Occasionally I wax nostalgic about the old days of British TV sitcoms; luckily I own all of my favorites, so can revisit them at my leisure. My favorite of favorites is As Time Goes By, a treat with Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, and wonderful supporting cast, that never seems old or tired, no matter how many years pass. I think it holds its freshness and applicability because it reveals the human condition, which never gets stale.
The show premise concerns a middle-aged widow, her daughter, secretarial agency, and a long lost love. In brief-a man, Lionel Hardcastle, comes back to England after many years farming in Kenya, and needs a secretary to help him write his memoirs. He engages Jean Pargetter’s agency, and they discover each other again. The circumstances are not ideal, given that both of them think the other intentionally broke off communications when Lionel shipped out to fight in Korea in 1953, but as the problem was a lost letter and two young people too proud to inquire further, the breach was no one’s fault.
The show sets up the premise and continues from there, with a supporting cast that includes Jean’s daughter Judith, her secretary Sandy, her sister and brother in law, Lionel’s publisher, his father, and various guest appearances.
It’s timeless because it concerns love, and loss, missed opportunities, and all of a sudden finding oneself in late middle age while the younger generation takes over the world. Although styles of hair, clothing, and autos may change, and computers and cell phones come to dominate every day life, these topics always concern, frustrate, and enchant us, and never become old or stale.
I hope this post piques your curiosity and leads you to seek out some of my favorite episodes; although I highly recommend watching all the way through the nine series, these episodes transmit the heart and soul of the piece. Since my favorites include 17 episodes over five series, I decided to post them one series at a time. If one watches only these shows, one will miss some funny, heartwarming moments, but this is the gist-both in terms of the storyline and the best written (the acting is wonderful throughout).
So-on to my favorites from series one-
Series 1, episode 1-You Must Remember This
The first episode of course! The moment when they both recognize they’ve seen a ghost is priceless, and the machinations that ensue are both touching and hilarious. Lionel comes to the house to take Judith out for a date, and the long-lost lovers meet again. Although Judith is a romantic who attempts to wreath them in hearts and flowers, the actual truth is a bit prickly, as you can imagine.
Series 1 Episode 2-Getting to Know You-Again
After a snafu regarding a secretary, Lionel and Jean meet in the park and agree to keep the relationship strictly business, however when Lionel’s young, rich and powerful publisher invites him to a party to “meet some faces” who will help promote his book, Lionel appears in Jean’s office and invites her to accompany him. She accepts rather grudgingly, and they set off to the land of young people. Alistair the publisher keeps spiriting Jean away, hoping to get her alone as he is attracted to and intrigued by her, and when she tells Lionel of Alistair’s intentions, he refuses to believe it, thinking her past all that. Again a prickly pair! But when their separate but exactly the same references to a little gift bestowed long ago surface in answer to a question from Alistair, they soften towards each other as the memories get the best of them.
Series 1 episode 4 Surprise, Surprise
Judith persuades Jean to surprise Lionel by arriving unannounced at his speaking engagement at a university in Norwich; little knowing the Lionel will be staying with, and accompanied by, a local “friend with benefits”. Mother and daughter are duly surprised and put off by the “friend”, and show their claws throughout the evening. When the “friend” happily announces that everyone is paired off, Jean leaves with Alistair, and Lionel’s jealousy comes through in lumps. Jean thinks the better of her decision when Alistair tries to seduce her back at the hotel, while Lionel realizes he can’t stay with his “friend” after all and leaves her bed, never to return.
Series 1, episode 6 The Picnic
By now, Alistair is besotted with Jean, sending her balloons and gorilla-grams, and Judith has a large crush on Lionel. In this episode the older folks contrive to use Alistair’s picnic idea as a double date, hoping to throw Alistair and Judith together. The young folks, on the other hand, see the picnic as an opportunity to show off their youth and vitality to the old folks and make their cases. As you might expect, the party does not fulfill anyone’s expectations. Jean and Lionel fall asleep after lunch and are generally boring, eschewing badminton and walks along the river. Alistair and Judith are not deterred, and thwart the secret plot to pair them up, while Lionel and Jean make another connection as they slowly accept and revel in their renewed friendship. Watch how Dame Judi corpses at the end, but makes it believable. She is brilliant!
Next post-series two!
Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in watching-