Arts & Culture

16 best British comedy series to learn about British culture

The British sense of humour is unique: a subtle mixture of sarcasm, sadistic realism, irony and the making fun of normal life. Usually, you will find this genuine humour reflected on British TV in the many shows and sitcoms like The Office or Fleabag. To get a proper sense of good British humour and know more about their culture, you need to accept making fun of yourself or going beyond your own insecurities. 

This basic recipe lies in most British education to approach life lighter and is what makes their comedy shows so popular. Here are some of the best British comedy series and sitcoms to understand British culture better, especially if you are planning a trip to the UK soon!

Absolutely Fabulous (1992)

Created by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders – who also stars in the show -, Absolutely Fabulous or Ab Fab is a sitcom broadcast in 1992 based on the sketch Modern Mother and Daughter. The series tells the story of Edina Monsoon, an alcoholic and drug addict PR agent who spends her time failing to lose weight and chasing bizarre fads in a frantic attempt to stay young and hip. Edina refuses the support of her daughter Saffron, a student and aspiring writer whose continuous care of her childish mother has left her a bitter cynic. 

After Life (2019)

After Life premiered on Netflix in 2019 and is a dark comedy series created, written, produced, and directed by Ricky Gervais, who plays the lead character Tony Johnson, a newspaper writer whose life is turned upside down after his wife dies from breast cancer. He considers suicide but instead, overwhelmed by resentment, decides to spend his life punishing the world for his wife’s death by saying and doing whatever he wants. But his plan fails when everyone around him pities him and tries to make him a better person.

‘Allo ‘Allo (1982)

Broadcast for the first time in 1982 on BBC1, ‘Allo ‘Allo! is a parody sitcom of the original BBC wartime drama Secret Army created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd and starring Gorden Kaye. This iconic British comedy series focuses on a café owner in the French town of Nouvion, during the German occupation of France in the Second World War. The city has to deal with problems caused by a dishonest German officer, a local French Resistance leader, a stolen painting, and a pair of trapped British airmen while hiding secret affairs with waitresses. 

Fawlty Towers (1975)

Written by John Cleese and Connie Both, Fawlty Towers is another sitcom broadcast on BBC2 for the first time in 1975. Side note, this is one – if not the most – popular show ever produced in Britain in 2000, the British Film Institute (BFI) ranked it first amongst the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes and more recently, in 2019, Radio Times comedy experts named it the greatest ever British TV sitcom. Fawlty Towers is a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay on the English Riviera between the rude owner Basil Fawlty, his bossy wife Sybil, the practical maid Polly and the unlucky Spanish waiter Manuel. They all show their attempts to run the hotel and end up in silly situations with highly demanding guests.

Fleabag (2016)

Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag is a multi-acclaimed comedy-drama television series based on the initial author one-woman show performed in 2013. Phoebe Waller-Bridge stars as a free-spirited and sexually active but confused young woman in London who frequently breaks the show to provide internal monologues and commentary to the audience. The actress and writer won the British Academy Television Award for Best Female Comedy Performance, and the series won 6 Primetime Emmy Awards. Internationally, it received the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series and Best Actress.

Friday Night Dinner (2011)

Written by Robert Popper in 2011, Friday Night Dinner is a TV sitcom about the regular Shabbat Friday dinner experience of the middle-class British Jewish Goodman family happening and filmed in Mill Hill, North London. The series starts as the sons arrive at the family home and proceed to dinner, often interrupted by numerous things. Mother Jackie is a straight character who tries to run her household but is disrupted by her sons Adam and Jonny pranking each other. Similarly, they are continually interrupted by Martin’s oddities or their lonely neighbour Jim Bell who is attracted to Jackie and visits them with his dog, Wilson.

Gavin & Stacey (2007)

Written by James Corden and Ruth Jones, Gavin & Stacey aired for the first time in 2007 on BBC Wales, then BBC Three and BBC One. Directed by Christine Gernon, in 2008, the show won a BAFTA Audience Award and a British Comedy Award as Best TV Comedy Award. With over 18 million spectators in the UK, it has been the most-watched comedy in 17 years. The show follows the key moments of the families of two main characters: Gavin, from Billericay in Essex, and Stacey, from Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, in South Wales. 

Ghosts (2019)

Since 2019, the series, written by a collective of comedy authors like Mathew Baynto, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas and Laurence Rickard, follows a collection of ghosts from different eras haunting a country house while sharing the house with its new living occupants. Filmed on location in Surrey, the show is about Alison Cooper, who inherits the huge Button House with the idea of turning it into a luxury hotel. At first, the ghosts conspire to get rid of the newcomers, and after several attempts to scare them, one of the ghosts pushes Alison from a window. When she awakes from a coma, she discovers that her near-death experience has given her the ability to see and hear ghosts.

Motherland (2016)

Aired in 2016, Motherland is a sitcom that explores the trials and traumas of Julia, a middle-class mother in London. When her mother decides to stop taking care of her children, Julia Johnson has to pay attention to her children and the concept of motherhood. Julia later becomes friends with other parents, working-class Liz and stay-at-home dad Kevin and finds herself facing mothers with dominant personalities, including the superficially polite Amanda. 

Mr Bean (1990)

Created by Richard Curtis and the legendary Rowan Atkinson, Mr Bean is a sitcom born in 1990 and starring Atkinson as the title character. Influenced by comedy actors such as Jacques Tati and early silent films, Rowan Atkinson developed this series based on his student time at the University of Oxford and focuses on Mr Bean, a child in a grown man’s body. In the show, Mr Bean solves various problems presented by everyday tasks and often causes disruption in the process. 

Only Fools and Horses (1981)

Created and written by John Sullivan in 1981, this series happens in working-class Peckham in southeast London and highlights the lows and highs of market trader Derek Trotter and his younger brother Rodney Trotter, in particular their attempts to get rich. The series received recognition from BAFTA, the National Television Awards and the Royal Television Society and in 2004 was voted Britain’s Best Sitcom in a BBC poll.

Peep Show (2003)

Starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb, Peep Show was written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain and was broadcast on Channel 4 for the first time in 2003. In 2010, it became the longest-running comedy in Channel 4 history. It is the story of Mark Corrigan and Jeremy Usbourne, two dissimilar best friends who share a flat in Croydon, South London. Mark is a socially awkward loan manager and Jeremy is a childish unemployed musician who lives in his friend’s spare room. This funny comedy series highlights the thoughts of the main characters as voice-overs. 

The Derry Girls (2018)

Happening in Northern Ireland and filmed in Derry and Belfast, Derry Girls is a teen sitcom created and written by Lisa McGee that premiered in 2018 and is Channel 4 most watched comedy since Father Ted. The series is based on its creator’s life while growing up in Derry in the 1990s. The episodes follow five local teenagers attending Our Lady Immaculate College, a fictional girls’ Catholic secondary school based on the real Thornhill College, where Lisa McGee studied.

The Inbetweeners (2008)

Created and written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, The Inbetweeners is another TV teen series which came out for the first time in 2008. The series tells the misadventures of suburban teenager William McKenzie and his friends Simon Cooper, Neil Sutherland and Jay Cartwright at Rudge Park Comprehensive in their school life with the uncaring school staff, their friendship, male bonding, lad culture and adolescent ups and downs.

The IT Crowd (2006)

Written by Graham Linehan and aired in 2006 on Channel 4, The IT Crowd occurs in the offices of Reynholm Industries, 123 Carenden Road, Central London. The show follows three members of the IT support team who live in a filthy basement in contrast to the modern architecture and stunning London views enjoyed by the rest of the organisation. The company’s business origins are uncertain as all is known is that it bought and sold ITV, has a chemicals laboratory, and makes an unnamed product. Another mad British comedy show to try!

The Office (2001)

First broadcast in 2001 in the UK, The Office is what is called a mockumentary sitcom. Created and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the programme follows the daily lives of office employees in the Slough branch of the fictional Wernham Hogg paper company. In the show, Gervais plays the central character David Brent and zooms on social clumsiness, human behaviours, self-importance and vanity, frustration, desperation and fame. A classic sitcom that you may have already watched or seen zillions of related GIFS!

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to learn about British culture through these very popular TV shows, and when you’ll hop on either one of our tours in Britain, the local history and cultural aspects won’t have any secrets for you!