The best ever British comedy Christmas episodes – The Office and Gavin & Stacey to Porridge and The Good Life

Only Fools and Horses, Gavin and Stacey and The Office - The BritBox Christmas collection has over 200 festive specials and we’ve picked out the greatest of all time from the archives.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 3 December 2021 - 6.57pm
BBC James Corden, Mat Horne, Joana Page and Ruth Jones pose for the Gavin and Stacey 2008 Christmas special

Nobody does Christmas TV quite as well as the Brits. While the US go crazy for Thanksgiving, here in the UK we prefer our TV specials to be sprinkled with snow, Santa beards and sleighfuls of laughter.

Whether it’s the magical Tim and Dawn kiss in The Office or the Jolly Boys' Outing with Del Boy and Rodney, some of our most treasured comedy moments have come at Christmas time.

To celebrate the start of Britmas on BritBox, we’ve compiled a list of the greatest ever comedy Christmas specials – all available to watch now if you have a BritBox subscription.

Get six months of BritBox on us

You can opt in to a six-month BritBox trial on us when you take any of our broadband packages.

The best ever Christmas sitcom episodes

Only Fools and Horses

Jolly Boys' Outing (1989)

John Sullivan was at the peak of his writing powers when he packed Del Boy, Rodney and the whole gang off on a beano to Margate.

Exploding coaches, Trigger’s Kiss Me Quick hat and big moments in the romances between Del and Racquel and Rodney and Cassandra, it’s constantly voted one of the show’s greatest ever episodes for a reason. The only downside? It’s not at all festive.

Classic quote

Del Boy: Trivial Pursuit, aye? Lovely jubbly! How d'you play it?

Rodney: The thing is, Del, it's all about general knowledge. You know, it's a bit intellectual.

Cassandra’s dad: Oh, yeah, some of the questions are really difficult, it could be a bit embarrassing.

Del Boy: Don’t worry, I’ll help you out.

Porridge

The Desperate Hours (1976)

Ronnie Barker as Fletcher in Porridge celebrating with a party popper BBC

The second Christmas special from inside Slade Prison and Fletcher and Godber have brought some festive spirit for the inmates by making their own wine.

After being rumbled by warder Mr Barrowclough, the duo end up caught up in the middle of a hostage situation organised by fellow prisoner Reg (Dudley Sutton) and it's up to Fletcher to save the day.

Classic quote

Fletcher: Care for a drink first?

Godber: Why not.

Fletcher: Large one, sir?

Godber: Mind your own business.

The Good Life

Silly, But It’s Fun… 1977

One of the greatest episodes of the much-loved 70s sitcom brought together the Goods and Leadbetters for a jolly Christmas Day of homemade crackers, decorations and party games.

Penelope Keith’s Margo is on sparkling form as she has to learn to love a slightly less glamorous Christmas – including a paper hat made from the Daily Mirror.

Classic Quote

Margo: Did I hear a dinner gong?

Tom: Not unless the chicken jumped out of the oven and banged one.

Gavin and Stacey

The Christmas Announcement, 2008

The 2019 Christmas reunion special pulled in a record-breaking audience, but the festive special in which the Welsh gang enjoy their first ever Essex Christmas remains the show’s finest hour.

Mick’s love affair with his “bootiful” turkey, Smithy’s Band Aid Performance and Nessa’s unique take on Santa’s grotto combine for a magical episode that all ends with a singalong around the keyboard.

Classic quote

Bryn: You think they've thought of it all, you think ‘Where can they go with this next?’ and then they hit you with it. I mean mint Baileys! Whatever will they think of next!

The Office

Christmas Special, 2003

The modern gold standard for all other Christmas specials. Not only did it tick all the right heartwarming, mistletoe-filled boxes for a festive episode, it also beautifully brought to an end Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s classic sitcom with the perfect closing moment – a kiss for Tim and Dawn while Yazoo’s Only You plays.

From Finchy finally getting his comeuppance and Gareth running Wernham Hogg to the green shoots of romance for Brent, the Christmas specials are still worth watching every year, nearly two decades since their first airing.

Classic quote

Interviewer: How would you like to be remembered?

David Brent: Simply as the man who put a smile on the face of everyone he met.

Father Ted

A Christmassy Ted, 1996

A vintage episode of the 90s sitcom, which included a Ballykissangel dream sequence, the classic Ted award-winning acceptance speech and a disaster in the “largest lingerie section in Ireland”.

The added length of the Christmas episodes allows the show’s full cast to all have their own running gags and storylines, such as Father Jack in the children’s playground and Mrs Doyle coping with the gift of an automated tea-maker.

Should you watch it this Christmas? Ah, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on…

Classic quote

Dougal: God, Ted, I can't wait to find out what's behind tomorrow's [advent calendar door]. I bet it's a donkey or something .

Ted: Oh right so you've eh changed from your initial prediction. What was it again, Rudd Gullit sitting on a shed, was it?

Peep Show

Seasonal Beatings, 2010

The festive cheer is on short supply in this cringe-tastic episode from the Channel 4 comedy’s seventh season.

But what it lacks in tradition and joy (“That’s not very Christmassy!”) it makes up for in black humour.

Mark’s family, Super Hans and Dobby all end up squeezed around the dinner table and it’s a meal filled with tension, intense awkwardness and bust-ups about cauliflower.

Classic quote

Jeremy: Right. Lovely! The more, the merrier.

Mark: Exactly. The more, the merrier, they said as another poor soul was crammed into the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Vicar of Dibley

The Christmas Lunch Incident, 1996

Dawn French tackles a feast of food and the full array of Dibley’s unusual festive traditions as she ends up accidentally invited to a trio of Christmas lunches that she’s too polite to turn down.

Frequently voted one of the country’s favourite ever Christmas specials, French is in fabulous form as she faces down the onslaught of turkey slices and Brussels sprouts.

Classic quote

Alice: What you looking forward to more than anything else at Christmas this year?

Geraldine: Well, my highlights are going to be Jurassic Park and the Queen's speech, written this year by Ruby Wax, I believe. And what about you?

Alice: I'm totally excited about your first Christmas sermon; it, it's just going to be an experience I'll never forget.

Geraldine: Alice, my *first* Christmas sermon was last Christmas.

Alice: Oh, yeah, I forgot.

To the Manor Born

The First Noel, 1979

Another appearance from Penelope Keith with her other classic 70s sitcom, which remains one of the most-watched Christmas specials of all time – more than 20 million people tuned in for the latest back and forth between Audrey fforbes-Hamilton and Peter Bowles’ Richard de Vere.

The episode centres around Audrey and Richard competing over the Christmas crèche design for the church and although the show’s gentle humour may seem a bit quaint for younger viewers, the gags and performances have stood the test of time.

Classic quote

Audrey: My mother and I would be so pleased if you could spend X-mas day with us at the Manor. X-mas - makes it sound like a skin complaint.

Dinnerladies

Christmas, 1999

The cast of Dinnerladies together in 1999

Victoria Wood’s underrated and short-lived BBC sitcom pulled off a Christmas cracker with this episode. Following the dramatic cliffhanger of Bren’s estranged husband interrupting her kiss with Tony (Andrew Dunn), the plot is built around a series of misunderstandings about Bren and Tony’s romance.

Building the final festive pay-off that Tony hasn’t forgotten her Christmas present, or gone off her, the episode has the perfect serving of Yuletide laughs – boosted considerably by Julie Walter’s scene-stealing appearances as Bren’s mother.

Classic quote

Bren: Tony didn't tear it. It was Martin.

Jean: Ooh, this gets better. Who's Martin? Should we have had a bet on him?

Bren: He's my-

Jean: Calor Gas man?

Dolly: Mother's boyfriend?

Philippa: Chiropodist?

Anita: Stick insect?

Bren: Husband.

Absolutely Fabulous

Cold Turkey, 2003

The cast of the Absolutely Fabulous 2004 Christmas special BBC

It’s a crisis Christmas for Eddy and Patsy as they end up missing out on their usual holiday abroad and have to spend the festive season with their family.

Its all a bit too much for Patsy who ends up in hospital on drugs, while things are no more calm at home as Eddy has to cope with her family.

Classic quote

Eddy: What’s the matter with you then?

Patsy: I don’t know Eddy. Just a little funny turn. Still, I’d rather be here than Christmas. A few days on drugs. Lovely.

Bottom

Holy, 1992

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson in Bottom BBC

It’s not for granny or the whole family to enjoy, but the Bottom Christmas special gets more into festive traditions than many shows on the list, as Eddie and Richie discover a newborn baby on their doorstep.

Okay, the violence and bad language isn’t exactly brimming with seasonal joy, but the setpiece gag with the Frankenstein mask, Terry’s All Gold and Grrr aftershave is beautifully done.

Classic quote

Spudgun: Poor little mite. What a way to spend your first Christmas.

Eddie: What, lying on your back with a bottle in your mouth? It sounds pretty good to me!

The Royle Family

The Royle Family at Christmas, 2000

Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne’s sitcom did plenty of Christmas specials, but this ranks among the best of them as Antony brings his girlfriend Emma over for Christmas dinner, along with her parents Valerie and Roger.

It’s a classic culture clash between the two families, which ends with Jim going on an epic and emotional rant about how his life turned out compared to moneybags Roger. But as it's Christmas, the show has a happy ending as the family surprise him with a satellite TV package. “Roger, my a**e!”

Classic quote:

Nana: What’s she had done?

Denise: Implants Nana.

Nana: Ooh, Valerie. Are you alright sitting in that hardback chair?

Knowing Me Knowing Yule with Alan Partridge (1995)

Knowing me knowing you Alan Partridge BBC

Norwich’s finest chat show host, Alan Partridge, gets his very own Christmas Special, set in a replica of his house. What were the BBC thinking?!

Guests include the TV chef, innuendo-loving Fanny Thomas; a pro golfer whose career hit the bunker when he was struck by lightning; and Tony Hayers, the Beeb’s Commissioning Editor, who Partridge begs to keep him on air after punching him with a basted bird.

Classic quote:

Alan Partridge: (angrily) Your name’s Peter Willis, you’re a failed disc-jockey who dresses up as a woman for cheap laughs.

Fanny Thomas: (taking off wig) This is Peter, do you want Peter or do you want Fanny?

Alan Partridge: (sheepishly) Fanny, I want Fanny.

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em Christmas Special: Learning to Fly (1978)

Frank Spencer in Some Mother Do Have Em Christmas Special BBC

1978’s Christmas special was the final episode of Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, and on Christmas Day is was watched by an incredible 19 million people.

Of course, the curtain was drawn with the type of mishaps that could only happen to Frank Spencer.

When granddad Spencer visits from Oz, Frank gets flying lessons – what could possibly go wrong? Well, Frank accidentally knocks out his instructor mid-flight for starters.

Classic quote:

Air Traffic Control: Are you solo?

Frank Spencer: I don't know how low I am

Steptoe & Son Christmas Special: The Party (1973) 

Steptoe and Son BBC

Christmas is supposed to be full of joy, but you wouldn’t expect much of that with Steptoe and Son.

In The Party – the show’s 1973 Christmas Special – Albert is planning a cosy Christmas for just him and Harold. Unfortunately, Harold is looking to travel to the sunnier climes of Majorca.

Albert has a plan though and Christmas ends up being more chickenpox than Christmas turkey.

Classic quote: 

Harold: I’m not spending Christmas in a stable.

Albert: Jesus did.

Harold: Well his dad didn’t have chickenpox, did he?

 

What’s on BritBox – The 2021 Britmas collection

BritBox is the number one destination for fans of classic Christmas comedies over the holidays with seasonal treats from decades gone by including Allo ‘Allo!, Absolutely Fabulous, Birds of a Feather, Blackadder, French and Saunders, Gavin & Stacey, Only Fools and Horses, The Good Life, The Vicar of Dibley, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, The Catherine Tate Show and Les Dawson's Christmas Box.

A selection of pantomimes are also available this festive season, including Cinderella: The Shoe Must Go On (1986)  starring Danny La Rue, Jack and the Beanstalk (1998) narrated by Paul Merton and Aladdin (2000) featuring the music of S Club 7.

The best festive episodes from Coronation Street and Emmerdale round off the collection. 

Get six months of BritBox on us

You can opt in to a six-month BritBox trial on us when you take any of our broadband packages.