Even without the unique circumstance of 2020, it’s the time of year when we’re all looking for something to cosy up with for a good laugh. With more time being spent home than normal, here’s a selection of brilliant domestic sitcoms from the Network catalogue to entice your comedy taste buds this winter. Each is set primarily or solely in a home, so snuggle up warm with that glowing feeling that only a comedy escape can give.
…And Mother Makes Three/Five
After delighting BBC audiences in both radio and television versions of Not In Front Of The Children between 1967 and 1970, Wendy Craig moved to Thames to star as the perilously dotty and delightful Sally Harrison, widowed in her mid-30s and now parenting her two sons with the domestic assistance of her aunt.
Running for four series, and another four under a new title once she finally found love once more, it’s a delightfully whimsical comedy about family, parenting, and early-70s home life. Of particular note are the episodes in successor series Five that Craig wrote herself, under the pen name Jonathan Marr.
Birds Of A Feather
With a different take on a female lead, we jump to 1989 for the debut of the long-running BBC comedy about two working-class sisters thrown together into their own version of familial disunity when their husbands are imprisoned for armed robbery.
Packed with the kind of post-PC, pre-woke outrageous hilarity that only telly of the 1990s gives us, there are more than 100 episodes to enjoy. Returning on ITV this Christmas for its latest special, get the brilliant original series now and escape back to a recognisably modern but distinctly simpler time.
Men Behaving Badly
In many respects the reverse of Birds, Simon Nye’s Men Behaving Badly began on ITV before moving over to the Beeb for its third series, and focuses on lazy, emotionally stunted and immature male flatmates trying to steer a course through 90s Britain. With razor-sharp writing, it’s a step back into the very epicentre of lad culture: booze, babes, football and trying to do as little work as possible. Network’s DVD box set is the perfect place to see the very rarely repeated Series 1, starring Harry Enfield.
Father, Dear Father
Parenting and the permissive society provide the core of this 1968 sitcom, including a feature film in its box set.
This time the focus is distinctly upper-middle-class as successful novelist Patrick Glover attempts to steer his two daughters successfully from their teenager years into adulthood. Assisted by their ever-present but easily flustered live-in Nanny, and regularly frustrated by visitors in the form of ex-wives, publishers, the girls’ own friends and boyfriends, plus huge, lumbering dog H.G. Wells, Patrick is on the receiving end of an unending series of misunderstandings and awkward circumstances that combine to make quite delicious television farce over the course of seven laughter-filled series.
Man About The House
If Till Death was the sitcom that defined the 60s, then it is Thames’s Man About The House (and its successors, George & Mildred and Robin’s Nest) that stands for 1970s Britain.
MATH tackles both the sexual revolution and changing attitudes towards young people head-on, placing single male catering student Robin in hilarious domesticity with similarly single, young and beautiful girls, Chrissy and Jo. Predictably, all three are trying to find their way in life, struggling to pay their bills, and looking for a partner – and for the girls, the latter means anyone but Robin.
It acts as a fascinating and funny look back at how much societal attitudes have changed, with far more raucous domestic set-ups now par for the course amongst young Londoners.
Bless This House
Comedy icon Sid James stars in his third sitcom created by Powell & Driver (George & The Dragon, Two In Clover): and this time it’s perhaps the most iconic, genre-defining, family-orientated domestic comedy yet.
Riotous, bawdy and brilliant, there’s no escapism quite like Bless This House as archetypal sitcom dad, middle-aged sales manager Sid, struggles to understand his teenage kids, desperately seeks refuge from both work and home demands, and regularly falls victim to his own attempts at an easy life.
The perfect comedy to get lost in this winter, the box set also includes a wonderful feature film co-starring Terry Scott and June Whitfield. Did you know…? The most prolific contributor to the series was celebrated Bread/Liver Birds/Butterflies writer Carla Lane.
Love Thy Neighbour
Eddie Booth is bigoted and obtuse, and Bill Reynolds is little better: but beneath the neighbours’ constant jibes a shared bond soon develops; it’s husbands versus wives in this laughter-packed, long-running comedy of working-class community.
Now regularly overlooked and misunderstood, Love Thy Neighbour is one of the best studies of male friendship ever committed to video, and also ribs industrial relations, the political divide, racial tensions, marital strife, parenting, and financial strains.
Coming complete with a feature film spin-off, the box set packs in a plethora of laughs as the (literally) black-and-white neighbours, their workmates and wives grapple with daily life in 70s Britain.
One of the great sitcoms, and vastly under-appreciated, the complete collection of this comedy from Eric Sykes is now available to own – and it’s a genuine treat, packing in laughs with exquisitely crafted plots and jokes suitable for multi-generational viewing.
The 68 episodes see Eric star with Hattie Jacques as “identical” twins living together in suburban London. Eric is the prouder of the two, whilst Hattie’s more grounded rationalism borders on naivety compared to her brother’s antics, regularly in competition with pompous neighbour Mr Brown and dim-witted constable, Corky.
Clever whilst remaining accessible and outrageous without being coarse, it’d be a real struggle to recommend Sykes and its escapist, domestic brilliance highly enough.
Never The Twain
Never The Twain steps outside the domestic confines of most other Comedy @ Home titles, taking in both a second home and two shops. The focus is on former friends and business partners Oliver and Simon (screen favourites Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies), who’ve long since become sworn enemies – despite living next-door to each other – and find their worlds colliding once more when their children marry.
Whilst a begrudging friendship and unspoken male bond remains, the sniping, competition and bickering between the pair drives the comedy as their behaviour consistently deposits both in a string of sticky situations that neither can emerge from with dignity!
Boasting the writing talents of many of the previously mentioned comedies, this Thames comedy ran for eleven hit series from 1981.
The Upper Hand
This 90s sitcom is a unique entry in Comedy @ Home, being based on an American series rather than a British original.
The role-reversal comedy focuses on single dad Charlie and single mum Caroline: he’s a retired sportsman and she’s his new employer, a high-flying city executive who requires a cook, cleaner, and nanny for her young son and delinquent OAP mother – played with class and aplomb by Honor Blackman.
Perhaps the most emotionally heart-warming of all these titles, the series follows as the two families become ever-more intertwined, clashing working-class and distinctly upper-middle cultures, and an eventual romance between the two working parents.
Home To Roost
We conclude with perhaps the most under-explored of all familial relationships: father and son.
Beginning in 1985, telly legend John Thaw and future soap star Reece Dinsdale lead this domestic comedy as a pair reunited seven years after Henry’s messy divorce from Matthew’s mother. Never a warm father, the arrival of his estranged 17-year-old son on his doorstep late one night forces the grumpy older man to confront parenting duties he had long washed his hands of, and to embrace the peculiar creature that is the 1980s’ teenager.
From Rising Damp writer Eric Chappell, it’s a cleverly scripted and predictably laugh-out-loud comedy about men, male bonding and parenting that brings those heady Thatcherite days straight back to life on screen.
Article author Aaron Brown is a comedy historian and fan, and Editor of British Comedy Guide, promoting British comedy of all varieties to audiences across the globe.