TV & Movies

Top 10 Sunday night dramas of all time as Poldark returns for fifth series

With the long-awaited fifth and final series of Poldark hitting our screens this Sunday night, you’ll no doubt be wanting to know where it ranks in the list of TV’s greatest Sunday night dramas.

As luck would have it I have created such a list – with the help of Mirror maestro Paul Routledge, whose experience extends beyond mine.

It’s a chance to revisit some old classics and if you agree with my choices feel free to let me know.

If you don’t, just give Paul a shout instead….

1. Pride And Prejudice BBC1

This is not only my favourite screen adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, it’s also the most memorable Sunday night drama in TV history.

The funny thing is the famous scene which turned Colin Firth into an international sex symbol was only added by the writer Andrew Davies in order to embarrass Firth’s uptight character Mr Darcy in front of Elizabeth Bennet.

The rest is history, of course. The wet frock shirt became so iconic it was even referenced in a couple of Firth’s later films Love Actually and Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason.

Alison Steadman stole the show though. Watching her play Mrs Bennet was like witnessing a book come to life.

2. Downton Abbey ITV 2010-2015

For some viewers, the Christmas Day special of Downton Abbey was the worst present ever – because it was also the final episode of one of the most loved British series of all time.

A classic period drama with some legendary characters and some truly memorable scenes.

Who can forget Lady Sybil’s agonising death shortly after she had given birth? Or Matthew Crawley’s fatal car crash, which ruined an earlier Christmas Day for the show’s fans?

But the best thing was Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, who could steal a scene with one expression.

If I was in charge of the forthcoming movie, she would be on screen for every single minute.

3. All Creatures Great And Small BBC1 1978-1990

This Yorkshire-based series will be forever remembered for the sight of Christopher Timothy shoving his arm up a cow’s backside, but there was much more to it than that. There’s no way it would have lasted 12 years had there not been.

Based on the novels of James Herriot (the pseudonym of real life vet Alf Wight), this show was all about the 4 Fs – fields, farmers, friendship and family.

Timothy played Herriot, with Robert Hardy as his irascible partner Siegfried Farnon and Peter Davison as Siegfried’s often feckless younger brother Tristan.

Channel 5 is now remaking the show. That’s good news if you’re a TV viewer. Less so if you’re a cow in Yorkshire.

4. Call The Midwife BBC1 2012-present

On paper a drama about a group of midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s didn’t seem like a Sunday night blockbuster.

But throw in a rock’n’roll sound track, quirky characters, gritty story lines, a fair few laughs and a little social history and seven years later you’ve got the highest rated returning drama on TV.

Call The Midwife has courted more controversy than you might expect from programme at the cosy end of weekend slot, tackling all manner of difficult subjects including abortion, racism, contraception, thalidomide and homophobia.

On a less controversial, but still important, note it also continues to recognise the importance of tea and cake to the British working day.

All your Sunday night dramas in pictures

5. Poldark BBC1 2015-present

The moment Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) whipped his shirt off for a spot of impromptu scything in a field the success of this remake was assured.

It caused such a stir that scything enthusiasts were forced to point out that his technique was all wrong.

As if the viewers cared about technique. To them that scene merely confirmed Poldark as the raciest family drama in decades.

It should not be allowed to overshadow the rest of the five series though.

Poldark has had the lot – drama, tragedy, comedy, controversy, stunning scenery…

And let’s not forget the most important thing it has given us.

A fresh understanding of the history of tin mining in 18th-century Cornwall.

Yet some people still claim the BBC no longer educates its viewers.

6. Howard’s Way BBC1 1985-1990

This racy family drama set in the high-powered world of a Hampshire boatyard arrived on our screens six months after EastEnders debuted.

It was every bit as soapy as its BBC stablemate. At its launch there even was talk of it rivalling the glossy US soaps such as Dallas and Dynasty.

It was certainly every bit as melodramatic.

It even caught the eye of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie who created an affectionate spoof set in the Uttoxeter leisure industry.

It might not have stood the test of time, but back in the late 80s it was a huge hit.

I still rate the long-running Tom Howard/Jan Howard/Ken Masters storyline as one of the most simmering love triangles ever seen on British TV.

7. Heartbeat ITV 1992-2010

This 1960s-set police series started as a Friday night vehicle for former EastEnders heartthrob Nick Berry, but it was quickly moved to Sundays where it became such a huge ratings draw that it regularly beat Coronation Street .

Rightly or wrongly, Heartbeat will always have a special place in my heart for giving Gary Barlow an acting break when he was down on his luck in 2000.

Barlow played a hitch-hiker who stuck around in Aidensfield for just long enough to flirt with pub landlady Gina (Tricia Penrose) and sing a song at the end of the show’s landmark 150th episode.

8. Cranford BBC1 2007

Just look at some of the names in this Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation set in a fictional village in 19th century Cheshire.

Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw… and I could go. No wonder its opening episode beat I’m A Celebrity in the ratings.

Atkins was the star performer as village matriarch Deborah Jenkyns – a sort of 1840s Annie Walker – but she was pushed all the way by Dench as Deborah’s sister Matilda.

Atkins pipped Dench to the Best Actress award at the following year’s Baftas, although I’m sure Judi didn’t mind.

Well, they both became dames in the end.

9. Wild At Heart ITV 2006-2012

The unassuming tale of a Bristol vet who moved to South Africa to establish an animal hospital went on to become one of ITV’s highest rating dramas.

It was also Amanda Holden ’s last proper TV acting job before she became a judge on Britain’s Got Talent. She enjoyed three series as Sarah Trevanion, the first wife of Danny Trevanion, played by Stephen Tompkinson.

For me the dramatic highpoint came at the end of series three when Sarah died trying to save the family’s pet cheetah, Jana, during a wild fire.

Luckily, Danny managed to find a new wife in series four and ITV got another three series out of the show.

10. House Of Eliott BBC1 1991-94

Like many a young fella in the early 90s, I came to House of Eliott to marvel at the beauty of Louise Lombard.

I stuck around for the drama, even though I, perhaps, wasn’t the target audience for a lavish costume drama about a pair of dressmaking sisters in 1920s London.

Louise, above left, played the younger sister Evie, with Stella Gonet, above right, as her overbearing elder Beatrice.

Created by the team behind Upstairs Downstairs, it was a rags-to-riches story as the destitute orphans hauled themselves up to become the owners of world-renowned fashion house.

It received the ultimate accolade in 1993 when French & Saunders put on a brilliant spoof version called House of Idiot.

Old ‘uns but good ‘uns

They were in black and white, just like the world they depicted, the great Sunday night series of the 1960s.

We all tuned in to BBC’s Dr Finlay’s Casebook, the everyday 1920’s story of a country GP set in fictional Tannochbrae in the Highlands. The hero, played by ruggedly-handsome Bill Simpson, was a constant worry to housekeeper Janet.



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