Today we’ve got The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Mrs Brown’s Boys, but the 1980s had its own roster of sitcoms. While we couldn’t possibly discuss a whole decades worth of shows in a single article, The Edge have come together to talk about some of our personal favourites.
Red Dwarf (1988-1999)
If only anyone outside your family or that one special friend knew what you were blabbering about when you threw in a quote from Red Dwarf. Sadly, in these days of HD and billion dollar budgets, most people overlook the raw comedic genius behind this sci-fi sitcom. Set aboard an abandoned spaceship after the death of the entire crew, the only survivors are Liverpudlian Dave Lister (Craig Charles), the highly-evolved offspring of his cat creatively named Cat (Danny John-Jules), a hologram of his deceased frenemy Arnold Rimmer (Chris Charles) and an advanced robot called Kryten (Robert Llewellyn). Creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor certainly didn’t let a minuscule budget get in their way as the scripts that propel the humble mining ship through space are infectiously good. So don’t be a smeg’ead, give it a chance.
Only Fools and Horses (1981-1991)
Wheeler dealer Del Boy and his bedraggled brother Rodney are fondly remembered across Britain as icons of sitcom comedy. Often racking up a now unheard of 15 million viewers in the ’80s, the Trotter brothers entertained us for ten years with their “get rich quick” schemes, and then returned for regular specials until its conclusion in 2003. Thirty years on, their antics are still laughed about. From their accidental crime fighting as Batman and Robin to their disaster with a chandelier, David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst had audiences laughing until they cried – or genuinely sobbed, watching emotional moments such as Grandad’s death or Cassandra’s miscarriage. Comedy’s at its best when it’s heartfelt, and Only Fools and Horses‘ brilliant blend of comedy and drama would inspire the Royle Familys and Gavin & Staceys that followed.
Comedy might be an oversaturated market, but period sitcoms definitely aren’t, and none do it better than Blackadder, the BBC series that can accurately lay a claim to the comedy careers of many contemporary legends – Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry. Tony Robinson’s hasn’t quite hit the same heights as the anchor of Time Team, but we’ll put that down to another one of Baldrick’s hair-brained plans going awry.
The show originally ran across four series between 1983 and 1989, with the time period shifting from Tudor England to the Regency before darting into the trenches of the First World War with effortless ease and five-star comedy aplenty. For the purposes of celebrating this show rather than criticising it, we’d better pretend the first series was never broadcast.
It centered on the ultimately fruitless attempts at several incarnations of quick-witted, cunning lord turned butler turned Captain Edmund Blackadder and his dim, subservient and eternally optimistic companion Baldrick to ‘make it big’ in the world around them. Recurring roles from Laurie, Fry and other British legends including Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter) and the late Rik Mayall made this a true exhibition of everything the sitcom should be, underpinned by exceptional writing from the now-revered pairing of Ben Elton and Richard Curtis.
While it isn’t as well remembered as the likes of Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses, Hi-de-Hi! stands as yet another cracking sitcom from the eighties. Loosely based on Butlins, it takes place in the fictional holiday camp Maplins in the 1960s. Bored with his upper-middle-class life teaching at the University of Cambridge, Jeffery Fairbrother (Simon Cadell) leaves academia to become the camp’s entertainment manager. However, he quickly comes into conflict with the camp’s working class employees. It obviously dissolves into the standard ‘Slobs vs. Snobs’ trope, but clever writing and lovable characters mean that Hi-de-Hi! stands out from the crowd. It was created by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, veterans of the endearing wartime sitcom Dad’s Army, so it’s easy to see why the nation fell in love with the campers. Airing from 1980 to 1988, it was a staple of Sunday TV for almost a decade and continues to air irregularly on BBC Two today!