THERE'S a strange thing about so-called golden ages; you don't know you're in one until you look back on it two decades later.

Take situation comedy, for example; a common perception is that the 1970s were the halcyon days for the genre.

Consider the evidence: we had Dad's Army, Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers, Porridge, Open All Hours, Last of the Summer Wine and The Good Life. Admittedly, we also had Love Thy Neighbour and Mind Your Language, but that's another story. Exceptions can prove rules.

In the 70s, though, I remember my father complaining that "modern" television was terrible; there wasn't a show that could hold a candle to Hancock's Half-Hour.

I guess the point is that each generation holds that the stuff they watched when they were young was infinitely superior to the garbage they're forced to endure right now. No doubt curmudgeonly old sods (whose number I seem to be in danger of joining) used to switch off Steptoe because it wasn't a patch on The Goon Show on the Home Service.

So it came as a surprise to realise yesterday that the golden age of the sitcom was, in fact, the 1990s. The penny dropped when I read in The Herald that Mr Bean, Rowan Atkinson's joyous creation, is to be brought back to life for Comic Relief.

Forget the two tepid movies and the mediocre cartoon spin-off; in his prime Mr Bean combined almost unbearable pathos with classic slapstick, an inspired cross between Jacques Tati and Laurel and Hardy. For proof, Look up 1992's Merry Christmas Mr Bean.

That same Herald article mentioned the reincarnation, if you'll pardon the phrase, of The Vicar of Dibley, which first aired in 1994, and carried on the fine traditions of the ensemble comedy moulded by the likes of Hi-de-Hi and 'Allo 'Allo. It, too, is coming back for Comic Relief.

By the end of the decade, Dibley was averaging 13.5 million viewers; Mr Bean peaked at 19m. This is all the more impressive when you consider the company they were keeping - Men Behaving Badly, Absolutely Fabulous, Keeping Up Appearances, One Foot in the Grave.

The daddy of them all though, was Father Ted (what is with me and clerical comedies?), which never scaled those rating heights due to being confined to Channel 4. It, though, has achieved eternal life through endless re-reruns on More4. Thank the Lord for the digital multichannel revolution.

As for today's crop - Mrs Brown's Boys, Benidorm, Hebburn ... hmm, not sure. Ask me again in 20 years.