What makes us laugh in these troubled times? Prospect readers have provided the answer, with their response to the online survey to find Britain’s best sitcom that I invited them to fill out in last month’s column. A very angry man who’s terminally frightened of his wife comes top, a hapless government minister in thrall to scheming civil servants is second, and a rogue for all seasons comes third. Fawlty Towers romped home with a third of the vote, Yes Minister was a clear runner-up and Blackadder got the bronze.
Unsurprisingly, all are more than 25 years old. Familiarity nurtured over a long period is key to a successful sitcom. And John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers is a worthy winner, having established a catch phrase, used in just one edition, which has now entered the national lexicon: “Don’t mention the war.”
The current, exhausted cliché for a thing we’re all thinking but not saying is the “elephant in the room.” Naturally, Basil Fawlty’s take on this is much more politically incorrect and thus, of course, much more funny.