British TV gave birth to some exciting character-motivated dramas from the 50s to the 70s.

by alexanderdavies-99382 | created - 28 Jul 2019 | updated - 3 months ago | Public

Amongst the talent involved when British TV was at its most creative, were the following actors: Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Robert Shaw, Ian Hendry, Patrick McGoohan, Stanley Baker, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, Ian Holm, Michael Caine, Vivien Merchant, Diana Rigg. In addition, writers by the likes of Harold Pinter, Terence Rattigan and John Osborne would play a crucial role during this period of evolution, whose influence lasts to this day.

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1. Armchair Theatre (1956–1974)

60 min | Drama

This show was a British television drama anthology series of single plays that ran on the ITV network from 1956 to 1974. It was originally produced by Associated British Corporation, and later by Thames Television from mid 1968.

Stars: Harry H. Corbett, Billie Whitelaw, Neil McCallum, Paul Whitsun-Jones

Votes: 117

A landmark series for British television, covering a wide number of genres. The acting and writing are exceptional.

2. ITV Play of the Week (1955–1974)

90 min | Comedy, Drama

An anthology series from the U.K., from 1955 to 1974, producing about five hundred ninety-minute episodes from Granada Television.

Stars: Derek Francis, Alfred Burke, Arthur Hewlett, Esther Lawrence

Votes: 49

3. BBC Sunday-Night Theatre (1950–1959)


Series of television plays performed live.

Stars: Richard Caldicot, George Woodbridge, Robert Brown, Brian Rix

Votes: 70

"1984" with Peter Cushing is a classic.

4. BBC Sunday-Night Play (1960–1963)

60 min | Drama

BBC Sunday-Night Play is the anthology drama series which replaced Sunday Night Theatre in 1960.

Stars: Brian Rix, Joby Blanshard, Cyril Luckham, John Bennett

Votes: 50

6. ITV Television Playhouse (1955–1967)

60 min | Drama

Richard O. Sullivan as a child genius in the play "Honour Bright".

Stars: Campbell Singer, Thomas Heathcote, Richard Caldicot, June Brown

Votes: 35

7. Callan (1967–1972)

60 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

David Callan is the top agent/assassin for the Security Service (British counterintelligence), but he is an embittered man who performs his duties "for Queen and country" under duress. This... See full summary »

Stars: Edward Woodward, Russell Hunter, Lisa Langdon, Anthony Valentine

Votes: 603

The greatest Spy TV show, crackling with tension.

8. Public Eye (1965–1975)

60 min | Crime, Drama

Cynical, dour and world-weary, private eye Frank Marker is frequently the unwitting stooge in bigger criminal wheels in his attempts to make a tenuous living on the outskirts of London.

Stars: Alfred Burke, Ray Smith, Pauline Delaney, Brenda Cavendish

Votes: 250

Alfred Burke made the leading character his own. A fine series that represents real life as it tends to be.

9. Gazette (1968– )

60 min | Drama

London millionaire playboy, James Hadleigh, returns to his Yorkshire birthplace and buys a local newspaper his father founded decided on turning it into a relevant force for change against the wishes of its plodding editor, Frank Walters.

Stars: Gillian Wray, Jon Laurimore, Michael Blackham, Gerald Harper

Votes: 5

An introduction to the character of Hadleigh.

10. Hadleigh (1969–1976)

60 min | Drama

James Hadleigh is the squire of the village in this series created by Robert Barr.

Stars: Gerald Harper, Peter Dennis, Ambrosine Phillpotts, Alastair Hunter

Votes: 44

11. Softly Softly: Task Force (1969– )

50 min | Crime, Drama

1970s BBC police drama with experienced cop DCS Charlie Barlow and DS John Watt who lead a task force charged with tackling the toughest chases Thamesford has to offer.

Stars: Frank Windsor, Norman Bowler, David Lloyd Meredith, Terence Rigby

Votes: 57

12. Doomwatch (1970–2016)

50 min | Sci-Fi, Drama

Doomwatch is the nickname for the Department of Measurement of Scientific Work. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize winning physicist, Dr. Spencer Quist, the Doomwatch team struggled, for ... See full summary »

Stars: John Paul, Joby Blanshard, Simon Oates, Vivien Sherrard

Votes: 131

The existing episodes are great, full marks for writing and acting.

13. Special Branch (1969–1974)

60 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Groundbreaking British police drama series following the exploits of the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police. An elite group of officers tasked with protecting London from spies, terrorists, and subversives.

Stars: Derren Nesbitt, George Sewell, Morris Perry, Fulton Mackay

Votes: 132

Early episodes are very good. The later ones are a bit chequered.

14. The Sweeney (1974–1978)

TV-PG | 60 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

Jack Regan and George Carter are hard-edged detectives in the Flying Squad of London's Metropolitan Police. They pursue villains by methods which are underhanded and often illegal, frequently violent and - more often than not - successful.

Stars: John Thaw, Dennis Waterman, Garfield Morgan, John Alkin

Votes: 1,806

The series that gave British TV a brand new look. Still the number 1 Police series.

15. Armchair Cinema (1973– )

90 min | Drama

British television drama anthology series of single plays.

Stars: Tom Bell, James Laurenson, John Thaw, Patrick Mower

Votes: 17

No surprise that "Regan" was the only one to become a series.

16. Armchair Mystery Theatre (1960– )

60 min | Drama, Mystery

Armchair Mystery Theatre is a 60-minute United Kingdom television anthology mystery series. Thirty-four episodes aired from 1960-65. It was hosted by Donald Pleasence and produced by Leonard White.

Stars: Donald Pleasence, Ian Hendry, Thomas Heathcote, Charles Gray

Votes: 8

17. Thirty-Minute Theatre (1965–1973)

30 min | Crime, Drama

It is an anthology drama series of short plays shown on BBC Television.

Stars: Robin Chadwick, Donald Sinden, Deborah Lavin, Helen Lindsay

Votes: 29

18. Scotland Yard (1960– )


Each episode is based on a true crime case with the names changed.

Stars: Geoffrey Matthews, Brian Vaughan, Ewan MacDuff, Humphrey Heathcote

Votes: 32

Actually, this programme was first broadcast in 1953.

20. Mystery and Imagination (1966–1970)

75 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery

A British anthology series based on classic ghost stories and chillers from M. R. James, Poe, Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu and others; later branching into feature-length teleplays ... See full summary »

Stars: David Buck, Mark Moss, Freddie Jones, Robert Hunter

Votes: 65

21. The Wednesday Play (1964–1970)

75 min | Drama

Series of one-off plays made by BBC television, which gave breaks to a wide range of writers and directors in the late 1960s, such as Dennis Potter, Ken Loach, David Mercer, and John ... See full summary »

Stars: Edwin Brown, Neville Smith, Tony Selby, Michael Robbins

Votes: 78

22. Play for Today (1970–1984)

75 min | Comedy, Drama

A British television anthology drama series that aired on BBC1 between 1970 and 1984.

Stars: Alison Steadman, Nigel Hawthorne, Tony Caunter, David Daker

Votes: 228

23. The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971–1973)

50 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Adaptations of mystery stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's contemporary rivals in the genre.

Stars: Peter Barkworth, Peter Vaughan, Douglas Wilmer, Ronald Hines

Votes: 202

Holmes himself would be flattered.

24. Sherlock Holmes (1964–1968)

TV-MA | 50 min | Horror, Crime, Drama

A series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Stars: Nigel Stock, Peter Cushing, Douglas Wilmer, Peter Madden

Votes: 411

25. Patrol Car (1954–1956)

30 min | Crime, Drama

Dramatization of murder investigations and other criminal cases that Detective Superintendent Robert Fabian, a real-life Scotland Yard Inspector and the host of the show, worked on.

Stars: Bruce Seton, Robert Raglan, Philip Dale, Jack Melford

Votes: 15

26. Maigret (1960–1963)

50 min | Crime, Drama

Televisations of the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon.

Stars: Rupert Davies, Ewen Solon, Helen Shingler, Neville Jason

Votes: 118

27. New Scotland Yard (1972–1974)

60 min | Crime, Drama

Detectives at New Scotland Yard solve extraordinary, mysterious crimes.

Stars: John Woodvine, John Carlisle, Michael Turner, Clive Francis

Votes: 38

28. Thriller (1973–1976)

65 min | Crime, Drama, Fantasy

Anthology series of self-contained episodes with the genres ranging from murder mystery to suspense to psychological and supernatural horror.

Stars: Donna Mills, Gary Collins, Michael Jayston, Robert Powell

Votes: 596

29. Tales of the Unexpected (1979–1988)

25 min | Comedy, Drama, Horror

Dramatizations of many Roald Dahl short stories.

Stars: Roald Dahl, Andrew Ray, Forbes Collins, Richard Johnson

Votes: 1,584

30. An Age of Kings (1960)

60 min | Drama

A linking together of Shakespeare's history plays chronicling the rise and fall of monarchs over the eighty-six years between Richard II and Richard III.

Stars: Frank Windsor, Julian Glover, Patrick Garland, John Ringham

Votes: 119

31. Hamlet at Elsinore (1964 TV Movie)

170 min | Drama

Hamlet suspects his uncle has murdered his father to claim the throne of Denmark and the hand of Hamlet's mother, but the Prince cannot decide whether or not he should take vengeance.

Director: Philip Saville | Stars: Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Alec Clunes, Michael Caine

Votes: 160

32. Z Cars (1962–1978)

50 min | Crime, Drama

A gritty drama which follows the work of the police force in the fictional town of Newtown in the North of England.

Stars: James Ellis, John Slater, Douglas Fielding, Bernard Holley

Votes: 261

33. Softly Softly (1966–1969)

50 min | Crime, Drama

This show was a drama series about a West Country police force solving local crime. It was a spin-off from another BBC drama series, Z Cars (1962).

Stars: Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor, Norman Bowler, John Barron

Votes: 86

34. Dixon of Dock Green (1955–1976)

45 min | Crime, Drama

Constable George Dixon and his colleagues at the Dock Green police station in the East End of London deal with petty crime, successfully controlling it through common sense and human understanding.

Stars: Jack Warner, Peter Byrne, Geoffrey Adams, Arthur Rigby

Votes: 203

35. Wings (1977–1978)

50 min | Drama, War

A young Englishman born into a blacksmith's family wants to be a flier in one of the new fangled flying machines. He struggles to show a man of his class deserves a chance to be a pilot and... See full summary »

Stars: Michael Cochrane, Tim Woodward, Nicholas Jones, David Troughton

Votes: 117

36. A Family at War (1970–1972)

60 min | Drama, History, War

The lower middle class Ashton family of the city of Liverpool deal with life on the home front during the Second World War.

Stars: Colin Douglas, Barbara Flynn, Lesley Nunnerley, Coral Atkins

Votes: 280

37. Colditz (1972–1974)

50 min | Drama, History, War

The prisoners in Colditz Castle make many attempts to escape captivity from the arrival of the first British prisoners after Dunkirk in 1940 until the liberation of the castle by the ... See full summary »

Stars: David McCallum, Richard Heffer, Paul Chapman, Jack Hedley

Votes: 727

38. Village Hall (1974–1975)

60 min | Comedy, Drama

Anthology series with each episode a different story set in a village hall.

Stars: Reginald Barratt, Priscilla Morgan, Frank Crompton, Stella Moray

Votes: 14

39. BBC Play of the Month (1965–1983)

120 min | Drama

Monthly anthology series featuring televised versions of plays.

Stars: Charles Gray, Eric Porter, Jeremy Brett, Lally Bowers

Votes: 92

40. BBC2 Playhouse (1973–1983)


BBC2 Playhouse was a British one-hour episode anthology television series produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Stars: Ralph G. Morse, Gawn Grainger, John Bluthal, Eric Allan

Votes: 81

41. BBC2 Play of the Week (1977– )

Crime, Drama, Mystery

Anthology of plays and novels adapted into feature length movies.

Stars: Judi Dench, Richard O'Callaghan, Frederick Treves, Anthony Jackson

Votes: 21

42. 1990 (1977–1978)

55 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

In a dystopian future, Britain is under the grip of the Home Office's Public Control Department (PCD), a tyrannically oppressive bureaucracy riding roughshod over the population's civil liberties.

Stars: Edward Woodward, Robert Lang, Tony Doyle, Paul Hardwick

Votes: 100

43. The Gold Robbers (1969– )

60 min | Crime

Tough cop Detective Chief Superintendent Cradock is assigned to track down and bring to justice the criminals behind the daring theft of five and half million pounds worth of gold bullion from an airfield in the South of England.

Stars: Peter Vaughan, Artro Morris, Richard Leech, Frederick Bartman

Votes: 28

Gripping and exciting.

44. Budgie (1971–1972)

60 min | Drama

Chirpy Cockney petty crook Ronald "Budgie" Bird is the main character in this British television series. Budgie was the eternal failure, with every scam, and every attempt to make his ... See full summary »

Stars: Adam Faith, Iain Cuthbertson, Lynn Dalby, June Lewis

Votes: 196

45. Big Breadwinner Hog (1969– )

60 min | Crime, Drama

The rise of a vicious young thief, Hog, to the top of the London criminal fraternity

Stars: Peter Egan, Alan Browning, Donald Burton, Timothy West

Votes: 44

Brutal and unyielding.