The 1970s produced the best comedies. It’s just a fact. That might just be down to sheer output – make so many sitcoms in a decade, some of them are going to turn out to be classics still getting repeated 40 years later. And the intros are just as iconic.
Yes, OK, Fawlty Towers doesn’t have so much an intro as a shot, but you can’t talk about ‘70s sitcoms without mentioning the series often voted for as best sitcom ever. And its opening will forever be famous for the hotel sign. In each episode the letters were rearranged, to spell ever ruder anagrams. Everyone has their favourite iteration, whether it’s “Watery Fowls”, “Farty Towels” or the only anagram to use all the letters, “Flowery Twats”.
MASH, a sitcom currently criminally underknown in the UK, had the most watched finale of any sitcom, a record which still stands over thirty years later. Set in an army hospital during the Korean War, it was a bittersweet comedy. The majority of episodes featured a melancholic instrumental theme tune, the song ‘Suicide Is Painless’, taken from the original film of MASH. Occasionally this was swapped out for a more upbeat version, which never quite fit the show’s mixture of laughter and depression.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus isn’t a sitcom, but it took the irreverent surrealism of the Goons and brought it smack bang into the nation’s TV screens. The intro serves as a kind of primer for the show, with Terry Gilliam’s animation darting from idea to idea in a kind of stream-of-consciousness ridiculousness. And it wouldn’t be anything without the song Liberty Bell, which was only chosen because it was in the public domain and therefore free of charge. But its upbeat, bouncy nature, terminated by a flatulent splat, gets straight down to business.
Dad’s Army, for such a light-hearted comedy, was originally supposed to have a really depressing intro, with footage of refugees and Nazi soldiers reminding viewers exactly what the Home Guard believed they were up against. It was only the BBC1 Controller’s interference that led to the titles we now have. The memos can be read on the BBC archive here. Arrows, illustrating the progression of the British and Nazi forces during World War Two, are accompanied by a pastiche of WW2 songs sung by Bud Flanagan, a famous wartime entertainer.
Are You Being Served is very much a sitcom of the ‘70s, crammed full of enough innuendo to fill several Carry On films. But rather than featuring a theme tune played over a title card, Are You Being Served’s theme tune played out over the start of the episode as people moved around the department. It’s the tune itself that really makes this intro, with a minimal instrumental accompaniment and the ringing of a cash register to act as percussion, as a lift girl recites the different departments that can be found inside Grace Brothers.
What's your favourite sitcom intro from the 1970's?
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