Last Updated on March 13, 2020
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. It’s also true that comedy can be responsible for some of the best-loved shows on TV.
We thought we would combine nostalgia and comedy and take a good look at the British sitcom in the 90’s. If anything, this decade brought about some of the best British sitcoms we’ve seen.
- 2point4 Children
- Father Ted
- Men Behaving Badly
- ‘Allo ‘Allo!
- I’m Alan Partridge
- Drop the Dead Donkey
- Red Dwarf
- The League of Gentlemen
- The Thin Blue Line
- Keeping Up Appearances
- The Brittas Empire
- Game On
- The Royle Family
- The Vicar of Dibley
- Goodnight Sweetheart
- One Foot in the Grave
- As Time Goes By
- Mr Bean
- The New Statesman
- Absolutely Fabulous
This classic series ran literally from the beginning of the 90s until the end, and told the story of a family that was ridiculously dysfunctional but quite ‘normal’ on the outside.
Did you know? The show ran for a whopping eight seasons, almost unheard of for TV comedy these days.
Still very well-known to this day, Father Ted was simply bizarre in most of the episodes, consistently placing the titular character in a multitude of impossible situations. Set on Craggy Island, it is seen as a classic of the modern sitcom era.
Men Behaving Badly
A perfect idea for a sitcom, two ridiculously silly men find it hard to grow up, led to one of the biggest shows in UK TV history. The scripts were flawless and it starred Martin Clunes. Need we say more?
Did you know? The final episode of the show was watched by 13.9 million viewers.
While many people may not be aware of who Tony Hancock was, if you concentrated on the sitcom Bottom for just a few minutes, you would see a similarity with the work of that comedy genius. Surreal, and at times wilfully offensive, it was a much-loved treat for any UK sitcom fan in the 90s.
Still running in the 90s on the BBC, this wonderfully cheerful sitcom followed the lives and loves of French Resistance fighters in the second world war.
Did you know? Lord Bath (at Longleat) loved the show so much he mounted an exhibition at his stately home.
I’m Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan is an expert in conveying bitterness and chronic embarrassment. This worked well for the Alan Partridge character. The show made Coogan a household name.
Fun Fact. Alan Partridge was a semi-regular character on the innovative TV comedy The Day Today.
This little gem unleashed Simon Pegg onto the world, with Pegg playing a large part in the scripts for the show. It’s hard to outline any real plot here, it’s very much worth it for Simon Pegg.
The story is that two people who literally just make friends at the start of the story agree to share a flat together. Simon Pegg and NIck Frost are the core ingredients.
This one could lay claim to being the ‘most sitcom’ of UK sitcoms in the 90s. If you never had a chance to watch Desmond’s, you are in for a treat. It’s a large show, with plenty of actors. But the writing saved the show, and made it a series to watch.
Norman Beaton played the barber, and it was one of the first shows to showcase an entire black family.
Drop the Dead Donkey
This show is routinely placed in TV comedy top ten lists. It was unique in that it was a topical sitcom set in a newsroom, that amazingly went on air just a few days after big news stories, This meant that the comedy could stay fresh.
Responsible for a host of catchphrases and perhaps even a new word or two (‘smeg’, anyone?), Red Dwarf is still watched worldwide and adored by fans. Many of the stars of the show went on to have successful careers off the back of Red Dwarf.
The League of Gentlemen
This is perhaps one of the most surreal shows in Britsih TV history. It had three actors playing most of the parts, was heavily influenced by horror movies, and full of so much dark humour you were never really sure what you were watching.
Fun Fact: Royston Vasey (the name of the fictional town the show is set in) is the real name of the real life comedian Chubby Brown.
The Thin Blue Line
Rowan Atkinson was in this gem, and that is all you need to know really. The comic genius made the show, set in a police station, a true piece of unmissable TV. It was short-lived, but loved by millions.
Although this show started in the 80s, it was still going in the 90s. The story was all about a family struggling to make ends meet in LIverpool. Sharp and witty, it was a mainstay in most British homes during its run.
Keeping Up Appearances
This wonderfully British sitcom contained an iconic character in Hyacinth Bucket. This lady was fantaical over presenting a certain image to her neighbours. This sitcom scored a double whammy with being incredibly funny and socially aware at the same time.
Fun Fact: Hyacinth was once voted as being one of the ‘most annoying characters in British television.
The Brittas Empire
There is something about British sitcoms in the way they can make everyday situations dissolve into pure embarrassment. Gordon Brittas is the manager of a leisure centre, and try as he might, he couldn’t get his vision for the place realised. Cue plenty of sight gags and some extremely embarrassing conversations between characters.
Fun fact: Gordon died in one episode, and was resurrected for another series after the death met with disapproval by the public.
This wonderfully sharp and funny sitcom starred Ben Chaplin, who would go onto some serious roles in movies. The show is about three flatmates, and like all the best sitcoms, the tight concept allowed great characterisation and one-liners to shine through.
The Royle Family
This was nothing short of a classic. It starred Caroline Aherne as the mother in a family group that was caring but reasonably dysfunctional. There was no laughter track, and at times the show took on some dark themes. The focal point for the family during the show was the TV in the lounge. They hardly ever too their eyes off it.
Fun fact: The show was famous for being entirely set in the lounge of the Royle family. However, the family did ‘get out’ on more than one occasion.
The Vicar of Dibley
Dawn French had this part especially written for her. Richard Curtis has been responsible for some amazing sitcoms and movies in recent years, and this one really allowed his writing talent to shine. The vicar was fun, very human, and part of a cast of characters that was idiosyncratic ad fundamentally very British.
One of the biggest British sitcoms of all time was Only Fools and Horses. Nicholas Lyndhurst became hugely famous through that show. Then in the 90s he was part of Goodnight Sweetheart. This show has a synopsis that is best avoided because it’s a little more complex than most.
A time traveller and British nostalgia, as well as Lyndhurst on top from. A real classic.
Fun Fact: Most people forget the fact that one episode featured Jack The Ripper almost escaping justice. However, justice was served in the form of a bus that hit him rather hard.
One Foot in the Grave
This was another iconic show. It featured some real stars too, including a young Angus Deayton. A cantankerous old man threw out insult after insult to everyone, yet still he managed to be utterly charming.
Fun Fact: The theme song was sung by another comedy legend, Eric Idle.
As Time Goes By
This wonderful comedy had some truly memorable characters in it. It also had Judi Dench and Geooffrey Palmer, two fantastic actors. The show centered on two characters who had not seen each other for nearly 40 years, but had been lovers previously.
Starring the incredibly talented Victoria Wood, as well as Julie Walters, Dinnerladies was set in the kitchen of a factory, where the Dinnerladies cooked up food for workers. The key here was the scriptwriter, who happened to be Victoria Wood. A true comedic talent, she knew what was naturally funny.
set in the kitchen of a factory, where the Dinnerladies cooked up food for workers. The key here was the scriptwriter, who happened to be Victoria Wood. A true comedic talent, she knew what was naturally funny.
Fun Fact: Wood only wanted two seasons, and even though the public disagreed, she thought the second series was inferior to the first.
An iconic character, Mr Bean went on to star in movies, cartoons and probably every other form of media around. Rowan Atkinson anchored the show as the strangely silent Mr Bean. If there was a painfully embarrassing situation to find himself in, he would be in it. In fact if there was a situation that was just plain painful, he’d be in that one too.
It takes a lot to make a completely silent person (apart from the odd moan or whine) hilarious, but Atkinson did it. And he did it well.
Fun fact: The original name for the character was Mr White. At one point it was Mr Cauliflower.
The New Statesman
This remarkably biting satire was first aired in the 80s, but continued into the 90s. Rik Mayall was the politician at the heart of the story, and he had plenty of embarrassing situations to get into. However, the show excelled when it exposed just how corrupt his character was. The politician Myall played was called Alan B’Stard. That kind of hints at the flavour of the show.
It deserves a place on any best comedy of the 90’s list because it was unrelentlessly cynical. It arguably paved the way for other cynical shows in the years to come.
We end this list with one of the best comedies of all time, never mind the best British comedies of the 90s. This surpassesmost everything else here on this list for sarcasm and cruel wit. The show also had a truly madcap approach, with characters who behaved badly finding it hard to hold down a job.
The whole thing worked because of the chemistry of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, both of whom just let themselves go and jumped right into some of the funniest scenes in British TV. No matter that the characters seemed to be the biggest sociopaths in the world.
It was a golden age for British sitcoms, and a decade that launched the careers of many huge comedy stars of today. The 1990s also ushered in the darker comedy that would soon seem to become the norm.