The paper presents the development of a lumped conceptual rainfall-runoff model [Transformation of rainfall to runoff, Variability across timescales and Model parsimonization (TVM)] and a series of tests on various levels of model structure at different time resolutions. It is applied to the Bradford catchment in the United Kingdom. The TVM model is developed with a flexible structure through various relationships in each module that can be modified depending on the study catchments. Adopting the downward approach, parsimonious models are developed to examine at what level of complexity the model is able to capture runoff variability. The approach aims to compromise between parsimonious and complex alternatives in model development. This study shows that model structure requires data at different aggregation levels of timescales depending on its complexity. It reveals that the absence of the infiltration excess strongly affected all models. The analysis shows that the time resolution of hourly downwards must be used for the study catchment. The investigation of model complexity indicates that the combination of the most complicated model structure and timescale of quarter-hourly is adequate to capture the catchment runoff characteristics. The downward approach in the TVM model helps to gain a deeper understanding of water balance and runoff process in the study catchment. The approach could be applicable to other catchments to obtain parsimonious models. Copyright (C) 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.