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Top 10 British Sketch Shows

VO: Richard Bush
Written by Dean Brogan This country has a rich history of really funny people. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top ten British sketch shows. For this list, we’ve gathered the UK’s finest examples of sketch-based comedy programmes, to give you a glorious run-through of what to watch whenever you’re looking for laughs. Special thanks to our user RichardFB for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 British Sketch Shows

This country has a rich history of really funny people. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top ten British sketch shows.

For this list, we’ve gathered the UK’s finest examples of sketch-based comedy programmes, to give you a glorious run-through of what to watch whenever you’re looking for laughs.

#10: "Little Britain" (2003-07)

We start with David Walliams & Matt Lucas, and a character-based show which serves as a highly unconventional guide to the different social classes and stereotypes in Great Britain. Initially made for BBC Radio, the show’s popularity saw it make the switch to TV, after just a couple of years on the airwaves. Heavy on self-deprecating figures, parodies of the working-class and controversial skits, the show frequently drew criticism, but also introduced us to countless memorable characters - from the barely-clothed Bubbles DeVere, to the chav queen, Vicky Pollard.

#9: "Smack the Pony" (1999-2003)

A late-90s phenomenon led by the all-woman troupe of Sally Phillips, Fiona Allen and Doon Mackichan, some said “Smack the Pony” would never work - but they were wrong. Tackling subjects ranging from relationships to sexuality and continually subverting gender stereotypes, the show was unique for featuring very few recurring characters, unlike most other sketch shows of the time - although there were frequent returns to some set-ups, including the dating agency routine. And “Smack the Pony” wasn’t the last we’d see from show creator Victoria Pile - she went on to write the highly-praised Channel 4 sitcom, “Green Wing”.

#8: "Spitting Image" (1984-96)

Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and even the Queen were some of the biggest names to feature in this series - just not as they’d usually appear. A show which ran for 12 years, “Spitting Image” pitted puppet caricatures into satirical sketches, poking fun at the political scene and leading celebrities of the time. Leaving celebs red-faced on a weekly basis, it frequently homed in on the Royal Family - famously forcing them into a council flat for one skit. Unfortunately, calls for a rerun have yet to be satisfied. Who knows what the creators would make of today's politicians!

#7: "The Morecambe & Wise Show" (1968-83)

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise had already established themselves as TV’s topmost double-act before “The Morecambe and Wise Show” debuted, but the pair were looking to take their careers in a new direction. What might’ve been a gamble quickly became classic comedy, with the series boasting big name celebrity appearances, signature theme tunes and lavish Christmas specials. Morecambe & Wise are often described as one of Britain’s best-loved double acts - thanks in large part to sketches like these.

#6: "Harry Enfield and Chums" (1994-98)

A host of stars appeared as the colourful characters in this hugely popular show, but the eponymous Enfield, Paul Whitehouse and Kathy Burke took centre stage. Beginning in 1990 as “Harry Enfield's Television Programme”, the show saw the trio create a world crammed full of unforgettable inhabitants, including the arm-swinging adolescents Kevin & Perry, who’d go on to have their very own feature film. A series which ‘went large’ with everything it did, it tapped into untold corners of British culture and carved its own niche within sketch show comedy.

#5: "A Bit of Fry & Laurie" (1989-95)

After appearing together in historical sitcom “Blackadder”, but before the comedy series “Jeeves and Wooster”, this show saw Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie hit us with hilarity on a weekly basis. Inspired by comic double acts before them (and serving as inspiration for those which followed), “A Bit of Fry & Laurie” thrives on clever word play, innuendo and catchy musical numbers. Of its many notable nuances, the show was well known for frequently breaking the fourth-wall, as well as routinely satirising the then-Tory government.

#4: "The Fast Show" (1994-97)

A suitably quick series with snap cuts from one sketch to the next, “The Fast Show” immediately stood out from typical TV schedules. With Paul Whitehouse taking a central role once more, it’s probably best known for the ‘suits you’ routine, but several of the show’s most prominent characters proved popular enough to score their own spin-off projects. A series with a dedicated cult following, even Johnny Depp lists “The Fast Show” as an influence, and fans will remember that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star appeared in the final episode.

#3: "French and Saunders" (1987-2007)

When one wasn’t working for the local church in “The Vicar of Dibley”, and the other wasn’t gracing screens as a heavy drinker in “Absolutely Fabulous”, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders were putting together one of Britain’s best sketch shows. Featuring spoofs and satires of anything from Hollywood blockbusters to hammy music videos, “French & Saunders” proved an international sensation at its peak, broadcasting around the world. Its stars would eventually be jointly awarded the prestigious BAFTA Fellowship, while these sketches became a blueprint for future comics.

#2: "The Two Ronnies" (1971-87)

Our runner-up; a show which largely happened by accident. During a technical issue at 1970 awards ceremony, the then-unestablished duo, Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker, were asked to entertain the crowd. They did so, and were spotted by the BBC, and were promptly given their very own show. And the rest is history. “The Two Ronnies” proved innovative, unpredictable and unparalleled. The series challenged “The Morecambe & Wise Show” as the Beeb’s flagship comedy programme, with solo sketches, one-off scenes and long-running, laugh-a-minute stories. By the late ‘80s, Messrs Corbett and Barker were at the very top of their game.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honourable mentions.

“Goodness Gracious Me” (1998-2001)

“Brass Eye” (1997-2001)

“Bo’ Selecta!” (2002-06)

#1: "Monty Python's Flying Circus” (1969-74)

Providing surreal animations mixed with live-action, absurd comedy and visual gags, and channeling the likes of Spike Milligan to do so, few comedy troupes can boast an impact comparable to Monty Python. While the group also produced films, soundtracks and stage shows, the “Flying Circus” sketch show is arguably their greatest achievement, showcasing the massive variety that Python offers. The Pythons routinely redefined what was funny, and these sketches have since inspired some of the world’s leading comics - from Seth MacFarlane to Matt Stone and Trey Parker. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, but today’s top spot was never in doubt.

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