If you’re a fan of British television, you can discover our cities and countryside from home as you dive into a host of modern British TV classics, from gripping crime shows to side-splitting comedies and rich period dramas - all ready and waiting to be binged.
A British crime drama gem, Life on Mars follows the case-busting journeys of Manchester police officer Sam Tyler (John Simm), who wakes up in 1973 following a road accident in then present-day 2006. Combining gripping story lines, nostalgic British scenes and an epic soundtrack, the show saw two hugely successful series, filmed in 2006 and 2007, and gained a cult following. Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to Life on Mars, quickly followed, as did remakes in America, Spain, South Korea and Russia.
A key filming location is the Brutalist Stopford House, a short distance from Manchester central in Stockport. Built in 1975, this council building was used as the setting for the Manchester and Salford Police station in the series, giving you an authentic look into Britain’s past.
A modern day adaptation of the seminal Arthur Conan Doyle detective novels, the BBC created four seasons of Sherlock, filmed from 2010 and 2017. Watched by audiences in over 200 countries, the show stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and is set in contemporary London, with filming split between the British capital and Cardiff. The location shots for the fictitious detective’s famous home, 221b Baker Street, were filmed at 187 North Gower Street in Bloomsbury. Fans will no doubt recognise Speedy’s Café which is located next door, an eatery that has added a special ‘Sherlock’ breakfast to its menu. 221b Baker Street, the address made famous by Conan Doyle in 1887, has been recreated in the shape of the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
Once you’ve exhausted all episodes of Life on Mars you can fill the crime series-shaped void with the thrilling Broadchurch. Staring Scottish Dr Who actor David Tennant and The Crown’s Olivia Coleman, three exhilarating series of the show were filmed between 2013 and 2017. Based in a fictional town in Dorset, the series' location was partially inspired by the home of writer Chris Chibnall, who lives on the picturesque Jurassic Coast. The vast coastal views of West Bay played a starring role in the show, as did the town of Clevedon, near Bristol. Broadchurch tips its hat to the Dorset-born poet and novelist Thomas Hardy throughout the series, with the surname used for one of the main characters being Detective Inspector Alec Hardy.
Still keen to to dive into a much-adored British crime series? One of the most established is Vera, which ran over 10 series from 2011 to 2020 and was enjoyed by more than twenty counties across the world. Based on novels by Ann Cleeves, this British drama followed the eternally frumpy and slightly unorthodox Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, played by Brenda Blethyn, and her work with the Northumberland & City Police (a fictional police force). Set in north-east England, many stunning corners of Newcastle and Northumberland were used as filming locations including Whitley Bay, the stunning Farne Islands and St Cuthbert’s Cave.
A chance to peer into the life of Britain’s high society and their loyal staff, Downton Abbey follows the twists and turns of the Crawley family, from post-war into the roaring 20s. Having run from 2010 to 2015, the glamourous six-series classic was a rip-roaring success, with more than 100 countries showing the British drama, cementing its place as a modern British classic.
Although filled with breathtaking scenes of Britain, the most iconic of all the filming locations has to be the family’s expansive estate, shot in Hampshire’s Highclere Castle. Set in 1,000 acres of parkland, the Victorian-built manor house remains home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, whose family have lived on the site since 1679. Julian Fellowes, the author of Downton Abbey, is a long-standing family friend and actually had Highclere in mind while penning the series. The picturesque village of Bampton in the Cotswolds was also used for many of the exterior scenes of Downton Village, including the church, post office and pubs.
If you have a penchant for period dramas you won’t want to miss Call the Midwife, which returned for an incredible ninth season in early 2020. Based on former nurse Jennifer Worth’s trilogy of memoirs, created by Heidi Thomas and starring British comedy heroine Miranda Hart, the show follows a team of midwives who confront everyday life in London’s East End in the 1950s and 1960s, a backdrop of vast social challenge and change. The series has been sold to more than 100 countries, and you might recognise the 2019 festive special, which saw the midwives change their usual scenery as they headed to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, a string of idyllic islands that are renowned for bird watching and wildlife, in addition to striking coastlines.
Now shown in an astonishing 183 countries worldwide, why not join the Shelby fan club and dive into the world of 20th-century British gangsters in the award-winning Peaky Blinders? With five gasp-inducing series (and a sixth series reportedly on the way), this Birmingham-based phenomenon has gone from strength to strength since first being aired in 2013, with the last series gathering an audience of 6.2 million for the first two episodes. Set in the once industrial hub of the UK Midlands, anglophiles can follow the story of gang leader Tommy Shelby, played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, as he and his family rise to become the top dogs of the city, shortly after the First World War. Expect scenes of smoke-filled pubs, mist-covered canals and hours of dramatic suspense. Many of the gritty scenes from the seasons were filmed in the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, a firm favourite with creator and writer Steven Knight, as scenes from all seasons to date have been shot there.
Peering into the mind of Harry Gordon Selfridge, Mr Selfridge tells the story behind London’s famous department store Selfridges & Co., which was built in the early 1900s. This opulent British drama follows the life and times of the man himself, Mr Selfridge, played by Jeremy Piven, who was determined to import the American idea of shopping being a leisure activity as opposed to a chore. The high-end department store still stands on London’s Oxford Street, a testament to how much it shaped modern culture. Televised in the UK between 2013 and 2016, Mr Selfridge was comprised of four series and was also shown in the USA, Australia, Israel, Netherlands and Sweden.
Based on the novels of the same name by Diana Gabaldon, this historical drama sees former Second World War nurse Claire Randall, played by Irish actor Caitriona Balfe, transported back to 18th-century Scotland, in a story that has captivated international audiences for five engrossing series. Filming took place in various beautiful locations across Scotland, including Abercairny Estates, in the town of Crieff, which has been the home of the Moray family since the 13th century. The series transformed the estate into an American plantation house, also known as Aunt Jocasta’s plantation, River Run. Another of the series’ filming locations is St Andrew’s in the Square, in the heart of Glasgow. This former parish church served as a filming location in the fourth series and is now home to Glasgow’s Centre for Scottish Culture. What’s more, there’s a sixth season on the way!
Four series of The IT Crowd was enough to secure its status as a classic British comedy. Starring Richard Oyoade, Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson, the hit show aired from 2006 until 2013 and boasts additional performances from kings of comedy Chris Morris, Matt Berry and Noel Fielding. Taking place in a fictional office, which Irish writer Graham Linehan described as ‘a geek’s Shangri-La’; The Centre for Computing History in Cambridge even loaned the show a collection of computers and manuals from the 1970s and 1980, in order to give the set a true air of authenticity.
Based on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show of the same name, Fleabag first hit screens and won hearts in 2016. Since its premiere and the subsequent second and final series in 2019, the show has risen to cult comedy status, ranking in the top ten of The Guardian's list of the 100 best TV shows of the 21st century.
Featuring writer Waller-Bridge as the main character, as well as Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott, filming was done almost entirely in the borough of Camden, with a cluster of other recognisable locations nestled in the Dartmouth Park area. This includes the guinea pig-themed café, a key filming location on York Rise in Camden that is now a Turkish restaurant.
A hysterical coming-of-age comedy, The Inbetweeners follows four boys as they clumsily fight their way through the highs and lows of adolescent awkwardness. Starring British actors Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, Blake Harrison and James Buckley, it spanned three series and won the British Comedy Academy Outstanding Achievement award in 2011.
Mostly filmed in north-west London, areas such as Uxbridge and Watford were used as the backdrop to the series, as well Ruislip, which was the location of the boys’ high school. If you’re a fan, you’ll no doubt remember the theme park episode, which was filmed at Thorpe Park in Surrey.