Downton in China, Midsomer in Denmark: the British TV shows the rest of the world loves

You’d be forgiven for thinking that British television is only really popular in Britain. After all, we have a pretty unique sense of humour and our production budgets pale in comparison to big US TV shows.

You’d be wrong though. It turns out the rest of the world loves British television. Here are the shows that prove it!

Downton Abbey

Downton is arguably Britain’s biggest drama export ever, with broadcasts in over 250 countries. We can’t even name 250 countries (seriously, try it).

Downton was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon in the US, drawing in record audiences for PBS and winning a Golden Globe in 2012. Michelle Obama is apparently a fan too.

In China, Downton draws in 160 million viewers. It’s so popular that David Cameron gifted his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang with a script signed by creator Julian Fellowes.

In short, the world still thinks we either have butlers or work as butlers.


Although Sherlock’s 69 million Chinese viewers (reminder: that’s bigger than the UK population) is paltry compared to Downton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are perhaps our biggest stars in the Far East. The Chinese affectionately refer to the pair as Curly Fu and Peanut.

The two are also incredibly popular in the US, where a 2012 visit was described as being like when The Beatles first landed in the 60s. 10,000 people applied for 700 seats at the same launch event.

The popularity of Sherlock overseas has catapulted Cumberbatch and Freeman to the Hollywood A-List, with Cumberbatch gearing up to front his own Marvel movie Doctor Strange and Freeman (who is also starring in a Marvel movie, Captain America: Civil War) landing roles in Fargo and The Hobbit. He’ll always be Tim from The Office to us though.

Midsomer Murders

Everyone’s favourite sleepy murder mystery series is huge in Europe, particularly Scandinavia.

In fact, the show is one of the biggest series on Danish television, regularly dominating the ratings in its primetime Saturday night slot.

According to the chief of Denmark’s biggest television station, Midsomer is popular in Denmark partly because “…if you fall asleep it’s fine, because that’s what it’s for and you’ll never remember who did it anyway.” A legion of OAPs nod in agreement.

For the 100th episode, DCI Barnaby actually took a trip to the Danish capital to solve perhaps the most Midsomer crime ever: a man who was killed by eating a poisoned biscuit. We’ve honestly never felt so proud to be British.

The show also has at least one fan in Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German leader loves the show so much that David Cameron tried to help her meet John Nettles. Whatever next? Barack Obama begging Cameron to meet Roy Cropper?

Come Dine With Me

Some humour is universal, like watching someone meticulously plan a dinner party only to royally mess it up and nearly poison half the guests.

ITV Studios has sold local versions of the Channel 4 hit to over 36 countries, where it is known by a series of hilarious names. Bulgaria know it as The Icing on the Cake, while Sweden call it Half Seven At My Place.

Our personal favourite, though, is India’s incredibly literal interpretation: Welcome – Challenge to be the Best Host. Although we think Challenge to be the Least Worst Host and Sabotage The Vote By Scoring Everyone 5 Despite Really Enjoying Their Meal is probably more accurate.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is one of BBC Worldwide’s best-selling dramas internationally, although it’s most loyal following is in the US. It’s one of the few British dramas to make a major impression on the other side of the pond BDA (before Downton Abbey).

It first became popular in the 1970s, when the Tom Baker series were broadcast on PBS. It’s popularity waned slightly in the 80s but reignited with the 2006 relaunch. It’s now so popular that episodes are broadcast on the same day as the UK.

The show’s popularity has led to most of the modern Doctors becoming big stars Stateside too. Christopher Eccleston is in The Leftovers, David Tennant crops up in countless movies and series like Jessica Jones, while Matt Smith recently appeared in Terminator: Genisys.

Peppa Pig

Resistance is futile: the world has accepted Peppa Pig as their new leader, and soon we will all be jumping in muddy puddles with rabbits voiced by Brian Blessed.

Peppa Pig is the number one pre-school show in Australia, Brazil, Spain and Mexico and is screened in over 180 countries. It’s estimated that the franchise makes over $1 billion worldwide every year. Remember: this is a show about a pig who jumps in muddy puddles.

The show recently launched in China, which should further cement its global dominance – as long as no-one tells Peppa that China is the world’s biggest pork producer

Top Gear

Who’d have thought that 3 middle-aged blokes talking about cars, blowing up caravans and causing international diplomacy crises would be one of Britain’s biggest exports?

Top Gear is the most watched factual TV show in the world with a global audience of over 350 million people in over 170 countries.

Interestingly, most countries haven’t bothered to make their own versions. No matter where you are in the world, you can turn on a TV and see Jeremy, James and Richard – although their voices might sound slightly different.

It’s no wonder Amazon were willing to pay so much for the trio – and why the BBC are so eager to get the show up and running again!

Which British TV shows have you seen on your travels? Let us know in the comments!

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