what the brits find funny on tv

Discussion in 'TV Shows' started by andrew markworthy, Mar 27, 2004.

  1. andrew markworthy

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    For the last few weeks, the BBC has been running a nationwide poll to discover the favourite Brit TV sitcom. The result was announced last night, and I think that the list may be a surprise to some Americans:

    1. Only Fools and Horses
    2. Blackadder
    3. Vicar of Dibley
    4. Dad's Army
    5. Fawlty Towers
    6. Yes Minister
    7. Porridge
    8. Open All Hours
    9. The Good Life
    10. One Foot in the Grave

    [Note that we're purely talking about situation comedies here, so sketch shows were excluded. Otherwise, Monty Python, Spitting Image and The Fast Show would possibly have made appearances].

    The only really contentious one is 'Vicar of Dibley' which it's safe to say is a love-hate thing (I personally detest every patronising saccharin minute of it). The others should perhaps hold no surprises to Brits, with the exception of The Good Life, which now looks rather dated IMHO. I suspect it's there because just about every heterosexual male who sees it falls in love with Felicity Kendal, who plays one of the lead roles.
     
  2. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    Several I've not even heard of.

    Are any of these currently in production, or all they all classics?

    Are there any American situation comedies (INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT LURKING[​IMG]) that Brits like a lot?
     
  3. PhilipG

    PhilipG Cinematographer

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    The Good Life, of those ten, would rank at #2 for me (after Yes, Minister), and not just because of Ms Kendal. [​IMG]
     
  4. andrew markworthy

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    1. Only Fools and Horses - still going, but typically only 'Christmas specials' and similar. [A lot of people think the show should have stopped after Del and Rodney became millionaires].
    2. Blackadder - last episode early 90s
    3. Vicar of Dibley - last episode about five years ago (and not a moment too soon IMHO - bleeurgh!)
    4. Dad's Army - last episode nearly 30 years ago
    5. Fawlty Towers - last episode about 25 years ago
    6. Yes Minister - last episode about 15 years ago
    7. Porridge - last episode nearly 30 years ago
    8. Open All Hours - last episode about 20 years ago
    9. The Good Life - last episode about 25 years ago
    10. One Foot in the Grave - last episode about 7 years ago
     
  5. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    Good to see no Are You Being Served? - from the amount this used to run in the USA, you'd think it was the best and most popular British comedy ever.
     
  6. Roger_R

    Roger_R Second Unit

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    "Black Books" should have been included, and what is "Only Fools and Horses"?
    By the way, Blackadder had a new years special made for the year 2000 which is currently the last episode.
     
  7. andrew markworthy

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    Yes, it was a special film made to be shown at the Millennium Dome. For those who don't know, the MD is a huge dome-shaped building in London that was meant to be full of exciting exhibits and cost an obscene amount of money to build (e.g. more than it would have cost to build a new house for every homeless person in Britain). Only a minority of people (mostly Londoners) wanted it built, practically nobody visited it (thus losing yet more hundreds of millions) and now it is used as a storage depot because nobody will buy it (and is losing more money). The Blackadder movie was part of an exhibition the Dome had on British history.


    In the interests of Anglo-American understanding, here is a brief description of the shows you guys probably haven't encountered:

    Only Fools and Horses Concerns two brothers - Del-Boy and Rodney Trotter, who when first introduced are two street traders trying to sell might-be-legal goods to an unsuspecting public. They lived in a fairly grim part of London called Peckham, and were always on the verge of becoming very rich (a few years ago, they finally achieved this goal, only to then lose the money again in later episodes that were generally unpopular with the public). Like Monty Python, a series that is funnier in the memory than it often was in reality. There are some stand-out moments, but a lot of dud episodes and periods of tedium. What people most recall are the catch phrases including 'lubbly-jubbly' (in fact appropirated from a 1950s soda pop commercial) and 'you twonk' (thus introducing a new insult to the English language). There are also two classic moments that everyone remembers - ask a Brit about the chandelier episode or the time Del-Boy leans on the bar counter and see the reaction. Incidentally, the title is the start of a longer English proverb which ends with the word 'work'.

    Vicar of Dibley The central joke is that a sleepy English village stocked to the gills with rustic stereotypes gets a new vicar (i.e. a religious minister in the Church of England) - and it's a woman! The idea of women vicars deeply disturbs a lot of Brits, for some reason. The said vicar is played by Dawn French, a comedian who attracts the same sort of love-hate reaction as e.g. Rosanne (though for different reasons). You either find the series heartwarming and funny or saccharine and patronisingly simplistic. I'm in the latter camp, though I have to say that a lot of people love the series.

    Dad's Army During WWII, after Dunkirk and before America decided to join in, Britain (and let us not forget the Commonwealth) were the only countries opposing Nazi Germany. It was seriously expected that Germany would invade the UK, and so to augment the 'proper' armed forces, a Home Guard was formed, composed of teenagers and older men outside conscription age range. The Home Guard were popularly known as 'Dad's Army'. The comedy programme of that name follows a fictional platoon based in the fictional town of Warmington-on-Sea, based on the English south coast and thus likely to be the first to face the enemy. The platoon members represent a cross-section of British society, and are led by Captain Mainwairing (pronounced 'Mannering') who has entered the English language as a synonym of a pompous person.

    Porridge Set in a men's prison, the series follows the activities of Norman Stanley Fletcher as he does a stretch for house burglary. This sounds the least promising material ever for a comedy, but it is one of the most consistently funny programmes ever made. The whole series is based on the petty scams and little victories that are all that matter in such an enclosed environment. Fletcher, whilst you always know him to be a total crook, also has a fundamental dignity and decency. You've really got to see it to appreciate it. Also, it contains by far the best performances by Ronnie Barker, a comedy actor who in the UK is practically a national treasure.

    Open All Hours Also starring Ronnie Barker and David Jason (who plays Del-Boy in Only Fools and Horses). Concerns Arkwright, a tight-fisted owner of a corner shop (the nearest American equivalent might be a mom and pop general store, only nowhere near as friendly), and his long-suffering and sexually frustrated assistant (and nephew) Granville. Arkwright's sole passion, other than making money, is Nurse Gladys Emmanuelle, an impressively-busted nurse who lives opposite the shop.

    One Foot in the Grave Concerns one Victor Meldrew, a retired man to whom all sorts of awful things happen, usually by accident or idiotic beaurocracy. Victor's catchphrase, which has entered UK English, is 'I do not believe it'. Very funny when seen, but described on paper sounds awful.
     
  8. BrianB

    BrianB Producer

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    As it happens, Andrew, both "Open All Hours" & "Vicar of Dibbley" have made it over to the US on PBS, as has the very early series of "Only Fools & Horses" - though I don't think many folk have watched it.
     
  9. Jeff Jacobson

    Jeff Jacobson Cinematographer

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    There was also an American version of this called Cosby (starring Bill Cosby).
     
  10. BrianB

    BrianB Producer

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    Was that really a translation of One Foot in the Grave? I didn't know that. OFITG really was a very well done show and had a lot of fans in the UK.
     
  11. Julian Reville

    Julian Reville Screenwriter

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    I've seen a few episodes of this, and it is kind of treacly.
    Dawn French, well........... The other lady Emma Chambers can be funny in a dimbulb kind of way. I thought the best bits were the crawlies? (the little conversations between Dawn and Emma at the very end).

    Remember the joke about the man with the mince pie up his arse who went to the doctor?

    "I've got some cream for that".
    "Ewww, he's not going to eat it? I mean, not after being up his bum?!?"
    "It's a joke, you twit!!!"
    "I wouldn't eat it...."
     
  12. Malcolm R

    Malcolm R Executive Producer

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    Did they survey anyone who was less than 70 years of age and not senile?
     
  13. Jeff Jacobson

    Jeff Jacobson Cinematographer

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    That's what it said in the credits. I've seen a few episodes of both shows, and most of the time they don't really have much to do with each other. I think a few episodes had similar stories. (I don't really remember a whole lot about either show though.)
     
  14. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    Cosby also got revamped twice, and by its final season it had somewhat drifted from the original version.
     
  15. andrew markworthy

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    The favourite shows of the Brit elderly (As Time Goes By, and Last of the Summer Wine) were both outside the top 10. Amazingly, Vicar of Dibley is primarily liked by a younger demographic (the sort that also thought Love, Actually was wonderful, I would guess). I would guess that Yes, Minister, The Good Life, Porridge, and Open All Hours were the favourites of slightly older viewers, but the remaining ones tend to be favourites across all ages, believe it or not.
     
  16. Jeff Savage

    Jeff Savage Second Unit

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    Humm between BBC America and PBS I have actually seen at least some episodes of all of those shows. Scary [​IMG]

    Out of curiosity where did Absolutely Fabulous and Coupling fall? Two very funny shows that are not on the list.

    Laters,
    Jeff
     
  17. Sami Kallio

    Sami Kallio Screenwriter

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    I agree about Absolutely Fabulous being absent and the likes of Benny Hill, Men Behaving Badly and On the Buses.
     
  18. LarryDavenport

    LarryDavenport Cinematographer

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    Why would this list surprise Americans. It would surprise us if this was a poll taken of people from ohio, but as it's Brits it doesn't surprise me at all.

    Did they only do a top 10 or does the list expand? If it were a top 100 UK comedies I would add:

    The Goodies
    The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perin
    Butterflies
    No Honestly
    Doctor In The House (and all sequels)
    Man About the House (and Robin's Nest)
    The Young Ones
    To The Manor Born
    etc. (I could do this all day as I like British comedies, in general, better the US sitcoms).
     
  19. Yee-Ming

    Yee-Ming Producer

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    No surprise to me that Blackadder rates so highly. I would caveat it by saying that you'd have to look at the entire series as a whole, series 1, where Atkinson plays Blackadder as a real twit is not as funny IMHO as the polished urbane fellow in the later series. It's funny that the R1 complete boxset of this is a better buy than the R2 releases.

    Is Yes Minister considered (for this poll) a separate series from Yes Prime Minister?

    As an aside, has Rowan Atkinson Live ever been released on DVD? This is the performance in Boston (IIRC) of different sketches.
     
  20. andrew markworthy

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    To deal with various questions:

    On The Buses and Man About the House weren't in the top 50 (this was noted in a 'the following series didn't make it' compilation). I don't want to offend anyone here, but On The Buses is these days considered irredeemably awful in the UK.

    Men Behaving Badly did quite well (I think in the teens). However, it tends to appeal to a particular demographic (basically men the age of the ones in the show) so it doesn't have the widespread appeal to get in the top 10.

    Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin was in the top 50 (though quite a lowly position, as far as I recall).

    Absolutely Fabulous was in a teens position (it's one of these love it or hate it shows, so whilst there is a vociferous fan base, it will get outvoted by the majority).

    The Benny Hill Show wasn't in because it's not a sitcom, but a sketch show.

    Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were treated as a single entity (sorry, should have noted that in my original post).

    The Goodies - Treated as a sketch show, not a sitcom, so wasn't in.

    Butterflies - was in, but quite a low position.

    No Honestly - not in (ditto, Yes, Honestly)

    Doctor In The House (and all sequels) - not in [thanks for the trip down memory lane, Larry - I was glued to this series when it first was shown, but I'd forgotten all about it; to the best of my knowledge it hasn't been on Brit TV in decades].

    Coupling wasn't in - I think it's counted as a series rather than a sitcom (don't ask me why).

    The Young Ones - in (I think high teens/low twenties) - again, a love it or hate it programme

    To The Manor Born - in at around the same placing as The Young Ones


    I thought I'd just show you that what Brits most enjoy is at variance with the most popular Brit sitcoms exported to the USA.

    Yee-Ming - to the best of my knowledge, the Rowan Atkinson stage shows aren't available on DVD. I *think* there's something by him on the Secret Policeman's Ball DVD set that came out in R2 fairly recently (I *think* this is where he does the schoolmaster sketch 'Nibble, leave Orifice alone!' etc), but to the best of my knowledge, that's it.
     

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