10 greatest TV couples

Benjie Goodhart / 27 July 2017

Our rundown of the most lovable couples in the history of television is an eclectic mix of real people, dramatic characters, and even a cartoon couple.

Our list features romantic pairings who couldn’t take their eyes off each other right the way through to those who treated their marriage vows as a challenge to be overcome rather than a solemn oath.

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Whether love conquers all, or familiarity breeds contempt, this is our list of the ten most gloriously memorable and striking couples on the box.

10. Terry and June

Terry Scott and June Whitfield’s middle class suburban couple kept audiences entertained for 14 years in the 70s and 80s. Navigating life after their children had left home, their lives were far from exciting – but it was their ordinariness that allowed audiences to relate to them. It may be a trick of memory, but every single episode seemed to involve Terry’s boss coming round for dinner, with Terry desperate to impress him. Inevitably, the evening would come to a premature end, with someone sitting on a trifle, but even when disaster struck, June was there, ever devoted, to pick up the pieces, before we’d go through a near-identical scenario the following week.

9. Roseanne and Dan Connor

In its way, the sitcom Roseanne represented a quiet revolution in American TV history. TV shows had always represented an idealised version of America, featuring attractive, successful people living out their stories in opulent splendour. Roseanne was a story about an overweight, blue-collar couple and their tricky kids struggling with bills, unemployment, and the oppressive daily grind. Beneath the relentless sarcasm and razor sharp barbs flying around the house, though, was a family that loved each other, with Roseanne and Dan’s tender relationship at the heart of it. Indeed, they must have had eyes only for each other, as they didn’t even seem to notice when daughter Becky changed appearance completely between one series and the next.

8. Richard and Judy

The undisputed king and queen of daytime TV for 20 years, Richard and Judy had met in 1982 when both were (a) working on programmes for Granada Television and (b) married. By 1988, they were married to each other, and presenting two hours of live TV, five-days-a week, on ITV’s This Morning. After 13 years, they moved to Channel 4, where they presented their successful teatime show for another seven years. Viewers loved the natural ease between the two, and Judy’s frequent (and understandable) eye-rolling at some of her husband’s more bizarre comments. In particular, though, people revelled in the glimpses into the not-so-private world of the couple’s personal life.

7. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo

This list consists of fictional couples and real life couples, but this pair manages the impressive trick of being both. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who played Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, were a real life couple who took their kooky brand of chemistry onscreen and turned it into one of the most popular comedies of all time. Ricky was a Cuban singer and bandleader, while housewife Lucy also harboured dreams of showbiz stardom that far outstripped her somewhat meagre talents. Her habit of finding trouble in even the most benign scenarios led to Ricky’s famously exasperated catchphrase “Loooceee, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!” Audiences loved the fact that the couple were together off-screen as well as on it, all the more so when Ball’s pregnancy was incorporated into the show, heralding the arrival of Ricky Ricardo Jr (sadly not played by the couple’s real-life son.)

6. Homer and Marge Simpson

It’s almost 30 years since Homer and Marge, voiced by Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner, first appeared on our screens, and it’s fair to say that, while age may have withered the rest of us, their yellow skin remains wrinkle-free. Theirs is the all-American dream romance – high school sweethearts who, when the chips are down, still love each other as much as they ever did. In a show long on satire and short on schmaltz, their relationship offers an unexpectedly emotional heart to proceedings. Okay, Homer drinks too much, is a questionable father, is lazy, prone to rage, and astonishingly dumb. And yeah, Marge has a ridiculous, four-foot tall blue perm. But love is love, nobody ever said it had to make sense.

5. Tom and Barbara Good

The Good Life was a 70s comic staple that made stars of its four main protagonists. Richard Briers played Tom, a man who, at the age of 40, had a Damascene conversion, turned his back on the consumer society, and decided to become self-sufficient. Fortunately, his long-suffering and endlessly patient wife Barbara (Felicity Kendall) embraced his vision, and the pair turned their traditional suburban garden into a miniature farm, complete with crops, pigs and chickens. While the Goods were very much muddling along in compost-stained threadbare sweaters, next door the snobbish Margot and Jerry Leadbetter (Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington) could only look upon their works and despair. But the Goods had heart, energy and boundless good humour, and the Leadbetters were not without their sympathetic side, giving the show a charm and a warmth that struck a chord with its huge audiences.

4. Jack and Vera Duckworth

Coronation Street has had its share of memorable couples over the years, but none, perhaps, who tugged on the national heartstrings the way Jack (Bill Tarney) and Vera (Elizabeth Dawn) did. For 34 years, the couple embraced a tempestuous, tricky and ultimately loving marriage. The hiccups were manifold, including Jack’s gambling, Vera’s temper, and Jack’s preference for his pigeons over his wife. Both of them had affairs. But just before the character of Vera died in her sleep in 2008, the pair declared their love for one another, and the nation’s collective sobbing almost flooded the famous Corrie Cobbles. Mindful of this, the producers bought Vera back for one more episode, two years later – when Jack died. As his spirit left his body, Vera appeared to him, and the couple danced.

3. Fanny and Johnnie Cradock

Who knows what really goes on in the private union of a marriage? Perhaps poor, henpecked, verbal punchbag Johnnie Cradock had a lovely time. Maybe, when the cameras were off, he called the shots. But onscreen, there wasn’t much debate as to who wore the trousers. TV cook Fanny Cradock had already been married three times when she met Johnnie in 1955. Perhaps he should have heeded the warning. With his blazer, monocle and handlebar moustache, he was consigned to the back of the set, where he would stand timidly, awaiting the instructions that would surely be barked at him by his beloved, closely followed by a volley of abuse for not acting quickly enough. In her vast taffeta ballgowns and heavy make up, Fanny Craddock’s latter appearances spoiled her legacy as the nation’s cookery teacher, painting her as a sad, bitter and manipulative character. But who knows, perhaps it was all wine, roses and giggles behind the front door. 

2. Basil and Sybil Fawlty

If Johnnie Cradock was the henpecked husband who had the nation’s sympathy, with Basil and Sybil, sympathies were very definitely with Sybil. Sure, she wore the trousers, and Basil was absolutely terrified of her, but if you’d been married to a man of such petty vindictiveness and mean-spirited small-mindedness, you’d have embraced your inner hen and pecked like hell. While Sybil moved through the couple’s Torquay Hotel with a stately grace and unruffled dignity, Basil hared about in a permanent state of rage and panic, never missing an opportunity to berate his staff, or his guests. Unless, of course, he deemed his guests to be of superior social standing, in which case his obsequiousness was boundless.

1. JR and Sue Ellen Ewing

Most of the couples on this list have been through a lot together – hell, what couple hasn’t – but JR and Sue Ellen managed to pack enough mayhem into their effortlessly dysfunctional relationship to last several lifetimes. Bankruptcy, addiction, emotional and physical abuse, serial infidelity, betrayal, two divorces and one shooting would be enough for most couples, but these two just kept coming back for more. Goodness knows why – they never seemed to like each other much – but they kept on dancing their macabre dance. Poor Sue Ellen found solace at the bottom of the bottle – and in enormous shoulderpads – while JR’s relentless pursuit of money and women, and his monstrous addiction to power, made him one of the great villains of television.

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