After receiving some great Alan Partridge DVDs as gifts this Christmas, it reminded me of how great the British situation and sketch show comedy character actually is. Although, the type of character and their appeal appears to have dwindled in the past few years, as like music and film, TV suffers from writers and actors portraying the same types and using the same lines to exhaustion.

But is there any better sight than recounting great comedic moments including Manuel and Basil Fawlty dealing with a dead body in the 1970s BBC comedy, Fawlty Towers, watching Alan Partridge accidentally shooting one of his guests on Knowing Me, Knowing You, or cringing at Boycie's ridiculous laugh on Only Fools & Horses.

Personally, it seems that the type of character has declined in the past few years, despite the odd exceptions. Whilst sketch shows have almost replaced the comedy format, with Alistair McGowan, John Culshaw, Harry Enfield and Bremner, Bird & Fortune offering admirable attempts, the simple format of slapstick and intellectual character interaction has only resulted in a few noteworthy comedys including BBC's The Office, Channel 4's Black Books, Phoenix Nights/Max & Paddy and Peep Show really presenting admirable and inspirational comic genius.

So is the great British comedy really dead? Or will it be revived with refreshing and invigorating writing? There is hope with comedies including The IT Crowd and Lead Balloon continuing to produce plentiful chuckles. But is it true that people prefer watching Fletcher (portrayed by the superb Ronnie Barker, who died in 2005) make an obnoxious comment at Mr Mackay in Porridge or Frank Spencer producing that hilarious grin at an unsuspecting victim in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em?

Although with superb comedic writers including Jack Dee, Dylan Moran and Peter Kay providing in-depth ability of how to make an audience laugh, there may just be hope yet of replicating the legendary British comedies which existed during the '70s, '80s and '90s.

Who are your favourite comedy characters? What is your favourite comedy? Do writers and programs need to be funnier? Do you have a favourite series of a particular comedy?

MY TOP 20 SITUATION COMEDIES

1. I'm Alan Partridge/Knowing Me, Knowing You *I also recommend the "Sex People" clip

2. Black Books

3. Peep Show

4. Only Fools & Horses

5. Fawlty Towers

6. Absolutely Fabulous

7. Keeping Up Appearances

8. Drop The Dead Donkey

9. Blackadder

10. One Foot In The Grave

11. Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em

12. The Royle Family

13. Phoenix Nights/Max & Paddy's Road To Nowhere

14. The Office (UK)

15. Red Dwarf 

16. The Brittas Empire

17. Porridge

18. Just Good Friends

19. The Green Green Grass

20. Lead Balloon

 

* The IT Crowd just missed the Top 20, but as the show is recent, once it has shown more episodes it may move up the list.

Notable exceptions: Allo Allo, Two Pint Of Lager & A Packet Of Crisps, Are You Being Served?, As Time Goes By, Dad's Army, Extras, Fast Show, Goodnight Sweetheart, Jeeves & Wooster, Last Of The Summer Wine, Nighty Night, Open All Hours, On The Buses, The Good Life and Yes Minister.

MY TOP FIVE SKETCH SHOWS:

1. Dead Ringers

2. The Day Today *The Alan Partridge sports reports are exceptionally funny.

3. Harry Enfield & Chums

4. Bremner Bird & Fortune

5. Spitting Image

Comments

The shows that you remember (Fawlty Towers, Some Mothers..., Porridge, Only Fools, Knowing Me Knowing You) were the best of decades of British comedy. You then proceed to name Peep Show, The Office, Black Books and Phoenix Nights as "exceptions", all of them from the last ten years or so. There are more of these "exceptions" now than there were at the time of Fawlty Towers.

Is the reason you perceive a decline the fact that there is so much awful comedy at the moment? Because I think that, amongst the deplorable stereotype-reliant effluvium (I'm thinking of Little Britain) there are nuggets of gold.

On top of this, British comedy on the big screen (largely thanks to Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright) is taking the world by storm.

Stand up, too, is surely doing well. The names just roll off the toungue: Bill Bailey, Franky Boyle, Russel Howard, Michael McIntyre, Dylan Moran, Jack Dee, Omid Djalili...

PS: Aren't you a fan of Morcambe and Wise, Monty Python or Spaced? I noticed they didn't make your lists. Nice to see Black Books so high up, though. Sits alongside Spaced as my all-time favourite sit-com.

has brought about Peep Show, The Office, Black Books, Phoenix Nights and comparing the amount of good comedy in my opinion which exists now compared to the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in terms of a sitcom format particularly is rarer than of those three decades.

To be honest, it is merely a matter of opinion and personally I just find those decades better than the current decade. I am therefore glad you have chosen to debate the topic and that is what I was encouraging.

Yes, "the fact that there is so much awful comedy at the moment", is the reason I perceive a decline, compared to those which make my Top 20. But this is not a definitive list by any means and as you say there are other great comedies and comedy writers which you've mentioned who are certainly the best of the decade.

But my point is that personally, I don't see that same effect once generated by comedy (particularly those commissioned by and produced for the BBC) with great actors/actresses like John Cleese, Andrew Sachs, Jennifer Saunders, Caroline Aherne etc being more inventive. For example, I wouldn't laugh anywhere near as loud at Little Britain as I would Alan Partridge. Little Britain was made after Alan Partridge and to me shows one example of a decline in British comedy. I also agree that Little Britain is awful.

Although there are good ones as you and I have mentioned, so that's why I pose the question, "Is great British comedy dead/in decline?" Or am I talking rubbish? :~

PS Reply: Morecambe and Wise are obviously legends and to be honest, like The Two Ronnies, have inspired millions of comedians which have proceeded them. However, it doesn't make me laugh as much as those in the list, but that is strange considering it's of the 1970s.

Monty Python is also a great sketch show of the same era, but 1) I haven't watched enough of it to comment (only brief glimpses of The Flying Circus) and 2) I found the ridiculous Terry Gilliam cartoons absolutely appalling and it was therefore let down somewhat.

Spaced, I haven't watched so I can't comment. I'll have to watch it at some point though, cheers for the recommendation.

Spaced is good, simon pegg and nick frost are in it. There is actually a joke in Shaun of the Dead that would make sense if you had seen Spaced.

Is it just British comedy we're commenting on? As I rate Frasier as the best Sit-com of all time. Easily. 

'best' can have a lot of definitions. There are some great shows that didn't run for a long time (Fawlty Towers, Spaced, The Young Ones), leaving you gasping for more. If you consider them funnier than a longer-running but slightly less funny show (like Friends or The Simpsons) how do you measure the comedic value?

 

Is open to different interpretations. In this instance I'm judging the comedic value of British comedy. But yes, we could go on forever to debate the value of comedy generally.

and one of my all time favourites and for an American comedy is amazingly good. Friends and Will & Grace don't come anywhere near it. The supreme snobbery and wonderful middle class lifestyle of Frasier and Niles, contrasted with Martin depicted in Frasier makes it what it is.

To be honest I was commenting on British comedy, but, feel free to comment on any comedy. Frasier would definitely be in my Top 5 of all time favourite comedies.

I owe my Geordie accent entirely to his appearance on Jack Dee's Live at the Apollo.

Spaced gets a huge recommend from me, but bear in mind that it's not instantly gratifying, as some shows are (like Black books, fantastic lunacy). It needs a bit of persistence.

Once you get into the mindset of Pegg and Wright (the writing/directing/acting team behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), though, you fall in love with it.

Another mention has got to go to The Young Ones. Classic stuff.

Thanks for making the distinction between sit-coms and sketch shows on the one hand and stand-up and films on the other. I'm inclined to agree with you about sketch shows, I was disappointed by Harry and Paul, and who on earth finds Miller and Armstrong funny? I thought Armstrong read the news because I'd seen him on HIGNFY (Have I Got News for You) and he was so boring.

Was That Mitchell and Webb Look any good? I didn't see much of it.

Spaced sounds good and yes Bernard and Manny in Black Books' lunacy is something I haven't seen bettered in any recent comedy to be honest.

Simon Pegg is good and I personally though Hot Fuzz probably one of the best films I've seen. This may sound rather pathetic but I wasn't particularly bothered about Shaun Of The Dead...sounds mad I know. I'll have to watch it again I think to see if I like it more, as I haven't watched it for years.

Rik Mayall was superb in Blackadder as Lord Flasheart and is equally good in The Young Ones. Glad you've mentioned it, I had stupidly forgotten. Although it is slightly mad to the point of ridiculous, then again Bottom is even more mad.

I agree that Ruddy Hell, Harry & Paul was a rather mixed it's true, but I did like Harry Enfield & Chums. The scenes with Kevin & Perry, Wayne & Waynetta slob, the Liverpool slobs, the "Considerably richer than youuuuu" bloke, the homophobic father, the old gits, Tim Nice But Dim and Dick Nice But Thick are superb.

I agree about Armstrong and Miller to be honest. Armstrong was better at the Pimms ads than he was on that show. Like that other abhorration, Broken News, it was one of the most pathetic attempts at comedy I've seen, including Little Britain...I personally cannot stand Matt Lucas and David Walliams...although I'm sure they say the same about me haha.

Yes Armstrong was on Have I Got News For You, Tom Baker was a much better guest presenter. I wasn't fussed with Mitchell and Webb to be honest. Personally it seemed over-done with the gags and too much intellectual comedy rather than slapstick, which if there's too much of either, it can become a bit inane in my opinion.

 

that I am referring more to sitcoms and sketch shows in terms of declines. Comedians and films (i.e Lee Evans, or Hot Fuzz) are in much greater health.

Cheers,

Stuart.

Decline of the great British situation comedy and sketch show?