Best British TV shows vary by type and the decade in which they were produced. Some of the time-tested favourites are still aired repeatedly today. When it comes to watching the television British viewers rack up an astonishing amount of hours. 

best british tv shows

The average Brit will spend approximately 10 years of their life watching their favorite shows. During a typical year, we will watch 718 hours of live TV, 387 hours watching catch-up TV and 304 hours watching streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. 

It’s hardly surprising then that British TV has a number of quality shows and programs developed to keep the public entertained. So what are some of the Best British TV shows that we know and love? Keep reading. 

What are some of the Best British TV shows?

Here we have picked some of the most popular sitcoms, soaps, comedies and dramas that you might have watched. 

Only Fools and Horses

The popular sitcom about 2 brothers desperately trying to improve their life by wheeling and dealing. Del Boy and his brother Rodney embark on a series of hysterical, and mostly unrewarding schemes, that are designed to bring instant wealth.

The program ran for seven seasons and had a number of Christmas special. The antics of the brothers has meant that Only Fools and Horses remains one of the Best British TV shows in the comedy category. Recently, Only Fools and Horses has been recreated as a West End musical.

Inspector Morse best British TV cop show

best british tv police drama

Based on a series of detective novels Inspector Morse was brought to life by John Thaw in the leading role. The show ran for 33 episodes and is perhaps one of the best British TV drama shows.

Inspector Morse was characterized by a sullen and sometimes snobbish or aloof countenance and instantly won the hearts of the British public. Morse has seen adaptations for both radio and theatre.

The Good Life 

good life best british comedy show

The Millenials are not the first to think about sustainable living. In fact, the concept has been around for decades and gained the public interest enough to design a sitcom around the trials and tribulations of living a truly sustainable life.

The Good Life ran from 1975 to 1978 and began with lead character Tom Good quitting his design job and embarking on a quest to escape the traditional way of modern living with his wife Barbara.

The show was voted 9th in Best British Sitcom and was screened as ‘Good Neighbors’ for American audiences. 

Coronation Street

coronation st soap opera

This long-running British TV show is best known for its down to earth characters and is the world’s longest-running television soap opera. It has been on the air since 1960 and is listed in the Guinness Book of World records.

It screens 6 times per week and has been in evidence for so long that it is almost a part of British culture. Fans love Coronation Street (affectionately known ‘Corrie’ to its followers) for the strong characters, realism, and down to earth humor. It attracts approximately 7 million viewers for each episode. 

The Young Ones – alternative British TV shows

the young ones british comedy

This groundbreaking comedy show was created by Ben Elton, Lise Mayer, and Rik Mayall. It followed the anarchic antics of 4 students and was one of the first programs to bring alternative comedy to Britain.

The Young Ones included offbeat gags, visual comedy, and surreal humor and followed the lives of the 4 students living in somewhat squalid accommodations.

The program reflected much of British culture and the political environment of the time. It made the list of Best British TV Shows (sitcom) even though it only ran for 2 years from 1982 to 1984.

Fawlty Towers- classic British TV shows

fawlty towers

John Cleese of Monty Python fame and his wife at the time Connie Booth wrote and starred in Fawlty Towers. The program follows the manic and surly daily life of hotelier, Basil Fawlty. A cantankerous and often politically incorrect owner.

Cleese was inspired to create the show after staying in a hotel in Devon and observed the eccentric owner of the establishment. He was fascinated by the man and described him as ‘the rudest man he’d ever met’.

The show was voted as one of the Best British TV comedy shows ever. It ran for 2 seasons between 1975 and 1979. 

Downton Abbey

downton abbey best british tv shows

A recent entry into Best British TV shows of all time is the wildly popular Downton Abbey. This period drama first hit television screens in 2010 and it has recently been adapted into a major motion picture.

It follows the lives of a wealthy family in a Yorkshire stately home in the early part of the 1900s. The show weaves in some historical events of the time. The sinking of the Titanic, the start of the 1st World War and other notable happenings.

It also shows the differences in British classes of the time. Depicting the differences between the wealthy family upstairs and the servants downstairs. It has recently been made into a movie of the same name.

Absolutely Fabulous

absolutely fabulous best british tv comedy sitcom

The wild, alcoholic, and drug-induced adventures of Pasty and Eddie became a legend in their own right. The raunchy and debauched antics of the duo captured the attention of the nation for several series.

Written by Jennifer Saunders and starring Joanna Lumley, Absolutely Fabulous depicted the life and struggles of Edina Monsoon and her long-suffering family. The show was known for featuring celebrities and personalities that appeared as guests on a regular basis.

Ab Fab first came to life as a short sketch written and performed by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. The sketch eventually transformed into the popular series and was ranked number 17 in the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.  A film based on the series was released in 2016. 

Steptoe and Son

steptoe and son best british tv shows comedy

This still often repeated comedy show was a British sitcom based around the lives of a father and son rag-and-bone business. The father is old and somewhat vulgar while the son is ever aspiring to reach a better station in life.

Steptoe and Son’s trials and tribulations were screened over a total of 8 series, running from 1962 to 1974. It came number 15 in a poll for Britain’s best sitcom and is still one of the best British TV shows to ever hit the screen. 

Dr Who

dr who sci-fi cult tv show

Who was your doctor? Several well-known actors have played the part of the Time Lord. Doctor Who has been running since 1963 and is still being filmed today. Regarded as a sci-fi classic it has earned an almost cult-like following and has fans both young and old.

The Doctor explores the universe and different time periods in the TARDIS. A time travel vehicle that appears as a blue police telephone box from the outside.

Notable performers like Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy, have all played the Doctor. The latest incarnation is a female doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. 

Prime Suspect 

prime suspect

This gritty police drama was fronted by Helen Mirren in the leading role as Jane Tennison. One of the first female Detective Police Chief Inspectors in the Metropolitan Police force.

Jane rises to the rank of Detective Superintendent while combating sexism from peers and colleagues along the way. The season ran from 1991 to 2006 and made Mirren a household name.

At its peak, Prime Suspect entertained over 14.5 million viewers. It is still possibly one of the best British TV shows to be screened. 


Whether you prefer comedy, sci-fi, or drama there is a wealth of programs to choose from to delight and entertain. Many of these programs have won awards for the Best British TV shows in one category or another.

Of the hundreds of TV shows that have been aired, it is impossible to list them all. If there is a show that you would like to see added please leave a comment.