Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
What's your favourite 20th Century British TV programme?

The hilarious antics of hotelier Basil Fawlty have earned Fawlty Towers the title of greatest British TV show of all time.

The British Film Institute called on top TV industry figures to draw up their list of the best 100 programmes of all time.

Old classics like Doctor Who and Monty Python's Flying Circus scored highly, but shows from the 90s struggled to make an impression. Popular comedy Absolutely Fabulous came in at a measly number 17 and the addictive Who Wants To Be A Millionaire at an even less-impressive 23.

The British Film Institute's top ten:

  • 1 Fawlty Towers 1975-79 BBC
  • 2 Cathy Come Home 1966 BBC
  • 3 Doctor Who 1963-89/96 BBC
  • 4 The Naked Civil Servant 1975 ITV
  • 5 Monty Python's Flying Circus 1969-74 BBC
  • 6 Blue Peter 1958- BBC
  • 7 Boys From the Blackstuff 1982 BBC
  • 8 Parkinson 1971-/82/98 BBC
  • 9 Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister 1980-86 BBC
  • 10 Brideshead Revisited 1981 ITV

    Which 20th century British TV programme do you think is the champion of the small screen, and why? Do you think the old shows eclipse the new? Send us your views and suggestions. HAVE YOUR SAY

    I think Eastenders would have to get my vote it's an all time classic

    Lisa Sayers, England
    I think Eastenders would have to get my vote - it's an all time classic. I was disturbed when Ethel died, I'm glad she bought humour to the soap. I was upset when she died and I think she should win an award for being such a good actress.
    Lisa Sayers, England

    Some Mothers do have 'em, Steptoe and Son and Till Death do us part, had my whole family laughing, while I was growing up in London.
    Roger Goddard, Singapore

    Dr. Who changed my life. I was living in California with my wife and children. I loved Dr. Who every Saturday night. One night I dreamed that I was chosen as the new Dr. Who. When I woke up I realised that I could become my own Dr. Who. I bought new clothes, I planned my time travels, and the next year I broke up with my family. Three years later I moved to Thailand. My Tardis is my body and it only travels through space, not time. I have had many companions and many adventures in the fourteen years since I had that dream.
    Andy Canfield, Thailand

    I have to say Red Dwarf, possibly not including the last two series, but the originals are fantastic - whatever the old folks say the 80's did produce some classics.
    Tom Butler, UK

    I'm nearly thirty and I've never heard of Cathy Come Home

    Ged Byrne, England
    Older series are bound to score highly because 'Top Industry Figures' are going to be older. I'm nearly thirty and I've never heard of Cathy Come Home. It was on several years before I was born. In 30 years time I'm sure that some of today's excellent series (such as Cracker, Father Ted and This Life) will score just as highly.
    Ged Byrne, England

    These days it's just so much entertainment pulp, but in its early heyday Tomorrow's World was exemplary "informative" television.
    Raj, UK

    Coronation Street is by far the most superior 20th century TV show.
    Elizabeth Edgell, USA

    I vote for the OFF button.
    Quentin Stephens, UK

    The most English of them all, "Are You Being Served?"
    Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico, USA

    My number one would have to be the Election night coverage of the 1997 general election

    Mark Bell, UK
    My number one would have to be the Election night coverage of the 1997 general election. The best night's entertainment I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Did you stay up for Portillo?
    Mark Bell, UK

    Without a doubt, the greatest program of all time has to be Yes Minister/ Prime Minister. Witty and a great antidote to the power-hugging PM of the time!
    Jo McAleer, England

    As far as comedy goes, I was brought up on a strict diet of the Two Ronnies, The Goodies, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Dad's Army and Les Dawson. I quickly learnt that the modern alternatives that were competing against the repeats of the aforementioned shows were simply not a patch on them. It makes me wish I had been born a few years earlier so that I could have been entertained as a youth by such quality without having to suffer the rubbish that appeared in the 1980s and onwards.
    Michael Kilpatrick, Cambridge, UK

    There's a good reason why 1990s (and 2000s) British TV hardly features: it's derivative rubbish!

    Pete Hazell, UK
    There's a good reason why 1990s (and 2000s) British TV hardly features: it's derivative rubbish! In 1954 the BBC blew everyone's socks off with "1984", which even generated questions in parliament. Nowadays we have wall-to-wall "reality" TV and docu-soaps. I think the 1954 prediction of life watched over by TV has come true, only sixteen years late.
    Pete Hazell, UK

    Red Dwarf no doubt!
    Alan, UK

    There are so many excellent shows that the BBC have put together that it's too difficult to say. But what I do know is that one of the worst set of presenters I have ever seen would be the cast of FBI on Saturdays.
    Dan, UK

    Fawlty Towers. Classic seamless comedy. I've just finished watching the complete Fawlty Towers, which I recently bought on video, and it still outshines any recent comedy offering in its inventiveness and breathless timing. A classic, which has well earned its number one spot.
    Paul Stancer, Hong Hong

    The Bill is an outstanding programme, the scripts are always sharp, witty, range of characters is broad, story lines are realistic.

    Linda Dowdall, Sydney, Australia
    The Bill is an outstanding programme, the scripts are always sharp, witty, range of characters is broad, story lines are realistic. Reg is my favourite character, we all know someone just like him, don't we?
    Linda Dowdall, Sydney, Australia

    Fawlty Towers is a great show, but I, personally, enjoy watching Dad's Army videos (stupid boy!). My favourite character though is Jonesy, the butcher, although I liked Godfrey ('e's either in the one out back or the one over there). I also like this show as it features the time in history when Britain demonstrated resilience and tenacity on a far greater scale than we(touchwood) have ever had to exhibit, and I hope we'll never have to exhibit the afore-mentioned qualities again!
    Peter Bolton, UK in US

    Without a doubt, Fawlty Towers and Yes, Minister are two of the greatest comedies ever made. Blackadder is fantastic too.
    Jonathan Bensley, Australia

    Only Fools and Horses undoubtedly!

    Melanie, USA (ex-pat)
    Only Fools and Horses undoubtedly! However there are so many that deserve credit, such as Open All Hours, Porridge, The Two Ronnies, Red Dwarf, Yes Minister/Primeminister and the Vicar of Dibley. Long live British humor!
    Melanie, USA (ex-pat)

    As a fan of the show since I can remember I am so glad that Doctor Who has got the recognition it very much deserves, and came in at third place. Perhaps the BBC will now resume making a regular series of it again!
    John Mossell, UK

    I think "The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin" had to be one of the most interesting British comedies. It poked fun of the mundane aspects of modern life better than any other programme. I thought Leonard Rossiter was brilliant in it. I think "The House of Cards" had to be one of the best British TV drama movies.
    Phil J., USA

    In my opinion the best comedy series is without doubt As Time Goes By

    S. Arnold, Australia
    In my opinion the best comedy series is without doubt As Time Goes By. No violence, bad language and only mild sexual innuendo must put this in the running for some award. The pity is that over here we are currently 3 years behind the UK and not knowing whether we will see the later series is to me quite a worry. Long live British comedy as distinct from the mind-numbing American trash purporting to be comedy.
    S. Arnold, Australia

    Are You Being Served?
    John Edmondson, USA

    I've considered this fully and I think GBH has to have been the most captivating TV that I can remember. I was GLUED to the series and had real problems waiting a week for the next instalment. I can't remember feeling like that about any other programme.
    AK, UK

    The Avengers!!
    Floyd, USA

    I enjoy the comedy "Prime Minister's Question and Answer" live from the House of Commons!!
    Eddie, USA

    Fawlty Towers has to be the most dire comedy ever made

    Rob Docherty, England
    Fawlty Towers has to be the most dire comedy ever made. Early morning Open University programmes on quantum physics have more humour!
    Rob Docherty, England

    Congratulations to Blue Peter. Generations have grown up with hundreds of ideas of what to do with washing up bottles and toilet roll tubes. This programme consistently produces quality educational entertainment.
    Malcolm F, USA (UK Citizen)

    Bread, The Bill, The Young Ones, all beautiful shows about poor sad Poms. More of the good old stuff please.
    Karen, Australia

    "Mind Your Language"!
    Kervin, Singapore

    What about one of the best dramas of the 90's - This Life?
    Davoud Davies, UK

    I have never had a TV, ever. The occasional times I do watch, it continually reaffirms that it is Britain's biggest time waster and cause of "brain drain". Get a life - bin your TV !
    Adam Pumene, UK

    The World at War was THE seminal documentary on World War 2. It has to go down in television history as one of the best factual programmes ever and certainly should make the top ten.
    Graeme, England

    It's understandable, if a little disappointingly narrow, that almost all the TV programmes mentioned so far have been entertainment, either drama or comedy. British television also has a rich history of intelligent and informative programming to be proud of, and it's disheartening to find no mention of Jacob Bronowski's marvellous 'The Ascent of Man', or Kenneth Clarke's magnificent 'Civilisation'.
    Alex MacPhee, UK

    I can't believe any programmes from the last ten years could not make the top ten unless part of a series

    Robert Kimber, UK
    The results from the BFI are nothing more than 'good old days' sentiment. I can't believe any programmes from the last ten years could not make the top ten unless part of a series, and only one or two from the last twenty years!!
    Robert Kimber, UK

    Some of those one-off drama series, like A Very British Coup or GBH. They demonstrated how brilliant British scriptwriting can be. Similarly with things like the Hillsborough episode of Cracker - things that commented on society whilst 'entertaining' at the same time.
    Matt, UK

    Even though Knots Landing and Dallas are American programmes, I would put these two soaps in my top ten. Thank God for satellite - I get a chance to watch them over and over again!
    Tonia, England

    It has to be Jam, the Chris Morris sketch show that made its own rules on how to use the medium of television. Chris Morris is a genius.
    Simon Bayliss, England

    Doctor Who - 3rd. Not bad I suppose, for a show that's constantly frowned upon. So then, after this and the Auntie award, when's it coming back to TV as obviously people still like it? And why weren't The Goodies there - they were constantly more interesting than Python and all its clones?
    James Whittington, England

    Bottom has to be the most violent and most hilarious programme of all time, far better than 'The Young Ones' from the same actors! After living in the USA for 2 years I found American humour (with the exception of South Park) to be dull and politically correct, as you cannot say anything on TV without offending someone's feelings!
    Adrian, Wales

    Absolutely Fabulous would have to get my vote for the top British comedy, followed closely by any series of French and Saunders
    Cooper Ross, USA

    My top three would have to include Open All Hours, Red Dwarf and Dinnerladies. All have set standards for comedy in their own ways and all three still make me laugh every time I see them.
    Ian Thomas, England

    Fawlty Towers deserves the accolade. The funniest and most memorable of all the BBC comedies.
    Cliff, UK

    I can't believe that 'The Day Today' or 'Brass Eye' were not listed in the top 100 - these two series were the most novel and ground-breaking programmes since 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'...
    Matt L, UK

    Who voted for the appalling Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and the drivel that is Blind Date?

    Colin, England
    No quibble with most of the list, but who voted for the appalling Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (23) and the drivel that is Blind Date (77)? If there are people in the TV industry who seriously think that these shows really are among the best, no wonder British TV is heading downhill.
    As for my own favourites, Steptoe and Son for sitcoms, Morecambe and Wise for light entertainment, and I Claudius for drama series. As for documentaries, Michael Apted's brilliant series, which began with 7 Up, has been the perfect story of life in Britain in the late 20th/early 21st Century. I also thought the story of Katie and Eilish, about Siamese twins living in Ireland, was beautifully and sensitively handled.
    Colin, England

    'One Foot in the Grave' would be on my list - I also laugh at the bleak and surreal humour that produced Nippy the stuffed dog and donkey business in the bathroom. Warboys as a standard lamp.
    David Morris, UK

    What to choose??? There are so many great programmes (especially the '70s to early '90s BBC comedies). I think I'll agree with Michael - Blackadder (especially Series 2) is my all-time favourite.
    Ade, UK

    How on earth could Only Fools and Horses not be in the top 10!

    Lisa, UK
    How on earth could Only Fools and Horses not be in the top 10! Surely one of the best shows ever made in the UK.
    Lisa, UK

    I guess it requires the benefit of hindsight to decide whether something is a true 'classic', hence the lack of '90s shows. Having said that, some of the choices here seem a little odd and I would put the 'cunning wit' of Blackadder above Yes (Prime) Minister (and thus into the top ten) any day!
    Craig, UK

    The Goodies - they used the medium in a new and innovative fashion

    Trev, UK
    Fawlty Towers is sitcom perfection and without equal in my opinion, but I fear a lot of the choices are seen through Rose-tinted, Oxbridge spectacles. Monty Python (of which I'm a huge fan) could be very hit and miss at times and the drama choices are typically what you would expect as being safe on 'critical' terms.
    My own favourites? The Goodies. They used the medium in a new and innovative fashion, of which the better episodes still stand up today (and they wrote all their music). How about some repeats on terrestrial BBC (without the mauling they received on UK Gold)?
    Trev, UK

    The Simpsons. I know it's not English but it's the best thing on the box. It's cutting edge stuff. I says all there is too say about modern life in a highly funny manner.
    Stephen Mac, England

    I can't believe that any listing of the Top 10 programmes does not include Morecambe and Wise. For years, a night's television viewing was built round their show. When working with scriptwriter Eddie Braben their show was groundbreaking untouchable entertainment.
    Bill Tush, UK

    I think Red Dwarf has to be the winner. It combines laddish humour with a sci-fi backdrop and some cleverly weaved scriptwriting.
    Nige B, UK

    Blackadder or Only Fools and Horses - absolutely amazing comedies. The BBC is best known for its great comedies. Personally Blackadder is the best comedy ever, just amazing stuff. Enough said.
    Michael, Ireland

  • Send us your comments:

    Your E-mail Address:



    Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
    Search BBC News Online

    Advanced search options
    Launch console
    Internet links:

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

    Links to other Talking Point stories