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The best British sketch shows on Virgin TV

The best British sketch shows on Virgin TV

Paul Whitehouse celebrates the comedy sketch show in this new series on GOLD. He tells us what to expect, plus check out the best sketch shows to watch on Virgin TV

By Simon Ward, Content Director

“What strikes me most is sketch shows have gone now effectively, which is a real shame,” says Paul Whitehouse. He is speaking ahead of Paul Whitehouse’s Sketch Show Yearsa new four-part series he fronts that celebrates the genre in all its glory down the decades. From 70s favourites through the “gold-rush” years of the 80s and 90s – and on to a whole new breed of boundary-pushing humour in the 21st century.


He’s got a point. When you think of a classic sketch character or a catchphrase you’ve repeated to death (“Suit you, sir!”), it’s likely you’d have to go as far back into your own archive as Whitehouse has done for this series. “The last hurrah recently, I suppose, was Famalam,” he adds. And there hasn’t been an episode of that BAFTA-nominated show since 2020. So, is the sketch show dead as a genre?


Whitehouse doesn’t think so (with a caveat). “Interestingly, the demise of the sketch show has coincided with the rise of bite-sized comedy that we send to our friends all day long on our phones; on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, gifs, memes. They’re all little sketches, aren’t they? They’re everywhere except on telly these days, which is very strange.”


He’s right. In many ways, sketch comedy has never been bigger. It’s just the places we watch it are different. But all that short-form character content exists on the same family tree as Python, The Two Ronnies and Not The Nine O’Clock News; it has the same lineage as performers like Victoria Wood, Catherine Tate and Dick Emery.


And, of course, Whitehouse’s own shows like The Fast Show and Harry & Paul.


With each episode in this new series covering a different decade, Whitehouse also delves into what these shows reveal about our changing country. All life is here – no class, occupation, region or community has escaped parody. What’s more, their catchphrases have even shaped the way we talk in the playground, in the office and around the dinner table as an unofficial language of Britain, a conversational shorthand almost everyone recognises.


You can watch Paul Whitehouse’s Sketch Show Years on Thursday 27 June at 10pm on GOLD HD (CH 124), and then every Thursday for three weeks. You can also watch the whole series in On Demand from Thursday 27 June.


If all this talk has got you itching for some sketch comedy shows right now, here are some of the best you can watch on Virgin TV in On Demand and our family of streaming apps.


Monty Python’s Flying Circus

“The most interesting thing I found was the start of [sketch comedy] and the move from music hall into TV via radio and seeing how it’s developed and changed over the years,” says Whitehouse. Few shows (comedy or otherwise) have been as influential as Monty Python.


Hugely experimental, the Pythons (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) had creative control and freedom that allowed them to experiment with form and content while disregarding the rules of TV comedy. It’s what so many of us think of when it comes to sketch comedy. An entire generation of comedians and comedy writers grew up with Python. Depending on your age, you’ll almost certainly have a friend who can recite the entire “Dead Parrot” sketch on demand.


Where to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Watch the original series 1-4 in Apps > Netflix. Watch Monty Python’s Best Bits (Mostly) in Apps > UKTV Play or in On Demand


The Two Ronnies

Whereas Python was right on the edge, The Two Ronnies sat comfortably in a cosy armchair while gently monologuing. It was about as mainstream as sketch comedy could get. But while “mainstream” has come to mean something quite negative or pedestrian in today’s TV terms – especially when it comes to comedy – for the Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker vehicle, it simply meant a TV show everyone adored. Including Paul Whitehouse, who says, “I loved some of The Two Ronnies stuff.” The “Fork Handles” sketch remains an absolute classic of wordplay comedy.


Where to watch The Two Ronnies

Watch The Two Ronnies series 1-4 in On Demand


The Fast Show

The story about The Fast Show’s birth is legend. Whitehouse and Charlie Higson were watching a press preview tape of Harry Enfield’s sketch show (on which they both wrote). It had condensed the sketches into short highlights and fast-cut catchphrases. And that was the show they pitched. It also assembled a world-class cast, including Mark Williams, Arabella Weir, John Thompson and the late, great Caroline Aherne.


It’s still one of the most loved British comedies, and one of the most catchphrase-laden sketch shows of all time. “Anyone fancy a pint?” “Someone’s sitting there, mate.” “Brilliant!” “Scorchio!” “I’ll get me coat!” The list goes on. “Catchphrases can become irrelevant,” Whitehouse says. “Some of our old ones probably are. But some still seem to be buoyant out there – we recently did a 30th anniversary reunion tour.”


Where to watch The Fast Show

Watch The Fast Show series 1-3 + the specials in Apps > BBC iPlayer


Smack The Pony

This late 1990s hit created by Fiona Allen, Doon Mackichan and Sally Phillips remains in the God tier of sketch comedy (the first two series each won an Emmy and all three were nominated for a BAFTA). Groundbreaking at the time, it took all the stuff that had made British sketch comedy so good, but where TV sketch shows had largely been male-dominated, here the laughs came from a female perspective.


Outside the core writing team, STP was also a great playground and breeding ground for emerging writers like Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Richard Ayoade and John Oliver. On that point, Whitehouse says: “Not many people can go and write a 12-part Netflix comedy-drama. Sketch shows gave you the opportunity to build your confidence.”


Where to watch Smack The Pony

Watch Smack The Pony series 1-3 in Apps > Channel 4


Goodness Gracious Me

“What you get with the sketch show, certainly character-based sketch shows, is an indication of what people are thinking, and what they’re doing socially rather than just politically,” Whitehouse says. Like the best sketch shows, Goodness Gracious Me skewed stereotypes with strong characters and classic catchphrases, but from the viewpoint of British Asians. That meant it had a legacy that went well beyond comedy.


Standup and former The Mash Report presenter Nish Kumar says of the show: “[It] kicked the doors open for us by normalising the idea of Asians in mainstream comedy. And they were able to be funny, not just about Asian issues, but also appeal to a wider audience.” And appeal it did. “Going For An English” is now as much a part of our national consciousness as “Suit You, Sir” or “Fork Handles”.


Where to watch Goodness Gracious Me

Watch Goodness Gracious Me series 1-3 + the specials in Apps > BBC iPlayer


The Catherine Tate Show

If The Two Ronnies was a comedy you could sit down and watch with everyone, from your youngest child to your aging nan, The Catherine Tate Show was a sketch show that was very much aimed at an adult audience. It might be hard to remember just how big the show was when it first came out, but it’s best typified by then Prime Minister Tony Blair appearing in a Comic Relief sketch alongside Tate and repeating the “Am I bovvered?” catchphrase of Tate’s moody teenage character Lauren Cooper. Similarly, her other breakout character – the foul-mouthed Nan – even got her own film. “I always thought Catherine Tate was such a clever and brilliant performer,” says Whitehouse.


Where to watch The Catherine Tate Show

Watch The Catherine Tate Show series 1-3 in Apps > BBC iPlayer

The League Of Gentleman

As unique a sketch show as there has ever been, The League Of Gentleman was surreal, weird and grotesque. But as with with everything on this list, from Python to Famalam, it had memorable characters and catchphrases that seared themselves into our collective consciousness, it became part of our everyday language (“Are you local?” “You’re my wife now!”), and it was very, very funny.


It ignited the careers of performers and writers Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith (as well as the unseen Gentleman, Jeremy Dyson), who played every part in the town of Royston Vasey. Whether Sherlock or Inside No 9 would have existed without The League Of Gentleman, we’ll fortunately never need to find out.


Where to watch The League Of Gentleman

Watch The League Of Gentleman series 1-3 + the anniversary specials in Apps > BBC iPlayer



As Whitehouse said at the start, while there have been other sketch shows (and some really good ones as well, we’d add), perhaps Famalam was the last TV sketch show to truly break through into the public consciousness – and since it’s been compared to The Fast Show, it’s understandable why Whitehouse likes Famalam so much.


The all-Black cast writes sketches about Black issues, the Black British experience and Black stereotypes, but it’s a show that welcomes everyone in. You don’t need to know about Nollywood movies, because a low-budget Nigerian Fast And Furious rip-off is funny for everyone. But will we see anything like this again on TV? Whitehouse says, “I’d love to see more sketch shows; they’re my favourite form of TV comedy.” Fingers crossed…


Where to watch Famalam

Watch Famalam series 1-3 in Apps > BBC iPlayer


Looking for more great British sketch shows on Virgin TV? Try these hilarious series


Horrible Histories

Watch Horrible Histories series 1-10 + the specials in Apps > BBC iPlayer


Trigger Happy TV

Watch Trigger Happy TV series 1-3 in Apps > Channel 4


Little Britain

Watch Little Britain series 1-3 + the Little Britain Abroad specials in Apps > BBC iPlayer


Ellie & Natasia

Watch Ellie & Natasia series 1 in Apps > BBC iPlayer


The Morecambe And Wise Show

Watch The Morecambe And Wise Show Christmas shows in Apps > BBC iPlayer


The Real McCoy

Watch The Real McCoy series 1-5 in Apps > BBC iPlayer


Limmy’s Show

Watch Limmy’s Show series 1-3 in Apps > BBC iPlayer


The Stand Up Sketch Show

Watch The Stand Up Sketch Show series 1-6 in Apps > ITVX


Watch Paul Whitehouse’s Sketch Show Years on TV

You can watch Paul Whitehouse’s Sketch Show Years on Thursday 27 June at 10pm on GOLD HD (CH 124). The four-part series then continues every Thursday for three weeks. You can also watch the whole series in On Demand from Thursday 27 June.

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Image Credit: Paul Whitehouse’s Sketch Show Years © Dan Goldsmith / UKTV

Famalan ˙© BBC / Des Willie

Goodness Gracious Me © BBC

The Fast Show © BBC 

The League Of Gentlemen © BBC

The Two Ronnies © BBC