Comfort classic

Comfort Classic: Prime Suspect

Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect is a police procedural, one of many over the past decades, and certainly not the first or last cop show to feature serial killers, dead naked women and mean city streets. So far, so what?

But, when Lynda La Plante’s uncompromising creation was first broadcast on ITV in 1991, a nation sat up and noticed, with more than 14 million people tuning in to watch. 

Helen Mirren’s DCI Jane Tennison, appointed to head the Met’s murder squad after its boss suffers a fatal heart attack, is treated with contempt and worse by the all-male incident room.

Comfort Classic: Men Behaving Badly

Credit: BBC

All sitcoms have something to say about the eras they are made in, but few sum up an era so definitively as Men Behaving Badly, the no-­holds-barred slice of 1990s lad culture created and written by Simon Nye. 

Today, looking at this raucous tale of two best mates making complete, often drunken, idiots of themselves, it is tempting to dismiss Gary and Tony, played by Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey, respectively, as disgustingly sexist bores short on social graces and big on schoolboy humour. 

Comfort Classic: Gavin & Stacey

Credit: BBC

When a new BBC Three comedy made its low-key debut in the spring of 2007, no one imagined that Gavin & Stacey would go on to become the comedic equivalent of a national treasure. 

Despite its two writers’ utter lack of experience as screenwriters – James Corden and Ruth Jones had met as actors on Kay Mellor’s slimming club drama for ITV, Fat Friends – it soon became clear that here was a startlingly original show blessed by a group of fully realised characters, a script crackling with wit and an unusually brilliant cast. 

Comfort Classic: Edge of Darkness

Little, it seems, has changed in the 36 years since Edge of Darkness was first shown. Conspiracy and cover-up, environmental devastation and the threat of nuclear destruction were stitched into the fabric of the 1980s and are no less relevant now. 

If this were all that Edge of Darkness had offered, however, it wouldn’t be so fondly remembered or, indeed, recognised by many critics as British TV drama’s finest moment. 

Comfort Classic: Drop the Dead Donkey

Sitcoms as perfectly realised and executed as Channel 4’s Drop the Dead Donkey are exceedingly rare. That this newsroom caper, set mostly in the offices of Globelink News, was a topical satire, filmed partly the day before transmission to keep the material as up to date as possible, speaks volumes of the skills of creators Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the brilliant ensemble cast and its director, the energetic Liddy Oldroyd. Unusually, Oldroyd directed all six series, some 65 episodes. Tragically, she died in 2002, aged 47, four years after Drop the Dead Donkey ended.

Comfort Classic: Peep Show

To create a successful sitcom is one of the most difficult tasks in the TV firmament. To create a successful British sitcom that survives for 12 years, nine series and 54 episodes is staggering.

Unlike in the US, producers rarely have writers rooms on this side of the Atlantic, where teams of wordsmiths endlessly hone scripts to keep a show up and running. Remember, Fawlty Towers closed its doors after just two six-part series.