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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Guardian readers

From The Archers to I’m Alan Partridge: your favourite BBC shows ever

‘Almost every line is quotable' … I’m Alan Partridge.
‘Almost every line is quotable' … I’m Alan Partridge. Photograph: Publicity image

Spooks (2002-2011)

It has to be Spooks. I’ve watched and rewatched it so many times. It is tight, tense, full of genuine peril for its main characters. The cast was consistently amazing particularly Nicola Walker, Matthew Macfadyen and Richard Armitage, whose performances really stayed with me. It could be devastating – Tom pushed to breaking point, Danny’s death, Lucas and Harry on the top of a roof. Tariq on the streets, Colin’s desperate demise. Ruth’s return and loss (sob). It also had some exquisitely hideous characters, whether they were shady politicians or double-crossing team members. And through it all, our Harry. If only team members would just have kept one key rule: tell the truth to your boss! But let’s not talk about the film, OK? Clare, NHS worker, Rossendale

The Archers (1951-present)

As an immigrant in 1976, I didn’t understand many customs and British English phrases. Over any number of years, I learned so much from The Archers – and since I lived in a village, much of it was extremely helpful. I didn’t know what I didn’t know; the importance of the village PO, for example. Ellen, 71, Oxfordshire

Our Friends in the North (1996)

I watched Our Friends in the North aged 15 and thought it was amazing; looking back now, I realise it’s even better. Its ambition, scale and heart are unparalleled. It follows four characters over the course of 31 years. Mark Strong, Gina McKee, Daniel Craig and Christopher Eccleston are all mesmerising, and that last shot as Geordie walks away across the bridge as Oasis plays is magic. Sidenote: I met Christopher Eccleston about 15 years ago and gushed about how much I loved the show. “Me too,” he said, “but not the wigs I had to wear.” Matthew, 41, teacher, Salford

Life on Earth (1979)

It opened up the world … David Attenborough in Life on Earth.
It opened up the world … David Attenborough in Life on Earth. Photograph: BBC

The series opened up the world and brought it to our living room. We watched it as a family in silence, only talking about it afterwards. The majesty of David Attenborough, surely the finest broadcaster in BBC history, made it so personal, as if he was talking just to us. Even today, the series has a great deal to say about the natural world. No other series has educated the public as much as this. Stephen Milward, 65, former teacher, Rainworth, Nottinghamshire

Doctor Who (1963-present)

Doctor Who is the closest thing I have to a religion. My Dad, who was 13 when it started, has seen every episode, including the 97 “missing” ones. I was seven when it came back in 2005, at which point Dad waxed lyrical about it, describing how the Doctor regenerated, how the Tardis materialised but had a faulty chameleon circuit and so on. I have now seen all episodes since 2005. Growing up, many of my friends and family members loved it too. The episode School Reunion really spoke to me and my friend – the idea of teachers being aliens was fantastic. Our primary school headmaster was also a massive fan, and the two of us would go up to him saying “It’s Mr Finch!”, and he’d turn to us and say “Do try the chips ... ” – great fun. Caroline Smith, 24, Dundee

Gentleman Jack (2019-2022)

This drama about 19th-century English lesbians who lived their lives unapologetically has resonated with many people. For me, it’s perfect television. Writer Sally Wainwright is able to weave complicated storylines and inject them with humour and tenderness. The entire cast is superb, especially Suranne Jones who portrays the real-life historical figure Anne Lister like the rock star she is, while allowing her to be vulnerable and human. By contrast, Sophie Rundle’s performance as Ann Walker is beautiful in its delicacy, with a steeliness behind those blue eyes. In a time of disposable television, Gentleman Jack is an example of a story handled with care and respect. Gemma Jacob, 42, London

Live and Kicking (1993-2001)

Jamie Theakston and Zoe Ball on Live and Kicking, 1999.
It made me want to be a grownup … Jamie Theakston and Zoe Ball on Live and Kicking, 1999. Photograph: BBC

As a child growing up in Woking, Saturday mornings on the BBC were made just for me. No parental oversight required. I’d wake up early and go downstairs, help myself to cereal, turn on the telly and be glued to Live and Kicking from nine till midday. It made me want to be a grownup – if this was what it was like. From the eras of Andi and Emma to Jamie and Zoe, it was so much fun. Orla, 37, Sydney, Australia

When the Boat Comes In (1976-1981)

This drama starred James Bolam, who played Terry Collier in The Likely Lads. He gave a great performance as Jack Ford, a first world war veteran who returns to England. It explored the horrific working conditions of the miners in the post-war period, along with the shockingly poor post-service care afforded to the men returning from the trenches. While Jack Ford cannily engineered a position within the Shipbuilders Union to elevate his social standing, it wasn’t just a period piece following a dashing hero. Its focus on the condition of the working class was what made this drama important. There’s an underlying sense of selfishness and guilt accompanying Jack’s rise, which perhaps explains his willingness to involve himself quite unnecessarily in The Spanish Civil War. The final series, whereby Jack, Jesse and Billy take part in the war against Franco feels a little contrived compared to the rest, but there is no doubt this drama was one of the BBC’s great successes. It was also one of the only things that could make my late father sit down and watch the TV. Ian Roberts, 57, retired, Wallasey, Wirral

I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002)

Every generation has its stand-out comedy, whether it’s Alf Garnett, Fawlty Towers, The Inbetweeners and so on. For me, it’s I’m Alan Partridge: 12 absolutely perfect episodes, almost every line of which is quotable. The character has been around for 30 years in various formats, but I’m Alan Partridge is the crowning glory. Daniel King, 51, film critic, Kennington, London

Blue Peter (1958-present)

Peter Purves, Petra (the Blue Peter dog), Lesley Judd, Willow (the Blue Peter cat) John Noakes and Shep (the Blue Peter dog) on Blue Peter in 1973.
Left a lasting impression … Peter Purves, Petra (the Blue Peter dog), Lesley Judd, Willow (the Blue Peter cat) John Noakes and Shep (the Blue Peter dog) on Blue Peter in 1973. Photograph: BBC

One of my favourites has to be Blue Peter. Before the days of being able to record or we had catchup, I would be devastated if I missed seeing Peter Purvis, John Noakes and Lesley Judd. I was inspired to try and make things, which is something I still find useful today. You also got a a real insight into things that as a 10-year-old helped make sense of the world a little bit more. I can think of so many other programmes, but this one left a lasting impression on me. Nicky Smith, 59, Nottingham

Dark Matter: A History of the Afrofuture (2021)

Dark Matter: A History of the Afrofuture is a well-researched, well-paced documentary exploring how artists have used sci-fi to understand black history and imagine new futures and possibilities, as well as communicate through art alternative spaces to the alienating experience of institutional violence. It features Ekow Eshun as a talking head who recently curated the In the Black Fantastic exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. It’s calming television that I used to put on in the background all the time (thank you, Drexciya playlist) that they should definitely keep available on iPlayer, especially during Black History Month. I recommend it to everyone. Liv, 28, London

Top of the Pops (1964-2006)

I watched Top of the Pops throughout my formative years circa 1974-81. It was hugely influential on my musical taste and the communal aspect of everyone my age seeming to follow it made it must-watch TV. Carlton, Oxfordshire

The Chronicles of Narnia (1988-1990)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Magical ... The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Photograph: Edwards, Dave/BBC

The serialisation of The Chronicles of Narnia, particularly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1988, was a magical and faithful adaptation which captured the imagination of my siblings and I. Its attention to detail has made the series timeless. The sets and costumes were excellent, and the animatronic Aslan (which still looks great today) exuded a benevolence and kingliness which was elevated by the voice work of Ronald Pickup. Barbara Kellerman was terrifying as the White Witch. The series has stayed with us into adulthood and has proved very quotable, spawning a lot of family sayings which come into daily parlance still. One that comes to mind is: “batty, quite batty”, which Edmund says while tapping his temple after Lucy tells her sibling about having had tea with a fawn. Alex, 32, NHS manager, London

The Roads to Freedom (1970)

The Roads to Freedom is a drama based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s trilogy of novels set in the 1930s. The series contained one of the first three-dimensional portraits of a gay man on UK television. It was one of a number of racy adult dramas that the BBC, particularly BBC Two, put on in the late 1960s and 1970s. A number of them, including Nana, Clochemerle and I, Claudius were based on foreign or classic novels, probably deliberately as they allowed more racy content. For that reason, I enjoyed all of these as an adolescent, but Roads gave me for the first time the unfiltered thoughts of real, grownup human beings. John Gammon, Brighton

Shooting Stars (1993-2011)

Vic Reeves, Mark Lamarr, Bob Mortimer and Ulrika Jonsson in Shooting Stars.
‘Uvavu!’ … Vic Reeves, Mark Lamarr, Bob Mortimer and Ulrika Jonsson in Shooting Stars. Photograph: BBC

I always enjoyed comedy, but Vic and Bob were something different. They were manic, surreal, silly, stupid yet sublime. Couple that with Mark Lamarr and Ulrika-ka-ka-ka, and you have a winner. Like the rest of the 90s, Shooting Stars was loud, brash at times and upbeat. This spoof panel show was a carefree melee of arbritary scores, celebrity guests and rubbish prizes. It also featured Matt Lucas in a giant babygrow sat at a drum kit. The weird and random was delightfully contrasted with the dependable rounds and catchphrases like “the dove from above” and “uvavu”. Shooting Stars arrived for me at the time I was embarking on my teenage years and all that comes with that. I laughed so very hard at a time when it was perhaps easier to do so. Marcus Greaves, 38, Nottingham

The Day Today (1994)

I stumbled upon The Day Today during its first broadcast. It has to be the most consistently funny show the BBC ever made, with so many brilliant ideas, dozens per episode, and not a gram of fat anywhere. It’s kind of disturbing to see TV news these days (though I seldom do) to often find myself thinking, have these guys never seen The Day Today? I’ve watched it countless times; it moves so quickly it’s impossible to get bored, and there are few more fun things in life than watching it with someone who’s never seen it before. Chris Hendrie, 56, product manager for a tour operator, Ennis, Republic of Ireland

Strictly Come Dancing (2004-present)

Strictly Come Dancing appeals to all ages and sections of society. It’s uplifting and inspiring, especially since it has started to show more diversity, with same sex partners, and 2021 winner Rose Ayling-Ellis inspiring people to learn British Sign Language. Clare Booth, 67, teacher trainer of English as a foreign language, Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Around the World in 80 Days With Michael Palin (1989)

Around the World in 80 Days With Michael Palin inspired a generation of travellers, whether they knew it or not. It had humour and a genuine sense of adventure, without sugarcoating. It has since often been imitated, never matched – not even by Michael himself. Never was there a lovelier story of the friendship and compassion between Palin and the crew on the Dhow (from the Gulf to India), having nothing in common other than entrusting their lives to a small, wooden handmade boat on the high seas. At the time, I thought it couldn’t get better than two weeks by a beach in Mallorca. But this programme showed the real world, and it looked like an absolute blast. The BBC had made the perfect match: an affable presenter, educated but grounded, a mix of Python and pathos, along with beautiful cinematography in the days before 4K and massive tellies. Travel is an education, and for me, Around the World was nursery school. Antony, 47, Tamworth

Detectorists (2014-present)

Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook) in Detectorists.
A pleasure … Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook) in Detectorists. Photograph: BBC/Channel X

Detectorists is beautifully filmed and perfectly cast. It captures the follies and eccentricities of ordinary unimportant people. The characters are not simple stereotypes but real quirky individuals. The story evolves in a pleasing way with humour and pathos. The filming captures exquisite details of landscape and nature. It’s one of the few series I have rewatched twice with undiminished pleasure. David Cottam, 70, musician, Devon

Desert Island Discs (1942-present)

There was that golden era of Desert Island Discs where Sue Lawley soothed my ears on Sunday afternoons. She had such a knack of pushing any interviewee ever so gently into detail without feeling obtrusive with that fine balance of friendly inquisitiveness and firmness. And just at the right moment, the dulcet safety net of “let’s have some more music” would dissipate any tension, as if it was never there. Gavin Clements, 39, software project manager, New Zealand

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)

Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a groundbreaking comedy sketch show that laid the foundation for the Monty Python films and got all my school friends talking about it the following Monday morning – watercooler moments, before we had watercoolers. Lots of the sketches were filmed in and around Norwich and Norfolk, and John Cleese, Michael Palin et al are all national treasures to boot. My favourite sketch is the travel agents, or maybe cheese emporium, no wait, dead parrot, aarrgh. John Byles, 66, retired IT professional, North Walsham, Norfolk

State of Play (2003)

The pace set at the beginning of the first episode launches this miniseries into its captivating orbit of intrigue, politics, sex and conflicting interests. Every aspect of the show stays relevant no matter how many times I watch it, but it is the acting – from John Simm to the infinite sass of Bill Nighy – that keeps the show in addictive caper mode. It also captures London in a way that feels both nostalgic and oddly contemporary, pulling on Britain’s anachronistic nature and putting all social fissures on view. It is about a Britain that is unable to move forward both politically and idealistically and relevancy of the Fourth Estate as both sinner and saint. State of Play reminds me of every version of London I have known since childhood. Rachel Pidcock, 35, Austin, Texas

In Our Time (1998-present)

Radio 4’s In Our Time is 45 minutes I can spend in the company of experts learning about something I didn’t know I wanted to learn about, but which always turns out to be interesting (The Jewish philosopher Maimonides! How teeth evolved! The history of the number zero!). Melvyn Bragg is a great host, showing a genuine interest in the discussion, making sure explanations are always made accessible and keeping things moving at a brisk pace. Listening live, I quite enjoy going in blind to see what I’ll learn about this week – but the huge back catalogue is a fantastic resource. too. One of the reasons I’ve never really got into podcasts is that I just can’t justify any of them over downloading an old In Our Time instead. Kester, 39, Kent

Red Dwarf (1998-present)

Chris Barrie as Rimmer, Clare Grogan as Kochanski and Craig Charles as Lister in Red Dwarf.
Smegging brilliant … Chris Barrie as Rimmer, Clare Grogan as Kochanski and Craig Charles as Lister in Red Dwarf. Photograph: BBC

Star Trek meets Steptoe and Son in Red Dwarf. I love the mix of great comedy and cutting-edge science that combines so well with the realistic daily grind and bickering of a classic sitcom. A decrepit hulk of a spaceship with repurposed equipment scrapes out an existence by scavenging – which seems more probable than the perfect craft in many sci-fi shows. The casting was perfect: Craig Charles as the slob who had to grow up, against Chris Barrie’s neurotic hopeless perfectionist. Lovett, Hayridge and Llewellyn as the vaguely capable machine minds of Holly and Kryten, providing the sharp knowledge of the program’s science but weighed down by un-computerish foibles. Danny John Jules’ narcissistic Cat adds a genius dash of flair. Smegging brilliant. Ewan Roberts, Glasgow

Edge of Darkness (1985)

The 1985 BBC drama Edge of Darkness is a political thriller with a dark mix of nuclear industry conspiracy and environmental activism. It involves elements of the security services and the Northen Ireland conflict with a deadpan realism that’s utterly authentic. Bob Peck (Special Branch) and Joe Don Baker (CIA) are exemplary as the main protagonists. Conrad Auten, 61, Kent

The Good Life (1975-1978)

I don’t know why, but I saw The Good Life in the 2000s when I was a 14 and it grabbed me immediately. I thought the situation was fascinating and novel. Particularly with not even being a grownup, it made me wonder if someone really could live like that. It felt like an exploration of a lifestyle, as well as a sweet and typically gentle BBC comedy. Margo made me laugh because of how forceful and correct she felt herself, Barbara was feisty and sweet, Tom affable and an idealistic idiot, Jerry well-meaning. It just epitomised niceness and friendship. It always feels like a warm hug to me. Christopher Ince, 36, lecturer, London

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