DOWN with this sort of thing. A-ha. This time next year we’ll be millionaires. Don’t panic! You can judge a situation comedy on many things, including how many viewers it pulls in or how long it runs. Or you can play a game of word association, matching catchphrases with shows. Watch as the utterance of a few little words brings a smile to the player’s face in remembrance of good times past. Only the best sitcoms pass that test.

Father Ted

Three priests living on an island just off the west coast of Ireland. Father Jack is an alcoholic, Father Ted was caught with someone else’s money resting in his account, and Father Dougal has the IQ of a pineapple. All three are looked after by a housekeeper whose faith in the healing powers of a cup of tea knows no bounds.

It can only be Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews’ creation, which ran on Channel 4 from 1995-98. An immediate hit for the station, it was cruelly cut down in its prime with the death of Dermot Morgan, the titular Ted, at age 45.

Just three series were made, and it doesn’t matter if you have seen them more times than Jack shouted for drink and girls, there are always laughs to be had. Came number two in a Radio Times list of best comedies, beaten by Fawlty Towers, which I’ve left off this list as revenge, and because the odd killer line aside, Towers is just one extended pratfall. Serious business, comedy.


“Norman Stanley Fletcher. You have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court and it is now my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner … I sentence you to five years.” Punctuated by the sound of prison doors slamming, the intro to Dick Clements and Ian La Frenais sitcom, first seen on its 1974 debut, was a thing of scene setting beauty.

Ronnie Barker was perfect as the old lag Fletch, a father figure to young Godber (Richard Beckinsale), who wouldn’t have lasted a minute without him. Everybody loved Fletch. One suspects even Mr Mackay (Fulton Mackay), the officer Fletch could wind up like a toy, had a sneaking admiration for the essentially decent bloke who refused to let prison grind him, or anyone else, down.

Dad’s Army

Who would we think we were kidding if this was left off the list? When Jimmy Perry and David Croft approached the BBC with the idea of a sitcom set among the Home Guard in the Second World War, Auntie clutched her pearls. You couldn’t laugh at something as serious as wartime.

But mercifully it was commissioned, the first episode ran in 1968, and the rest is TV legend. With great characters, from stuffy Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) and louche Sgt Wilson (John Le Mesurier) to the childlike Pike and Lance Corporal Jack Jones (Clive Dunn), the Walmington-on-Sea gang’s Scottish contingent consisted of John Laurie’s Private Frazer. Far from doomed, Dad’s Army remains a Saturday night staple today, attracting yet more generations of admirers.

This Country

By the time this Cotswolds-set comedy rocked up on BBC3 three years ago, mockumentaries were old hat. That every episode took place in a village where nothing ever happened was another strike against This Country.

Yet from such straw, sibling writers Daisy May and Charlie Cooper managed to spin sheer comedy gold. Cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe (May and Cooper) spend their days hanging around their village, or with the local vicar, each week the same as the last. Kerry and Kurtan might sound like a pair of dopes but the characters are beautifully observed and the writing is as sharp as a new blade. Winner of a Royal Television Award, May and Cooper called it a day after just three series, thus ensuring the sitcom’s cult status.

The Office

Was it a soap, a documentary, a romantic drama? When it made its 2001 debut Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s multiple award winner was a new beast on British screens – a mockumentary. Firmly in the tradition of This is Spinal Tap, The Office used a faux fly-on-the-wall approach to documenting the goings on at the Wernham Hogg paper company in Slough, an operation headed by that king of plonker bosses, David Brent (Gervais).

Everyone knows a Brent, just as everyone has worked with a nice guy called Tim (Martin Freeman) who is sweet on the lovely Dawn (Lucy Davis) on reception, or has been driven mad by a suck-up Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) assistant to the regional manager. The Office speaks to office toilers everywhere, particularly in the US where it was a long-running hit.

Only Fools and Horses

This wry ballad of Peckham was as much a product of the 1980s as

Rab C Nesbitt. Del Boy, John Sullivan’s south London market trader, fancied himself as an entrepreneur who was only ever a year away from becoming a millionaire.

Helping Del (David Jason) get there were brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and, first grandad, then Uncle Albert.

In reality, Del Boy and his family were bumping along the bottom, their tower block flat crammed with whatever dodgy gear Del had got his hands on cheap.

But they loved each other, and viewers loved them to the extent that in 1996 more than 24 million viewers watched them bow out in what was supposed to be the last episode.

Rab C Nesbitt

The string vest-wearing sage of Govan started out as a character in the sketch show Naked Video, but he was always destined for greater things, and in 1988 he got his own show.

An unemployed drunk with a volcanic hatred for authority, Rab was a two fingered response to the get-on-yer-bike Thatcherite times. He was precision engineered to get on Tory goats, that much was certain, but some on the centre and left had their doubts too. Was writer Ian Pattison patronising the Glesga working classes to amuse the folks in England where the show was a network hit? No, he was just writing a classic sitcom. Gregor Fisher was brilliant in the title role, matched only by Elaine C Smith as Rab’s beloved (sometimes) Mary Doll.

The Thick of It

If one more person says we are living in “unprecedented times” I shall scream. Hopeless ministers, conniving aides, turbo-charged incompetence, Westminster as a village full of complete idiots – Armando Iannucci’s brilliant satire, starting in 2005, foretold it all.

Where Yes Minister gently teased the political classes, The Thick of It perpetrated GBH. The Iannucci-led writing team did plenty of homework and their efforts paid off in a comedy that Westminster insiders, and millions of others, loved. Peter Capaldi’s effing and jeffing spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, remains a ******* giant among sitcom characters. So good it spawned a movie, In the Loop, starring James Gandolfini, and led Iannucci on to the critically acclaimed Veep. If there is a writer out there who can one day do justice to these strange times it is the Glasgow-born Scot.

I’m Alan Partridge

Another work of genius in which Iannucci had a hand.

There is something monstrous yet magnificent about Steve Coogan’s sports correspondent turned chat show host, turned local DJ, living in the Linton Travel Tavern where he takes his own “big plate” to the buffet table.

Part narcissist, borderline sociopath, and completely lacking the embarrassment gene, Alan would dearly love another series on the BBC, but no amount of begging can secure his dream.

He will get there one day, but for now it is the late 1990s, he is slumming it on local radio, offending local farmers, having long-suffering aide Lynn run around after him like the giant baby he is, and concocting terrible ideas for shows. Monkey tennis, anyone?

Partridge has had the last laugh on controllers everywhere, turning out to be the character no one can kill, even if they were mad enough to desire such a thing. After a move from the BBC to Sky and then online, Alan starred in his own movie, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. Last year he finally made a return to his spiritual home, the BBC, with This Time with Alan Partridge.

The Royle Family

It mostly takes place in a living room and the plot involves a family sitting on a sofa watching telly and talking about telly. Long before there was Gogglebox there was The Royle Family: Jim (Ricky Tomlinson), Barbara (Sue Johnston), Denise and Dave (writers Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash), our Antony (Ralf Little), and Nana (Liz Smith).

Set in Manchester and starting its first run in 1998, Aherne and Cash’s creation extolled the simple joys of family, Wagon Wheels, and having the man of the house say “My arse!” a lot.

If there is a dry eye in any house after watching the episode where nana passes away I’ll eat my Radio Times.