One way I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday (which I found out today is also the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo) is to pick a programme that premiered on each year I have been alive. I guess one thing that shows is just how much of my life I have wasted watching TV. These aren’t necessarily my favourite programmes of all time, or even my favourite programme during that particular year, although those will come up. But they are all programmes I liked and which made an impression on me.
Bertha The Machine
This was a children’s programme made by Woodland Animations, who also made other stopmotion animation children’s TV such as Postman Pat and Charlie Chalk. I was a fan of all three of them, and they had an impact on my early years. Bertha The Machine was set in a factory which manufactured pretty much everything. Bertha was the machine who made all the stuff, but the series was mostly about the human workers, who included manager Mr. Wilmake, inventor Mr. Sprott, and my favourite Mrs. Tupp the tealady.
Catchphrase was a gameshow, which was based on an American gameshow of the same name. The fortunes of the US and UK versions were drastically different. The original American version only lasted one year, but the version here in the UK lasted 16 years in its original run, from 1986 to 2002. It was revived again in 2013, and is still going. The object of the game is for contestants to guess catchphrases or sayings which are acted out via visual puns in cartoons starring the yellow robot mascot Mr. Chips. For me, it’s always been the ones with original host Roy Walker, who hosted it from the start until 1999. He had a catchphrase himself, “It’s good but it’s not the one” which he said when a contestant gave an incorrect answer.
This was probably one of the first sitcoms I ever saw, and one of the first love stories I ever saw. It was about a mismatched couple, vibrant, fiesty Brenda (Emma Wray) and shy birdwatcher Malcolm (Paul Bown). I loved it, but considering how young I was I didn’t really follow what was going on most of the time. I think the main reason I liked it was for Emma Wray’s accent. I don’t know if it influenced my future tastes in some way, but over the years I have been friends with so many girls like Brenda and fancied so many guys like Malcolm.
While I didn’t see or was even aware of this show in 1988, when I did discover it, from watching my uncle’s videos of it which were at my grandma’s house, it became my first proper obsession. When we went out on car rides I used to like to imagine that our car was like Starbug and our house was like Red Dwarf. Anyway, it is one of the best sitcoms Britain has produced in my opinion. A lot of fans have their favourite eras, but one thing I liked about was how each series was slightly different from the last. Kryten is my favourite character, and it has one of the best closing theme songs of any TV show.
This is my favourite TV programme of all time. I often end up quoting The Simpsons or making references to it on most occasions. Not just to the show itself either, I was an avid reader of the comic, and I got so many of the spin-off books, and The Simpsons Movie is one of my favourite ever films too. Like a lot of people, I do think the show has been a victim of its own success and has gone on too long, but it definitely deserves a place as one of the great television series of all time.
Keeping Up Appearances
A sitcom where Patricia Routledge stars as Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet”, or so Hyacinth would have us believe). A lot of the humour comes from social class, which I think we in Britain are deeply, deeply obsessed with for whatever reason. Hyacinth is a snobby middle class woman who is desperate to be seen as and to join the upper classes, and to distance herself from her working class origins. It was very funny, and Patricia Routledge was excellent at the part. One reason it was popular in our house though was because my nana looks a lot like Patricia Routledge.
This was a show I and a lot of other kids used to sneakily watch and it was quite popular, probably because it was very rude and all the slapstick in it. But when I’ve seen repeats of it as an adult I appreciate some of the more observational jokes. The series centred on the great doubleact of comedians Adrian Edmundson and the late Rik Mayall.
Batman – The Animated Series
There was a lot of Batman-mania at the time. There were repeats of the ’60s Adam West TV series, the Tim Burton films had recently come out, and I remember getting some Batman lollipops from the corner shop every day after school. I enjoyed this animated series, and there’s so much I could gush about. It was darker and a lot more sophisticated than TV can be, let alone cartoons aimed at children. The voice cast included Mark Hamill as the Joker. The ending to the episode with Baby Doll in it is one of most moving and tragic scenes on TV I’ve ever seen. But one thing I loved about this series is the character of Harley Quinn, the Joker’s jester-like girlfriend. She was created especially for this series, and ended up part of the canon of the comics.
The Animals of Farthing Wood
This was a bit of a craze for a while. There were sticker books, figurines, a magazine, and I got most of them. I can’t remember who, but someone made me a small plaster statue of Weasel. This series focused on a group of animals having to abandon their woodland home after humans have cut down the trees and filled the streams and ponds in with cement, so the animals have to journey together to a nature reserve. Their problems don’t end there, as some of the animals already in the reserve aren’t happy with the arrival of newcomers. This series was beautifully animated and orchestrated, with the animals all having distinct and often very funny personalities. It also became known for showing how harsh the natural world is, with many of the animals dying, often in bloody, graphic ways.
The Vicar of Dibley
One of the most popular British sitcoms, this focused on chocoholic female vicar Geraldine Granger, played by Dawn French, in the rather peculiar small countryside village of Dibley. Dawn French’s performance as the Vicar of Dibley was much-loved. The sitcom is very warm and it’s the sort of show that all the family could enjoy, and I very much think there is a place for that.
Broadly similar to The Vicar of Dibley, with a sitcom focusing on clergy in a small community, though this was Irish Catholic priests in a small island, and the humour much more surreal and fast-paced. This series has definitely stood the test of time, in fact it appears to be getting more popular. This had a very good main cast. The late Dermot Morgan as Father Ted, who is well meaning, but easily prone to vices such as gambling and smoking. The rest of the main cast were Ardal O’Hanlon as nice but dopey Father Dougal, Frank Kelly as drunken, grotesque Father Jack and Pauline McLynn as tea-obsessed housekeeper Mrs. Doyle.
The Adam and Joe Show
Comedians Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish in a very inventive comedy show. One of the most popular aspects of it were the Toy Movies, with soft toys in parodies of famous films out at the time, and the spoofs of TV shows acted out by Star Wars action figures. It was in some ways like Robot Chicken before that existed, and was very like the humour in Family Guy. But it wasn’t just the toys though, they had some great well observed sketches and ideas, such as the ludicrously complicated quiz show Quizzlestick and them trying to organise a piss-up in a brewery.
This was the most difficult choice, as it was between this and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Both shows which premiered in 1997 with strong female leads and both showing “high school is hell” via dark humour, and both having fantastic theme songs. (Nerf Herder provided the Buffy theme, and Splendora provided Daria‘s theme). In the end, while at the time I liked Buffy more, nowadays I tend to prefer Daria. For me, it summed up high school better than any other fictional film or TV series. Daria was a great character, smart and quick-witted, she was the awkward teen a lot of wished we were rather than the one we actually were.
The Royle Family
This was a very down-to-earth sitcom, just about a working class family sat around watching the telly. This made it very relateable for a lot of viewers, and in its early years very realistic and well observed. It had a lot of nice touches, such as the remote control being taped together, that’s how a lot of remote controls ended up in our house. The series had a great cast, writers Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash playing daughter Denise and her boyfriend Dave, plus Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston as Jim the father and Barbara the mother, Ralf Little as the son Anthony and Liz Smith as the nana, Norma. That was just the family, there were the friends and neighbours who popped in and were just as well drawn and cast. Another series which had a great theme song too, in this case ‘Half The World Away’ by Oasis.
This was at one time my favourite TV show ever, and the main reason it isn’t anymore is because it didn’t last very long, only two series. But it didn’t end because of lack of interest from viewers, more because the people making it wanted to try different things. Jessica Hynes (though she was known as Jessica Stevenson at the time) had been in The Royle Family, and co-created and wrote the series with Simon Pegg. They played Daisy and Tim, with the series showing general, mundane day to day life for slacker 20-somethings, but those events were directed by Edgar Wright like a Hollywood film and filled with pop culture references. Much of this style continued with Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost (who appeared in Spaced as Tim’s friend Mike) making “the Cornetto Trilogy” of comedy films, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Jessica Hynes has also done well since, winning a BAFTA this year for her performance in W1A.
This show has been around for all my adult life (and some of my adolescence) which is a strange thought. I still think the first series was the best. I remember in high school when it was on it genuinely felt like something exciting and different. Anna Nolan, the skateboarding lesbian ex-nun is still my favourite ever housemate to this day. Big Brother has since gained a Celebrity spin-off (plus several other spin-offs), moved from Channel 4 to Channel 5 and has had its ups and downs over the years, (mostly downs, let’s be honest), but it’s had an eventful history and has survived a hell of a lot longer than a lot of people have expected it to. Random bit of trivia that anyone who gives a toss will already know anyway – the original Big Brother eye was that of series one housemate Melanie Hill.
This groundbreaking teen series set a lot of styles that were taken up by later series such as Skins, for instance having each episode focus on a different character. Sooz, played by Emily Corrie, was my favourite, a very interesting and unique character who struggled with mental health issues. Her colourful dreadlocks hairstyle inspired McFly’s 2004 number one single ‘Five Colours in Her Hair’. Another great character was Alex (Orlando Wells), in my opinion one of the best gay characters ever on a TV show. It made good use of its music soundtrack, though that meant it didn’t get a DVD release because of difficulty licensing the music.
Harry Hill’s TV Burp
This would become a very big mainstream hit show, providing comical commentary on the week’s TV, but, not to sound too hipster-ish, I got into it early. I enjoyed Harry Hill’s self-titled Channel 4 show so I wanted to watch when I found out he had a new ITV show, and while I always liked TV Burp, I think the earlier series were slightly better. Random highlights of this series for me include a spoof documentary on Goldilocks and the Three Bears (apparently, bears are notorious for losing their keys) and the EastEnders Christmas Cracker, which includes a dunce’s cap, a razor blade and the ‘joke’ was “Why did Pauline Fowler cross the road? To die of a brain haemorrhage. ”
Stephen Fry presents what looks like a quiz show, but is more like an Have I Got News For You/Mock The Week style panel show, and also something of an educational show in its own way, presenting facts and information via comedy, and highlighting common misconceptions.
This started out as a great drama series, but gradually became a soap opera but with better acting and edgier content, until in the final couple of series it just staggered around and collapsed flat on its face completely. While it went on too long, and I think that eventually it will come to be remembered as “a Noughties thing”, Shameless at its best was brilliant TV. I nearly always watched the ‘preview’ episode on E4, which was screened the week before it would be broadcast on the main Channel 4.
A BBC Three sitcom starring comedian Johnny Vegas as smalltime weed dealer Moz. It is set mainly in his flat, and the two other flats in the same floor, but that by no means meant the show was limited. As the series went on, there were lots and lots of characters, many strange and surreal events, intersecting plots and subplots, with fantasy sequences and flashbacks coming through thick and fast.
I’ve watched many wildlife and nature documentaries, and David Attenborough is very much the king of those. There are many I could have included on here, but the one I chose was because I think it was one of the best TV programmes of the Noughties, and it did feel like a TV event at the time. Even the adverts for it, featuring the song ‘Hoppipolla’ by Sigur Ros on the soundtrack became popular. There was some truly breathtaking footage, filmed in high definition and covering mountains, jungles, deserts, ice worlds, oceans, forests and more. The series became one of the most viewed natural history documentaries ever and won loads of awards. I can’t recommend it enough.
A sitcom where Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison) is cursed with having to help the Devil (Ray Wise) by catching souls who have escaped from Hell so they can be sent back. Luckily he has the help of his friends. The first series of this was very formulaic “Monster of the Week” type, but it was getting into its stride by the second series. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after that, leaving what had been a mainly fun and interesting series with quite a depressing finale with a lot of loose ends. It’s a shame it wasn’t given more of a chance, as it showed a lot of potential, and Bret Harrison was very likeable (and quite cute) as the lead.
One of the most original, entertaining and difficult quiz shows in a while, with Victoria Coren-Mitchell a brilliant host. There have been 1o series to date. This quiz tests the ability for people to find connections of apparently random things. It’s a lot of fun and very engaging even if you don’t do well in it which I mostly don’t, though the final Missing Vowels round is where you can gain a lot of points. The Connecting Wall is one of the most popular rounds however, with fans making walls of their own.
A werewolf, a vampire and a ghost share a flat. It sounds like the start of a joke, while this show, created by Toby Whithouse, had plenty of comedy, it was more drama, specifically horror. It always had its own identity and it turned out to be, in my opinion, the best programme BBC Three ever produced. The cast changed multiple times, but the writing was always solid and developed its own mythology well, using supernatural motifs but being creative with how they were used.
Over The Rainbow
This probably seems a bit of an odd one out among this list. It was one of those reality TV singing contests where Andrew Lloyd Webber was auditioning people for the lead role in a musical he was producing. Perhaps it’s because The Wizard of Oz is one of my favourite films, but this series became one of my favourite reality TV singing contests in general. Every contestant in the final 11 bought something to the table, which is rare, with some very good performances.
This supernatural drama series won a BAFTA despite the fact that BBC Three had already axed it at that point. While there were a few teething problems, there usually are with most first series, and it had some interesting ideas with how it portrayed an afterlife and an impending apocalypse. The cinematography was nice too, and it was acted well, especially Iain De Caestecker in the lead role.
Britain’s Strangest Pets
OK, I’ll admit I am kind of scraping the barrel with this one. 2012 has the opposite problem to 1997 for me, in that there weren’t really any new shows that struck much of a chord with me. It wasn’t a bad year for TV in general, but nearly all the shows I liked were already established ones. Apart from this Channel 5 documentary, which showed many interesting moments, such as an emu egg breakfast, a pig which had beauty treatments, a surfing dog, and a former prison warden who doted on his pet reptiles.
My Mad Fat Diary
A sitcom based on the diaries of Rae Earl, this comedy-drama is brilliant for ’90s nostalgia, and it handles the issues of mental illness and the difficulties of being a teenager very well. Sharon Rooney in the lead role is a great find, in a generally strong cast. The third and final series is due to air at the end of this month.
Lee Ingleby, one of my favourite actors, stars in a dramatisation of the founding of Chester Zoo. This series was very popular, but wasn’t recommissioned for a second series, which is a shame. That said, it had a more satisfying and definite conclusion than many series which last longer do, with the zoo being opened. Our Zoo is well worth checking out if you missed it first time round.
Peter Kay’s Car Share
The best sitcom of the year so far, Peter Kay and Sian Gibson starring as two supermarket workers taking part in a car share scheme. They become closer as the series goes on, and along the way there are a lot of laughs, poignancy and an amazing soundtrack from Forever FM, the fictional radio station in the programme.