What is a British Sitcom?
“A humorous radio or television series featuring the reactions of a regular cast of characters to unusual situations, such as misunderstandings or embarrassing coincidences; a sitcom.”
A sitcom ("sit-com") or, to give it it's full name, situation comedy is a genre of comedy performance in which recurring characters take part in humorous story lines centred on a common environment, such as a family home or workplace. Sitcoms were originally devised for the radio but today are typically found on television.
A British sitcom is a situation comedy which is produced in or set in the United Kingdom. Our list of British sitcoms contains every British sitcom ever broadcast on television in the UK. At the moment the BSG doesn't cover one-off single episode sitcoms (such as those which were broadcast in the BBC Comedy Playhouse strand) or radio only sitcoms. However over time we hope to include these too!
The definition of a sitcom leaves quite a lot to open to individual interpretation - it is therefore very hard to classify exactly which comedy programmes are sitcoms and which aren't. We've had to use our own judgement in some cases to decide whether a programme which displays only some of the attributes of a sitcom should appear on this website or not. In most cases we've given the programme the benefit of the doubt. [ More on this topic ]
British sitcoms are normally arranged into six episode series - with one half-hour episode being broadcast each week. The reason each season is typically only six episodes long per season is that, unlike in America, sitcoms in the UK are normally written by just one or two people instead of by a team of writers. Also British TV stations prefer just six episodes per series as it means they can change their schedules more frequently and it is not such a risk investing in a new sitcom. Six episodes also fit nicely onto a single DVD.
British sitcoms are normally first broadcast on one of six TV channels - they're either shown on one of three BBC channels , ITV or Channel 4 . BBC1 shows mainstream sitcoms, BBC2 shows more cult sitcoms (such as " The Office ") and the BBC currently use their third channel as more of a testing ground for new comedy they're not sure about yet (BBC4 shows occasional high-brow repeats).
The History of British Sitcom on Television
The fifties was when the British sitcom first appeared on television. Hancock's Half Hour is considered by many to be one of the first big British sitcoms, it ran simultaneously on BBC Radio and television throughout the 1950s and was seen and heard by the majority of the population. Early 1950s 'sitcoms' were very different from what we now recognise as a sitcom in that they were focused around comedians playing extensions of themselves rather than playing totally fictional characters.
The Army Game was another programme which was very popular with audiences in this decade.
Steptoe and Son , created by Hancock writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, burst on to the BBC in 1962 and made an instant impression with audiences.
Later in the decade Johnny Speight's Till Death Us Do Part brought some interesting political issues to the screen whilst Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais created their first of many sitcom hits - The Likely Lads . Also Jimmy Perry and David Croft's Dad's Army started in this decade and little did they realise at the time it would go on throughout the 1970s and in the process become one of Britain's top rated sitcoms.
The 1970s is where things really started to hot up. This decade is now looked upon as 'The Golden Age' of British sitcom because, looking back, more funny sitcoms were produced in these ten years than at any other time - a large number of the sitcoms made in the 70s are still regularly repeated all over the globe!
The new series during this decade included the massive smash hits Fawlty Towers , The Good Life , Are You Being Served? , Last of the Summer Wine (still going strong today!), Rising Damp , George and Mildred , Porridge , Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em , Open All Hours and To The Manor Born (which smashed all ratings records and is still the second most watched British sitcom of all time).
The seventies was a particularly successful era for commercial station ITV . The majority of the sitcoms produced in this decade were broadcast on ITV making the channel very popular. ITV have had very few successes since and is now in a bit of a comedy crisis.
This was also a decade in which a number of sitcoms which would now be considered politically incorrect were broadcast - Mind Your Language and Love Thy Neighbour being the two most well known examples. They've been criticised for being racist and xenophobic.
The political and social revolutions of 1980s Tory Britain caused the typical sitcom to change somewhat. More anarchic and less-traditional comedies like The Young Ones and Red Dwarf popped up and pushed the 'old fashioned' sitcoms off the screen. It was also the era of more sophisticated and intelligent sitcoms like the brilliant Blackadder and ever so clever Yes, Minister .
It was also during the eighties that John Sullivan first started writing Only Fools and Horses - a programme which by the 90s would become the countries top rated sitcom and has since been voted Britain's Best Sitcom.
The new sitcoms created in the 1990s continued the trend set in the 80s - Men Behaving Badly , Drop the Dead Donkey , The Vicar of Dibley , Ab Fab , Father Ted , The Royle Family , Alan Partridge and One Foot in the Grave all broke new ground and in the process changed what audiences expected of a 'typical' sitcom.
By the start of the millennium the popular, traditional mainstream mass-watched sitcom was all but dead. Instead cult sitcoms took to the airwaves - Spaced , Phoenix Nights , Black Books , Coupling and Early Doors have all appeared since. Whilst these series have been praised for being funny and original at present there is still no sign of the popular mainstream sitcom making a comeback - only the BBC1 sitcom My Family and new special feature episodes of Only Fools and Horses have seen large viewing figures.
In 2002 Ricky Gervais' ground-breaking second series of The Office broadcast to great critical acclaim and hype. Whilst it has been hailed as the biggest sitcom success story of this decade it should be pointed out that it is still hasn't managed to gain the audience figures of the golden seventies.
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