The series originated on London's comedy club circuit during the late 1970s. Most of the cast gained popularity at The Comedy Store. Alexei Sayle was the prominent act, drawing attention as the manic, aggressive compere. Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall worked as the double act, 20th Century Coyote, which later became The Dangerous Brothers. Nigel Planer was in a double act with Peter Richardson called "The Outer Limits."

As The Comedy Store became popular, Sayle, 20th Century Coyote and The Outer Limits, with French and Saunders and Arnold Brown, set up their own club called The Comic Strip in the Raymond Revue Bar club in Soho. The Comic Strip became one of the most popular comedy venues in London, and came to the attention of Jeremy Isaacs of Channel 4. Peter Richardson then negotiated a deal for six self-contained half-hour films, using the group as comedy actors rather than stand-up performers.

The first of this series, The Comic Strip Presents..., was on Channel 4 on 2 November 1982. In response, the BBC began negotiations with Edmondson, Mayall, Richardson, Planer and Sayle to star in a sitcom in a similar style. Paul Jackson was installed as a producer.

The series was written by Mayall with his then-girlfriend Lise Mayer, and with Ben Elton (who had attended the University of Manchester with Mayall and Edmondson). Richardson was originally set to play Mike, but clashed with Jackson. He was replaced by Christopher Ryan, the only member of the group who wasn't a stand-up comedian