As Time Goes By is a British romantic sitcom which aired on BBC One from 1992 to 2005, running for 9 series and 3 specials (running time 45, 50 and 60 minutes), and is currently being aired in the UK on the “Drama” channel at 19.20pm to 8pm as of January 2017. It is the second back to back rerun on the channel due to its popularity.
Starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer, it follows the relationship between two former lovers who meet unexpectedly after not having been in contact for 38 years.
The programme’s original working title had been Winter with Flowers (from the German proverb “An old man loved is winter with flowers”) but was changed during its first day of filming due to the cast’s protestations. The new title was taken from the 1931 Herman Hupfeld song “As Time Goes By”, which was used as the title music, the recorded version by Joe Fagin.The same song was also used for the movie Casablanca in 1942.
The show was created by Colin Bostock-Smith, but written by Bob Larbey, who had co-written The Good Life with John Esmonde. In 2004, As Time Goes By was ranked #29 in Britain’s Best Sitcom.
The series was produced by Theatre of Comedy Entertainment, in association with DLT Entertainment Ltd. for the BBC.
Second Lieutenant Lionel Hardcastle (Geoffrey Palmer) and Middlesex Hospital nurse Jean Pargetter (Judi Dench) met in the summer of 1953 and fell head over heels in love, calling her “Pooh”, but then Lionel was posted to Korea. He wrote, but Jean didn’t receive his letter (it becomes a topic in a later episode). Because of this mix-up, each assumed the other had lost interest. After his war service Lionel emigrated to Kenya, became a coffee planter, and married Margaret, whom he later divorced on grounds of “mutual boredom”. Some time after his divorce he returned to England. Meanwhile, Jean had also married and bore one child, Judith (Moira Brooker). After her husband’s death, Jean opened Type for You, a secretarial agency. Her daughter Judith, 32 years old during the series, is twice divorced (from Ken, who had “sad eyes”, and Edward, who was “very clever”) and, during most of the series, lives with her mother and also works at the secretarial agency.
Lionel, now writing his memoir, hires a typist through Type for You, unaware that Jean owns the agency. His and Jean’s awareness of each other occurs as Lionel picks up Judith for a dinner date. Although Lionel’s and Jean’s reunion is full of missteps and miscues, their romance gradually rekindles. In the third season, Lionel moves into Jean’s house in Holland Park, London; they marry during the following season.
In the first season Judith develops a crush on Lionel while Lionel’s publisher, Alistair Deacon (Philip Bretherton), who likes to call her “Lovely Lady”, takes a similar interest in Jean. Both crushes are brief; eventually Judith and Alistair fall for each other and, in the final season, marry. Other story arcs feature Lionel being asked to write an American TV mini-series, Just Two People, based on his early romance with Jean. The mini-series fails after much rewriting and network interference. Jean eventually retires from Type for You and later volunteers at a charity shop.
Jean’s very efficient secretary, and Judith’s best friend, is Sandy (Jenny Funnell), who eventually moves in with the Hardcastles after splitting with her boyfriend Nick. After Jean’s retirement, Judy and Sandy become co-managers of Type for You. Sandy dates Harry (David Michaels, later replaced by Daniel Ryan), a policeman and rugby player, whom she marries at the end of the series.
Other notable characters include Lionel’s irrepressible father, Rocky whose favorite saying is to “Rock On”.(Frank Middlemass), who owns a large country house in Hampshire which he later gives to Lionel; the housekeeper, Mrs. Bale (Janet Henfrey), who has an unusual interest in the Shipping Forecast, and gives exact times that meals are ready, and the gardener, Lol Ferris (Tim Wylton), who says Jean is a “tender woman”. (In the early seasons of the show, Lionel received news from Rocky’s physician that his father was dying and had less than a year to live. But this plotline was dropped and Rocky continued to appear throughout the show’s later seasons, including the final “Reunion Special.”)
Rocky marries Madge (Joan Sims), as much a character as Rocky is, when he is 85 and she is 78. They travel the world, listen to country music, tool about in Madge’s classic convertible (with steer horns on the grille), and hang out at the local pub, where Madge sings. In Series Nine, Madge is mentioned as being on an archaeological dig in Egypt; in reality Joan Sims died before filming began. Jean’s first husband’s neurotic sister Penny (Moyra Fraser), who always calls Jean “poor Jean”, and Penny’s flaky dentist husband, Stephen (Paul Chapman), who once accidentally declined the OBE, also make many appearances.
Main article: List of As Time Goes By episodes
The programme ran for nine series, from 12 January 1992 to 4 August 2002. Nearly every episode was thirty minutes long. The final series episode was followed by an hour-long compilation show on 11 August 2002, and by a two part “Reunion Special” broadcast on 26 and 30 December 2005. The reunion specials were the last appearance of Frank Middlemass, who played Rocky, before his death in 2006. Actress Joan Sims died in 2001 and the role of Rocky’s wife, Madge Darbley-Hardcastle, was not recast; in Series Eight it is mentioned that she is away participating in an Egyptian archaeological dig.
As Time Goes By has appeared in the United States on BBC America, and has been running weekly on PBS almost continuously since the early 2000s, with various cast members appearing on its perennial pledge drives. It has run in Canada on BBC Canada and TVOntario, in Australia on ABC 7TWO and 9Gem, in New Zealand on both UKTV and SKY Network Television, in Finland on YLE TV1, and on DSTV in Nigeria. RTÉ One has broadcast the series in Ireland repeatedly. It has been broadcast by Gold for viewers in the UK and Ireland as of 2010, and by UKTV in Australia as of 2011.
by Simon Schofield