Reasons Brit TV Is the Best: Different Body Standards for Men.


Okay, I know that’s a strange title. Bear with me and all will be explained.

I really, really love it when actors play against “type.” Like when Andre the Giant played the softest-hearted hired tough guy on the planet:

So: one of my very favorite features of British television is that the Brits seem to be a bit more open-minded about the men they’ll hire to be either the villain, the love interest, or both, for their television programs. In particular, they seem to happily cast men on the shorter and slimmer side than do the Americans. (Oh, and are you curious about what constitutes “average height” for men? Me too! Here’s a handy chart that shows you average heights worldwide.) Let’s look at some examples.

  1. The totally terrifying short guy in British TV

Have you seen the series Sherlock yet? If not, you don’t want to watch the clip below, because you really want to be surprised by the complete malevolence of Sherlock’s archenemy Moriarty, as played by Andrew Scott (5 feet 8 inches–okay, not really short, but not tall, either, and he’s definitely slim). If you have seen it and you just want to remember how absolutely terrifying Moriarty was when we first met him, well, go ahead and enjoy.

The series Sherlock is very good at introducing short and terrifying villains. In a later season, we got Culverton Smith, as played by Toby Jones (5 feet 5 inches).

2. The completely romantic short guy in British TV.

Allow me to present: James McAvoy (5 foot 7 inches), in his role as Steve in the TV series Shameless. Sure, his love interest Fiona (also his real-life wife Anne-Marie Duff) is his height, or taller than him when she’s wearing heels. I don’t care. And neither does Fiona/Anne-Marie. Any doubt about his leading man chaps? Here he is knocking it out of the park as Jane Austen’s love interest in the otherwise-largely-forgettable movie Becoming Jane opposite Anne Hathaway.

3. The totally terrifying AND hot short guy in British TV.

Rarely has anyone looked so good (and had so much chemistry with multiple female co-stars) and also been so unnervingly dangerous as Irish actor Cillian Murphy (5 feet 9 inches, again, not short, really, but again, very slim) in the BBC series Peaky Blinders. Based on the exploits of a true crime gang that ruled in Birmingham at the turn of the twentieth century, Peaky Blinders stars Murphy as the head of the Shelby family, one of the gang’s ruling families. He’s not the eldest Shelby, or the biggest–just the smartest.

4. And then, just for a bonus, we have: the totally believable hard-ass good (but still kind of bad) guy in British TV.

In this rather specialized category we have Martin Compston (5 feet 8 inches), who is one of the main leads in the unbelievably good police procedural Line of Duty. Compston plays a cop named Steve Arnott, who works for the Anti-Corruption Unit within the police force (this would be known as Internal Affairs here–the cops who investigate the cops). Although he is uncompromising in his ideals of what makes a corrupt police officer, Arnott himself struggles with running his operations as cleanly as he needs to, which leads, throughout the series, to his having many dust-ups with his partner and other co-workers. In one storyline, he plays against a villain who is eight inches taller than him–and you’d swear they were the same height.

So: go forth, enjoy your weekend. And consider doing so with some British TV that shakes up your assumptions that all leading men have to be tall and handsome.


  1. It’s fascinating to read this, because it’s not something I’d noticed. We have so much debate here about not including enough diverse actors – especially disabled ones. That short never came across as a consideration to me! Thanks for the insight!

  2. Jackie,
    I notice for the most basic reason of all: I do not find “big guys” attractive. Charlie Hunnam (6 feet 1)? Meh. Give me James McAvoy anytime!!
    We have discussions in America too, about diversifying the look of our TV. And that’s about as far as it goes: discussions. I find in general that UK tv at least looks different in that it seems to feature more short people, more non-conventionally attractive women (Lesley Sharp in Scott and Bailey; Miranda Hart in Miranda and Call the Midwife both come to mind), and older people, and I appreciate that.

  3. Can I just add? I forgot Martin Freeman!! (From The Office, and Sherlock, of course.) 5 feet 6 1/2 inches! It goes without saying: I LOVE Martin Freeman.

  4. Yes, we Brits like to support the underdog so you’ll often find that actors, particularly in comedy roles, aren’t stunningly good-looking. I admire your knowledge of everyone’s height – I don’t have a clue on that sort of thing!!

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