What's top of the pops on the giggle box? The staff of AG discuss their favourite TV comedies and comedians
Garry Coward-Williams, editor
I prefer situation comedy to watching a comic tell ‘jokes’ and the finest for me is Steptoe and Son, written by Ray Galton & Alan Simpson.
It focussed on the dead-end lives of a father and son who ran a rag and bone business in Shepherd’s Bush. Like chalk and cheese, the son’s aspirations and pretentions were dashed against the father’s worldly cunning and desire to keep him from achieving them. It had considerably more depth than normal sitcoms and often dipped into bleak realist drama with some episodes genuinely sad.
The roles were played by accomplished actors not comedians and prior to taking the part of the son Harold, Harry H Corbett had been cited as Britain’s Marlon Brando.
However, it is Wilfred Bramble as Albert, the erasable ‘dirty old man’ that always got my attention. He is gorgeously awful and cunning, yet at times sad and wistful.
Some scenes stick in the mind forever: the one where he’s sitting in a tin bath is the living room eating pickled onions from a jar, which falls into the bathwater. Without a moments hesitation he fishes around in the water, dangerously close to similar-shaped objects and then places the errant onions back in the jar. Later, unknowing of their recent whereabouts, Harold is seen eating them.
Growing up in the Acton/Shepherds Bush area of West London, where the characters were based, gave an extra edge for me.
I knew people like that, who talked like that. There was a rag and bone yard like theirs in the next street and I had to bathe in a tin bath. Luckily I didn’t like picked onions.
Janey Goulding, assistant editor
Speaking as someone who has spent a massive chunk of my life in questionable flat shares, Peep Show is my touchstone: a TV show that explores the pressures of life wedged in dysfunctional alliances.
Deploying a POV camera to convey the excruciatingly intimate reactions of sparring chums Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb), every last drop of darkly amusing embarrassment is wrung from the comedy sponge of their symbiotic pact.
Deftly delivered by two real-life friends who know each other well enough to go to some very depraved places together, Peep Show tackles some of the big questions posed by stumbling through life in mutually assured destruction.
Questions like: How do I get someone sectioned? Can a snake be safely left in a bucket at a house party? Is it OK to flirt with someone in front of their coma- induced partner? And how does one wind up eating a dead dog’s leg?
What sets it apart is the writing, setting up fist- chewing faux pas with devastating call and response that ricochets wildly between the mundane and the surreal.
As the ‘El Dude’ brothers grapple with demons in a doomed quest for improbable domestic one-upmanship, Webb’s ability to convey bravado, boredom, tears and hysteria inside a minute is a revelation, while Mitchell’s misanthropic uber-nerd can make us all delight in our own dodgy life choices.
This grimly observed study in friendships is such a good friend to me – like an icky, chewed-up comfort blanket that somehow keeps me strangely snuggly in these wonky, kooky times.
Kathryn Wilson, features coordinator
At a time when all the trendy teens were into political satire and The Young Ones, my tastes leaned towards comedy in a more gentle, observational and mocking vein. And few did it better than Victoria Wood.
Whether with long-term collaborator Julie Walters and the likes of Celia Imrie and Susie Blake in the BAFTA-winning As Seen on TV, doing stand-up or, later, in sit-com Dinnerladies, she delivered some of the most memorable laughs of my early adolescence, teens and 20s.
I still find myself quoting the elderly waitress in the classic ‘Two Soups’ sketch, and searching for Acorn Antiques clips on Youtube to show my 13-year-old daughter. Not to mention the unforgettable genius of The Ballad of Barry and Freda –’Be mighty, be flighty, come and melt the buttons on me flame-proof nightie’.
I’m certainly not alone in my admiration for her. Victoria Wood has inspired a generation of female comedians, everyone from Catherine Tate to Sarah Millican, as well as fellow northerner Peter Kay. Her death in 2016 aged just 62 was a tragic loss to British TV and writing this makes me wanted to watch her all over again.
Ruth Hayes, gardening editor
This was a tricky one as I seem to have spent most of my life laughing like a drain at ridiculously silly stuff on the box. Morcambe and Wise, Flay Otters – sorry, Fawlty Towers – Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, Acorn Antiques, The Good Life (my dad was the spitting image of Richard Briers), The Young Ones and Are You Being Served, I grew up through a golden (and sometimes dubious) age of TV comedy.
At the moment I’m breaking ribs watching Ricky Gervaise’s profane and profound After Life and the laugh-out-loud genius of Modern Family, the award-winning ‘mockumentary’ about a dysfunctional but loving Californian clan.
But top of the pile? Blackadder. From the Middle Ages to the hard-hitting and moving denouement at The Somme, it never puts a foot wrong.
The best of the four series? It has to be The Elizabethan One, with career-defining turns from Miranda Richadson as imperious (bonkers) Queenie, Rik Mayall as dashingly rampant (or rampantly dashing) Lord Flashheart (‘Woof!’) Stephen Fry’s oleaginous Melchett, Tony Robinson as pestilential Baldrick and Tim McInnerny as the thick-as-mince Percy: “The eyes are open, the mouth moves, but Mr. Brain has long since departed, hasn’t he, Percy?”
Endlessly quotable, faultlessly stupid, with a wit as sharp as a Renaissance assassin’s stiletto, it was Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson at the peak of their powers.
Now if someone could just explain the appeal of Mrs Brown’s Boys to me I’d be extremely grateful.
Lesley Upton, features editor
One of the few TV shows that has made me laugh in the past year is The Goes Wrong Show. I really didn’t think I’d like this kind of humour, but it’s done so well that I have laughed out loud during all the episodes.
The basic idea of the series is that an amateur dramatic society performs a series of half-hour plays that go horribly wrong each time. The characters are hilarious and the plots are great. The show may seem chaotic at times, but the jokes that are delivered are great and the timing of the disasters is brilliant.
The theatrical disasters in the six-part series are certainly diverse. My favourite is The Spirit of Christmas, in which Santa is supposed to bring joy to a sad little girl whose parents are always arguing, but he drinks too much sherry and ruins everything.
My second favourite is 90 Degrees, which is set in the American Deep South. Unfortunately, a designer error means that a set has been built at 90° to vertical so the cameras are turned sideways and the actors pretend everything’s normal.
This is British slapstick comedy at its best and I’m delighted that a second season has been commissioned.
Wendy Humphries, letters editor
I am a fan of Miranda, played and written by the amazingly funny Miranda Hart. Her BBC sitcom ran from 2009 to 20-15 and is based on hilariously accident-prone character whose life is somewhat chaotic and at the same time deeply human.
Miranda owns a joke shop that she runs with her childhood friend Stevie, played by Sarah Hadland. You can’t help but sympathise with her dilemmas and predicaments; always finding herself in awkward situations and balking at the ‘suitable’ men her friends and mother (played by Patricia Hodge) try to set up for her.
In series three there was a chance for love for Miranda. And we all wanted a happy ending, whether that was with Gary Barlow, or her old friend Gary the chef. As we’d hoped, Miranda was swept off her feet and married Gary, played by Tom Ellis.
Everything about Miranda is funny; her mannerisms and expressions and her funny quotes… ‘isn’t this absolutely fabilosibisibos’. The old-fashioned humour and silliness is heightened when she intermittently speaks directly to the audience.
I also think we can all relate to her embarrassing moments too… that we all have.
Since the show ended in 2015, we’ve been treated to a 10-year reunion show My Such Fun Celebration that aired on New Year’s Day. Is this goodbye forever? I hope not, but if it is, thanks Miranda, it’s been “Such fun!”
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