Longevity in television can be pretty hard to come by. Many shows come and go before you've even had chance to fall in love/hate with the cast.
But there are a number of characters who've managed that impressive feat of TV endurance, with some outlasting the very shows that birthed them. But before we count down these small-screen legends, we do have some caveats.
We're looking at lead actors here and we haven't included any soaps or animated shows for consideration, because that would be way too easy. AND if there's been a break of ten years, we're also discounting them (apologies to Sir David Jason and Still Open All Hours).
19. Emilia Fox – Dr Nikki Alexander (Silent Witness): 14 years
Fox had the stern task of taking over as the show's co-lead (shared with William Gaminara and Tom Ward as Leo and Harry respectively) when Amanda Burton left BBC One's Silent Witness in 2004. With an incredible 22nd series coming in 2019, Fox will be racking up her 15th year on the show. Harry drifted off to New York in season 15 and Leo exploded a year later. Nikki soldiers on.
18. Jorja Fox – Sara Sidle (CSI): 15 years
The investigator was there from the second episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2000 until its end in 2015 without any real break.
17. Noah Wyle – Dr John Carter (ER): 15 years
Wyle, like a number of familiar faces (hello George Clooney), was there at the very beginning of US hospital drama ER in 1994. But we've chosen Wyle as he stuck around and only vacated the role for two seasons before coming back in a recurring role for the show's final season in 2009.
16. Mark Harmon – Leroy Jethro Gibbs (JAG/NCIS): 15 years
Although best known for police procedural NCIS, the character first appeared in a 2003 episode of US legal drama JAG. Harmon's role is still ongoing so there's a chance he could be shooting up this chart in years to come.
15. David Jason – Jack Frost (A Touch of Frost): 18 years
Jason has a number of long-running performances on his CV, but it's A Touch Of Frost that gets the actor an entry here for playing the detective inspector from '92 until its final ep in 2010.
More from Jason later.
14. Alan Davies – Jonathan Creek: 19 years
His co-stars may have changed over the years but comedian Davies has been a constant in the quirky crime drama from 1997 to 2016.
He's also been appearing as team captain on panel show QI for over 15 years!
13. Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill – Jack & Victor (Still Game): 19 years
After their success in Scottish sketch show Chewin' The Fat (which began in 1999), the two pensioners were given their own sitcom, Still Game. The final series airs later this year.
12. Blythe Duff – Jackie Reid (Taggart): 20 years
Duff began her career on Glaswegian crime show Taggart as a PC and made her way up to DI by the time it ended in 2010.
11. Kelsey Grammer – Frasier Crane (Cheers/Frasier): 20 years
Originally cast as a character due to only appear in a few eps of the global hit Cheers, Dr Frasier Crane's popularity was so high that not only did he stick around after his 1984 debut, he even got his own spin-off. Frasier came to an end in 2004 bringing the curtain down on two decades of psychoanalysis-based hilarity.
Incredibly, Grammer has been voicing Sideshow Bob on (and off) The Simpsons for even longer – a staggering 28 years!
10. Jack Warner – George Dixon (Dixon of Dock Green): 21 years
Dixon Of Dock Green was a UK institution throughout the '50s until the '70s with old-fashioned British bobby PC Dixon. The show aired from 1955 until 1976, just in time to miss punk.
Warner actually first played the role in the movie The Blue Lamp in 1950.
9. Sam Waterston – Jack McCoy (Law & Order): 24 years
Beginning life on Law & Order, Waterston also played McCoy in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Trial by Jury and Homicide: Life on the Street.
Plaudits also go to Richard Belzer as John Munch on both Homicide: Life On The Street and Law And Order: Special Victims Unit (23 years), and Mariska Hargitay who is celebrating 19 years not out on Law & Order: SVU as Olivia Benson.
8. David Suchet – Hercule Poirot: 24 years
Suchet began his tenure as the Belgian detective with the proto-hipster moustache at the beginning of 1989 in the ITV production of the Agatha Christie series. Poirot clocked in 70 episodes when it came to an end in 2013.
7. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson – Mulder and Scully (The X-Files): 25 years
1993 saw the start of The X-Files starring Duchovny and Anderson as FBI agents on the search for little green men (well, most of the time). The most recent season ended earlier this year.
(PEDANT NOTE: as both actors reprised their roles in the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe, we're allowing this.)
6. Gregor Fisher – Rab C Nesbitt: 28 years
Starting life in sketch show Naked Video in 1986, the Scottish sage got his own series in 1990 which initially ran until 1999. He returned 9 years later and was last seen in a 2014 special.
5. Kevin Whately – Kenny Lewis (Inspector Morse/Lewis): 28 years
After making a name for himself in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Whately played John Thaw's sidekick in Inspector Morse as Robert Lewis from 1987 until 2000.
His own titular spin-off came in six years later and ended in 2015, bringing his time playing the character to almost 29 years.
4. John Challis – Boycie (Only Fools and Horses/The Green Green Grass): 30 years
The ever-laughing car salesman started life on Only Fools and Horses in 1981 and continued in his own spin-off, with his wife Mar-leeeeene, in The Green Green Grass of Home. It came to an end in 2011.
And, for those curious, David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst played Del Boy and Rodney Trotter for 33 years, though there was a break of over 11 years before they returned for the 2014 Sport Relief special.
3. Warren Mitchell – Alf Garnett (Till Death Us Do Part/In Sickness and In Health): 32 years
An incredible run of three different sitcoms – Till Death Us Do Part, Till Death... (as it was retitled when ITV picked it up) and In Sickness and in Health – began in 1966 for Mitchell. He reprised the role one last time for the chat show Thoughts of Chairman Alf in 1998.
2. Peter Falk – Columbo: 35 years
TV's greatest investigator is also one of the small screen's longest-serving characters. The deceptive detective debuted with Falk in the role in 1968 and would go on to become a global phenomenon with his rumpled coat, and even more rumpled face.
Columbo came to an end almost exactly 35 years later, though we should point out that the show sat out the majority of the '80s.
1. Peter Sallis – Cleggy (Last of the Summer Wine): 37 years
Last of the Summer Wine may not be the worldwide hit like some of the other shows above, but it entertained millions in the UK for five decades.
Sallis appeared in every single episode of the BBC sitcom, from its debut in January 1973 to its denouement in August 2010. An incredible innings for the actor who died aged 96 in 2017.
Also, let's give a shout out to Jane Freeman, who played Ivy for 37 years, and Kathy Staff who managed an impressive 35 years in the iconic role of Nora Batty.
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