father Ted are two of my all-time favorites.

    • Mary Contrary profile image

      Mary Contrary 6 years ago from Columbus, OH

      If you can find Dave Allen clips you'll like them too. I think he was a genius. There's something unique about British humor. Good hub!

    • Rosefall profile image

      Rosefall 6 years ago from Ohio!

      There are many many great comedies that are not included in this list. I have only scratched the surface. :-)

    • poorconservative1 profile image

      poorconservative1 6 years ago

      I remember when I was a kid, I used to wait until my dad fell asleep and then I would sneak into the living room and turn on the local PBS station (pre-cable days) and watch Benny Hill and Monty Python. I even got caught a few times.

      Thank You for this stroll down memory lane.