We have put together a very British clip collection, celebrating some of the funniest moments inspired by the class system – from blatant snobbery to sharp social satire.
Our first clip is a classic sketch from The Frost Report in 1966, which helped to launch the careers of comedy legends John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. The brilliant visual gag of twinning height with social position has helped to make this one of the most recognisable sketches in British comedy history.
In Fawlty Towers, John Cleese portrayed the hotel manager Basil Fawlty, one of comedy’s most hilarious snobs. Basil desperately wants to raise the tone of the clientele who visit his hotel, but he is his own worst enemy.
Another person desperately trying to improve their social status is Hyacinth Bucket, from Roy Clarke's Keeping Up Appearances. The programme ran for 5 series, during which Hyacinth insisted that her name was pronounced "Bouquet". Our next clip, from Mongrels, might explain why she was so eager to be middle class. Mongrels was an innovative puppet comedy series following the adventures of five urban animals, including Nelson, the only wild fox in East London with subscriptions to all the major broadsheets.
In the 80s, The Young Ones shook up the comedy world with its anarchic humour. In this memorable clip the members of Scumbag College face off against the upper class students from Footlights College, Oxbridge on University Challenge. (Watch out for guest appearances from Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson).
Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson reunited in 1990 for Bottom, a sitcom about a pair of repulsive flatmates living in Hammersmith. In this clip, Richie and Eddie come face to face with their differences. Could a burglar have broken in? And could there possibly be a room in the flat just for sketching?
As well as very memorable jokes, Blackadder Goes Forth also included a social commentary. In this clip, Baldrick warns that the “huddled wassanames” are poised to overthrow their upper classes oppressors.
The Catherine Tate Show introduced us to Lauren, a stroppy teenager who caricatures Britain's chav subculture. The Armstrong and Miller Show brings us a very different spin on youth culture with Biffy and Spud, two World War Two fighter pilots whose urban speech clashes wonderfully with their upper class accents. This is not the vocabulary we would expect from these well-to-do chaps, let alone from Winston Churchill. Isn’t it? Isn’t it though?
Old meets new once again in our next clip, as Robert Webb blends modern dance with the upper class reserve of the Regency period in That Mitchell and Webb Look. Would you agree that the only dance suitable for a man of Mr Darcy’s social stature is freestyle disco?
Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse poke pun at old-fashioned upper class customs and in this spoof public information film from Harry Enfield and Chums. Paul Whitehouse drops several social classes for his next appearance in our collection, from the rapid-fire sketch show The Fast Showa>. He and Charlie Higson play Ted and Ralph, an upper class landowner and his faithful labourer. Ted and Ralph were so popular they had their own spin-off special in 1998. In this clip they are standing together in the grounds of Ralph’s estate, but they are separated by class, lifestyle and French cinema.
It seems you can’t even escape the class system in deep space. In this clip from Red Dwarf, the immensely popular sci-fi sitcom, Lister makes a startling confession to Kryten – that he only narrowly escaped becoming middle class!
Not so much a narrow escape as miles off the mark, Del embarrasses Rodney in front of his aristocratic new girlfriend in this clip from the 1986 Christmas Special of Only Fools and Horses. Del horrifies Lady Victoria and her family when he brings an East-end sensibility AND a pump-action shotgun to the shooting range.
Dads Army ran between 1968 and 1977 and is fondly remembered for its gentle, nostalgic humour. In this clip, Captain Mainwaring is irritated to learn that Sergeant Wilson has been elevated to “the honourable”. Another vintage sitcom of the time, Till Death us do Part, gave Britain a comedic way to understand the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s. It introduced us to Alf Garnett, a bigot who didn’t like many people, but always had the utmost respect for the Queen.
If only Alf could see her in our last clip! We finish our journey through Britain’s class system with a glimpse into online royal life in this Web Exclusive video. The Queen may be on top of the social class structure in Britain – but she still likes to go for a pint with Danny Dyer.
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