We all know British television is renowned and respected the world over. Peaky Blinders, Poldark, and Downton Abbey, are just a few of the behemoths taking the recent honour of flying the Union Jack amidst the mire of choice, and the dilution of quality so evident on cable and streaming services worldwide. Then there are a few we may forget to pay homage to. Here is my top ten of gems kept in the back.
1. GBH (Bleasdale/Young 1991 Channel 4)
Michael Palin and Robert Lyndsey in a serial about politics,love, espionage, and corruption. Hilarious, terrifying, intriguing, and heartbreaking, simply drama at its best Also a nod to the blisteringly fantastic score from Elvis Costello and Richard Harvey.
2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Hopcraft/Le Carre/Langton 1982 BBC2)
Stellar cast for this widely adapted masterpiece from the undisputed master of the genre, John Le Carre. led by the splendid character of George Smiley, crafted into the annuls of acting mastery by Sir Alec Guinness. Quite simply how it should be done.
3. Lipstick on Your Collar (Potter/Rye 1993 Channel 4)
The curvy and curvacious world of the late Dennis Potter, realised against the backdrop of the Suez Crisis. Giles Thomas is superb as the frigid and bumbling Welsh intellectual, transferred to the War office. First screen appearance of Ewan McGregor who takes the lead in imagining the musical numbers and does a top job.
4. The Day Today (Morris/Ianucci BBC2 1994)
A spoof show has never been done to anywhere near this class. Deft touch subtlety and sublime production values. The camera filters are perfect, the language, spot on but not forced. You can watch it twenty times and notice something new. Not forgetting how much the worlds number one plagiariser, Ricky Gervais, owes to this show. Without Lester Beck and Cublox Pharmaceuticals we would never have had David Brent and Wernham-Hogg. How would tedious quote-merchants in workplaces the world over have ever coped?
5. Brimstone & Treacle (Potter/Davis 1987 BBC2)
Second outing on the list for Mr Potter. Not the version with Sting. Rather Denholm Elliot and Michael Kitchen in A Play for Today that was mesmerising. I saw it as a child It stayed with me as a reason why screen production is the most powerful medium we have. I was hooked! Manipulative chancer with a unique hook. Give it your time.
6. The New Statesman (Marks/Gran) 1987-1994 ITV
The wonderful Rik Mayall as Alan B'stard. Thatcherite Yuppie supreme and MP for the Tory party. With a hilarious sidekick, redefining the phrase "long-suffering", a sexy upper-class nympho wife, and a wealth of other rich characters always led from the front by the late Rik. We celebrate The Young Ones, and (for some reason) Bottom, but not this show, whilst truthfully it lost its way, before the end of the fourth series, it was fantastic and deserves more.
7. Looking After Jo-Jo (Deasy, BBC2 1998)
In the pre-Libertines, post Trainspotting, Kate Moss world of Heroin-Chic, we see Robert Carlyle take the heroin and beat the chic to death with it. Set in the projects in Scotland, during days of addiction due to leaked product from nearby pharmaceutical factories. Recessions closed many down, causing a street drug explosion with the crime, violence, and disease it sadly brings. Most people know that heroin ruined many a Scottish town, what they don't know it is not the dealers who began it. A very important piece.
8. This Life (Jenkins) BBC2 1996
Called "The British Friends". Baffling, as it was not a predictable, by-the-book weekly lobotomy for mass consumption, full of patently unlikeable, sex obsessed imbeciles. This was a rich, fantastically filthy, superbly shot, spot-on slice of professional early twenties life in London (but South!!! take that Hipsters!) filled with lust, drink, drugs, crime, family, and love. Contained what was voted as the best ever on-screen punch (by a woman, there you go, MeToo), a top notch soundtrack, memorable characters, and epic, often heartbreaking individual arcs. Gave us the nineties neologism "Millie and Egg" to describe a torrid relationship dilemma. Re-runs? Where. Amy Jenkins should trump Marta Kauffman any day.
9. Smileys People (Hopkins/Le Carre/Langton BBC2 1982)
A brace here for John Le Carre. A sequel to TTSS sees the bumbling yet lethal George Smiley, once again magnificently performed by Sir Alec Guiness, chase his nemesis, Karla. I personally prefer this to Tinker...., a particular highlight is the return visit to his old admin, Connie, far less loving since the scandal of the previous outing. It ends with an ending.
10. Brasseye (Morris Channel 4 1997)
Another dual-hit, this time for Chris Morris. The equally excellently produced Brasseye, with its send up of self important celebrities (how could Richard Blackwood ever leave his house again?). Drugs, Sex, animals, Crime and more. Send up of media and British sensationalism. A hypocrisy crystallised in the Paedogedden?Daily Mail/Charlotte Church pages. Not,quite as universally excellent as TDT, but like the aforementioned, it destroys anything since. Watch it, then watch The Colbert Report or The Mash Report (formulaic...no!). It is like a before and after of class.