A cut out and keep guide to the very best of classic British comedy presented in chronological fashion from 1962’s Steptoe and Son through to May to December in 1989.
Series One of Steptoe and Son, the classic series starring Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett as a father/son team who run a sad “rag-and-bone” business in London. This would later be transferred to US television as Sanford and Son.
Graham Chapman and John Cleese star together in their first revue, called Double Take.
British audiences get one of their first glimpses of Mollie Sugden in the David Croft produced Hugh and I.
David Frost brings biting political satire to British television with That Was The Week That Was. Included on the writing staff are David Nobbs (who would go on to create Reginald Perrin), Dennis Potter, Johnny Speight (who would go on to write Till Death Do Us Part), and John Cleese.
Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller bring their classic stage revue Beyond The Fringe to television. This is one of the high points of the political satire boom of the 60s.
Michael Palin graduates from Oxford University and spends six months hosting a pop program called Now!
Meanwhile, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam work together for the first time on a photographic comic strip about a man obsessed with a Barbie doll. It appears in a magazine entitled Help!
The pilot of Till Death Do Us Part is shown as a “one-off” on Comedy Playhouse. A full series chronicling the exploits of bigoted,
right-wing Alf Garnett (played by Warren Mitchell) would follow in 1966. Norman Lear would later take this premise, change the name Alf Garnett to Archie Bunker, move the setting to New York, and create American television history with All in the Family.
David Frost hosts the first series of The Frost Report and brings together for the first time most of the talent who would go on to form Monty Python. John Cleese was an occasional performer (as were the legendary “Two Ronnies” – Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker) and the writing staff included Marty Feldman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and Terry Jones.
The first of nine series of Dad’s Army premieres. 1969
The first of Spike Milligan’s anarchic Q, series, which was a major influence on the budding Pythons because of its view that skits didn’t necessarily need a beginning, middle and end, taking the emphasis off the punchline.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus premieres in October. Sales of Spam skyrocket.
Doctor In The House premieres, with scripts by Graham Chapman and John Cleese plus Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie of The
A pre-Mr. Lucas Trevor Bannister has his first major role as “Heavy Breathing” in a series about garbage collectors called The Dustbinmen.
A pre-Mrs. Slocombe Mollie Sugden appears as the snobbish, overbearing mother of a Liverpool lass in the Carla Lane sitcom The Liver Birds. This series would eventually run for ten series.
The Goodies (composed of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie) create a comedy classic with their own brand of visual lunacy. Basically a cartoon brought to life, The Goodies would eventually run for nine series.
Are You Being Served? co-writer Jeremy Lloyd marries future Absolutely Fabulous co-star Joanna Lumley. They split four months later, but Lumley still goes on to make an appearance on the “German Week” episode of AYBS?
Frankie Howerd plays Roman slave Ludicrus Sextus in the first series of producer David Croft’s sitcom Up Pompeii!
The pilot of Are You Being Served? is shown unexpectedly when the massacre of Israeli athletes causes a temporary halt to the Olympic Games.
The Pythons begin production of their third series, which would be the last with John Cleese.
Premiere episode of Last of the Summer Wine.
AYBS? begins its first full series.
Dad’s Army star James Beck (“Private Walker”) dies at the early age of 42 from complications after a stomach operation.
Open All Hours teams sitcom legends Ronnie Barker and David Jason in this series about a shopkeeper called Arkwright (Barker) and his nephew Granville (Jason). The scripts are by KUA/Last of the Summer Wine scribe Roy Clarke
Leonard Rossiter plays the greedy, petty but hysterical landlord Rigsby in the first series of Rising Damp.
Ronnie Barker hits sitcom pay dirt again playing a prisoner as the first series of Porridge premieres. Also in the cast are Richard Beckinsale (of Rising Damp) and Brian Wilde (of Last of the Summer Wine). Three series and two specials of this classic are eventually made.
The remaining Pythons produce their final series and call it a day after introducing viewers to the Worst Family in Britain.
Producer David Croft has another hit with It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, about a military theatrical troop in India during WWII.
Series One of Fawlty Towers.
Python fans rejoice as Monty Python and the Holy Grail is released.
Lenny Henry first comes to national attention when he wins the New Faces talent competition.
John Inman reaches #39 on the UK charts with his single Are You Being Served, Sir?
Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers try self-sufficiency in the first series of Good Neighbors, known in the UK as The Good Life.
Premiere episode of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin starring the late, great Leonard Rossiter as a man who suffers a mid-life crisis and fakes his own death.
Pleasure at Her Majesty’s brings most Britcomedy royalty together for a benefit in aid of Amnesty International.
Lenny (Chef!) Henry stars in a British version of Good Times called The Fosters.
The AYBS? stage play runs from June to October.
Monty Python invades New York to appear at the City Center.
John Inman plays Blackpool fish and chip shop owner Neville Sutcliffe in the series Odd Man Out. His co-star, Josephine Tewson, would later play Hyacinth Bucket’s neighbor Elizabeth in Keeping Up Appearances.
The cast of AYBS? goes to the Costa Plonka on vacation in a movie version of the popular series. Also in this film is Andrew Sachs, who must have been hired because of the Spanish accent he used as Manuel in Fawlty Towers.
Arthur Lowe goes AWOL from Dad’s Army to play Father Charles Duddleswell in Bless Me, Father.
Mollie Sugden teams up with Ian Lavender (that “stupid boy” Pike from Dad’s Army) in the short-lived Come Back, Mrs. Noah.
Series One of Butterflies, starring Wendy Craig as a woman dealing with mid-life crisis.
Eric Idle masterfully mocks Beatlemania in All You Need Is Cash. Aided by the wonderful tunes of Neil Innes, Idle tells the story of The Rutles, the “pre-fab four” consisting of Dirk, Barry, Stig, and Nasty.
First series of To The Manor Born.
Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones and Chris Langham team up for the classic satire of Not The
Nine O’Clock News. (Langham would leave after the first series.)
Second (and sadly, final) series of Fawlty Towers.
Richard Beckinsale, star of Rising Damp and Porridge , dies of a heart attack at the age of 31.
The charity benefits for Amnesty International continue as John Cleese directs The Secret Policeman’s Ball.
Yes, Minister debuts, chronicling the adventures of politician James Hacker.
Dad’s Army writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft team up again for Hi-de-Hi, a long-running sitcom set in a holiday camp.
The Pythons play before adoring fans at the Hollywood Bowl. This is filmed and later released as a motion picture.
Only Fools and Horses begins its long run.
Mollie Sugden stars as housekeeper Ida Willis in That’s My Boy.
Dad’s Army star Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring) passes away at the age of 66.
John Inman plays Rula Lenksa’s secretary in Take A Letter, Mr. Jones.
Peter Bowles stars as The Bounder. Also in this popular sitcom scripted by Eric Chappell was George Cole.
Comedy loses a great talent when Marty Feldman passes away after a heart attack. He is only 49.
The Young Ones brings a decidedly anarchic and punk view of life to British television screens. “Alternative comedy” becomes the big catch phrase.
Rowan Atkinson begins his long ride through British history as The Black Adder premieres.
Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton and Robbie Coltrane continue alternative comedy’s assault on television
in the short-lived but influential sketch comedy show Alfresco.
Listen carefully – I will say this only once – Café René opens for business on ‘Allo ‘Allo!
First series of Ever Decreasing Circles, starring Richard Briers as Martin Bryce.
Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles team up once again for Executive Stress. Geoffrey Palmer originally stars with Keith, but bows out after the first series.
Jennifer Saunders gives a tour-de-force performance as Granny Fuddle and her four daughters in Happy Families. Also in the cast are Dawn French, Stephen Fry, and Adrian Edmondson.
The adventures of James Hacker continue in Yes, Prime Minister.
Blackadder standouts Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie get their own series as A Bit of Fry and Laurie debuts for the first of four series.
Birds of a Feather begins it long run, telling the story of two sisters (Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson) whose husbands get sent to jail for armed robbery.
The first Comic Relief raises lots of money for charity and gives top alternative comics an opportunity to strut their stuff.
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders come into their own in the first series of their sketch comedy show French and Saunders.
The New Statesman, starring Rik Mayall as a excruciatingly slimey Member of Parliament, debuts and provides a scathing look into the inner workings of the government. It mines the same territory as Yes, Minister, but with a more wicked and exaggerated slant.
The crew of the Jupiter Mining Corporation spaceship Red Dwarf takes off for the first time, combining sci-fi and comedy into a classic series.
The First of the Summer Wine debuts. This “prequel” looks at the characters in Last of the Summer Wine when they were children.
Future Academy Award winner Emma Thompson makes a rare misstep with an ill-advised foray in sketch comedy called
Only days before the 20th anniversary of the first Monty Python show, Graham Chapman succumbs to cancer. Terry Jones tries to bring humor to a sad situation by saying, “This is the worst case of party pooping I have ever come across.”
The adventures of Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick reach a touching conclusion during WW1 with Blackadder Goes Forth.
First series of May to December, a popular sitcom about the romance between a middle-aged solicitor and a 26-year old teacher.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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