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The Best Surreal British Comedies Rated

Updated on November 20, 2018
MrRoberts profile image

I was a TV writer and subeditor for British newspapers and magazines for more than a decade.

Having a state funded broadcaster has meant the UK have been able to explore some really out there comedy without worrying about profit. Here are - in my opinion - the fifteen best surreal British comedies ever made. You might not agree - so feel free to leave a comment.

Top 15 British Surreal TV Programmes

1. The Mighty Boosh

2. League of Gentlemen

3. Monty Python's Flying Circus

4. House of Fools

5. The Young Ones

6. Little Britain

7. Shooting Stars

8. Psychoville

9. Bottom

10. The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer

11. The Q Series

12. The Goodies

13. Filthy, Rich and Catflap

14. Vic Reeve's Big Night Out

15. The Goons

1. The Mighty Boosh

Number one in the hit parade, the very best and most hilarious surreal comedy is The Mighty Boosh. Starring Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett, it started as a stage show in 1998, but became a radio series (The Boosh, in 2001) and then a television show (2004 - 2007)

2. The League of Gentlemen

An extraordinary parade of macabre characters, living in the dreadful, Northern town of Royston Vasey (named for the real name of misogynistic stand-up comedian Roy 'Chubby' Brown). There followed several other series from members of the 'League', but in my book the original is still the best.

The League of Gentlemen are Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson.

3. Monty Python's Flying Circus

This is the surreal show most Americans will have heard of. There were four television series between 1969 and 1973 - but it led to numerous films, records and glittering international careers for the stars.

4. House of Fools

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer star in this series which successfully melds their surreal sense of humour with the sitcom genre. The duo are friends sharing a flat - but the workaday scenario is lifted into the clouds with the addition of bizarre characters, ludicrous special effects and totally outlandish plots.

5. The Young Ones

An anarchic collection of characters, interspersed with stand-up comedy and music, which is often credited with heralding the start of alternative comedy in the UK. It was also the first non-music show to appear on MTV.

It starred several comedians from The Comic Strip - which was an alternative comedy club based in the infamous Raymond Revue Bar strip club in London's Soho.

Stand-ups Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle were joined by actor Christopher Ryan. Originally Planer's on stage partner Peter Richardson was to have played Ryan's part, but he clashed with the show's producer Paul Jackson.

6. Little Britain

The comedy duo David Walliams and Matt Lucas star in sketches with exaggerated parodies of British people. Former Doctor Who Tom Baker provides the voice-over narration in the series, which pretends to be a guide to the British way of life.

7. Shooting Stars

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer again, this time combining their surrealism with the game show genre. Nobody really cares who wins the games here, but we get insights into what the participants are thinking, bizarre sketches, Vic's unique singing 'in the club style' and if the contestants find themselves victorious at the end of this bizarre maze of regular set pieces, they are given a weird task to achieve. Very odd.

Watch out for Little Britain star Matt Lucas getting his big TV break as score keeper George Dawes.

8. Psychoville

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton of The League of Gentlemen went on to write and star in this series which revolves around five characters from across the UK, being blackmailed by the same person. The characters and situations are too bizarre for this to simply be a sit-com.

9. Bottom

Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall - of The Young Ones - starred in three series of this chaotic, nihilistic sitcom from September 1991 to April 1995. The duo performed violent comedy slapstick as Edward Elizabeth "Eddie" Hitler and Richard "Richie" Richard, two flatmates who live in Hammersmith, West London.

10. The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer

After their Channel 4 debut, VIc Reeves and Bob Mortimer were wooed to the BBC to continue to explore their surreal sense of humour. The result was this hilarious collection of characters and sketches, including crazy caricatures of - at the time - well known celebrities.

11. The Q Series

Spike MIlligan, having shed his co-stars and finally finding himself in charge and on TV, produced this extraordinary sketch show. The Monty Python team admitted they were heavily influenced by MIlligan - who was furious that they became more famous.

12. The Goodies

Although this series started during the same time period as the Monty Python, it was looked down upon by critics and colleagues. John Cleese once appeared in a tiny cameo in which he declared: "Kid's programme!" It ran from 1970 to 1980 on BBC2, then from 1980 to 1982 on ITV. There were a total of 67 shows.

However, the programme is almost never, ever repeated on British television and many of the shows weren't released on DVD until 2018.

13. Filthy, Rich and Catflap

Former The Young Ones co-stars Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall, and Adrian Edmondson as the series' three title characters. It was written by Ben Elton (who wrote the The Young Ones), and produced and directed by Paul Jackson (of The Young Ones).

The show features overblown characters and comically violent slapstick, much like Bottom, which it preceeded.

14. Vic Reeve's Big Night Out

Running through 1990 and 1991, Big Night Out was the TV debut of comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

Reeves sat behind a large desk talking nonsense and introducing weird features and guests, including The Man with the Stick and Les, their assistant with a mortal fear of chives.

15. The Goons

The surrealist grand-daddy of them all. The Goons was a ground-breaking radio series written by Spike Milligan. No one had ever heard anything quite like it before. It starred Peter Sellers - who went on to become an internationally famous film star in The Pink Panther series, among other classics. It also starred Spike himself, Harry Secombe and - for some of the time - Michael Bentine. Prince Charles' favourite comedy of all time, this is well worth a listen.

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