Where Can I Watch Vintage Sitcoms on British TV in March 2024?

With the offerings on traditional linear television becoming newer and newer, are there any outlets left which play some of the older favourites which many grew up watching but have started to disappear from our screens?

There are a small number of channels which provide vintage content, with Talking Pictures TV being the most prominent as it is a 100% vintage (or vintage-themed, such as Footage Detectives), independent channel. Another independent broadcaster of note is That’s TV who have fairly recently branched out into regular vintage programming, mostly old British situation comedies. And then there is ITV, who have two channels which regularly show classic content, ITV3 and ITV4, with ITV3 leaning towards mystery and comedy, and ITV4 usually carrying action and adventure shows.

In this article I will give a few examples of classic British sitcoms which can be found on linear, free-to-air TV.

1. Steptoe and Son

Steptoe and Son is shown most evenings currently (at the time of publishing), around 7.45 pm, on That’s TV.

Steptoe and Son follows a father and son in the rag-and-bone trade. It originally broadcast from 1962-1965, then 1970-1974. Starring Wilfred Brambell as Steptoe and Harry H. Corbett as his son Harold, the series was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

2. Bless This House

Bless This House airs on Sunday mornings on ITV3, its first programme of the day at 6 am.

Bless This House starred Sid James and Diana Coupland as middle-aged parents struggling to cope with the permissive new ideas of their teenage children, as well as general themes explored in many family sitcoms, such as quarrels with their neighbours, domestic disagreements and the like. The show originally aired for 65 episodes from 1971-1976.

3. After Henry

After Henry stars Prunella Scales as the put-upon Sarah, navigating life after the death of her husband. She is further burdened by her daughter living upstairs and her mother living downstairs in the basement flat. She is often caught up between the two and their generational differences. She only finds salvation when she goes to work, where she helps her friend Russel run his bookshop. He frequently acts as her confidante to help her process the problems at home.

Although After Henry slips a little outside of Old Time Review‘s era-remit, the radio show on which the Thames TV series was based started a little earlier, in 1985.

After Henry airs on That’s TV in the late morning on weekdays, around 11.15-11.30 am.

4. Dad’s Army

The BBC have been airing Dad’s Army on Saturday evenings for many years on BBC2. It is on a kind of constant rotation.

Dad’s Army originally aired from 1968-1977 on BBC television. It starred Arthur Lowe, John le Mesurier, John Laurie, Clive Dunn, Arnold Ridley, Ian Lavender and James Beck as a hapless Home Guard platoon during the Second World War.

Dad’s Army can be seen most Saturday evening around 8.30 pm on BBC2.

But what else…?

As you can see, the pickings are a little slim. There are shows like Yes, Prime Minister also currently airing on That’s TV. They have run shows like Grace and Favour, under the DVD release title Are You Being Served? Again, Sorry! and The Kenny Everett Video Show. Some of which may possibly go back into rotation on the channel at some point, as is generally the case with any licensed content of that type when the broadcaster typically negotiates a licensing deal for several plays of a show.

However, in recent times, ITV3 has almost stopped showing sitcoms completely, with much of their schedule on weekdays taken up by their classic soap programming.

It is no secret that we now find many things in classic shows – sitcoms especially – problematic. There are often racist and sexist jokes flung around without thought; troubling stereotypes and phobic tropes abound. Some shows are worse for this than others, and it is a shame to dismiss a whole body of work for what are sometimes merely sporadic ignorant mistakes.

I can understand some shows never airing again, such as Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76). The whole premise of that show is pretty much rooted in the idea of racial difference and ignorance, and that is hard to reconcile today. We require more nuance than we would perhaps find in such a show today. The morality of this show, as well as its BBC counterpart Til Death Do Us Part is hotly debated, with Jack Smethurst working little after the show’s end partly because of the racist character he depicted.

Some shows then, are probably not shown because no broadcaster wants to be seen to be glorifying these attitudes. But there are plenty of other sitcoms which rarely stray into such areas – if at all, which can perhaps be forgiven. If shows like Dixon of Dock Green could show nuance and progressive thinking in the early 1960s, why could not sitcoms from that time and later? Surely there is more understanding to be found there than just dismissing something because it was made before a certain era, without considering any of its subtleties?

Some of our most well-known sitcoms such as The Good Life, Porridge, Open All Hours and Only Fools and Horses are licensed to Sky, available on their Gold channel and to watch on demand on Now. This must contribute to their absence from free-to-air TV, as such licensing deals can be for exclusive rights to the programme, meaning that the broadcaster which owns them may not also broadcast them.

My personal request from a willing broadcaster would be George and the Dragon, starring Sid James, Peggy Mount and John le Mesurier!

What would you like to see back on our screens?

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