What’s on the box that’s good to watch?
My English students often ask me which UK television programmes are good to watch, and as a language student myself, I know that finding programmes that are interesting, entertaining or useful for language practice can be hard.
Especially so, when you are a non-native and not aware of which programmes are popular and considered good quality, and which ones are best to avoid.
So here is a big list of great television series that are made in the UK.
I have tried to select only ones I have seen and know to be good or shows that have had very good reviews. The list is by genre. Many of the programme names are also clickable links which go to either YouTube or Amazon where you can either watch them online, read reviews or buy dvds of them.
Weekly soap operas (dramas)
EastEnders – based in a fictional area of London. This is the oldest running soap opera on the BBC. Usually, along with the soap operas below, it is one of the most watched weekly programmes on British tv. Good for those that want to hear London accents. The stories can get a bit crazy, but it is a firm favourite of many millions.
Coronation Street – another weekly soap opera behemoth, this time based in a fictional area of Manchester. Millions of people watch Corrie every week for the stories of working-class folk and their daily lives. Good for those that want to hear Manchester accents.
Emmerdale – Fighting it out for the crown of top soap opera in the UK is Emmerdale which is based in a fictional farm and village in the Yorkshire Dales. This soap has more of a countryside setting than EastEnders or Coronation Street, but that doesn’t stop the script writers from coming up with all sorts of crazy stories. Usually, some kind of murder plot or complicated love affair is happening in this superficially idyllic Yorkshire village. For English students can you tell the difference between a Yorkshire accent and a Manchester accent?
Fawlty Towers – a classic comedy about an inept and uptight hotel owner, his wife and hotel business.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus – one of the most famous comedy groups like the Beatles of comedy in the UK.
Only Fools and Horses – London comedy, about a family of wheeler-dealers. A British comedy classic.
Red Dwarf – late 19080’s to 1990’s sci-fi comedy. I used to love this though it might look a bit dated now. Was cool at the time.
Porridge – 70’s prison comedy.
Shameless – a comedy-drama about a group of siblings and their estranged father living on a Manchester housing estate.
Blackadder – starring Rowan Atkinson of Mr Bean fame. Brilliant laugh out loud silliness.
Absolutely Fabulous – fashion and farce. Later made into a film, made by two of the UK’s foremost female comedians.
Car Share – I haven’t watched it, but it has won quite a few television awards.
The Good Life – a classic British comedy. Always seemed to be on when I was a child.
The Office – the show that made Ricky Gervais famous. You will cringe, you will laugh.
The Thick of It – a political satire said to be very close to real life 2000 era UK politics.
Yes, Minister – another political satire this time from the 1980’s.
The IT Crowd – a comedy about a group of IT workers (a personal favourite).
The Mighty Boosh – a comedy about two oddballs who work in a zoo in the first series, then, a shop in the second series (another favourite of mine).
Miranda – This is a sitcom/comedy about the socially inept Miranda originally aired in 2009. Thanks to Yurika for this recommendation!
The Young Ones – a classic comedy about a group of friends/ people sharing a house from the 80’s. This launched the careers of many UK comedians. Only two series long but just brilliant.
Around the World in 80 days – with Micheal Palin of Monty Python fame.
Planet Earth – 11 episodes presented by David Attenborough (regularly voted as the UK’s most treasured person).
The Blue Planet – Nature programme about the oceans and seas with David Attenborough.
Life in the Undergrowth – documentary about insects.
The Ascent of Man – an acclaimed documentary series about the development of human society through science.
Ray Mears: Survival – How to survive in the wild with the UK’s foremost bushcraft expert.
Ray Mears: Wildfood – Did you know there is a surprising amount of wildfood out there? Ray Mears teaches you how to find it and how to prepare it.
Tribe – Bruce Parry goes native as he spends time living with some of the worlds most isolated tribes. I loved the series he made.
How to Grow a Planet – a documentary about how Earth has developed to a great extent through plants.
The Secret Life of Chaos – physics and maths documentary, was aired on BBC 3 in the UK but maybe hard to find online. Worth watching if you can find it.
Everything and Nothing – As above, another physics and maths documentary. Aired on BBC 4 but probably hard to find online.
This Life – drama about twenty-somethings in 1990’s London. A classic drama, these actors became quite famous after this series.
Cold Feet – very popular amongst British people
Coupling – drama about friends in London.
Doctor Who – a classic British adventure drama and one of the oldest running shows on UK tv.
State of Play – a thriller/drama, it won many awards at the time.
Being Human – a werewolf, vampire and ghost drama. A US version was made, but the British one came first.
Skins – drama about British teenagers, very popular in the UK. Again remade in the US, after being successful in the UK.
The Inbetweeners – comedy-drama about a group of school friends, again super popular.
Misfits – a group of teenagers get hit by lightning and develop super powers.
This is England – very popular, drama, about a young man who becomes friends with members of a gang
Sugar Rush – lesbian youth drama.
Queer as Folk – queer drama based in Manchester, well regarded.
Peaky Blinders – crime drama set in 1900’s Birmingham, I haven’t seen it but it is very well regarded.
The Bill – London police drama. Was shown on tv three times a week during the 1990’s. I remember reading a newspaper article saying that The Bill was so realistic that criminals could learn a lot about police methods from watching it.
The Fall – I haven’t watched it but read many reviews saying it was very good. Stars Gillian Anderson from the X files.
Sherlock – a contemporary update of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective story. Super popular in the UK.
Life on Mars – police drama based in 1970’s Manchester. Very popular at the time. About a policeman who after a car crash in 2006 wakes up to find himself in the 1970’s.
Midsomer Murders – tv detective drama, 19 series and counting. Daytime tv classic for students, unemployed, housewives/househusbands and loafers. Probably the fictional murder capital of the UK.
A Touch of Frost – classic detective drama.
Inspector Morse – 12 seasons, classic tv detective drama.
Call the Midwife – also a period drama. My mum loved this series.
The Great British Bake Off – bakery contest show, wildly popular.
Strictly Come Dancing – dance contest. Saturday nights are all about Strictly for many families.
Top Gear – world famous program about cars.
The Grand Tour – This is the program that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May did next after leaving the BBC and joining Amazon.
Downton Abbey – classic period drama, another of my mum’s favourites.
Bleak House – based on a Charles Dickens Novel set in Queen Victoria era London.
Parade’s End – stars Bernard Cumberbatch, which is good enough for some.
Pride and Prejudice – starred Colin Firth and probably the most famous 90’s period drama series.
War and Peace – based on the novel by Tolstoy.
Wolf Hall – an award-winning drama about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII’s court.
Merlin – drama series about the wizard from the King Arthur legend.
Channel 4 news – quite outspoken and critical of the main political parties and big businesses.
BBC news – news from the UK’s national broadcaster.
ITV news – I would say a little bit more mainstream in tone than BBC news.
Sky News – usually available through free to air cable channels. Sky news is part of the Sky tv corporation who are a huge multinational company. Seems to be a bit more right-wing than other news channels in this list.
Teletubbies – This is one of the most popular programmes for young children (1-year-old’s to 3-year-old’s) in the UK.
Thomas & Friends – who doesn’t know Thomas the Tank Engine? Seems to be more popular than ever, probably one of the best British exports ever.
Postman Pat – an animation about a postman and his cat.
Shaun the Sheep – not much speaking but aimed at very young children, so still easy to understand. Can start to understand British humour if you watch this.
Peppa Pig – very popular animation about Peppa Pig and her family.
In the Night Garden – for very young children, easy to watch and understand even if there is not too much speaking.
Rastamouse – a children’s show about a crime-fighting and reggae music laying mouse and his friends. This became a cult tv program in the UK with many older students watching it is as well as young children.
Wallace and Gromit – The adventures of Wallace and his dog Gromit were originally short 30-minute films.
Hey Duggee – A cartoon featuring a dog called Duggee and his pals. Fun and entertaining. Aimed at 2- 5-year-olds.