Best British TV Shows & Series: 1970s & 1980s
Did the 1970s have the best British comedies ever?
Hold on! That sounds like a question for the Q&A board rather than this article but the question bears further examination. 1970s British TV has a glut of comedy, some good, some not so good but some out and out great.
The comedy shows from the 1970s have shown that they have longevity.
There is a British TV channel called GOLD (Go On Laugh Daily) and it shows British comedy shows all day, every day. Its most popular shows though are its 1970s shows - 'The Good Life', 'To The Manor Born', 'Citizen Smith', 'Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads', 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em', 'Steptoe and Son' and 'Dad's Army' amongst others.
The 1970s is not a sharp change to the 1960s. In many respects, there is a lot of continuity with the same stars crossing over without any problems but the 1970s would prove itself to be a stellar decade in British comedy terms.
Best British Comedy Series: BBC versus ITV
The 1970s is rich in comedy gold - as well as the sitcoms mentioned above, we had a few spill overs from the 60s like 'For The Love Of Ada', 'Til Dead Us Do Part', 'On The Buses' and 'Nearest and Dearest' as well as some sketch shows like 'The Benny Hill Show' and 'The Two Ronnies'.
The Two Ronnies
'The Two Ronnies' was a cleverly written 1970s sketch show; many of the sketches were written by Ronnie Barker and a then up and coming David Renwick (he later wrote' One Foot In The Grave').
The Benny Hill Show
'The Benny Hill Show' was taking advantage of more lax censorship on TV, making best use of some buxom, bikini and hot pants clad girls being chased by what now seems to be a bunch of dirty old men but Benny Hill could be very funny with his other humour.
Controversy and Comedy
We had controversial British comedy TV shows like 'Love Thy Neighbour' (openly racist, it was meant to be ironic but ironic doesn't work in a comedy in the 1970s) and 'Man About The House' (one guy, two girls, lots of sexual innuendo and the possibility of a menage et trois?). There was even a 1970s series set in prison, 'Porridge'.
BBC Shows Its Strength
The early 1970s started pretty briskly in the comedy stakes with ITV making the better shows but BBC making one of the best, Steptoe and Son.
The mid 1970s was the period during which the BBC started to make real inroads in the comedy viewing figures. 1975 was the first year that' Fawlty Towers' was shown and that show is arguably, Britain's greatest comedy. 'The Good Life' also made its debut in 1975 and was also on the BBC. Thereafter, the BBC went from strength to strength.
By the end of the decade, the BBC had taken over ITV's crown. ITV didn't really move with the times. Their last really successful year was 1978 when 'The Benny Hill Show', 'George and Mildred' and 'Rising Damp' were all still at the height of their success. Morecambe and Wise had switched over to ITV but were never as successful there.
In 1979, the BBC completely dominated British TV comedy with only Benny Hill still sustaining his viewing figures.
The comedy dominance would continue into the 1980s and beyond.
Best 1980s Comedy
The 1970s comedy shows have shown great longevity and the 1980s also had its fair share of good comedy.
In many respects, the 1980s was a lot more radical and out there in comedy terms than the 1970s.
Looking back on some of the comedy series, it is amazing that TV stations got away with some of it but we are so glad they did.
1980 - compare these two - 'Hi De-Hi', set in a Butlin's style holiday camp and 'Yes, Minister' set in the Houses of Parliament, both great BBC TV comedies, both very different.
1981 - Kenny Everett TV Show, Only Fools and Horses and Victoria Wood's first foray into screen comedy, 'Wood And Walters'.
1982 - 'Allo, Allo' at one end of the spectrum and The Young Ones at the other. After the Young Ones and its anarchic comedy, British comedy would never be the same again - a new door had been opened for those who dared to go through it. There would still be the old favourites (Only Fools & Horses, Eric Sykes, Dick Emery) but they would have to share airtime with' Kevin Turvy Behind The Green Door' and 'Comic Strip Presents'.
That momentum though didn't really keep rolling until later in the decade. Who knows why?
Perhaps the same people were in charge and there just wasn't a brave enough spirit to change things completely. 'Blackadder' makes its first appearance in 1983 and 'New Statesman' in 1984 but it still appears with the likes of 'Ever Decreasing Circles'.
The mid 1980s continues in this vein although there were a few stand out British TV shows amongst the pack. Some have not stood the test of time but that's probably because they were 'of their time', for example 'Watching' which was very funny, 'Rab C Nesbit' and 'Red Dwarf', 'One Foot In The Grave' and 'Birds of A Feather' all look like 1980s comedies.
'Red Dwarf' still has a huge sci-fi cult following and 'Birds of A Feather' is set to return soon.
Because there was nothing as anarchic as The Young Ones in the 1980s, it still stands out as one of the best sitcoms, a truly unique comedy and one whose script people of a certain age seem to like to memorise and repeat when an opportunity arises.
Best British Drama and Documentary in the 1970s and 1980s
'Callan' starring Edward Woodward had been on British TV since 1967 and continued its success early into the 1970s. It was an espionage drama with a bit of edge and written by James Mitchell who went on to write one of the 70s and 80s most popular dramas, 'When The Boat Comes In', a tale of a north-eastern English family making good after the second world war.
One of its stars, James Bolam had already been popular in 'Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads' and would also score a success with 'The Beidebecke Tapes' with Barbara Flynn.
In another degree of separation, Barbara Flynn had starred in 'A Family At War' a tale of a Liverpool family's experiences of love and loss during the second world war (and not a Scouse accent amongst them!). The early 1970s seems to have been quite a time for 'nostalgic' and wartime historical drama, 'Colditz' was a huge hit as was 'Dad's Army' a comedy about the British Home Guard.
What Britons weren't yet ready for in the sixties, they were more than ready for in the 1970s - perhaps time is a great healer.
'The Persuaders' saw Roger Moore return after his successful stint as 'The Saint' in The Persuaders; his co-star was Tony Curtis so some Hollywood glamour made this a huge success.
Two hugely successful cop shows took to the air in 1972 and 1973 with 'Special Branch' and 'Van der Valk' (the latter spawning a number one record with its theme tune). But neither of them had the grit of 'The Sweeney' starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman.
1974 brought 'Within These Walls' a tale of the life inside if a fictional women's prison. It was the top Saturday night drama, appearing after' The Generation Game' so that was your Saturday night sorted out - entertainment all the way. 'Within These Walls' was copied later on by the Australian drama, 'Prisoner of Cell Block H'.
'Upstairs Downstairs' appeared for the first time in 1975 and is still, in my humble opinion, much, much better than the remake.
British 'One-Off' TV Drama
Some one-off dramas started to be made, among them 'Lillie' the story of the King's mistress, Lillie Langtry starring Francesca Annis. It held viewers captive for 13 episodes. This one-off format would be copies for most of the drama series of the 70s and 80s and is still used today. Secret Army, Angels and Shoestring all had a couple of years of success before being cancelled, 'Angels' in particular was initially very successful and was a welcome return to hospital based drama before its absolute pinnacle in the 1980s 'Casualty' (still on as Holby City now).
The 1970s had really carried on where the excellent 1960s dramas had left off with some outstanding drama series like 'Poldark', 'Onedin Line' and 'The Pallisters'. One off drama, whilst never reaching the fame of 'Cathy Come Home', nonetheless made their mark. Shows like 'Scum' and Dennis Potter's 'Blue Remembered Hills', 'Brimstone and Treacle', 'Singing Detective' and 'Pennies for Heaven'. TV started to make theatrical drama and it all worked to perfection.
Anthony Minghella's 'Truly, Madly, Deeply' was first shown on BBC2 before it was released as a movie and 'My Beautiful Launderette' was a Channel 4 production which also crossed over to cinema with some success, whilst also making a star of Daniel Day-Lewis.
The fantastic 'Edge of Darkness' starring an intense Bob Peck kept British TV audiences gripped with its tales of nuclear theft. The co-star, Joe Don Baker was also amazing in the show, both actors gaining accolades for the series.
And also in the 1980s, with now not 3 but 4 terrestrial channels, we got more soap operas - Brookside from Channel 4 which ended in the 1990s and the more dramatic and still popular Eastenders.
Best Wildlife TV—Life On Earth
David Attenbrough had started his amazing programme making in the 1960s as controller of BBC2 but he has since admitted that he never really enjoyed office based jobs and went back to doing what he enjoyed best - as a naturalist, making fantastic wildlife programmes but a quick look at his achievements as controller of BBC2 is my first intention.
Attenborough certainly had an eye for a success. Amongst the shows he commissioned were 'Call My Bluff', for years a highly successful and very amusing quiz show. 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' and 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' are another two of his commissions. It is a shame he could not mix both jobs - we may have gotten more great shows.
However, I am so glad that he decided to go back to what he does best - making fantastic wildlife and sealife shows which get really close to the animals and which show his commitment to conservation.
So I leave you with Attenborough talking about his decision to make 'Life On Earth'.
I hope you have enjoyed this walk down memory lane in the 1970s and 1980s. I could have jammed in a lot more, as both decades certainly had quality TV.
Thanks for reading.
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