Top Telly

Britishland’s Radio Times has published a Top 100 list of TV shows (from the beginning, i.e. early 1950s, until yesterday).

I read through the whole thing (so you don’t have to), and apart from the inexplicable inclusion of American shows (e.g. Hill Street Blues and M*A*S*H*) on the list, it’s not bad.  Of course, I haven’t seen all of them — give me a break, we didn’t even have TV in South Africa till I turned 21 — but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the ones I have.

What the hell, it’s the weekend, right?

The Comedies

  • Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again — actually, the John Cleese Collection — all classics, all brilliant.
  • Not The Nine O’Clock News :  what SNL’s Weekly Update  tried to be, and failed (unless Norm McDonald was the host) — and speaking of Rowan Atkinson:
  • Blackadder :  historical satire at its very finest, helped by an unbelievable supporting cast (Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, Miriam Margolies, etc.).
  • The Royle Family :  most Brits of my acquaintance absolutely hated this show about working-class losers;  I loved it.


  • The Duchess of Duke Street :  excellent fin-de-siècle  series set in the late 1880s until post-WWI, with the wonderful Gemma Jones as the “Duchess”.  One of my prized DVD collections.
  • The Singing Detective :  unbearable to watch, but so good you can’t stop.  Forget everything you ever knew about Michael Gambon:  this is his finest performance.  Ignore the silly U.S. remake.  Also in my collection.
  • After Life :  funny, dark, poignant and sensitive;  Ricky Gervais’s best work.  I think I’ve watched this series half a dozen times, and counting.

Cops ‘n Robbers

  • The Sweeney :  long before NYPD Blue‘s Andy Sipowicz, there was the gritty Jack Regan.
  • Inspector Morse :  wherein the gritty working-class Jack Regan turns into the calm, analytic and cultured Morse, both having been played by the same actor.
  • Cracker :  tortured and flawed genius solving crimes;  Robbie Coltrane in a non-comic tour de force.  I have the set, but there’s a warning attached:  do not watch the postscript episode (set in Hong Kong), because not only is it terrible, it was an afterthought, cobbled together at the last minute, and none of the loose ends from the final series were tied up.


Never watched any of them.  I did watch one episode of Doctor Who, and it was awful.


  • The World At War (I have this series on DVD):  probably the greatest WWII documentary ever — it’s hard to argue about Hitler’s behavior, for example, when you have Traudl Junge (his actual secretary) describing it.
  • Civilisation :  when I grow up, I want to be as educated as Sir Kenneth Clark.  I also have this series on DVD.

Missing from this Top 100 compilation (inexplicably, and shamefully):

  • Foyle’s War :  period drama with the brilliant Michael Kitchen (in Kim’s DVD collection)
  • The Young Ones :  anarchic comedy with Rik Mayall
  • The Goon Show (radio):  the groundbreaking show that defined anarchic comedy thereafter, all from the fevered imagination of Spike Milligan
  • Life On Mars :  detective show in the 70s, from the perspective of a 1990s transplant.  Maybe the good old days weren’t so good.
  • Waiting For God :  shenanigans at a retirement home with dark, biting comedy (in Kim’s DVD collection)
  • Absolutely Fabulous :  Jennifer Saunders’s hysterical over-the-top empty-headedness vs. Joanne Lumley’s feline degeneracy.
  • The Darling Buds Of May :  gentle bucolic comedy, with a fine cast (in Kim’s DVD collection).
  • The Avengers :  Patrick McNee’s bowler hat and Diana Rigg in skin-tight pants suits, ’nuff said.
  • The Persuaders :  Roger Moore and Tony Curtis;  who’d have thought they’d be a great pairing?
  • Doc Martin :  they left Martin Clunes’s show off the list?  Seriously?

All the above omissions should have been slotted in ahead of the American transplants;  not that the Yank shows are bad — they aren’t —  but they were essentially rebroadcasts.

If you haven’t seen any of the above shows, try to do so.  You won’t be sorry.


  1. I started reading your Cops ‘n Robbers segment and I immediately though what about “Foyle’s War”?

    Read further down the page, breathed a sigh of relief.

    That series is one of the best dramas ever to come out of the UK.

  2. I’d recommend the Saint ( #14 ) – Roger Moore in a better role than as JB.
    and why is Fawlty Towers way down at 45 ?

    And where is Top Gear ( But only with Clarkson ) ?

    also The Prisoner … Ok – Maybe somewhat incomprehensible. But that was half the fun.

    I’ve been watching Britbox recently because the dreck on networks is unwatchable but for a lot of the shows, we need the subtitles turned on to get a translation from British to American.

  3. Amen to The Goon Show – far superior to the videos, where your view of the scene is filtered through someone else’s vision. No possible way anyone ever could produce a video of Nasty Affair at the Burami Oasis.

  4. GM Kim ..
    Another vote here for Doc Martin. That show was brilliant. Clunes was tremendous. And Caroline Catz (aka Louiser) wasn’t too bad on the eyes either. My “much better than me” better half cottoned me onto the program a number of years ago. She’s even got a Doc Martin bobblehead.

  5. The Duchess of Duke Street is extraordinary. I bought the series on DVD several years ago, but mistakenly left it in my Arizona home when I sold it. What a smart, witty and poignant series.

  6. No Top Gear with the three amigos? Say it ain’t so.

    I really liked Cracker, Robbie Coltrane was outstanding.

  7. I’ll add two:
    I, Claudius
    Blackpool / Viva Blackpool (I’m probably alone on this, but it was good enough to spawn a US version)

  8. The Darling Buds of May is now The Larkins, which is good on Acorn. Darby and Joan is good. I agree with the assessment of Foyle’s War, great show. We watch a lot of TV on Acorn streaming service. Lots of British, New Zealand, Australian shows, as well as some foreign language. Much better than what we get on US TV. Try Rake, The Brokenwood Mysteries and Jack Irish. And who can forget The Avengers?

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