Friday, 7 May 2021

50 British TV Comedies From the 1980s You Forgot About

We all know who the big hitters of British TV comedy were in the 1980s. Shows such as Only Fools and Horses, Minder and Spitting Image still elicit mass devotion all these years on. But there was so much more going on in the British TV schedules in terms of comedy. The majority of these have slipped our minds, but this isn't (well, not always) an indicator of their quality. Some simply didn't engage large audiences as well as others did. It's as simple as that. But I can assure you that all these other shows (well, most of them) deserve to be remembered. And that's why I've put together this look at 50 British TV comedies from the 1980s you forgot about.

1. Hardwicke House - ITV - 1987

Written by Richard Hall and Simon Wright, Hardwicke House is a sitcom set in an East Midlands secondary school. But, rather than focussing its attentions on the pupils, Hardwicke House cranes its neck round the staff room door. Alcoholic headteacher RG Wickham (Roy Kinnear) holds little control over his unruly staff such as the sadistic Herbert Fowl (Granville Saxton) and lecherous gambler Dick Flashman (Gavin Richards). The opening two episodes feature clumsy attacks on apartheid, a 6th form girl clad in a revealing leather dress and a pupil being electrocuted to a crisp. Unsurprisingly, there was an uproar from viewers and teachers. The remaining five episodes - including one where a vicar was killed and one featuring a Rik Mayall/Adrian Edmondson appearance - were put on hiatus and quietly shuffled to the back of ITV's archives. Until, that is, they all leaked onto YouTube in 2019.

2. Oh Happy Band! - BBC1 - 1980

Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft put in a decent shift for British comedy, didn't they? Together they created both Are You Being Served and 'Allo 'Allo which is more than enough to establish themselves as legends. But they also wrote the little known 1980 sitcom Oh Happy Band! which aired on BBC1. Set in the idyllic village of Nettlebridge, Oh Happy Band! stars Harry Worth as Harry, the conductor of the local brass band. Rather than having to worry about village fetes and the various maladies afflicting members of the band, Harry is more concerned with imminent building of an airport in Nettlebridge. Rallying his band members together, Harry forms the Anti Airport Committee. Episodes find the brass band trying to get in the Guinness Book of Records by playing at 1,000 feet in the air (in hot air balloons) and promoting the discovery of a holy well in order to drive the airport away.

3. Pushing Up Daisies / Coming Next - Channel 4 - 1984 to 85

Boasting a rather impressive roster of Chris Barrie, Gareth Hale, Norman Pace and Carla Mendonca, Pushing Up Daisies (and its follow up series Coming Next) was a sketch show put together by legendary comedy producer Paul Jackson. Perhaps most impressive are Chris Barrie's supernaturally amazing impressions - see Ronald Reagan promoting anti-Mexican holiday Wop a Wop in 84. But this is not to the detriment to the rest of the series' output. WestEnders, set in the Schitz Cocktail Bar, is a ruthless spoof of EastEnders where the original Made in Chelsea mob flaunt their wealth. Hale and Pace find time to debut their iconic characters The Two Rons ("We put the fun in funeral). And there are numerous sketches where the entire cast partake in film spoofs which even take aim at script directions.

4. Snakes and Ladders - Channel 4 - 1989

Everyone (worth knowing) knows who Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran are. And just as many people recognise John Gordon Sinclair and Adrian Edmondson. But did you know that this quartet came together in a late 1980s Channel 4 sitcom? Set in 1999, the universe of Snakes and Ladders is one where a literal North/South divide has been set up between England and Scotland. Whilst Giles (Adrian Edmondson) lives a blessed life in the riches of Chipping Sodbury - mostly thanks to his gruesomely wealthy father - Gavin (John Gordon Sinclair) has to pick his way through the rubble strewn poverty of Glasgow. But this all changes when a case of mistaken identity finds them swapping roles, much to Giles' absolute horror. A quirky and fun satire, Snakes and Ladders also benefits from a mighty Rik Mayall cameo.

5. Seconds Out - BBC1 - 1981 to 82

Robert Lindsay isn't renowned for his hardman credentials, but in Bill MacIlwraith's boxing comedy he plays promising middleweight Pete Dodds. The problem for Dodds, however, is that his brand of in-ring tomfoolery is keeping him from the top. Thankfully, veteran manager Tom Sprake (Lee Montague) believes he can get the best out of Dodds so, with the help of his trainer Dave Locket (Ken Jones), takes Dodds into his stable of pugilists. But the route to championship glory is far from easy. As well as tackling dangerous criminal Fishy Freddy, our triumvirate in Seconds Out will need to stay in Britain's most depressing hotel and somehow get through a disastrous photoshoot. And, in the second and final series, an additional distraction enters the ring in the form of Dodds' new girlfriend Hazel (Leslie Ash).

6. Dream Stuffing - Channel 4 - 1984

Life in mid-1980s is far from easy, particularly if your name is either Jude (Rachel Weaver) or Mo (Amanda Symonds). Although Mo starts Dream Stuffing in the employment of Seymours Ocular Aids, she soon finds herself queuing up at the DHSS with the perma-unemployed Jude. Convinced she's never more than a big break away from appearing on Top of the Pops, Jude is content with the dole queue. Despite Jude's shambolic approach to life, Mo finds herself embarking on mad scheme after mad scheme with her flatmate. All of these exploits - including running Mo's mother's launderette into financial ruin - start life in 76 Riverside Terrace, a dilapidated London tower block where their neighbours Richard (Ray Burdis) and Bill (Frank Lee) run a car repair service. 10 episodes of Dream Stuffing were produced and it features a cracking theme tune by Kirsty MacColl.

7. Laugh??? I Nearly Paid my Licence Fee - BBC2 - 1984

Another sketch show featuring a stellar cast, Laugh??? I Nearly Paid my Licence Fee managed to collect Robbie Coltrane, John Sessions, Louise Gold and Ron Bain together for six episodes in 1984. It was, for all intents and purposes, a follow up to A Kick up the Eighties but minus stars such as Rik Mayall and Tracy Ullman. Variety is the spice of life for sketch shows and there's little time to catch your breath in Laugh??? Robbie Coltrane is on fantastic form as hardline Protestant activist Mason Boyne (he's furious that the local video shop is selling corruptive videos of the Pope's visit). The aliens of Nimon land on Earth hellbent on capturing a human, but end up with a goat. And the jewel in the crown is The Master of Dundreich, a spoof of period dramas which finds a cruel uncle trying to transform his nephew into a ventriloquist's dummy. 

8. Struggle - Channel 4 - 1983

The first, and only, sitcom from The Guardian's political commentator Peter Jenkins, Struggle was a clever satire on borough councils and, more pointedly, the battles between Labour and the Conservatives. Set in the fictional London borough of Southam, Struggle finds its protagonist in the form of Steve Marsh (Tim Piggot-Smith). The leader of Southam's borough council, Marsh is a left winger of the highest calibre. But his dream of socialism for all is frequently nixed by his upper class Conservative opponent Sir Bert (Ray Smith). Six episodes of Struggle were produced by LWT for Channel 4 and typical exploits found Marsh debating whether Southam should celebrate Karl Marx Day and the setting up of a sexual rehabilitation workshop for women.

9. Tom, Dick and Harriet - ITV - 1982 to 83

Coming from the Midas touch that was the typewriters of Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (Man about the House, Robin's Nest and Father, Dear Father) Thames Television must have been cock-a-hoop to have Tom, Dick and Harriet on their hands. Running for two series, the sitcom starts with Thomas Maddison (Lionel Jeffries) at the funeral of his wife Agnes. But, rather than being heartbroken, Thomas announces that, after Agnes' 40 year reign of terror, it's time to start celebrating. And he's heading down to London to really enjoy himself. Moving in with his son Richard (Ian Ogilvy) and daughter-in-law Harriet (Brigit Forsyth) doesn't, however, go smoothly. Thomas' brash ways don't go down well with the London set, so Richard and Harriet spend most of their time carrying out damage limitation exercises such as keeping Thomas away from their dinner parties.

10. It Takes a Worried Man - ITV/Channel 4 - 1981 to 83

Philip Roath (Peter Tilbury) is an insurance salesman with a curious brand of anxiety and melancholy infiltrating every inch of his psyche. His wife has recently left him for an older, fatter and uglier man from Deptford who, to top it all, owns an electric blue Ford Capri with a vinyl roof. Naturally, this turn of events has left Philip - imagine Mark Corrigan from Peep Show steeped in 1980s gloom - in a state of depression. With regular trips to his peculiarly downbeat analyst Simon (Nicholas Le Prevost) proving to offer little in the way of catharsis, Philip spends most of his working day grousing about his existence. Perhaps hastened by his obsession that his hair will soon disappear, Philip manages to seek out new romance - first with Lillian (Angela Down) and then Liz (Sue Holderness). As well as playing the main star, Peter Tilbury also wrote the majority of the scripts. 

11. The Happy Apple - ITV - 1983

Based on Jack Pulman's theatre production of the same name from 1970, The Happy Apple was a Thames Television production which ran for seven episodes in 1983. The series, written by Keith Waterhouse, centred upon the fortunes of advertising firm Murray, Maine and Spender. Unfortunately, business is tough for M, M & S with their recent campaigns failing to ignite the interests of consumers. And, currently, the only client they have left is Bassington's Ice Cream. But, unbeknownst to M, M & S, their saviour is not far away. The firm's young, ditzy secretary Nancy Gray (Leslie Ash) is perfectly positioned as an average Joe who can determine exactly what the public will go for. But will her rapidly mounting success in the world of marketing be at the expense of her every(wo)man intuition?

12. Marjorie and Men - ITV - 1985

A rare sitcom production from Anglia Television, Marjorie and Men was written by both John Gorrie and Peter Spence. It was also the sitcom which announced Patricia Routledge as a force in the lead performer role. Marjorie Belton (Patricia Routledge) is a middle-aged divorcee keen to find a new love, an objective that Marjorie's mother Alice Tripp (Patricia Hayes) is determined to bring to fruition. Marjorie's adventures into the world of dating find her heading to a disco with the charming Norton Phillips (George Baker) and trying to escape the relentless boredom of greengrocer George Banthorpe (Timothy West). Alice, meanwhile, is busy inviting potential suitors round to vet them on behalf of her daughter. And life at the bank where Marjorie works is no easier thanks to the unwanted attentions of her married boss Henry Bartlett (James Cossins).

13. Comrade Dad - BBC2 - 1986

George Cole was at his peak as Arthur Daley in 1986 over on ITV, but he still managed to find time to temporarily defect to the BBC for Comrade Dad. Starting life as a pilot episode in 1984, Comrade Dad made the leap to a fully fledged series in 1986. Coming from the minds of writers Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent, Comrade Dad was a satire (of sorts) set in the future of 1999, 10 years after The Queen and Margaret Thatcher had been overthrown by the USSR and their beloved communism. Britain is now known as USSR-GB and propaganda is rife that the British have never had it so good. The truth, though, is very different and, with rationing commonplace, most meals consist of beetroot. Reg Dudgeon (George Cole), however, is in thrall to the new regime. And is determined to become a party member. No matter how many mugs of conker coffee he has to endure.

14. The Lady is a Tramp - Channel 4 - 1983 to 84

Made by Regent Productions and written by Johnny Speight, The Lady is a Tramp was one of Channel 4's very first homegrown sitcoms. Two series of The Lady is a Tramp were produced and looked at the fortunes of a couple of down-and-outs in the form of Old Pat (Patricia Hayes) and Lanky Pat (Pat Coombs). Inspired, to some degree, by the large numbers of homeless people on Britain's streets at the time, The Lady is a Tramp finds both Pats finally settling in one location: an abandoned van in a yard. This unorthodox situation and peculiar environment ensures a sitcom which is ripe with potential. Lanky Pat devises a scheme, in one episode, to secure a free bus pass and a pension. Another episode finds Warren Mitchell turning up as a fellow down-and-out who has his eye on romance. And the very final episode finds Ronald Fraser appearing in the yard as an apparent millionaire.

15. Roll Over Beethoven - ITV - 1985

Curiously recorded in two separate production blocks, but with all 13 episodes transmitted in one long stretch, Roll Over Beethoven was another creation from the prodigious talents of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. Belinda Purcell (Liza Goddard) is a piano teacher in a small Surrey village, but things are going to get a little more interesting than teaching Chopsticks to nine-year olds. Nigel Cochrane (Nigel Planer), the ex-bass player in heavy metal band Graf Spee, has bought a local mansion - much to the consternation of Belinda's authoritarian father Oliver (Richard Vernon) - and is planning his debut solo album. But he needs piano lessons. And so Belinda enters a world of rock 'n' roll. Sadly, Nigel's album is a flop - save for the one song written with Belinda - and he is forced to rejoin Graf Spee for a tour to pay off his tax bill. Belinda, meanwhile, is beginning a promising solo career.

16. A Touch of Spice - BBC1 - 1989

The end of the 1980s found BBC1 serving up six courses of A Touch of Spice, a culinary sitcom cooked up and garnished by Francis Greig. Quasimodo's is a fine dining establishment, but thanks to the wandering hands of chef Fred Ponsonby it's causing a major headache for chef Victoria (Julia Watson) and waitress/nutritionist Dawn (Natalie Ogle). Breaking away from Quasimodo's, Victoria and Dawn set up a catering company called A Touch of Spice. And they have a 'helping' hand in the form of Victoria's boyfriend Clive (Martin Jacods) and Victoria's wealth obsessed mother Helen (Virginia Stride) who both try and bring them new clients. Episodes bring a series of disasters for Victoria and Dawn such as their first client being the vegetarian owner of Quasimodo's and Dawn gambling all the firm's money on a horse.

17. Rep - 1982 - ITV

A period sitcom, set in 1948, Rep was a joint creation by Digby Wolfe and Ray Taylor which concentrated on the J C Benton Players, a touring repertory ensemble. J C Benton (Iain Cuthbertson) has brought his touring company - with leading lady Angela Soames (Caroline Mortiner) - to Lytham St Annes for the summer season and, aiming for hilarious consequences, the narratives never quite go his way. Staying with landlady Flossie Nightingale (Patsy Rowlands), Benton has to contend with Soames losing her voice, the prospect of a Hollywood producer being in the audience and, most troubling of all, the proposed closure of the theatre. Four 30-minute episodes of Rep aired on Friday's at 8.30am.

18. Sob Sisters - 1989 - ITV

Sibling strife is the subject of Andrew Marshall's 1989 sitcom Sob Sisters which was part of ITV's summer schedule for 1989. Liz (Gwen Taylor) is a veterinarian's receptionist struggling to make ends meet whilst her wealthy sister Dorothy (Polly Adams) merely struggles to decide whether the Bahamas is worthy of her presence. The sisters, as you would expect, don't exactly see eye to eye on life and 10 minutes is about the maximum amount of time they can spend together. But Dorothy's wealthy husband has passed away and, due to his bad investments, she's been left very little money (until some bonds are released in 1993) and has to move in with Liz. Together, the sisters will learn how to handle muggers ("hit them hard in the groin") due to a local crimewave and, in one episode, the out of her depth Dorothy covers Liz's reception duties when jury duty calls.

19. The Lonelyhearts Kid - ITV - 1984

Writer Alex Shearer turned, as the Guardian described it, "human misery to comic effect" in his sitcom The Lonelyhearts Kid which reunited him with Robert Glenister, who had also starred in Shearer's Sink or Swim. They may have been sweethearts since childhood, but Ken (Robert Glenister) and Judy (Deborah Farrington) have now found their relationship at an end. Both have been moving in different directions for some time. Well, at least Judy has, Ken appears mired in adolescence. And poor heartbroken Ken has no option, but to get back into the dating game. Seeking the advice of his sister Ros (Julia Goodman), his old school foe Ray (George Winter), an agony aunt and a priest, Ken looks to get over his split and find a new girlfriend. And, who knows, maybe he'll end up meeting a beauty queen.

20. The Groovy Fellers - Channel 4 - 1989

Border Television's The Groovy Fellers for Channel 4 is a comedy series with few parallels. Written by Jools Holland, Rowland Rivron and Tim Pope, The Groovy Fellers has its tongue firmly in its cheek. Holland, playing himself, is unemployed and ruminating his next move in a Northern pub. And, by chance, it's this exact moment that a spaceship lands outside and in walks a naked Martian (Rowland Rivron). This is a fortuitous happening as Holland just happens to have a film crew filming his every move 24/7. And, seeing as the Martian is keen to learn about life on Earth, Holland suggests taking him on a guided tour of life in Britain. This absurdist documentary series, featuring unsuspecting members of the public, has the Martian falling off London buses, examining the finer points of etiquette and trying to get the Martian his showbiz break.

21. Pyjamarama - ITV - 1984

It wouldn't be a surprise if you had forgotten about Pyjamarama as its unlikely you watched it in the first place. Airing only in the LWT regiona, Pyjamarama went out at 11.30pm on Friday evenings and, naturally, was never going to be a ratings winner. But what a series it was! Taking advantage of the burgeoning live comedy scene in Britain (particularly London), Pyjamarama was hosted by Arthur 'Arfur' Smith and showcased some of the best acts on the circuit. Six episodes were transmitted with each one featuring two to three acts such as Chris Barrie, John Dowie, Helen Lederer and The Joeys. One episode also finds Arthur Smith ripping his shirt off to perform as a dyslexic Channel 4 poet and can only be described as sublime hilarity.

22. Father Matthew's Daughter - BBC2 - 1987

Terrence Brady and Charlotte Bingham's religious comedy drama is an intriguing one. And not just because it features Ray Winstone in a dog collar and cassock. Father Matthew Fitzsimmon (James Bolam) is a giddy priest serving the community in Fulham. He's joined in the parish by Father Charlie (Ray Winstone) who has one eye on the Catholic faith and the other on Miss England. Due to the death of his sister and brother-in-law in an accident, Father Matthew finds that he is now the guardian of his niece Holly (Samantha Hurst). But, due to his religious commitments, he's unable to take Holly on and she ends up living with Father Charlie's sister Sharon (Gabrielle Lloyd). Nonetheless, Holly provides constant headaches for Father Matthew by questioning his celibacy, going on hunger strike and struggling to adapt to her painfully modern new school.

23. Third Time Lucky - ITV - 1982

Divorce is rarely a painless affair and if your next relationship ends in divorce then it must be particularly galling. But what happens if you then get back with the partner you divorced the first time round? Processing this scenario takes a lot of imagination and it's at the centre of Jan Butlin's ITV sitcom. George Hutchenson (Derek Nimmo) and Beth (Nerys Hughes) are reconciling to try marital bliss again after their first attempt ended in acrimony. This time round they will be contending with not only the dangers of ugly issues arising once again, but also the activities of their daughters Clare (Deborah Farrington) and Jenny (Lorraine Brunning). Oh and, of course, there's the continued presence of their ex-partners from their subsequent marriages from each other. Don't worry, it's less confusing on screen.

24. Wyatt's Watchdogs - BBC1 - 1988

Neighbourhood Watch schemes attracted significant attention in the 1980s, so Miles Tredinnick decided to make this the focus of his 1988 BBC1 sitcom. Set in the leafy English village of Bradly Bush, Wyatt's Watchdogs examines the village's fight against crime led by Major John Wyatt (Brian Wilde). Following a burglary at the house of Wyatt's sister Edwina (Anne Ridler), Wyatt gathers together the neighbourhood's finest to make the streets safe again. Joining the pompous Wyatt are security alarm salesman Peter Pitt (Trevor Bannister) and the refined, feminine charms of Virginia (April Walker). Naturally, the local police sergeant Springer (James Warrior) doesn't take too kindly to the bumbling approach employed by Wyatt and ensures plenty of conflict between the two. The narratives involve the Watchdogs hunting down a gnome thief and setting up an anti-theft engraving service.

25. The Optimist - Channel 4 - 1983 to 85

Running for two curious series in 1983 and 1985, The Optimist was the epitome of Channel 4's desire to deliver something different. Using specially recorded sound effects, music and only a sprinkling of what the producers referred to as "blah-blah" dialogue, The Optimist starred Enn Reitel in what was touted as an "almost silent comedy". The first series is set, and indeed was filmed, in and around Hollywood. This set of episodes find The Optimist trying his hand at windsurfing to impress The Girl (Sharron Davies) and joining a health farm which appears to be little more than a prison. The Optimist's adventures head back to London in the second series where he accidentally takes charge of a stolen diamond and is also mistaken for an impressionist painter. Despite failing in most of his endeavours, The Optimist maintains a cheerful outlook on life, no matter how bizarre the outcomes are.

26. Saturday Gang - ITV - 1986 to 88

LWT's prime time comedy series Saturday Gang built a comedy ensemble which consisted of Gareth Hale, Norman Pace, Kate Robbins and Gary Wilmot. The series, which went out early on Saturday evenings, was your typical mainstream comedy show of the era and consisted mostly of sketches and songs. Cheerfully upbeat and with a spring in its step, sketches include a Glaswegian take on Play School and a weekly serial entitled Quest for the Fountain of Hair Growth whilst songs featured include We're the Wallies and, everybody's favourite, Sexy English Lady. Two series of Saturday Gang were produced and, along with Pushing Up Daisies and Coming Next, it clearly acted as part of Hale and Pace's springboard to success as their long-running Hale and Pace series launched a few months later.

27. Rushton's Illustrated - ITV - 1980

Arch satirist, formidable talent and quintessentially British are just some of the indisputable terms you could apply to Willie Rushton. First appearing on British TV in the early 1960s, as a major player in the satire boom, it wouldn't be until 1980 that he secured a series bearing his name. Written by Rushton himself, the ATV produced Rushton's Illustrated consisted of five episodes of surreal sketches. Rushton, surrounded by actors including Hugh Paddick, Roy Kinnear and Caroline Villiers, auditions for a role in 'Werewolf on the Titanic" as well as starring in 'Cabaret Time on the SS Gigantic' and also encounters Piddington, the mind-reading bear. Sadly, two episodes of Rushton's Illustrated are 'missing believed wiped' thus robbing us of some particularly surreal, and intriguing, British comedy.

28. Sharon and Elsie - BBC1 - 1984 to 85

Arline Whittaker penned this mid-1980s BBC sitcom which, despite picking up a second series, fails to hit the jackpot in the recognition stakes. But what was it about? Well... Elsie Beecroft (Brigit Forsyth) works at James Blake & Son, a printing firm in Manchester that specialises in greetings cards and calendars. Following the retirement of the company's secretary, a series of applicants pass through the door but none of them are suitable. Until, that is, the youthful charms (and skirts) of Sharon catch the eye of factory boss Stanley Crabtree (John Landry). Initially, the middle class sensibilities of Elsie are threatened by the bright and breezy tones of working class Sharon, but eventually develops respect for her. Typical plots have Sharon and Elsie joining forces to take on striking factory workers and dealing with the rigours of Sharon's relationship issues.

29. Split Ends - ITV - 1989

One of her first television projects after leaving EastEnders in 1988, Split Ends found Anita Dobson taking centre stage in this Granada sitcom created by Len Richmond. Cath (Anita Dobson) is the owner of Teasers, a London hairdressing salon. And she's rapidly approaching her 40th birthday without a significant other, a fact which her mother Ruth (Barbara New) considers particularly galling. But romance may well be in the air. Not only is there the possibility of love in the form of American stockbroker Clint (Harry Ditson), but Teasers' head stylist David (Peter Blake) is also ticking all of Cath's boxes. Romance aside, the rest of the sitcom's focus falls upon the bickering salon staff. Sadly, there's no cameo appearance for a quick perm from Dobson's real life husband Brian May.

30. Grundy - ITV - 1980

Harry H Corbett's turns in Steptoe and Son were more than enough to engrave his name in comedy lore. But even the keenest comedy fan will struggle to recognise Grundy, Corbett's final transmitted performance in 1980. Leonard Grundy (Harry H Corbett) is a sanctimonious newsagent with an aversion to all the ills of society. And, much to his embarrassment, he is now divorced from his wife who has left him for Burt Loomis - one of the finest bed salesmen in Britain. Co-incidentally, at the divorce courts, Grundy bumps into Beryl Loomis (Lynda Baron) who just happens to be Burt's ex-wife. And Beryl's flirting causes all manner of moral headaches for Grundy. However, Grundy's daughter Sharon (Julie Dawn Cole) and Beryl's son Murray (David Janson) get on like a house on fire, much to Grundy's horror. Along the way, Grundy will also have to deal with a batch of erotic magazines that end up in his possession and face up to some serious financial problems.

31. The Front Line - BBC1 - 1984

Starting in December 1984 and running for six episodes, The Front Line was written by Alex Shearer and starred Paul Barber and Alan Igbon as a pair of half-brothers living together. Initially working as a security guard before making the leap to a police constable, Malcolm (Paul Barber) is a strait-laced individual who hails from a different cosmos to his half-brother Sheldon (Alan Igbon). With a healthy set of dreadlocks above his head, Sheldon is strongly committed towards the Rastafarian faith and just as determined to stick it to the man. This chalk and cheese dynamic provides bountiful amounts of conflict, such as Malcolm arresting one of Sheldon's heroes, but it fails to weather their deep familial bonds. Even if Sheldon does plan to test out his new speakers during Malcolm's sophisticated dinner party, a soiree where Malcolm intends to impress his fellow constable Maria (Julie Brennon).

32. The Crystal Cube - BBC1 - 1983

Believe it or not, but there was a time when Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie weren't an established institution. And, in 1983, they were still at the level of up-and-comers. Following their success in ITV's Alfresco, Fry and Laurie were offered a one-off pilot from the BBC. And The Crystal Cube, written solely by Messrs. Fry and Laurie, wields its comedic might by lampooning the world of serious science television programmes. It's powered, of course, by a glittering cast which includes Emma Thompson as well as Robbie Coltrane. The sketches on offer give silly slants on the world of genetics whilst Hugh Laurie plays Max Belhaven from the Bastard Institute and a wonderfully ridiculous skit involves the bible repeatedly being called "the bibble". As the history books evidence, The Crystal Cube didn't go any further - Laurie claims the BBC hated it - but Fry and Laurie's careers most certainly did.

33. Sweet Sixteen - BBC1 - 1983

Just two years after To the Manor Born had finished, Penelope Keith was back in a romantic comedy in the form of Douglas Watkinson's Sweet Sixteen. Helen Walker (Penelope Keith) is, following the passing of her father, the head of construction firm Carrington & Daughter. Helen, in her early 40s, is also a widower, but she's resolute that romance is not beyond her. And, as evidence of this, Helen can point towards a semi-serious relationship she's been fostering with the much younger - sixteen years in fact - architect Peter Morgan (Christopher Villiers). But this relationship is suddenly going to get more serious as Helen is pregnant. Deciding that they do, quite probably, love each other they decide to get married. Will Peter, however, be able to keep Helen away from the stresses of the business and crooked regulation officers? And will Helen be able to help Doctor Ballantine (Mike Grady) find a new house?

34. Little Armadillos - Channel 4 - 1984

The Seal Club is a seedy little club, packed full of mannequins to appear busy, down by the docks. And it's run by a pair of idiots. Wayne (Steve Steen) and Donny Armadillo (Jim Sweeney) both think they're cleverer than their sibling, but the truth is they're equally stupid. And, given the surreal goings on at The Seal Club, it's a good thing. Hosting patrons such as the warlock-consulting pop star Steve Devious (Daniel Peacock) and a washed up 1960s soap star (now a backstreet abortionist), The Seal Club is privy to chaos and violence. Little Armadillos, written by Pete Richens and Colin Gibson, is more than just a sitcom though. Numerous sketches segue into the narratives with parodies of TV-am and sketches featuring security guards watching CCTV as if it's a TV show. Best of all, Little Armadillos features an extended cast including Mark Arden, Stephen Frost and Helen Lederer.

35. The Cut Price Comedy Show - Channel 4 - 1982

One of Channel's 4 earliest and most peculiar (Minipops aside) programmes, The Cut Price Comedy Show was a sketch show steeped in corn, a situation helped by the fact that the series claimed to use old Christmas cracker jokes. Lenny Windsor fronts this Television South West production along with help from Caroline Ellis, Royce Mills and Roger Ruskin Spear. The lo-fi, but cheery set is also home to series' house band Tatty Ollity who serve up compositions such as Mr N R Gee and frantic takes on the William Tell Overture. Incredibly tongue in cheek, the series' self deprecating tone even spread into the listing details they submitted to the TV Times, for example: "Never in the field of television comedy has so little been done with so little for so little". A true oddity.

36. Mog - ITV - 1985 to 86

Based on Peter Tinniswood's 1970 novel - also entitled Mog - this adaptation, which boasted several scripts by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, aired on ITV in the mid-1980s for two series. A Central Television production, Mog centred upon the titular character played by Enn Reitel. An untrustworthy cat burglar of the highest order, Mog fakes insanity in order to receive sanctity from the police in Briardene, a mental asylum. And, whilst residing in Briardene, Mog decides to recruit his fellow inmates as his partners in crime. However, given their rather eccentric dispositions, Mog's compatriots provide nothing but recurring hindrances to his schemes. And it's all to the chagrin of resident doctor Mrs Mortensen (Catherine Schell).

37. Revolting Women - BBC2 - 1981

"Heard the one about the Englishwoman, the Irishwoman and the Scotswoman? You haven't?" is how the Radio Times trailed Revolting Women, a comedy series containing sketches and standup from a feminine perspective. With even the BBC Manchester caption amended to BBC Womanchester, Revolting Women - created mostly by women and starring only one male, Philip Bird - certainly set out its stall as a response to the male dominated world of British television. A man, desperately trying to report a mugging, is turned away by a WPC who accuses him of asking for it. A weekly serial entitled Bogwomen follows a fiercely matriarchal tribe and, echoing 2021 in so many ways, one sketch features a male feminist forever ignoring his female colleague's comments. The cast involved in the six episodes (and one special) include Jeni Barnett, Alison Skilbeck, Linda Dobell, Linda Broughton and Philip Bird.

38. Divided We Stand - BBC1 - 1987

Myra Taylor's 1987 sitcom for BBC1 revolved around the curious relationship between Maisie (Anna Keaveney) and Bert (Shaun Curry), a couple who had been married for 17 years. Despite such a tenure, their marriage is one that has been made in hell. And Maisie has finally had enough of Bert's boorish ways. Accordingly, she has not only built a wall down the middle of the living room, but she's also drawn up a timetable for using other sections of the house. A spanner is thrown in the works, however, when their daughter Susan (Michelle Holmes) announces she's pregnant and has to move back in. Bert meanwhile remains convinced that he can worm his way back into Maisie's affections, but this will be a struggle as he can't even control his ignorance at a local jumble sale. Divided We Stand received just the one airing and was never repeated.

39. Pig in the Middle - ITV - 1980 to 83

Barty Wade (Dinsdale Landen) is a civil servant with a passionate hunger for matters of the flesh, but his wife Susan (Joanna Vangyseghem) has tired of this pursuit and is more interested in middle-aged activities such as shopping for blinds and holding dinner parties. However, it's at one of these parties that Barty meets Nellie Bligh (Liza Goddard), a cheery primary school teacher who is rather taken with Barty's childish, yet engaging ways. A low-level affair develops between Barty and Nellie, but whilst Nellie is keen to take it further, Barty suffers pangs of guilt and, for now, it remains platonic. Eventually, Barty and Nellie decide to move in together, but Barty soon begins to suspect that Nellie will be just as bossy as Susan. Pig in the Middle, which ran for three series, was written by Terence Brady and Charlotte Bingham. Of note is the fact that Dinsdale Landen left after the first series and was replaced by Terence Brady.

40. A Small Problem - BBC2 - 1987

This late 1980s satire, crafted by Mike Walling and Tony Millan, is clever, to the point and funny. But, for one reason or another, it never fully engaged with the viewers. One series of six episodes was written with A Small Problem concerning a society in the near future where those under 5 feet experience extreme prejudice. These "smalls" are driven into dilapidated ghettos and warned to keep away from normals. Roy Pink (Mike Elles) despises the smalls, but he is soon lumped in with them after a new EEC regulation means his 5ft 3/4in height now classifies him as a small. Much to his horror, he finds himself installed in a ghetto full of "shrimpos". Whilst Roy plans to break back into normal society, he finds himself rubbing shoulders with the mysterious, yet charming Howard (Christopher Ryan) who is a secret member of the Small Liberation Front.

41. The Corner House - Channel 4 - 1987

Devised by Robert Llewellyn and Christopher Eymard whilst on the road with comedy troupe The Joeys, The Corner House was, as producer David Jones (also from The Joeys) described it, a "warmth-based comedy". The Corner House ran for six episodes and concerns the events taking place at The Corner House cafe, a curious, yet friendly establishment run by Gilbert (Christopher Eymard) and Dave (Robert Llewellyn). Episodes revolve around both the clientele of the cafe and its owners. Delivery man Pete (Aslie Pitter) decides to hang his nude paintings in the cafe. The arrival of a female plumber causes much consternation in The Corner House. And Gilbert becomes incredibly anxious when fireman Sam (Martin Allan) threatens to close the cafe for breaching safety regulations.

42. Roots - ITV - 1981

An early entry in Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran's marathon writing career, Roots brought an interesting premise to our screens in 1981 - courtesy of ATV. Melvin Solomons (Allan Corduner) is a Jewish dentist, but his true love doesn't lie in root canals and cavities. Instead, he wants to become an artist - a proposition which is anathema to his parents who believe dentistry to be a more honourable profession. The six episodes of Roots trace this conflict and Melvin's transition from dentist into artist. Melvin's parents seem particularly concerned about his interest in the mystic East whilst Melvin also finds himself going on a date with a young lady he meets at a funeral (she happens to be the deceased's mistress). 

43. Prospects - Channel 4 - 1986

Although this is one of the few programmes on this list to have received a commercial release, Prospects is a comedy drama which remains unknown to many. A product of the legendary Euston Films studio, Prospects was written by Alan Janes, a writer who had also written for Euston's juggernaut series Minder. And, much like the adventures of Arthur Daley, Prospects is heavy on ducking and diving and wheeling and dealing. Jimmy 'Pincey' Pince (Gary Olsen) and Billy Pearson (Brian Bovell) find themselves a permanent fixture in the dole queue in the Isle of Dogs, but they've got plans. They've got prospects. Pincey is the 'brains' of this two man enterprise and dreams up a never-ending stream of business ideas which will make them a forture. A wry comment on Thatcher's Britain, the 12 episodes find Pincey and Billy trying to set up a theme park, considering a bank robbery and setting up a pest control business. 

44. Bottle Boys - ITV - 1984 to 85

A few years on from his starring roles in the Confessions... film series, Robin Askwith found himself appearing in two series of Vince Powell's sitcom Bottle Boys. Examining the lives of the staff at Dawson Dairies, Bottle Boys features Askwith in the role of Dave Deacon. He's joined by a disparate gang of fellow milkmen in the form of alcoholic Jock (Phil McCall), Joe (Oscar James) and the aging Teddy Boy Billy Watson (David Auker). The boys' duty manager is the bespectacled Stan Evans (Richard Davies) and, completing the Dawson's team, there is Sharon (Eve Ferret), a secretary with few secretarial skills. Bottle Boys is corny (really corny at times) but, whilst certain references may not be politically correct these days, it's ridiculously fun. Episodes mine the usual tropes such as the milkmen getting stuck in a lift and even a close look at political correctness when a female "milkperson" starts work at the dairy.

45. The Climber - BBC1 - 1983

Due to a case of mixed up test papers, Harry Lumsdon (Robin Nedwell) has been mistakenly declared a genius by Mensa. In reality, his actual test result reveals that he's nothing more than the moron everyone knows he is. But ignorance is bliss and Lumsdon is keen to let everyone know that he has an IQ of 166. And perhaps it means that his job prospects are going to improve. Currently working in the lower echelons of a bakery, Lumsdon has his eyes set on the top as the titular climber. Disastrous attempts at becoming a van salesman for the bakery soon see him being promoted/shunted into an office position before he finds some sense of regularity as a salesman. And, if can keep it up, there's the chance of winning Salesman of the Year and a trip to Barbados. Written by Alex Shearer, the series consisted of six episode which went out in early 1983.

46. L for Lester - BBC2 - 1982

Brian Murphy has been a foundation of British comedy for more decades than you can shake a stick at. And, accordingly, some of his programmes are better remembered than others. L for Lester is one that has slipped most people's memories, if it was even there in the first place. Lester Small (Brian Murphy) makes his living as a driving instructor. However, this living is only made possible thanks to his generous bank manager Mr Davies (Richard Vernon). Most of Lester's lessons end in minor road accidents, but one of his clients is Mrs Davies and Mr Davies is far from keen on teaching her himself. Therefore, Lester manages to, against the odds, keep his business going. Meanwhile, Lester has a set of baby twins at home who, along with Lester's wife Sally (Amanda Barrie), spend most of their time socialising in the kitchen with Bert (Colin Spaull) the milkman.

47. Poor Little Rich Girls - ITV - 1984

Despite a wealthy upbringing, cousins Kate Codd (Maria Aitken) and Daisy Troop (Jill Bennett) have struggled to find value in the world of romance. Both of Kate's marriages have ended in divorce and she is now 'slumming' it in a Manchester basement flat with Sidney, her pet snake. Luckily for Kate, the theatre loving handyman Dave Roberts (Richard Walker) lives nearby and undertake various jobs around the flat for her. Daisy, meanwhile, has entered into marriage three times and, rather unluckily, has been widowed thrice with her latest husband Gerald being trampled to death by a giraffe. As a result of this most recent stress, Daisy accepts Kate's invite to move in with her. And maybe, just maybe, they will be able to find a man worthy of restoring their riches. The seven episodes were written by Charles Laurence, but the initial idea came from Aitken and Bennett.

48. Mann's Best Friends - Channel 4 - 1985

Roy Clarke is another of those legends of British TV who, despite all the hits, has still managed to write a few sitcoms that only a minority have heard of. Falling into this category is Mann's Best Friends. Hamish James Ordway (Fulton Mackay) has taken early retirement from the water board and needs somewhere to live. And this is how Hamish - an interfering busybody of some repute - comes to lodge at The Laurels, a creaky accommodation owned by Henry Mann (Barry Stanton). The Laurels has a tendency to welcome an unusual and unruly crowd - chinese waiters, potential prostitutes and the occasional animal - so Henry, aware of Hamish's authoritarian streak, offers Hamish free board in return for keeping an eye on the guests.

49. Dogfood Dan and the Carmarthen Cowboy - BBC2 - 1988

Writer David Nobbs first introduced the world to Dogfood Dan and the Carmarthen Cowboy in 1982 when it appeared as a one-off installment of ITV's Playhouse. Fast forward six years, and over to BBC2, and it was time for Dogfood Dan to become a full series. Dan Milton (Malcolm Storry) and Aubrey Owen (Peter Blake) are lorry drivers who drive dog food across the country. Meeting in a roadside cafe, the pair get chatting. Dan, also known as Dogfood Dan, hails from Hull where he’s married to Helen (Elizabeth Mickery). Aubrey aka the Carmarthen Cowboy resides in Carmarthen with his wife Gwyneth (Arbel Jones). And, coincidentally, they deliver dog food to each others home town on the same day. Tipping each other off on the best places to meet women in their home towns, Dan and Aubrey head out to start affairs. And, with startling ease, they each embark on one almost instantly. The only problem is that, unbeknownst to them, it’s with each other’s wife. 

50. Lame Ducks - BBC2 - 1984 to 85

After being knocked down by a lorry full of turnips, Brian Drake (John Duttine) awakes in hospital to find that his wife Jean (Primi Townsend) is leaving him. Usually a man of great sobriety and restraint, Brian decides that he's had enough of society. And it's time to become a hermit. Along with the permanently-chilly ex-arsonist Tommy (Patric Turner), who he meets in hospital, he heads out to find his perfect hermitage. But Brian isn't going to be on his own. Also joining his retreat from society are Angie (Lorraine Chase) with a string of relationships behind her, ex-postman Maurice (Tony Millan) who plans to walk around the world on an inflatable ball and Ansell (Brian Murphy) who is a private detective with an array of allergies. The two series, written by Peter J Hammond, find this gaggle of misfits stopping first at Tangledown Cottage and, when this collapses, moving on to Stutterton Stop station.

So, how many of these did you remember? And which ones have you never heard of, but really fancy watching? Oh, and which other obscure British TV comedies from the 1980s can you recommend? Please leave your answers to all of these questions in the comments below.

18 comments:

  1. Another forgotten 80's sitcom is Granada/ITV's "The Brothers McGregor" starring Philip Whitchurch. It was about 2 brothers in Liverpool, one of whom was white and the other black. It used to make references to locations in Liverpool that you wouldn't have a hope of knowing of if you weren't a Scouser, for instance one line had their mother saying "he's world famous in Sheil Road', which was a real road around 5 minutes walk from where I lived at the time.

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    1. That's a good suggestion. One that I keep meaning to watch and catch up on.

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    2. The odd thing about The Brothers McGregor was it was technically a spinoff from Coronation Street, as the characters had appeared in one episode and the writers had come from the soap.

      Another sitcom to throw in is Ffizz, which got two series on ITV in 1987-89, starring Richard Griffiths and Benjamin Whitrow (Mr Bennet in the BBC Pride And Prejudice) as owners of a winery, with Felicity Montagu as its secretary.

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  2. I remember an ITV sitcom set around a Christian young wives choir… Anna Karen was in it

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    1. Was that Troubles and Strife? It starred Stephen Pacey as a young vicar who made all the choristers react like bitches on heat every time he was in their presence.

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  3. wtf - I literally don't know a single one of them! Literally. I was in my 20s, watched lots of telly. Great post!

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  4. What was that Welsh sitcom set in a local news tv studio? (Probably from S4C) Alas, my main memory of it is when a nuclear rocket was fired, and the accompanying film was an Apollo moonrocket taking off. In some shows that would be a meta-joke, but this was just a mistake. Otherwise the stories were the usual silly men being rescued by clever women at the last minute.

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    1. I've heard mention of this before, but can't remember the name now! One to look into!

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  5. It Takes Worried Man is a gem. Other than that Struggle and Prospects are the only ones I would be tempted to revisit. Sterling work putting this list together mind.

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  6. A couple from BBC2 circa 1989/90

    Tygo Road: Kevin McNally runs a community centre with 'Basil Fawlty' style ranting.

    Mornin Sarge: Police comedy written by and starring Rebecca Stevens,Tony Haase and Pete McCarthy along with Robin Driscoll and Paul Brooke as Sarge.

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  7. Great article! One I remember is A Kind of Loving with Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour on ITV. I seem to remember watching it at my nan's house so it was probably on Friday nights!

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  8. Young,Gifted and Broke. Written by Marks and Gran for Central,1989.

    Simon O'Brien (post Brookside) and a few other YTS trainees work for James Hazeldine's company.

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  9. "Hells Bells" a sitcom which featured Derek Nimmo in yet another one of his clerical guises, after "Oh Brother!", "Oh Father!" and "All Gas and Gaiters" in the 1970's. This was the last and least known of Nimmo's performances as a man of the cloth, supported this time by classical actor Robert Stephens, which came and went in the summer of 1986 with very few people noticing. The only footage available online is a BBC1 trailer for the series about a minute long that has turned up on YouTube, but sadly nothing more.

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    1. ...although an audio recording of the first episode is also available on YT.

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  10. I'm not sure how much these comedies show on people's radars but there were two shows starring the brilliant Tony Haygarth, Rosie where he plays a police Sargent and the very odd Kinvig, a story of a bloke who meets a beautiful alien who appears as a mannequin to everyone else. There was also the slightly surreal Chance in a Million starring Simon Callow as the titular Tom Chance and Brenda Blethyn as his long suffering girlfriend. I think Chance in a Million is currently on forces TV, Channel 96 on freeview which by the way is great for vintage UK comedy shows.

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  11. 'Colin's Sandwich' still the daddy of forgotten sitcoms. I've mentioned this before but it still baffles me it didn't get a single mention in the BBC's Mel Smith tribute. Geoffrey Palmer's recent death also prompted me to finally check out the Reggie Perrin (sort-of) spin-off 'Fairly Secret Army'.

    Rik Mayall's first mentions in the BBC Genome are for alternative-comedy revue 'Boom Boom Out Go the Lights' and benefit concert Fundamental Frolics. Then the Kevin Turvey special which came shortly ahead of 'The Young Ones' starting. And about the only reason anyone mentions Ben Elton's 'Happy Families' these days is its role in the story of Red Dwarf's difficult birth.

    Also, nobody ever seems to recall Ronnie Corbett's initial attempts to keep a 'Two Ronnies'-style show going after Barker retired. First solo and then the Boxing Day special with Brucie.

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  12. 'The Further Adventures Of Lucky Jim' starring Enn Reitel was a decent show from the pens of Clement and La Frenais. 'Bootle Saddles' poked fun at British Wild West enthusiasts and featured Gordon Rollings in his last sitcom role.

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