The British Broadcasting Corporation is the world’s oldest broadcasting organisation and over the years it has created some iconic television shows, many of which have become standard favourites in almost every country on the planet. We’ve put together a list of the Top Ten television programmes with no criteria limitations in terms of genre or era--just as long as the show was first aired on the BBC and not ITV or any other channel.
10. Fawlty Towers
A show that spans just two series, one in 1975 and one in 1979, there were only 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers ever made. But those twelve episodes helped shape modern day comedy and had an enormous impact on sitcom writing. The show centres on Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, the erratic owner of the eponymous hotel. Set in the ‘English Riviera’ around Torquay, Basil is joined by his wife Sybil, Polly the chambermaid and Manuel the Spanish waiter. And if all that sounds like the components of a really good joke, that’s because it is.
9. The Graham Norton Show
With his multi-award winning chat show, Graham Norton never fails to get big names to appear on his couch. And he never fails to get them to do ridiculous things in the name of entertainment. Norton himself rose to fame on Channel 4 but moved over to the BBC in 2005. The Graham Norton Show itself began life on BBC2 before knocking Jonathan Ross out of BBC1’s prestigious Friday night slot in 2010. The rest is hilarious history.
8. The Office
For the most part, we have the BBC to thank for Ricky Gervais in general. ‘Extras’ is considered to be one of the channel’s greatest ever comedies. But it is just overshadowed in this list by Gervais’ first major outing, ‘The Office’. Who would have thought that the dull, daily lives of employees at a Slough-based paper company would make for era-defining comedy. The Office takes a look at the tiny trivialities, details and desperations of human behaviour and blows them up into a show that can have you laughing, cringing and crying all at the same time.
7. Yes Minister
Yes Minister takes us behind the scenes of British Government and is said to be the favourite TV programme of the then actual Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. It follows the eternal struggles of MP Jim Hacker, an aspiring politician who works as Minister of Administrative Affairs. Most episodes revolve around Hacker proposing legislation before having it beaten down. Or we are treated to hacker’s desperate attempts to blockade other MP’s ideas. It’s in-house squabbling at it’s very best. And it absolutely gets our vote.
6. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Perhaps the most pioneering comedy show ever made, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was originally broadcast between 1969 and 1974. Its blend of observational gags, innuendo and surreal sketches was unlike anything else before it. And anything similar since is often described as ‘pythonesque’. So good it inspired its own adjective, Flying Circus was its very own variety show; a philosophical, intellectual, satirical stab at everyone’s sense of humour. The Spanish Inquisition wasn’t expected, but Python’s place in this list simply must have been.
Idris Elba takes the lead for our next show; an award-winning crime series that has achieved international success. Luther centres on the titular character, Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, a man who is both skilled at his job but a little psychologically damaged because of it as well. This is a police drama but it’s not just about fast cars, gunfights and the odd explosion. There’s a deeper, more complex story here has had critics raving with every series released.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is probably one of the best-known and best-loved literary characters ever created, and ever since its first series in 2010, Sherlock has turned that classic story into a contemporary saga. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and the unerring Watson, the show has achieved massive worldwide success. Set primarily in London, it’s often cited as the most quintessentially British thing on TV today. The UK’s most watched drama series since 2001, Sherlock is elementary viewing.
British TV is awash with period dramas, but Blackadder bucked the trend in the 80’s, establishing itself as a period comedy. The show, which stars Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder ran for four full series, each set at significant points in British history. However, no matter where you are on the timeline, Blackadder’s always cynical, and his dogsbody Baldrick always has a cunning plan. The cast of characters here is literally incomparable to any other sitcom. It really is the best of British comic acting.
2. Top Gear
It started as a fairly routine motoring magazine programme, but over time and especially since a 2002 relaunch, Top Gear was one of the most successful entertainment shows on the BBC. Of course, everything on the show revolved around cars. It had road test reviews, features covering the world’s most prestigious manufacturers and lots of funny, farcical and often controversial road trips, races and automobile experiments. In general, the show rarely lets its finger slip off the pulse of its viewers and never took its foot off the accelerator pedal. Until the end of course, when off-camera high jinx caused the show’s sudden demise.
1. Doctor Who
You could search through all of time and space and you’d ever find a better TV show than Dr Who. First aired in 1963, and reintroduced to modern audiences in 2005, it’s become a hugely significant part of British popular culture. Millions tune in every week to follow the Doctor, his TARDIS and his companions as they fight Daleks, Cybermen and anything else the universe can muster. Bow ties are cool but this show is brilliant. And now to quote the Time Lord himself, “Run!”
Do you agree with our list? What are your favourite BBC shows? Why not drop us a line and let us know. Meanwhile, happy viewing!