Timeless TV With As Time Goes By; My Favorites from Series Five

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Finally got around to sitting down and writing up my favorite episodes from series five of one of the best British comedies ever, As Time Goes By. For some general information and my favorites from the first series, click here. The second, third and fourth series favorites are linked in order; please click through to catch up on Jean, Lionel, Judith, Sandy, Alistair, Rocky and Madge, Mrs Bale and the country folk, and Penny and Stephen.

Series five consists of seven episodes; this post will go into detail about four of them. Three of these involve Jean and Lionel’s adventures at the country house, and the other plays out in London, but involves some quirky romance, and one of my favorite scenes of the entire show.

If you’ve read my previous posts you know that my favorite episodes are usually the ones that take Jean and Lionel out of their London milieu and onto unfamiliar turf. These episodes are no exception as they all involve situations in which the ground moves a bit under their feet.

You may wonder why I call the country house an unfamiliar setting for our (now married) lovers-after all, Lionel grew up there, and Jean has been there many times as Rocky’s guest. The difference now? Rocky and Madge have moved out; in fact they are thousands of miles away in Mongolia, and Lionel is the master of the house for the first time. Although with Mrs Bale around it certainly doesn’t require much management on his part, stepping into Rocky’s shoes proves a bit of a stumbling block.

Episode 1, The County Set, finds Jean and Lionel arriving for a quiet weekend on an Open House day, where the house is open to the locals. Said locals, comprising the “county set” or the “townies” (we call them shoobies around here), and not the real locals at all, show up and disturb a nice afternoon nap, staying until late in the evening. Both Lionel and Jean are understandably distressed, not only with the appearance of the county set, but their own inability to refuse all the invitations to recreate with said county set.

Even their lovely walk in the village the next morning is spoiled by the “gang”, who cajole Jean and Lionel into their pub, and issue more invitations to which our lovers just can’t say no.

When they finally make it home to relax, Judith, Sandy and Alistair pop in unannounced, and then Penny and Stephen make an appearance! The young folks want to turn around and leave when they see Jean and Lionel’s frazzled state, but are persuaded to stay to lunch, after which they discreetly make their exit. Penny and Stephen are not so discreet, however, and insist on staying for a game of Scrabble. Mrs. Bale saves the day by inventing a fog over Hampshire, and Penny and Stephen finally take their leave.When Mrs Bale appears to announce dinner in front of the fire,  Jean starts talking about heading home to beat the traffic. This is the first inkling we get of Lionel’s desire for Jean to retire, or at least slow down at work; he and Mrs Bale conspire to convince her that she really doesn’t need to be at the office bright and early in the morning.

Every favorite episode exposes a human foible in a loving way, and this one shows that our lovers are the pair who just can’t say no! The county set call to invite them for dinner, and instead of standing up and telling the truth, Jean, who has been known to fabricate the odd story or two, tells them Lionel has the measles. Short term relief, but not much of a long term strategy.

Episode two-Lionel’s Ex-Wife. Lionel was married in Kenya for ten years to a local landowner’s daughter; he’s mentioned in the past that she was the only single woman within hundreds of miles. He holds no illusions about their time together, so when he receives a letter from her asking to see him while she is in London, he is perplexed. As he hasn’t communicated with her since the divorce, so knows nothing about his remarriage, Jean’s attendance at the meeting throws her off a bit, but she continues in fine form, showing off her fancy clothes, jewelry, style, toy boy, and attitude. It seems that after the divorce she moved on to a Mr. Butterworth, a rich man who died and left her a pile. The evening proceeds with lots of champagne, and Margaret gets a bit soppy drunk, at which time Jean and Lionel exit for home. In bed (which by the way is the setting for some of the best scenes between them throughout the show), Jean harrumps at Lionel for not telling her that his wife was rich and glamorous beforehand. He makes her see reason with a couple of logical explanations, but both of them are still a bit baffled as to why she contacted him at all.

The next day finds them both relaxing at home when the doorbell rings. It’s Margaret, on her way to Barbados with her toy boy. She says she has come to apologize, and Lionel and Jean misinterpret her apology-she’s not apologizing for her drinking or her life, but for ever getting back in touch at all. Lionel wonders out loud just why she did, and even after a bit of an explanation still doesn’t get it. Jean does, however, and clarifies for him. Margaret wanted to say, “Look at me, Lionel. Look where I’ve got to.” But she says that she realizes now that it really doesn’t matter, because her money and position were not going to impress them.

Before she leaves she asks about the mini-series Lionel is writing; the love story. Lionel says, “Just fiction”. She says of course, but then turns to Jean and asks “But you were the girl in it?”. Jean answers yes she was the girl in it, and Margaret’s response is riveting, as if the knowledge gained by that one exchange was worth the whole night’s champagne.

I love this scene so much that I had to include it her for your perusal. The scene in question is at 24:50.

Sorry if the audio is a bit off.

I can’t leave this episode without mentioning the romantic confusion of the younger folks. Judith and Alistair are on the outs, but Sandy thinks they belong together, and Judith thinks Sandy and Alistair could be a pair, so the girls have been going out with Alistair as a threesome, each trying to push him at the other! Jean and Lionel can’t understand the situation until both Judith and Sandy take them into their confidence. What a muddle! Alistair seems happy squiring two women around as “mates”, but Lionel nudges him a bit, asking, “What is the opposite of a tug of war?”

Alistair finally figures things out, but not in this episode. However, to me the younger folk’s confusion is just a mirror to the saga of love lost so long ago, and never forgotten. Jean and Lionel are back together; will Judith and Alistair end up together?

Next on my favorite list is episode 4; Avoiding the County Set. After a period of time away from the country, Jean and Lionel decide to arrive under cover of darkness to avoid the county set and enjoy a nice relaxing weekend, but Mrs. Bale’s surprised reaction to their arrival brings the men of the county set to the door. So much for a quiet weekend. During a conversation over breakfast, they discuss the possible reasons for their reluctance to turn down invitations, even from people they really don’t like, and vow to stiffen their backbones the next time.

Later that day, Mrs Bale arrives carrying their wounded gardener in her motorcycle’s side car; he insists that he fell over. Jean’s nursing experience leads her to believe that he was in a fight, but he won’t admit it. After he leaves, Mrs Bale finally breaks down and tells them about the incident. The gardener was attacked from behind, so there’s no clue as to the perpetrator, but the whole incident leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The county set always insists that “there’s an “element” down here”; Jean and Lionel start to wonder if maybe that’s true after all.

Still later, Jean and Lionel attend a barbecue given by members of the county set, and two of the men ask them about their gardener chap. They wonder aloud how the county set knows about the gardener’s injuries, and are treated to the story. It seems Loll the gardener expressed anger at the “off-roaders” for running over his flower beds in their obnoxious 4x4s, and the older chaps mentioned this to the younger, who “took things into their own hands”. Jean and Lionel are incensed and make their feelings known, and in the end there’s no need for them to practice their “no thank yous”, because the row at the barbecue ensures that no more invitations come their way. At the thought of those burned bridges, Lionel says “I’ve never enjoyed a fire more”. Brilliant scene!

In the next two episodes, we discover that Lionel’s mini-series is an abject failure; although everyone has their chin up because the show that failed was lightyears away from Lionel’s script. It does mean that Hollywood won’t be knocking on Lionel’s door again, however, Alistairs’s negotiating skills at the start ensured a big fat check for Lionel no matter what the outcome. This is a fun episode, and almost makes it into my favorites, but not quite.

My next favorite episode takes us back to the country house, that is, Showered With Gifts Ep 7. Lionel and Jean are back at the country house after some time away to find that their dust-up with the county set has taken on mythical proportions in the village. They try in vain to discover just who spread all the tall tales about throwing county set over hedges and spraying the barbecue grill with a fire extinguisher, but in the end it seems one giant game of whisper down the lane. The locals are thrilled to see the county set knocked down a peg or two, and show their appreciation with gifts, and endless rounds of drinks at the pub.

The celebration ends up a family affair, as Rocky and Madge are home from their travels, and Judith, Sandy and Alistair turn up as well.

After considering some ideas about putting the house to use in their absence, they realize that they like the village just the way it is, and end the evening, the episode, and the fifth series in utter contentment.

Thanks for joining me on this little trip. Look for Series Five on youtube, or if you like, the DVDs are for sale on Amazon. Unfortunately the show is not carried by Netflix or Acorn; maybe someday.

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