The Best British Comedy Series of All Time

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I love British comedy. I have since i was a kid in school and everyone thought I was strange for loving Monty Python and anything even remotely related to the Python franchise. Since then, my tastes have broadened but British comedy will always have a special place in my heart for being my first true comedic love and for showing me something doesn’t always have to make sense to be wildly amusing. Now, a note about this list. I had a list longer than I care to admit because when it comes to the best British comedy series of all time, there is a whole lot to choose from. I decided to narrow it down by using each show’s IMDB rating. Comedy, like most things in the entertainment industry, is subjective. I might find something funny but that doesn’t mean others agree. By going with the rating given to each show by IMDB users, I figured I’d get a more well rounded list. A few of my favorites didn’t make the cut but I still did my best. In the case of two shows with the same IMDB rating, I added them randomly. Finally, any show that has a dash after the first year in the “Ran From” column either has not had a definitive end date or is still running. Okay, enough talk. Let’s get to the list.

Photo By Jay Brooks for BBC Pictures

Photo By Jay Brooks for BBC Pictures

20: Absolutely Fabulous

Starring: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley
Ran From: 1992-2012
IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
This show follows always selfish Edina “Eddy” Monsoon and Eddy’s best friend Patsy as they behave like complete, out of control lunatics, much to the frustration of Edina’s much more sensible daughter, Saffron. The humor is outrageous and often cruel so it’s really not for everyone, but for fans, that cruel humor is part of the appeal. The cast is terrific and while not everyone will appreciate this one, it’s definitely worth checking out.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

19: Are You Being Served?

Starring: Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Frank Thornton, Wendy Richard, Nicholas Smith
Ran From: 1972-1985
IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
Who would’ve imagined a show about the staff of a major department store could be so entertaining. I originally considered cutting this list down to ten but that would’ve meant cutting off some of my favorites, including this show. This really is British humor at its best. I really wanted to try to find a clip to go with this one but after spending far too much time on YouTube and still not being able to choose a favorite, I decided to skip the clip and advise all of you to go check it out for yourself. Feel like taking a gamble? Pick up the complete series on DVD. If you’re really a fan of the best British comedy series, you’ll love this one. I have no doubt.

 

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

18: The Vicar of Dibley

Starring: Dawn French, Gary Waldhorn, James Fleet, Emma Chambers, Trevor Peacock, Roger Lloyd-Pack, John Bluthal
Ran From: 1994-2007
IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
This series begins when the 100+ year old vicar of Dibley, a small English village, passes away and a new vicar is sent as his replacement. Imagine the surprise that spreads throughout this tiny, hilariously conservative town when that replacement arrives and they find out that their new vicar is … well, a little non-traditional. She loves chocolate. She plays rock and roll. She also happens to be a she and that’s really what gets most of the townspeople into an uproar. The series follows Vicar Geraldine Granger as she tried to deal with the conservative people in her congregation and as they try to deal with her. Hilarious from start to finish – by far one of the best British comedy series of all time and certainly one of my personal favorites.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

17: Black Adder

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Elspet Gray, Tim McInnerny, Patrick Allen, Brian Blessed, Tony Robinson,
Ran From: 1982-
IMDB Rating: 8.4/10
I couldn’t make this list without including The Black Adder. This series takes place in England at the end of the War of the Roses but things aren’t exactly as you and I have always heard. What we’ve come to believe took place was in fact nothing more than a work of Tudor fiction, at least as far as this series is concerned. According to The Black Adder, Henry VII did not win the Battle of Bosworth Field, King Richard IV was not smothered in the Tower of London and actually had several sons, including his youngest son, Prince Edmund whom our story focuses on. Prince Edmund is not exactly “princely” though. In fact, he’d best be described as a bit of a sniveling coward. He has grand plans for himself though. The story follows Prince Edmund as he plots his rise to the greatness with his servant Baldrick and Lord Percy.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

16: Porridge

Starring: Ronnie Baker, Brian Wilde, Fulton Mackay, Richard Beckinsale, Sam Kelly
Ran From: 1974-1977
IMDB Rating: 8.4/10
In the Slade prison system we explore in Porridge, cynicism and self preservation rule above all else. The quick witted Fletcher, serving five years for break and enter, has learned this well and has decided the best way to deal with his circumstances is to do everything in his power to make life a little bit easier for himself and for his cellmate, Lennie Godber. This often means taking advantage of prison officer, Mr. Barrowclough – something Fletcher has little trouble doing. It is, however, much harder to take advantage of prison officer MacKay, a hard-nosed, rules-are-rules kind of guard who has little time for wrongdoers. The result is a surprisingly series that definitely belongs of this list.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

15: A Bit of Fry and Laurie

Starring: Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry
Ran From: 1987-1995
IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
I love Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry so when I saw A Bit of Fry and Laurie on Netflix one evening, I was both excited to have discovered this gem and disturbed I hadn’t learned of it sooner. I quickly watched everything Netflix had to offer for the show and sought out anything I missed. This one didn’t stick around as long as it should have but there were some great moments that have definitely earned it a spot on this list. One of my favorites, for sure.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

14: The Inbetweeners

Starring: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, Greg Davies, Emily Head, Martin Trenaman
Ran From: 2008-2010
IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
Four friends find themselves in a bit of a weird position. They’re not exactly freaks but they’re not exactly normal either. Thus, they are the Inbetweeners. The cast of characters every possible inbetweener position you can imagine – the big talker that hasn’t done half of the things (or people) he claims, the love struck friend that can’t quite get himself out of the friend zone, the kind of dumb guy that doesn’t quite get the concept behind the whole life thing … it’s all there. That’s what makes this show so enjoyable. If you’ve ever been an inbetweener, you can find someone you identify with on this show. Of course, everyone is played to the extreme for laughs but it works and it works well. I’m not at all surprised to find this series among the best British comedy series of all time in terms of ratings on IMDB. It definitely deserves its high rating.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

13: Mr. Bean

Starring: Rowan Atkinson
Ran From: 1990-1995
IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
I’m not going to get too detailed with this description because, come on! Who doesn’t know Mr. Bean? If you haven’t yet gotten around to finding out what this show is all about, I can sum it up fairly quickly. Mr. Bean is a full grown man that just can’t wrap his head around even the simplest tasks. The result is always hilarious, especially by the end of the ordeal when Bean figures out some genius way to get around the problem. There are a few episodes here and there I wasn’t in love with but for the most part, I can see why this is so often ranked among the best British comedy series of all time.

image via BBC Pictures

image via BBC Pictures

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

12: Red Dwarf

Starring: Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn
Ran From: 1988 –
IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
This one almost didn’t make the list because somehow, I’ve spent most of my life completely overlooking it. It made its way to my television screen just a few short nights ago thanks to my husband’s frantic insistence that it was one of the best British comedy series of all time and absolutely needed to be on this list. After watching just a few episodes, I agreed, looking it up on IMDB to ensure it met my ratings requirement. I wasn’t surprised it did. Red Dwarf follows Dave Lister, the soul survivor of a radiation leak that killed the rest of the crew of the mining ship, Red Dwarf, 3 million years before the show begins. All is technically not lost for Lister though as he has a holographic projection of his expired bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer, a life form that evolved from his cat named, appropriately enough, Cat, sevice mechanoid, Kryten and the ship’s senile computer, Holly. It sounds weird, I know, and it really is but the weirdness really works. Great series.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

11: The IT Crowd

Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry
Ran From: 2006-2010
IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
Somewhere deep beneath Reynholm Industries, Moss and Roy are working. Well, sometimes. Moss is an electronics genius. If it’s electronic and it can be fixed, Moss knows how to fix it. His co-worker, Roy, could probably best be described as lazy or perhaps lazy and angry. He is disgruntled, to say the least. This socially awkward duo are employed to provide support for Reynholm Industries which often means having to deal with their comically inept boss, Jen. While this may not sound like the setup of one of the greatest sitcoms that has ever been made, it really is; especially when you factor in Moss and Roy’s hilariously ill-adviced exploits on the office and in social settings. Absolutely brilliant show. I’d easily rate this one a 9.5.

image via BBC Pictures

image via BBC Pictures

10: Coupling

Starring: Jack Davenport, Gina Bellman, Sarah Alexander, Kate Isitt, Ben Miles, Richard Coyle
Ran From: 2000-2004
IMDB Rating: 8.7/10
Often written off as the British take on Friends, Coupling doesn’t get near the respect it deserves. I’m a huge Friends fan but I’m not even a little ashamed to admit Coupling is the far better series in nearly every possible way. The cast is terrific. The stories are terrific. The writing is sharp, smart and funny. Everything – every last thing – about this show works. This show isn’t just one of the best British comedy series of all time, it’s the best sitcom that follows this basic format that has ever been on the air. If you haven’t checked it out, do so. Now.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

09: Father Ted

Starring: Dermot Morgan, Ardal O’Hanlon, Frank Kelly, Pauline McLynn
Ran From: 1995-1998
IMDB Rating: 8.7/10
I don’t know how poor Father Ted did it. I believe ten minutes in Craggy Island would’ve driven me quite mad. Perhaps that’s why this show works so well. The series follows Father Ted as he tries to bring some kind of stability to his congregation while still dealing with dimwitted Father Dougal McQuire and somewhat out-of-control Father Jack Hackett. Between Hackett’s drinking and swearing, McQuire’s many issues and the townspeople themselves who are a challenge all on their own, this series has more than enough to keep you laughing, even if you do pity poor Father Ted.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

08: I’m Alan Partridge

Starring: Steve Coogan, Phil Cornwell, Simon Greenall, Felicity Montagu, Barbara Durkin, Sally Phillips, Amelia Bullmore
Ran From: 1997-2002
IMDB Rating: 8.7/10
Some people are probably going to disagree with my decision to put I’m Alan Partridge on this list over the show it spun off from, Knowing Me, Knowing You but I want to make something very clear. I highly recommend checking out both series. They’re absolutely phenomenal and Steve Coogan is brilliant in them both. I love the fact that they chose to portray Alan Partridge as a failed television presenter in this one but I also love that they chose to make Alan more self-confident despite his failures. He’s far more childish in this one and that did turn some people off but I felt it really worked well. All the same, I’d recommend checking out Knowing Me, Knowing You first and then move on to I’m Alan Patridge to get the rest of the story. It’s definitely worth the time investment. 

image via BBC/Adult Swim

image via BBC/Adult Swim

07: The Office

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis, Ewen MacIntosh, Ben Bradshaw, Jamie Deeks, Jane Lucas
Ran From: 2001-2003
IMDB Rating: 8.7/10
Here’s the thing that bugs me about The Office. So many people seem to think the US version is either the only version or the original version but, of course, that isn’t so. The show began in the UK and was adapted for the US and the adaptation really lost a little something in the execution. The US version wasn’t bad (for the first few seasons, anyway) but the UK version was brilliant from start to finish. The series centers around a midsize office in an industrial town in that faces closure after the head company decides to downsize and close some of its branches. A documentary film crew decides to follow the workers as they live their lives. What they capture is pure comedy gold and is definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of the US version.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

06: Peep Show

Starring: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Olivia Colman, Matt King, Neil Fitzmaurice
Ran From: 2003 –
IMDB Rating: 8.7/10
Mark and Jez live anything but normal lives. Their day to day lives are often filled with the kind of mayhem few can honestly imaging. Aside from that, these roommates have absolutely nothing in common. The premise of two roommates who are total opposites is nothing new but that doesn’t mean a show doesn’t come along every now and again that offers a fresh new take on the idea. This is exactly that kind of show. While some originally felt the show had the potential to be a bit too gimmicky, the first few episodes proved to be so much more. Since then, the show has made a believer out of most critics and has become one of the most unique and original shows on the air.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

05: Yes Minister

Starring: Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne, Derek Fowlds, Diana Hoddinott
Ran From: 1980-1984
IMDB Rating: 8.7/10
Yes Minister follows James Hacker, the British Minister for Administrative Affairs, as he tries his hardest to cut government waste. Unfortunately for James, his efforts are constantly hampered by Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary of the Department. Somewhere in the middle of this constant battle we find poor Bernard Wooley, a private secretary who constantly has to choose between supporting one or the other which often proves to be a difficult task. On paper, this series shouldn’t be funny but it really is. Definitely worth checking out.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

04: Fawlty Towers

Starring: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth, Ballard Berkeley, Gilly Flower, Renee Roberts, Brian Hall
Ran From: 1975-1979
IMDB Rating: 8.9/10
This one isn’t just one of the best British comedy series of all time, it’s also up there with my personal favorite television series of all time period. The series focuses on an English hotel, Fawlty Towers, run by Basil Fawlty; a rude, intolerant, paranoid and completely inept man that does far more harm than good when he tries to run the hotel. His wife, Sybil, isn’t much of a help to say the least. Their poor waiter, Manuel, is just as incompetent as the rest of them. It’s a total disaster and couldn’t possibly be more fun to watch.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

03: Only Fools and Horses …

Starring: David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Buster Merryfield, John Challis, Kenneth MacDonald
Ran From: 1981-2003
IMDB Rating: 8.9/10
It honestly doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to British comedy or just comedy in general. An always strong cast kept this show strong for years and years, rarely seeing any dip in quality or execution. The series follows brothers Del and Rodney who deal black market goods often with hilarious results. While they are technically black market traders, they’re basically harmless guys the audience can’t help falling in love with. If you haven’t seen Only Fools and Horses … you should do so immediately.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

02: QI

Starring: Stephen Fry, Alan Davies
Ran From: 2003
IMDB Rating: 9.0/10
Not quite a sitcom, not quite a chat show, not quite a game show, QI is a great example of British comedy that gets it right on all fronts. It’s set up like a comedy panel game but at the same time, it isn’t quite the same as any other panel game you’ve ever seen in that getting the correct answer to a trivia question isn’t nearly as important as being ‘quite interesting’. Every week, host Stephen Fry (one of my absolute favorites, by the way) meets a panel of four comedians. The comedians share stories, trivia and sometimes get around to answering a few questions. It’s definitely unique but is always entertaining.

image source: IMDB.com

image source: IMDB.com

01: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Starring: Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Carol Cleveland
Ran From: 1969-1974
IMDB Rating: 9.1/10
This is the show that started it all for me. I’d never had an interest in British comedy until I saw this show but I knew before the first episode was even over that this whole British comedy thing was an obsession that was going to take up a whole lot of my time. I find it a little hard to believe that anyone interested in British comedy wouldn’t have already seen what I (and many others) consider to be the absolute best of the best in British comedy but if you haven’t, find it and watch it now. Watch from the start all the way through to the end. Absolutely brilliant series that, in my mind, has never been matched in the UK, the US or anywhere else, for that matter.

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