The 1970s saw a diverse selection of television comedies on screens across the world, and their echoes still reverberate today, whether through the continued careers of their stars, catch phrases, or outstanding impact on contemporary comedy. Here are five of our very favourite comedies of the 1970s.
Years: 1972 – 1983
Notable names: Alan Alda, Loretta Swift, Jamie Farr, William Christopher
Awards haul: 100+ Emmy nominations; 14 Emmy wins
Showing a darker side to comedy than many of its contemporaries, M*A*S*H revolved around the lives of personnel in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War. Episodes could be gut-bustingly funny in one scene, and move you to tears just moments later. After a somewhat rocky start in its maiden outing, M*A*S*H recovered nicely in its second season, and would remain in the top 20 rating programs in the USA for the rest of its run. The final episode, ‘Goodbye, Farewell and Amen’ ran for two and a half hours, and was watched by 125 million people.
2. Fawlty Towers
Years: 1975, 1979
Notable names: John Cleese, Connie Booth, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs
Awards haul: 3 BAFTA wins; British Film Institute named it ‘The best British television series of all time’
Set in a small hotel in Torquay, Fawlty Towers centres on the exploits of the hotel’s dysfunctional staff, headed up by John Cleese’s iconic Basil Fawlty. One of the most remarkable things about Fawlty Towers is how enduring and beloved it is, having been re-watched countless times, despite its economical episode count; just 12 in total.
3. Happy Days
Years: 1974 – 1984
Notable names: Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Scott Baio, Marion Ross, Garry Marshall
Awards haul: 9 Emmy nominations; 1 Emmy win
Set in the 1950s, Happy Days put an idealised and cheery spin on the poodle skirt decade. Ron Howard starred as vanilla teenager Richie Cunningham, who, among other things, befriends high school dropout and biker Arthur “Fonzie”/“The Fonz” Fonzarelli. With a catchy theme song that doesn’t leave your head for days, and one of the most merchandised characters of the 1970s (Fonzie), Happy Days was a family-friendly hit with audiences around the world. Fun fact: Happy Days is responsible for the phrase ‘jumping the shark’ – used when a television show’s writing has gone wildly off course in a seemingly desperate bid to get attention. A season 5 episode saw Fonzie literally jumping over a shark while water-skiing.
4. Are You Being Served?
Years: 1972 – 1985
Notable names: Mollie Sugden, Wendy Richards, Arthur Brough, John Inman
Set in the flagship store of the fictional Grace Brothers department store, Are You Being Served? follows the hijinks of the staff of the ladies’ and menswear departments. The show favoured visual gags and heavy sexual innuendo (coincidentally running for 69 episodes in total), and is notable for creating the gay icon of Mr Humphries – though the character’s sexual orientation is never mentioned on screen.
5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Years: 1970 – 1977
Notable names: Mary Tyler Moore, Edward Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod, Betty White
Awards haul: 29 Emmy wins; 1 Peabody Award
Ground-breaking in so many ways, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered one of the greatest comedies ever produced. Following Mary Richards (Moore) as she starts a new life after leaving her fiancé, the show explores her journey into the world of television news, as well as her relationships with the people around her. The Mary Tyler Moore Show confronted important social issues like equal pay for women, homosexuality, sex before marriage, divorce, infidelity, and so many more. The show defined a generation of comedy writers, having influenced everything from Friends to 30 Rock.
Which is your favourite comedy from the 1970s? Let us know in the comments!