Fourth in a series of posts on my favorite episodes of As Time Goes By, an oldie-but-goodie Britcom that remains timeless because it explores, love, family, aging and the human condition with gentle humor and insight. For some general information and series one favorites, click here. For series two, click here, and series three, here.
Lots of changes for Jean and Lionel and family in this series, and although the first four episodes contain some funny moments, my first favorite episode is the fifth, so I will briefly catch you up. Jean’s secretary Sandy now lives with Jean, Lionel, and Judith in the Holland Park house, which makes for some funny moments as Lionel adjusts to “all those women.” Jean’s jealous streak engenders a story line about a chatty secretary who drives Lionel bonkers and impedes his work on his miniseries, but this is probably my least favorite plot line, so I won’t go into any detail, except to say that she finally leaves, Lionel gets a competent secretary (the one that caused Jean’s jealous fit in the first place), and finishes the mini-series.
I pick up with episode five, “Welcome News”, which takes place at the country home of Lionel’s father, Rocky, and his wife Madge. One of the producers of Just Two People, Lionel’s TV miniseries about Jean and Lionel’s love affair 38 years before, comes to England scouting locations. He visits Lionel’s childhood home and decides it is perfect for the filming; however the producer reveals that Lionel’s script is not so perfect and will require some “fine-tuning”. This upsets Lionel, and he has no qualms about showing it. His attitude isn’t helped by the fact that he is worried about money; although the family’s financial condition isn’t bad, it is clear that he yearns for some permanence and hopes the series will help provide it.
Lionel’s concerns are short-lived, however, as Rocky and Madge ” have a word” after the guests depart. Rocky has decided to give Lionel the country house, which comes as a great surprise to both Lionel and Jean. It seems that Rocky and Madge’s plans include a great deal of world travel, and they’ve decided to use a cottage on the property as their home base and let the younger generation establish their own country retreat.
We soon discover that this lovely bombshell is just the thing to alleviate Lionel’s worries, as he now has “something proper” to offer Jean. Back in London, he gets down on one knee and says the words Jean longs to hear.
There’s so much emotion swirling around in this episode, as it marks a turning point in Jean and Lionel’s relationship, Lionel’s working life, and the show itself. The scene where Rocky passes the house on is very charming, and well worth all the angst about the miniseries.
In episode six, “The Anniversary Party”, Jean and Lionel are now engaged, and although Jean doesn’t like the term, she begrudgingly accepts that this is the period between acceptance of a proposal and the wedding. Thus the timing of the surprise anniversary party Jean’s brother-in-law Stephen throws for his wife Penny (Jean’s late husband’s sister) is very interesting. Stephen has had a difficult time keeping the party a secret from his wife; in fact in a previous episode they almost separated because she accused him of cheating with his secretary, and to cover the party, he admitted to it, even though all the furtive calls and meetings with the secretary concerned the party.
So- the fact that the party is coming off at all is quite an accomplishment. The day of the party, Stephen gathers our family (Jean, Lionel, Judith, Sandy, and Alistair) at the hotel for a briefing on the evening, and we discover that Stephen booked the party for the next weekend! The hotel has no space for an impromptu party, but Alistair gets busy on his phone and arranges a tent for the grounds. This impresses everyone (and saves Stephen), including Judith, who although on the outs with Alistair, appreciates this latest example of his love and care for the family.
The party goes off without a hitch, with Penny duly surprised and delighted. However, many of the married couples demonstrate the vagaries of married life to Jean and Lionel during the evening, making both of them a bit nervous as they get ready to take the plunge themselves. Penny and Stephen also end up in a row, as he finally tells her that he didn’t really have an affair with Miss Breeze, and her pride is wounded at the deception. They enter the hotel sitting room bickering just as Lionel presents Jean with an engagement ring in a tender moment, and Jean tells them both off for their silly rowing, saying that “by some miracle, you made it this far”, and they go away smiling. Another episode with many emotional ups and downs; you can probably tell they are my favorites!
The whole fourth series so far is just the prelude for the big event in episode eight, “Wedding Day Nerves”-the wedding of course!
Lionel is up at the crack of dawn, nervous and jittery, while Jean sleeps in and wakes up cool as a cucumber about the whole thing. After much deliberation earlier, the couple had decided to let Alistair arrange the wedding, so she looks forward to the day without a care.
Rocky and Madge’s ill-fated journey from Hampshire exacerbates Lionel’s nervous state; it seems they set out on their tandem bicycle, and lost Mrs Bale in the car at a light! Lionel rails about his father’s “madness” as is his wont, but Alistair steps in to save the day as usual, sending a poet, who just happens be a biker with quite a crew, off to find and deliver the wayward cyclists.
Meanwhile, Penny’s arrival smashes Jean’s cool demeanor into smithereens, as she works the bride-to-be into a state in about half a minute about the enormity of this marriage, leaving Judith and Sandy to pick up the pieces. Stephen tries his best to quell Lionel’s jitters, but it’s Sandy who shows Lionel a different perspective on the situation and settles him down nicely in the same half a minute.
Jean’s still in a state on arrival at the register’s office for the ceremony, and suffers from the hiccups until Lionel says something inappropriate and funny in front of all the company and the registrar. Rocky and Madge have arrived though, and the ceremony proceeds as planned.
In the next scene we see the crowd back at the house for champagne before heading to the restaurant for dinner and the reception. Lionel and Jean both despair of spending any time together for hours, but Lionel has a surprise up his sleeve-an escape! Judith and Sandy draw the crowd outside for a picture, and the happy couple heads out the door.
Although there are two more episodes in the series, including the filming of the miniseries at the country house, where the family realizes the extent of the Americans’ script butchery, but for me, the series ends with the wedding. The next series could be my favorite of them all, as Jean and Lionel embark on new adventures at the country house, and I look forward to bringing it to you.
Unfortunately As Time Goes By is no longer available on Amazon Instant Video, but you may find episodes out on you tube. Enjoy!