2020 marks 25 years since the television mini-series of Pride and Prejudice hit TV screens, starring British star Colin Firth as the debonair Mr Darcy. Based on Jane Austen’s classic romantic novel of the same name, the series is one of many classic British TV shows that will leave audiences dreaming of Britain.
Jennifer Ehle stars as protagonist Elizabeth Bennett is this much beloved adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, which first exploded onto our screens in the mid-1990s. Delving into 19th century British life, the story reveals the prejudice between social classes and the battles for love that can result. A number of National Trust sites were used for filming this renowned adaptation, including the hugely impressive Lyme Hall in Cheshire, which acted as the exterior of Mr Darcy’s Pemberley Estate. It was here that Firth would famously emerge fully clothed from the lake in one of the show’s most instantly recognisable moments. Lacock Abbey, in Wiltshire, was used to depict some of the interior of the Pemberley Estate, while the village of Lacock itself was used as the setting for Meryton. Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire and swathes of the Peak District National Park also provided the backdrop for this classic tale.
Mystery drama Poirot made a name for itself on television screens for more than 20 years, featuring David Suchet in the starring role. The eccentric crime solver was the chief protagonist in 70 episodes, all of which were based on the tales written by Christie - with every one of her seminal works featuring the detective having been transformed into a case by the conclusion of the show. The art deco Florin Court, found in London on the edge of Charterhouse Square, acted as Poirot’s residence Whitehaven Mansions throughout the show. Meanwhile, the Greenway Estate, Christie’s former home and a National Trust property, also featured in the episode titled Dead Man’s Folly – a sign that her inspiration came from sources that were never too far away.
One of the masterpieces of British comedy, Only Fools and Horses ran from 1981 to 1991, with an additional number of special Christmas episodes spread over the following 12 years. Tracking Derek Trotter and younger brother Rodney’s various attempts to make their fortune, the show was a huge hit both overseas and on British TV screens, where it provided the foundations for several spin-offs. To this day, the 1996 Christmas special Time On Our Hands has the record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom. Starring David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst and set in the heart of south-east London, in Peckham, writer John Sullivan’s show was predominantly filmed in Bristol and parts of west London.
Icons of on-screen comedy, the Monty Python troupe played a pivotal role in shaping comedy around the world. From the moment Monty Python’s Flying Circus hit screens in 1969, featuring John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, among several others, the group helped to redefine the possibilities of television comedy. 45 episodes followed across the next five years in addition to several blockbuster films – including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian – not to mention multiple books, records and stage shows that received international acclaim.
Written by and starring John Cleese as hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty, two seasons of comedy Fawlty Towers aired in the mid-to-late 1970s. Having been inspired by the unusual behaviour of a hotel owner that Cleese observed while filming Monty Python, the series focuses on Basil’s hapless attempts to run a hotel in Torquay, as he and his staff tackle a variety of amusing mishaps and uncompromising guests.
The murder mystery works of Agatha Christie formed the basis of another hit series in the 1980s, Miss Marple. All 12 original novels were dramatized for the series, with Joan Hickson in the role of the amateur detective. Filming took place at locations across Britain including Devon and Oxfordshire, whiles scenes at St Mary Mead – Miss Marple’s village – were filmed in Nether Wallop in Hampshire. Another similar series, Agatha Christie’s Marple, with Geraldine McEwan and then Julia McKenzie in the lead role, ran for six series from 2004.
Starring Rowan Atkinson – known for his portrayal of Mr Bean – as Edmund Blackadder, this classic comedy takes places over four series, each set in a different historical age. Starting at the end of the Middle Ages, and with series encompassing the reign of Elizabeth I and the Regency Period, before culminating in the trenches of World War One, Blackadder is always accompanied by his servant and sidekick Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson.
After first appearing in 1997, Midsomer Murders has developed a cult following all around the world as it tracks the attempts of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, and latterly his cousin, John Barnaby, to solve murder cases in the picturesque but deadly county of Midsomer. Starring John Nettles and then Neil Dudgeon in the lead role, 21 series of the show have been produced to date, with broadcasting rights purchased by more than 200 countries globally. Originally inspired by Caroline Graham’s series of books titled Chief Inspector Barnaby, the show is set in quaint English country villages, with many scenes shot amid the picturesque surroundings of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The fictional village of Causton, for example, features parts of Wallingford, Thame and Henley-on-Thames.
A global phenomenon that sparked variations in many countries around the world, The Office was the brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Focusing on the comedic goings-on at a Slough-based paper company – where ‘life is stationery’ – Gervais starred as narcissistic boss David Brent. Notorious for his dancing skills – one of the show’s most famous scenes – and maverick behaviour, his character in the sitcom took inspiration from Fawlty Towers. While the British version ran for 14 episodes, other versions ran for far longer – the US show went on to surpass 200 episodes and is one of the most watched shows on Netflix globally.
A cornerstone of British popular culture, Doctor Who has been a television hit since it first aired in 1963. Depicting a time lord known as the Doctor and a time-travelling space ship called the TARDIS – which is shaped like a blue British police box – the science fiction show has won fans all over the globe. Having initially aired from 1963 to 1989, the show made its triumphant return in 2005 and has remained on screen since. There have been 13 incarnations of the Doctor to date, as well as numerous spin-off shows, while a special episode created for the show’s 50th anniversary achieved the Guinness World Record for the largest simulcast of a TV drama – having been shown in 94 countries spread over six continents!
Animated plasticine pair Wallace and Gromit – a naïve English inventor with a love of Wensleydale cheese, accompanied by his intelligent, yet silent dog – first hit screens in 1990. Creator Nick Park, and Aardman Animations, based in Bristol, produced three animated shorts using stop-motion clay animation techniques, with the first taking the loveable pair to the moon and back in A Grand Day Out. One of Wallace’s wacky inventions takes centre stage in The Wrong Trousers, before the duo tackle sheep rustlers in A Close Shave. Widely viewed as cultural icons in Britain and popular with people of all ages, the pair have also appeared in a feature-length film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and in another short, A Matter of Loaf and Death.
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