A concept surely as old as time itself, the comedy double act has been a mainstay on British TV since the box was invented. Before that they had us howling with laughter round the wireless and in the days when everything was sepia we were queuing round the block to witness their Music Hall performances or having a chuckle over a pint in our local pubs and clubs. We run down some of the most iconic comedy double acts of all time.
1. French & Saunders
‘French & Saunders’ was a hugely popular sitcom running from 1987 until 1996 with numerous mini-series and seasonal specials to follow. At the time, it was one of the biggest budget comedy shows the BBC had produced with elaborate sets, costume and makeup. The pair met at the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1978 and launched their career at alternative London comedy club The Comic Strip in the early 1980’s, eventually attracting the eye of TV producers. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are now arguably best known for The Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Fabulous respectively.
You can watch a clip from the comedy double act’s 2003 Comic Relief special, ‘Harry Potter & the Chamber Pot of Azerbaijan’ below.
2. Baddiel & Skinner
David Baddiel and Frank Skinner met at the start of the 1990’s on the London comedy circuit and decided to share a flat together. It quickly became clear that they shared a passion for football and satire, inspiring the launch of their TV shows Fantasy Football League (1994 – 1996 then numerous specials) and Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned (2000 – 2005), which began life as an Edinburgh Fringe show. The pair have become synonymous with football culture in the UK thanks to the football anthem ‘Three Lions’, which they recorded with Ian Broudie of Lightning Seeds.
Watch a selection of ‘Fantasy Football League’ clips below.
3. Laurel & Hardy
Laurel and Hardy first officially appeared as a comedy double act together in ‘Putting Pants on Philip’ (1927) having met on the set of ‘The Lucky Dog’ (1921). Brit Stan Laurel and American Oliver Hardy already had over 300 productions under their belts before their shorts began. Together they performed in more than 100 films. With their caricatured personas and bowler hats, they have provided one of the most iconic and enduring double act images of cinema and arguably any medium.
You can watch a clip of the comedy double act enjoying a good giggle below taken from the short ‘Blotto’ (1930).
4. Fry & Laurie
Meeting at Cambridge University through mutual friend Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie first collaborated for TV in 1981 and went on to launch sitcoms ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’ (1987, 1989 – 1995) and Jeeves and Wooster (1990 – 1993). They have also both memorably appeared in ‘Blackadder’. Thanks to his role as the title character in US hospital drama ‘House’ (2004 – 2012) Hugh Laurie has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and eccentric intellectual Stephen Fry is a world famous author and hosted panel show favourite ‘QI’ (2003 – 2017).
You can watch the comedy double act’s sketch ‘The Understanding Barman’ below.
5. Morecambe & Wise
Morecambe (named after his Lancashire hometown) and Wise (a shortening of his real last name Wiseman) met in 1941 when they were cast separately for a variety show. The pair began performing as a double act in the production but were parted for five years due to war duties only to be reunited by chance. Once they were back together they would spend four decades performing as a double act on film, radio and – most famously – TV. The pair have been honoured with multiple bronze statues.
Have you ever made your breakfast as enthusiastically as Morecambe & Wise?
6. The Two Ronnies
Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett caught their big break by accident when they had to fill time during an awards ceremony which happened to be attended by the BBC’s head of light entertainment. He was so impressed that he offered the pair their own show; ‘The Two Ronnies’ (1971 – 1987) would take over from Morecambe & Wise’s show as the BBC’s flagship entertainment program when it came off air in 1978. Ronnie Barker is also a key comedy actor face in British sitcom history having starred memorably in ‘Porridge’ (1974 – 1977) and ‘Open All Hours’ (1973 – 1985).
Watch Ronnie Corbett playing the most fiddly sweet shop customer imaginable below.
7. Rik Mayall & Ade Edmonson
Debuting as 20th Century Coyote at London’s Comedy Store in the 1980s, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson met at Manchester University. They would go on to write and star in anarchic comedies ‘The Young Ones’ (1982 – 1984), The Dangerous Brothers (1985) and ‘Bottom’ (1991 – 1995). Edmondson is married to Jennifer Saunders who was previously mentioned in this article for her comedy double act alongside Dawn French.
Witness Ade Edmondson milking the Southampton live theatre audience below.
8. Vic & Bob
Following their TV debut in 1990 Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer quickly gained a reputation as the alternative to alternative comedy with their surreal and silly slapstick skits. Their first show was ‘The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer’ (1993 – 1995) but they’re arguably best known for their bizarre panel show ‘Shooting Stars’ (1993 – 2011), which helped launch the career of Matt Lucas. They also remade classic 1960’s detective show ‘Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)’ in 2000.
Watch their take of Country File below.
9. Adam & Joe
Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish met at Westminster School where they performed comedy acts with their class mate Louis Theroux. They are best known for their modern day BBC 6 Music radio show ‘Adam & Joe’ (2007 – 2009 and 2011) but came to public attention with their low budget cult Channel 4 series ‘The Adam & Joe Show’ (1996 -2001). The series was largely shot in a small shared performance space above a Body Shop store in South London. This comedy double act are both big players in the podcasting world.
You can watch their ‘experimental’ home makeover below.
10. Mitchell & Webb
Like Fry and Laurie, David Mitchell and Robert Webb met at Cambridge University, which was also attended at the time by their ‘Peepshow’ co-star Olivia Coleman and comedy actor and director Richard Ayoade. In 1995 they starred in their first Footlights production together. They are best known for playing graduate flatmates Mark and Jeremy in toe curlingly cringey sitcom ‘Peepshow’ (2003 – 2015), but have also had two successful sketch shows of their own on radio ‘That Mitchell and Webb Sound’ (2003 – present) and on TV ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ (2007 – 2010).
Watch a classic thought provoking sketch from the comedy double act below in which two soldiers discover they’re the bad guys.