As 2018 draws ever nearer its denouement, Network asked me if I’d look back over their comedy DVD and Blu-ray releases from the past 12 months and select the ten best titles. Naturally I was only too keen to agree and use the opportunity to indulge in some comedy gold. Whilst this hasn’t been the most abundant year for the genre, there was still a very healthy selection to pick from, and, after a good amount of umm-ing and ahh-ing, I’ve wrestled them into a semblance of an order for you here. So go on: have a read, and maybe you’ll find two or three new titles to add to your shelves – heck, why not go for all ten?
The first in this list of a number of fondly-remembered comedies that have seen the commercial light of day for the first time in 2018 thanks to Network’s expert archive-digging, Denis Lawson stars as the titular DJ and schemer in two series from Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (Drop The Dead Donkey, Outnumbered). The first sees Kit and his ‘associates’ (I use the term advisedly) skirting around their radio station’s no-nonsense new manager, ever attempting to fulfil their own interests rather than the station’s. In Series 2, the company has gone bust, leaving the misfit group at Kit’s mercy as he dreams up ever-more elaborate business schemes. A deliciously 1980s comedy.
Probably the most contemporary of Network’s releases this year, Chewing Gum is the outrageous account of growing up in south London, as retold by – and starring – award-winning playwright and actor Michaela Coel. The E4 sitcom follows her naïve, sheltered central character, Tracey, experiencing the real world for the first time aged 22 as she struggles to free herself from her domineering, God-fearing mother’s apron strings for the first time. Find out for yourself why this acclaimed, award-winning series took the comedy industry by storm. A third series is expected to be produced next year, so watch this space…
A long-forgotten treat from the writers of The Brittas Empire, this two-series comedy from Thames is a real grubby gem on the sitcom sideboard. Richard Griffiths and Benjamin Whitrow are expectedly brilliant as well-spoken London socialites Jack and Hugo, who find that their upmarket wine merchant business is on the verge of financial ruin. Robin Kermode is the bank-appointed manager who comes in to save the firm – and coerce the doddering duo into a bit of work (shock! horror!), whilst Felicity Montagu is a treat as aristocratic office girl Griselda.
Last month marked the quite remarkable golden anniversary of classic LWT school comedy Please Sir!, which was so successful it spawned not just a feature film outing but two sequel/spin-off sitcoms: The Fenn Street Gang and Bowler. Totalling 8 series between them, all 115 episodes from sitcom supremos John Esmonde and Bob Larbey (The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles) are included in this box set, plus the 1971 film. John Alderton, Deryck Guyler and Joan Sanderson lead the cast of teachers in the original series at Fenn Street Secondary Modern.
Many of you are likely young enough (ahem) to remember the BBC’s 1990s retirement sitcom Waiting For God, but do you recall as far back as this Yorkshire series, which began in 1977? Bona fide screen icons Peggy Mount and Pat Coombs lead the near-exclusively female cast in this sitcom set at Paradise Lodge, “a superior residence for retired gentlefolk”, which has enjoyed a repeat outing on ITV3 in recent years and still packs in many laughs with the starring duo’s riotous antics over four series. Actors Lally Bowers and Diana King give hilarious support to the stars.
Aaron Brown is a comedy historian and fan who owns and runs British Comedy Guide (link: https://www.comedy.co.uk/), promoting British comedy of all varieties to audiences across the globe. With a passion for sitcom, he has previously written for the BBC and Gold, and has numerous radio and television credits discussing British comedy.