Not every British TV comedy show can rack up 51 series (and counting) as demonstrated by Have I Got News for You and it's highly unlikely that many others will manage to better the 37 year lifespan of Last of the Summer Wine. In fact, many comedy TV shows bow out after one series, but just because they're not prolific, it doesn't mean these short run British comedies don't have a story to tell.
And, sometimes, these stories can be as tragic as a star actor dying during filming, controversy splashed all over the airwaves about the shows content or, maybe, a show which didn't quite click was actually conceived by writers and actors who would go on to be megastars. Also, you can't discount the possibility that some shows are either criminally overlooked or the creative teams simply want to move onto a new challenge.
I've decided to take a look at 25 curious British TV comedies that only had one series to see what intriguing stories lay behind some of these (hopefully) laugh filled comedic gems.
1. Grundy - ITV (Thames) - 1980
Grundy concerned the exploits of the sanctimonious newsagent Leonard Grundy (Harry H Corbett) following his divorce from his wife after she was unfaithful with Burt Loomis, bed salesman extraordinaire. Keen to tread a moral and just path, Grundy struggles to cope with the dubious attentions of fellow divorcee Beryl Loomis (Lynda Baron), yep, that's right, ex-wife of Burt.
Most famous for being the final transmitted performance of Harry H Corbett's career, only one series of this Ken Hoare written sitcom was ever produced despite each episode garnering high ratings. Corbett's ill health was, no doubt, a contributing factor - he had a heart attack after the first episode - and just two years later he had passed away.
I've managed to watch several episodes of Grundy and think that - even if Corbett had lived on - one series was enough. Sure, Corbett and Baron deliver scintillating performances, but the episodes retreat into long and uneventful exchanges of dialogue which leave you tapping your feet and looking at your watch.
2. Sirens - Channel 4 - 2011
Exploring the convoluted lives of blokey paramedics Stuart Bayldon (Rhys Thomas), Ashley Greenwick (Richard Madden) and Rachid Mansaur (Kayvan Novak), Sirens was a comedy drama which seamlessly fused pathos and laughs against themes of suicide and loneliness with characters you wanted to revisit, much in the same vein as Teachers.
I was a big fan of Sirens and certainly wasn't alone as there was diehard group of fans who regularly tuned in every week, but it failed to connect with a majority and viewing figures had halved by the final episode.
And, equally damning, Sirens received some what of a kicking from the press with The Telegraph quipping that it had "an irritating air of unreality" and The Independent on Sunday claimed that it was "a muddled attempt at a comedy drama". Channel 4 aligned themselves with the critics and declined to resuscitate Sirens for a second series.
3. Comrade Dad - BBC2 - 1986
Back in the mid 1980s, George Cole was one of the biggest names on television thanks to his star turn as Arthur Daley in Minder. Keen to explore other avenues, though, he also signed up to appear in Comrade Dad, a sitcom which was set in a future where the Russians had invaded and placed Britain under communist rule.
Despite this being a great premise - and steeped in the very best cold war paranoia - the writing seemed to primarily feature upon weak gags about beetroots rather than tapping into the zeitgeist. The series failed to secure a recommission and was proof that a star actor needs to be teamed up with an amazing script to be a success.
4. Bruiser - BBC2 - 2000
In the year 2000, British comedy was teetering on the edge of a TV comedy revolution as shows such as The Office, Peep Show and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace were only a few years away from airing and providing a new generation of laughs and stars.
And many of these stars could be found honing their writing and acting skills in a little known sketch show called Bruiser on BBC2. The cast and writing credits include: Robert Webb, David Mitchell, Martin Freeman, Olivia Colman, Matthew Holness, Ricky Gervais and Richard Ayoade.
Like most sketch shows the quality was a little hit and miss, but highlights included Robert Webb's take on an irritable Satan, David Mitchell's sarcastic plumber and Martin Freeman and Olivia's argumentative couple Gary and Samantha.
A second series of Bruiser never surfaced, but I doubt the team involved would have been free to get involved as their profiles and schedules went stratospheric, so Bruiser remains a curious footnote to British comedy in the 2000s.
5. Marjorie and Men - ITV (Anglia) - 1985
Patricia Routledge is known the world over for her portrayal of ultra-snob Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances, but her initial foray into the world of sitcom with Marjorie and Men is less well known.
Having to suffer the ignominy of moving in with her Mother (Patricia Hayes), divorcee Marjorie Belton (Patricia Routledge) is also struggling with her hunt for a new man thanks to a series of disastrous dates and general interference from her mother.
Marjorie and Men also starred the wonderful Timothy West and James Cossins, but, despite the acting quality on offer, the show was not particularly successful and was restricted to just one solitary series.
6. Lucky Feller - ITV (LWT) - 1976
Remember that David Jason sitcom about two brothers in South London where one of them drives round in a silly little car? No, I'm not talking about Only Fools and Horses, I am, of course, referring to Lucky Feller which starred brothers Shorty Mepstead (David Jason) and Randy (Peter Armitage).
The brothers still lived at home with their Mother (Pat Heywood) whilst trying to start up various enterprises including electrical and plumbing services in order to make a few quid. And, providing the love interest, for them was Kathleen (Cheryl Hall). The brothers' Dad was absent having drowned in a vat of milk stout - no, really.
Calling upon that 70s sitcom staple of farce and slapstick, Lucky Feller has plenty of laughs but lacks that little bit of magic to differentiate it from the vast swathes of sitcoms that tumbled out of TV screens in the 1970s. No second series followed, but as a proto-Only Fools and Horses it retains a certain curiosity.
7. Spoons - Channel 4 - 2005
Spoons was a Channel 4 sketch show which featured Charlie Brooker on the writing team and had Rob Rouse, Kevin Bishop, Josie d'Arby, Simon Farnaby and Tom Goodman-Hill actoring it up on screen.
Again, however, Spoons is one of those shows which fails to make use of the amazing materials at its disposal and, instead, delivers poor content that the actors struggle to do much with and, accordingly, leave the audience shrugging their shoulders. It never really felt as though Spoons got out of first gear and was laden with cheap gags and fairly thin premises.
The only sketch which I could clearly remember, 10 years on, involved Tom Goodman-Hill being resolutely insulted about his physical appearance by a woman on her mobile phone after she's been accused of flirting with the man by her friend on the other end of the phone. And, for what I consider to be the most memorable sketch in the series, it's a little troubling...
So, yes, a wasted opportunity and another British comedy show which failed to get a second series.
8. The Gnomes of Dulwich - BBC1 - 1969
The Gnomes of Dulwich is the kind of sitcom you have to do a double take at. After all, a set of British, stone gnomes competing against a set of European and plastic rivals sounds like something dreamed up following a bad LSD trip. And when you see that it aired in 1969, it suddenly all makes sense...
However, rather than being an example of the worst excesses of creative whimsy in the 1960s, this Jimmy Perry sitcom set out to be a satire on immigration and the accompanying racial fears blighting the UK at the time, so God knows what they would have made of Brexit.
Despite starring comedy legends Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd, The Gnomes of Dulwich never managed to carve its way into the nation's heart and failed to progress further than the first six episodes. Nonetheless, it's quite preposterous premise ensures that it certainly can't be ignored. Sadly, all six episodes are missing from the archives having been wiped, so a reappraisal of the show's merit seems highly unlikely.
9. Asylum - Paramount Channel - 1996
Part of The Paramount Channel's early foray into original comedy on satellite TV, Asylum pulled together a quite remarkable team to create this sitcom/standup/sketch hybrid. Not only was it created by the young Edgar Wright and David Walliams, but it featured Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Norman Lovett, Adam Bloom and Julian Barratt amongst others.
Asylum used an old mental institution and Dr Lovett's personality warping experiments as a loose framework to highlight the burgeoning comedic talents of all involved. It's not quite perfect, but you can see early glimmers of brilliance in every episode. The series ended fairly conclusively, so there was little room for a second series but Asylum had done enough by lighting the touchpaper of several soon to be stellar careers.
10. Plus One - Channel 4 - 2009
There's nothing worse than being dumped, so when your ex-girlfriend hooks up with handsome sod of a popstar Duncan from Blue (Duncan James) it's a galling situation indeed. And, for Rob Black (Daniel Mays) this scenario has become a reality in Plus One as his ex-girlfriend Linsey (Miranda Raison) is now engaged to Duncan from Blue.
In his desperation to make Linsey jealous, Rob decides that he has no option but to secure a stunning date for the wedding and somehow upstage the rich hunk Duncan from Blue.
The most surprising aspect of Plus One was that Duncan from Blue was a surprisingly good actor and damn funny to boot. Coupled with Daniel Mays' superb performance, Plus One made for an enjoyable and fun watch, but was probably rather limited in its premise and one series was all that could be wrung out of it.
11. Freddie and Max - ITV (Thames) - 1990
Them Americans are good at that old acting lark, so it's always exciting when one pops up in a British TV show. And when this American happens to be Anne Bancroft - the proud winner of a best actress Oscar - it means something very special is bubbling up. Hand her a script from Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and things start getting exponentially exciting.
This script was Freddie and Max and saw Maxine 'Max' Chandler (Anne Bancroft) attempting to write her autobiography from the luxury of a suite at the Savoy whilst also starring in a London theatre. A self obsessed diva, Max is paired up with young Londoner and media researcher Freddie Latham (Charlotte Coleman) to act as a glorified maid.
The comedy came from Freddie's straight talking approach which frequently pricked Max's pomposity and brought her tumbling down to earth. Freddie and Max failed to engage the audience, though, and a second series never arrived.
12. Jumpers for Goalposts - Sky 1 - 2001
The Fast Show was responsible for some of the finest comedy characters to ever grace our screens, but how would they fare when removed from a narrative and lowered into a panel show?
This happened to Ron Manager (Paul Whitehouse) who was known for his nonsense rambling as a football pundit alongside Tommy Stein (Mark Williams) and Clive Graham. This trio went on to star in Jumpers for Goalposts which was a panel show focusing on the world of football. Ron and Tommy acted as team captains - heading Ron's Rovers and Tommy's Terriers respectively - and Clive posed the questions to guests such as Noel Gallagher and Paul Daniels.
Although there was plenty of laddish laughs and great character work from the core trio, Jumpers for Goalposts never really struck a chord with the viewing public in the same way that They Think it's All Over did, so only one series of 13 episodes was produced.
13. Two D's and a Dog - ITV (Thames) - 1970
Another curio of David Jason's early career, Two D's and a Dog was a vague relation to children's comedy Do Not Adjust Your Set and was written by Jan Butlin.
Dotty Charles (Denise Coffey) found herself severely lacking in the old money department after her father passed away, so, along with her deceased father's chauffeur Dingle Bell (David Jason), Dotty would seek out a series of peculiar jobs from a selection of even more madcap characters. Oh and the Two D's were accompanied by Dotty's sheepdog Fido. Special guests who appeared included Frank Thornton, Patricia Hayes and Bill Fraser.
Only one series aired - over the summer of 1970 - but, due to the continued adoration of national treasure David Jason, it retains a curious air of interest and acts as a fascinating insight into Jason's tentative steps in British TV.
14. Hardwicke House - ITV (Central) - 1987
Hardwicke House is a particularly notorious sitcom which aired on ITV in 1987 and only managed to transmit two of its seven episodes to the viewing public before being pulled from the schedules.
Taking place within the corridors and classrooms of fictional secondary modern Hardwicke House, this was a series which saw headmaster RG Wickham (Roy Kinnear) overseeing a bunch of teachers such as Herbert Fowl (Granville Saxton) and wideboy Mr Flashman (Gavin Richards) who were considerably more unruly than their pupils.
Hardwicke House aimed for an alternative comedy flavour - Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson starred in an unaired episode - but the comedy proved a little too alternative for an 8.30pm time slot what with pupils being electrocuted and the teachers' dubious interests in their pupils' bodies.
Numerous complaints flooded in and ITV pulled the series after two episodes had aired. Plans were made to reschedule Hardwicke House in a later time slot, but this never came to fruition and the rest of the series remains collecting dust in the archives.
15. Blue Heaven - Channel 4 - 1994
Conceived as Frank Skinner's "love letter to the Black Country in a lot of ways", Blue Heaven was Skinner's first sitcom, coming three years after he won the prestigious Perrier Award.
Blue Heaven saw West Bromwich Albion fanatic Frank Sandford (Frank Skinner) and pal Roache (Conleth Hill) embracing unemployment in order to hit the big time with their band Blue Heaven. Unfortunately, their musical talents are dwarfed by their deluded self belief in songs such as 'Please Stop Booing Us, We're Going Soon' and, as a result, find themselves playing in such esteemed West Midlands' venues as The Fox and Serial Killer.
Also featuring sitcom stalwart Paula Wilcox as Frank's Mother, Blue Heaven had some strong foundations to build upon. And, when it came to the gags, there was plenty to laugh at, if not exactly lung-bursting screams of laughter. It was the lack of strength behind the character's relationships and the trivial plots, however, which held back Blue Heaven's potential and left it as no surprise that a second series never arrived.
16. Clarence - BBC2 - 1988
Clarence Sale (Ronnie Barker) struggles with his vision and, as a result, his preferred profession as a removals man. As he bumbles around and clumsily handles people's prized possessions, he manages to stumble blindly into the path of maid Jane Travers (Josephine Tewson) and, after becoming smitten, Clarence has soon proposed. However, before fully committing to marriage, Jane suggests that they co-habit as a trial with the proviso that a large pillow separates them in bed.
Clarence is a sweet sitcom which acts as a fine sendoff for one of Britain's greatest comedy actors and writers. There was probably more mileage in the gentle slapstick and romantic antics of Clarence Sale, but Barker was determined to retire from comedy and he had certainly earned it.
17. The Culture Vultures - BBC1 - 1970
Another sitcom sadly and needlessly wiped from the archives, The Culture Vultures was a 1970 sitcom written by Tim Brooke-Taylor, Colin Mares and David Climie. Set in the world of Dr Michael Cunningham (Leslie Phillips) - a keen and devout gambling womaniser - who lectured in anthropology at Hampshire University.
Cunningham was frequently thwarted in his attempts to escape abroad, learn how to predict a roulette table or even just have a quiet life thanks to his colleagues Dr Ian Meredith (Jonathan Cecil) and Professor George Hobbes (Peter Sallis) antics. Instead, Cunningham is left stranded in Hampshire with all the stresses of being a lecturer.
Following filming of the second episode, Phillips was rushed to hospital with an internal haemorrhage and The Culture Vultures was curtailed to just five episodes as Phillips recovered. Due to this unfortunate incident and a failure to win over the general public, The Culture Vultures remained stuck on one series.
18. Bellamy's People - BBC2 - 2010
Down the Line was a wildly successful Radio 4 spoof radio phone in show which chalked up five series and was written by The Fast Show duo Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson. A television spinoff entitled Bellamy's People went out on BBC2 in 2010 and saw radio presenter Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas) leaving the comfort of his studio to meet the people of Britain.
Traveling the length and breadth of the country in a Triumph Stag, Gary Bellamy meets a myriad of bizarre characters including self professed Asian community leader Mr Khan (Adil Ray), reformed criminal turned book writer Tony Beckton (Simon Day) and the 23 stones heavy Graham Downes (Paul Whitehouse) who finds leaving his bed a testing task.
Feeling almost like a reunion for The Fast Show, Bellamy's People should have been amazing, but sadly it never quite clicked. Some sections - such as Mr Khan and Tony Beckton - were beyond hilarious, but there was too much material which barely raised a titter and the new, visual identities for the characters failed to add any value.
Therefore, Bellamy's People acts as a cautionary tale on the dangers of trying to redefine a show's format; it failed to garner a recommission whereas Down the Line continued cranking out new series' on radio.
19. Bloomers - BBC2 - 1979
Richard Beckinsale was one of the most beautiful men to ever grace British TV, but his career was cut tragically short at the age of 31. At the time, he was busy recording Bloomers, a sitcom written by playwright James Saunders and based upon John Challis' experiences of working in a garden centre.
Once heralded as "The second most promising new act of 1966", actor Stan Partridge (Richard Beckinsale) is struggling to make ends meet as an actor. After discovering that his emotionally unstable girlfriend Lena Peartree (Anna Calder Marshall) has apparently murdered his rubber plant, Stan heads to the local garden centre where he encounters owner (Dingley Paisley) and ends up employed in the world of horticulture.
Only five episodes of Bloomers were recorded as, on the day of rehearsals for episode six, Richard Beckinsale failed to turn up. He was later discovered to have had a heart attack the night before and Bloomers was immediately brought to a halt. The five recorded episodes were later broadcast and acted as a fitting tribute to one of Britain's best loved actors.
20. Come Back Mrs Noah - BBC1 - 1978
Regularly referenced as one of the worst British sitcoms ever made, Come Back Mrs Noah was a vehicle for Mollie Sugden - at the height of her fame through her appearances in Are You Being Served? - and conceived by sitcom writing power-duo Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft in 1978.
In the year 2050, Mrs Noah (Mollie Sugden) has won a cookery competition and her prize is - rather inexplicably and completely unrelated to cookery - to be shown around Britannia Seven, Britain's new space station. This being a sitcom, there are a series of calamitous twists of fate which lead to Mrs Noah being rocketed into space along with Britannia Seven's crew.
And Come Back Mrs Noah is just as ridiculous as its bizarre premise sounds. It's a rare misfire for Croft and Lloyd, but even with a fantastic supporting cast - Ian Lavender, Gorden Kaye, Michael Knowles and Donald Hewlett - in place, the scripts are packed full of corny, recycled jokes as the narrative tries to bring Mrs Noah back to Earth.
In space no one can hear you scream or, judging by this offering, laugh, so it comes as no surprise that the chances of a second series disappeared into a black hole.
21. Mr Aitch - ITV (Rediffusion) - 1968
In between the initial run of Steptoe and Son (1962 - 65) and its colour revival in 1970, Harry H. Corbett sought to broaden his CV to prevent being typecast as Harold Steptoe. And one of the very first projects he worked on was the sitcom Mr Aitch written by the quite remarkable teams of Clement and La Frenais as well as Galton and Simpson.
Harry Aitch (Harry H. Corbett) is a man of the future who craves status symbols - such as his Ford mustang and Savile Row suits - and is determined to go out and get them through the use of his stratospheric ego and wits. And when it comes to the ladies, old Aitch claims to have "birds galore". Sadly, though, Aitch can't even extract a kiss from these "birds" and this highlights just how deluded a character he is when it comes to the true extent of his guile.
Perhaps Harold Steptoe was ingrained too strongly in the public's consciousness, though, as there was only one 15 episode series produced. After appearing alongside June Whitfield in two series of sitcom The Best Things in Life, Harry H Corbett returned to the role of Harold Steptoe.
22. Jackson Pace: The Great Years - ITV (Granada) - 1990
Easily one of my favourite TV shows of all time, Jackson Pace: The Great Years was a children's sitcom written by Daniel Peacock and transmitted on ITV in 1990.
A clear homage to the Indiana Jones films which were highly popular at the time, Jackson Pace: The Great Years saw Jackson Pace (Keith Allen) and his sidekick Roger Whibley (Daniel Peacock) hot on the trail of a glorious treasure located behind the mighty gates of the hidden temple in the land of Ja Ja Bar.
Calling alternative comedy stars such as Arthur Smith and Josie Lawrence to the cast ensures that Jackson Pace: The Great Years is packed full of laughs a plenty. And several of the gags will have you wondering if you're watching an adult comedy rather than one for children, so there's great comedic value for any adults watching. This uproarious comedy is combined with action that veers from one corner of the globe to the other, so there's never a dull moment and it's truly one of the hidden gems of children's TV.
The first series ends with Jackson Pace ready to set off into space on his next quest - complete with catchphrase "PACE IN SPACE!" - and Daniel Peacock was keen to explore the characters further, but the second series never quite got off the ground and, instead, we're just left with one amazing series.
23. Old Boy Network - ITV (Central) - 1992
Clement and La Frenais pop up with another early 90s sitcom with a lead role taken by a Hollywood star, this time it's Tom Conti - no Oscar winner, but most definitely nominated for the best actor Oscar in 1983 - in the espionage infused Old Boy Network.
Lucas Frye (Tom Conti) is an MI5 agent living the high life with a string of beautiful women whilst he also receives a nice paycheque from the Russians as a duplicitous double agent. Meanwhile, MI6 desk jockey Peter Duckham is determined to expose Frye for the unscrupulous agent he is and has gradually built up a weighty evidence to hang him out to dry. As a result, Frye is banished to Moscow and the whole affair kept hush hush.
A few years later, however, Frye is back in Britain and keen to open a freelance espionage agency, but MI6 are wary of his true motives and Duckham is sent to investigate. Surprisingly, Duckham finds Frye offering him a partnership in the agency. Together they go on to investigate crooked sports agents, dangerous computer whizzkids and even an attempt on Frye's life.
Clement and La Frenais bring all their comedic tools to the table and produce some sparkling dialogue which is bolstered even further by the fantastic performances. Everyone seems to be having the time of their lives, but the plots feel as though they take a back seat as a result. The characters are so engaging and energetic, though, that a second series could have brought more refined plots, but Old Boy Network failed to convince ITV and it was one series and out.
24. The Day Today - BBC2 - 1994
Sometimes a radio comedy can transfer to the the visual medium of television and become a much more exciting beast as a result. And The Day Today - created by Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci (whatever happened to those guys?) certainly improved on the already superb template provided by Radio 4's On the Hour.
The Day Today was a meticulous skewering of news and current affairs programs with a level of class that even the very best satires struggle to match. Running news stories on bullying in the church of England, feral commuters on a train and an American murderer being executed by their victim's corpse, The Day Today was relentless in its attack on the media and backed this up with awkward small talk between presenters and hideously over the top computer graphics.
And if the content was amazing it was equally matched by the team behind The Day Today which included Steve Coogan (as Alan Partridge amongst others), David Schneider, Rebecca Front, Patrick Marber, Doon Mackichan, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews. Naturally, this was a wake up call for British comedy and helped to define Morris and Iannucci as two of the most intelligent (and wanted) men in British comedy.
There were reports in 1994 that the series had been commissioned for a second series, but the team never came together to make this a reality. Perhaps they wanted to protect the shop's sublime record of perfect television, but I would have killed for a second series having laughed myself senseless at the first one.
25. The Estate Agents - Channel 4 - 2002
Dealing with estate agents is always a demanding ask, but when it comes to watching a sitcom about them it's actually a lot of fun. And this was proved by the 2002 sitcom The Estate Agents written by comedy troupe Electric Eel (Dan Clark, Adam G Goodwin and Cliff Kelly).
The cramped offices of Embassy Properties are home to the womanising, egotistical Jerry Zachary (Dan Clark), professional loser and all round punchbag Mark Devlin (Adam G Goodwin) and kind, friendly and completely in the closet Mark England (Cliff Kelly). These three estate agents mix up cartoonish adventures with over the top violence which sees them murdering a six legged Bolivian mountain cat, dealing with the death of their mentor Roy Dance who literally explodes and, finally, having all their unscrupulous activities exposed on a daytime chat show.
The Estate Agents proved to be a fantastic slice of post-pub TV with it's surreal plots, madcap action and BIG funny gags - I can personally vouch for the show's ability to temporarily postpone a dreaded night of drunken, broken sleep. However, despite scripts being written for a second series, changes in the Channel 4 hierarchy meant that The Estate Agents was suddenly out of favour and the series ground to a halt.
So, which of these British TV comedy shows do you think should have got a second series? And what other interesting one hit wonders are there? Let me know in the comments below!
Oh, and you may be interested to know that several of the shows listed are featured, in more detail, in my e-book The Hidden Gems and Oddities of British TV Comedy Vol.1