The best British comedy TV shows

The best British comedy TV shows — Dawn French in The Vicar Of Dibley
Dawn French is a British favourite as Reverend Geraldine Grainger in The Vicar Of Dibley. (Image credit: BBC)

Fancy a laugh? Well, we've got a barrel full of them, Brit style. We've compiled a best British comedy TV shows guide, bringing you some of the finest UK comedy — from iconic sitcom of the 70s, Fawlty Towers, to the more recent Derry Girls and This Country

With details of where to watch and what the critics said, here is a selection of side-splittingly brilliant British comedy shows for you to enjoy, whichever side of the pond you're on.

Here are the best British comedy TV shows...

'Fawlty Towers'

Fawlty Towers cast

Fawlty Towers starred John Cleese as pompous hotelier Basil Fawlty.  (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? Widely regarded as the finest British sitcom of all time, Fawlty Towers follows the farcical misadventures and countless humiliations of pompous, social-climbing hotelier Basil Fawlty and his feisty but charming wife, Sybil. 

Helping the couple - who spend so much time trading acerbic insults you wonder how they ever got married - run the hotel are loyal chambermaid Polly, always on hand to fix the latest crisis, and eager Spanish waiter Manuel, who speaks minimal English and often finds himself on the receiving end of Basil's short temper. 

Actor John Cleese (who played the lead role and also co-created the show) was inspired to pen the comedy after staying in a hotel in Torquay and encountering its own snobbish, rude owner, who showed as much disdain for his guests as Basil. 

Mr Fawlty may have often been a victim of circumstance, but let's just say his establishment wouldn't have rated highly on Trip Advisor! Cleverly and neatly plotted, Fawlty Towers only ran for two series, but the popularity of these 12 episodes has endured and inspired writers of other comedy shows to follow suit.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 2

Episodes: 12

Average episode length: 30 minutes

What the critics say: The Independent says, "What ought to be beyond argument is that Fawlty Towers, so far as British sitcoms are concerned, is the best of the bunch. It is also, most importantly, the funniest."

'Only Fools and Horses'

Only Fools and Horses Del Boy and Rodney

Del Boy and his younger brother, Rodney, are always looking for the latest money-making scam.  (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? Set in Peckham, South London, the show focuses on the numerous and nearly always disastrous, money-making missions of cheeky market trader Derek 'Del Boy' Trotter (Sir David Jason) and his younger brother, Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst). 

Perennially hopeful, wheeler-dealer Del is determined to achieve his dream of becoming a rich yuppy, and ropes Rodney, their grandad, and later their Uncle Albert, into all manner of ludicrous, and mainly illegal, schemes. 

Despite the ridiculousness, and Rodney being under Del's thumb, the Trotter brothers' relationship is genuinely heartwarming, and the excellent subsidiary characters - including gormless road sweep Trigger, smug car salesman Boycie and his bubbly missus Marlene, lorry driver Denzil, and later Del and Rodney's respective wives, Raquel and Cassandra - only add to the hilarity. "This time next year, we'll be millionaires," Del pledges in almost every episode - tune in to find out if the Trotters ever did make their fortune.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons:

Episodes: 64 (with 16 Christmas specials)

Average episode length: 30 minutes (Series 1-5), 50 minutes (Series 6-7), 35-90 minutes (Christmas Specials)

What we say: "Del Boy is probably one of the greatest ever British comedy characters and the longevity of this show is tantamount to the sheer genius and amazing stamina of writer John Sullivan."

'The Office'

The Office cast

The Office made Ricky Gervais a household name.  (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? Anyone who's ever found themselves stuck in a dead-end job won't help but feel a shuddering sense of reality watching this mockumentary based on the mundane lives of colleagues at Slough-based paper merchant, Wernham-Hogg. 

In charge at the office is David Brent (played by Ricky Gervais in his breakout role) - the deluded and socially inept general manager who boasts about his ability to use humour to lead his workforce. However, the joke's on David, as he goes to excruciating lengths to try and impress with his inappropriate wisecracks and impressions, but ends up looking a right plonker. 

Equally cringe-worthy is Brent's second in command, rigid jobsworth Gareth Keenan, who tries to laud it over his co-workers, particularly sales rep Tim Canterbury. Poor Tim's clearly bored senseless flogging paper but creates his own amusement by pranking Gareth, with the help of receptionist Dawn Tinsley, who he harbours feelings for. Their slow-burning will they/won't they love story adds a touching, emotional quality amongst all the gaffes.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 2

Episodes: 14

Average episode length: 30 minutes

What the critics say: The Guardian says, "The Office didn't invent the comedy of awkwardness or realism but it finessed and polished it into something approaching high art. And, like high art, it will age well."

'Absolutely Fabulous'

Absolutely Fabulous cast

Absolutely Fabulous (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? Prepare yourselves for the outrageous, hedonistic antics of PR agent Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her BFF, magazine fashion editor Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley). This pair of high-powered selfish divas drink, smoke, and drug-take their way through life in London, chasing any fads in a desperate attempt to remain young and on-trend.

With her bouffant beehive and cigarette practically stuck between her lips, Patsy is the enabler of the two, much to the frustration of Edina's long-suffering teenage daughter, Saffron, a sensible aspiring writer who's constantly having to mother her wayward parent. Stellar in their supporting roles are Edina's mum, referred to as 'Mother', who is seemingly indifferent to her daughter's debauched lifestyle, and her daft as a brush personal assistant, Bubble. Give it a watch, sweetie darling!

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 5

Episodes: 32 (plus 7 specials)

Average episode length: 30 - 60 minutes

What the critics say: Variety says, "Absolutely unique, absolutely rude and absolutely politically incorrect."

'Derry Girls'

Derry Girls cast

'Bridgerton' star Nicola Coughlan (second left) stars in 'Derry Girls'.  (Image credit: Channel 4)

What's it about? Set in 1990's Northern Ireland, Derry Girls follows five school friends - leader of the pack Erin, eccentric Orla, goody-two-shoes Clare (played by Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan), rebel Michelle and her cousin from England, James - as they navigate the trials and tribulations of being an adolescent against a backdrop of political conflict. 

But despite the poignant ever-looming threat of war, Erin and her posse are determined to keep calm and carry on, not letting anything stand in their way of getting up to all the normal teen shenanigans.  All four girls (plus James, who's sent there by his family his own protection) attend Catholic school Our Lady Immaculate - run by the deliciously cynical Sister Michael, whose scathing sense of humour is reason enough to give the show a whirl.

Where to watch: Netflix

Number of seasons: 2

Episodes: 12

Average episode length: 22 minutes

What the critics say: Vox says, "At its best, Derry Girls hits the emotional intersection of cringe, earnestness, and slapstick."

'The Thick of It'

The Thick Of It cast

Peter Capaldi (right) and 'The Thick Of It' cast.  (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? Savagely satirising the British government (during the Blair, Brown, and Cameron years), this sitcom is based in the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship - or DoSAC for short. 

In charge is hopeless minister Hugh Abbott, who tries to implement new policies, but predictably ends up making a mess of it all and needs the Prime Minister's foul-mouthed, manic head of communications, Malcolm Tucker to step in and save the day. Everyone in DoSAC is a little intimidated by super sweary spin doctor Malcolm, played to perfection by the brilliant Peter Capaldi, and it's not hard to see why. Tucker's iconic aggressive expletive-filled rants and complete and utter contempt for the minister and his other co-workers will leave you howling.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 4

Episodes: 23

Average episode length: 29 minutes

What the critics say: Vulture says, "There's simply nothing to rival the comic creation of Malcolm Tucker."

'The Inbetweeners'

The Inbetweeners

Everyone knows someone like Will, Simon, Jay, and Neil. (Image credit: Channel 4)

What's it about? Get ready to cringe watching a gang of four sexually inexperienced sixth-form boys and their doomed attempts to be the kind of guys girls go crazy for. 

Neither part of the cool 'in crowd' or total nerds, the inbetweeners comprise of lead character and show narrator Will Mackenzie, a briefcase-carrying boffin forced to leave his former private school for state education following his parent's divorce, shy but short-tempered Simon Cooper who lusts after his childhood friend Carli D'Amarto, vulgar sex-obsessed Jay Cartwright who's full of tales about his imaginary conquests, and nice but dim Neil Sutherland. 

Living in sleepy suburbia, Will, Simon, Jay, and Neil hatch plans to make their lives more thrilling - like bunking off school to get drunk and organising a lad's day out at Thorpe Park - but somehow their silly exploits always ends in embarrassment and disaster, especially if their fun-stealing head of year Mr Gilbert's got anything to do with it.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 3

Episodes: 18

Average episode length: 25 minutes

What the critics say: The Independent says, "It is funny because you will have met blokes with elements of Will, Simon, Jay, and Neil; lovable losers who use bravado and jokes to disguise the inner turmoil they are ill-equipped to deal with."


Motherland cast

'Motherland' is a must-see for any parent.  (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? The juggle is real for middle-class London mum Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin), who's trying to hold down a demanding job and look after the kids, whilst getting zero help from her useless husband Paul. But when her ageing mother declares she's had enough of being an unpaid babysitter, Julia's forced to make friends with the other mums at her children's school. 

On hand to offer Julia moral support are straight-talking single parent Liz, who refreshingly couldn't give a toss what anyone thinks of her, and drippy stay-at-home dad Kevin, who's pathetically desperate to get in with the clique of mums that meet in their local coffee shop. Queen bee of the ladies who sit together sipping their lattes is the impossibly put-together, Amanda, who despite appearing sympathetic to Julia's stresses is actually a bit of a snide cow, particularly to her adoring friend Anne.

 Although not based on a true story, if you're a parent then what's the betting you've encountered at least one of these stereotypes standing at the school gates.

Where to watch: Netflix

Number of seasons: 3

Episodes: 19

Average episode length: 27 minutes

What the critics say: The Evening Standard says, "With its acutely observed characters, knockout cast and knack for wringing hilarity from the most banal of events, Motherland is an unhinged delight."

 'The Royle Family'

The Royle Family cast

The Royles have become a much-loved part of British comedy.  (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? The show centres on the lives of Mancunian family, The Royles, who love nothing better than watching television in their living room. Head of the family is couch potato Jim, a workshy slob who spends most of his life sitting in his armchair and is prone to outbursts, frequently using his catchphrase "my arse". 

Barbara is Jim's long-suffering wife and mum to their two kids - daughter Denise, a chain-smoking layabout who's just as bone idle as her dad, and son Anthony, who's always lumped with the task of opening the door to guests and making a round of teas. 

Competing the family are Denise's dim-witted other-half Dave, and Barbara's elderly mum Norma (aka Nana), who isn't Jim's favourite person. Although let's just say the feeling's totally mutual. 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 3

Episodes: 25

Average episode length: 30 minutes

What we say: We say, "With both the acting and writing completely on point, The Royle Family is a masterclass in social observation comedy."

'The IT Crowd'

The IT Crowd cast

Maurice, Roy and Jen form 'The IT Crowd'. (Image credit: Channel 4)

What's it about? Another comedy set in an office - this time the IT department of fictional Reynholm Industries in London. The series revolves around three staff members. First up is computer programming geek Maurice Moss, who's uber-intelligent, but painfully shy and socially awkward. 

Working alongside him is idle Irish technician Roy Trenneman (played by actor Chris O'Dowd in his pre-Bridesmaids days), who despises his job and his idea of fixing a colleague's IT crisis is telling them to switch their computer off and turn it on again. Helpful! 

In charge of the boys is IT manager Jen Barber, who's new to the business and despite listing a whole host of technical skills on her CV, actually knows sweet FA about computers. Maurice, Roy, and Jen are mainly confined to the dingy basement of their office, cut off from the rest of their colleagues and lacking in any kind of natural sunlight. But slowly but surely a warm bond begins to develop between this unlikely trio. 

Where to watch: Netflix

Number of seasons: 4

Episodes: 25

Average episode length: 24 minutes

What the critics say: The Guardian says, " The IT Crowd is, in many ways, an unashamedly traditional sitcom, but it still manages to feel fresh and different through its use of tech language and embrace of geek culture."

'The Vicar of Dibley'

The Vicar Of Dibley cast

'The Vicar Of Dibley' is an iconic British comedy.  (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? Back in 1994, two years after the Church of England finally allowed female ministers to be ordained (hallelujah!), the inimitable Reverend Geraldine Grainger (played by comedy legend Dawn French) arrived in the fictional Oxfordshire village of Dibley, much to the horror of the residents who were expecting a new male vicar. 

It's clear from the off Geraldine's going to need the patience of a saint dealing with all the quirks of her parishioners, which include dappy verger Alice Tinker, haughty parish councillor David Horton and his affable son Hugo, dull parish clerk Frank, amorous farmer Owen, appalling cook Letitia, and Jim Trott with his constant "no, no, no, no" dithering.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 3

Episodes: 20

Average episode length: 35 minutes

What we say: We say, "This multi-award-winning sitcom is pure classic British humour."

'This Country'

This Country

'This Country' is written and created by real-life siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper. (Image credit: BBC)

What's it about? Created, written by, and starring real-life siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper, the mockumentary follows the day-to-day lives of cousins Kerry and Lee "Kurtan" Mucklowe, in their snoozy little Cotswolds village. 

Seemingly unable (and/or unwilling) to break free from the confines of their close-knit rural community, Kerry and Kurtan spend their time creating trivial amusement and fixating on the most pointless things - like Kurtan's determination to win the annual village competition, or Kerry hanging around with a group of kids almost half her age. Trying, and often failing, to offer the cousins some much-needed direction is the ever-patient local vicar, Reverend Francis Seaton, who acts as a sort of mentor/father figure. 

Other locals include a terrifying hard woman (and wannabe tattoo artist) Mandy, grumpy old man Len who looks like he could do with a good wash, and Kerry's vile excuse for a dad, Martin. The more you watch, the more you realise what a clever drama the Coopers have created with their perfectly observed characters. 

 Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Number of seasons: 3

Episodes: 19

Average episode length: 25 minutes

What the critics say: The Guardian says, "It’s a comedy of desperation, but it’s also perfectly observed."

Laura Morgan
Freelance writer

Laura has been a journalist for over a decade, writing about soaps, TV entertainment, fashion, beauty, and food. After graduating from university, she started her career working at a national soap and TV magazine. During her seven-year stint there she joined the cast of Emmerdale for a tour around the famous village, partied with soap stars at awards bashes, interviewed her acting idol David Suchet, and sat in the front row of Strictly Come Dancing

Her heart lies with the soaps, and her all-time favourite character has to be EastEnders' Pat Butcher - no one rocked a big earring quite like her. She's also a huge fan of detective crime dramas, particularly old school Inspector Morse, Endeavour, and adaptations of Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot. When she's not writing, she loves a spot of second-hand shopping and going on adventures with her young son.