As Time Goes By
follows the somewhat unusual love story of Jean and Lionel, two former lovers who reunite unexpectedly 38 years after their romance during the Korean War. In the opening episode, Lionel has returned to England from a coffee plantation in Kenya and is seeking a secretary to help with his autobiography. He requests one from the "Type for You" secretarial agency, not realizing that it is run by his old flame Jean, who by this time is widowed and has a grown daughter, Judith. After Lionel asks Judith on a date and the two main characters finally meet, Lionel and Jean both realize the other's identity. We find out that their relationship ended not from any loss of affection, but as the result of the post office losing a letter that Lionel had sent to Jean. Although they part on good terms never intending to meet again, they are thrown back together once again and eventually fall in love.
Although they are eventually back where they started, Lionel and Jean's romance gets off to a slow start, with each being the object of youthful affection during the first series, he from her daughter Judith and she from his publisher Alistair. At the conclusion of the first series, Lionel and Jean share their first kiss (again), by series three — after some hilarious miscommunications — Lionel has moved into Jean's house, and they marry the following series. Along the way, Lionel writes a mini-series about their romance for American television which fails spectacularly (not through any fault of his own), Jean opens a second branch of her secretarial agency and eventually retires, and the two acquire a country house from Lionel's somewhat unconventional parents.
The series also focuses also on the adventures of Judith, Jean's daughter, Sandy, her secretary who eventually comes to live with them, and Alistair, Lionel's wealthy and flamboyant publisher. The three "young people", as they are sometimes called, provide much preoccupation for Jean, who enjoys managing their love lives, and much hilarity for the audience. Judith and Alistair, after being on and off for nine years, finally get married in the final series of the show. Sandy, who moves in with the Hardcastle/Pargetter clan after a bad break-up, starts dating a policeman named Harry, whom she eventually accompanies to Canada. Adding extra sparkle to the show are Lionel's father and stepmother Rocky and Madge, an older couple, though in their 80s, constantly remaining young at heart, and their housekeeper Mrs. Bale, a Mrs. Danvers-esque figure who is somewhat obsessed with the shipping forecast.
The series lasted from January, 1992 to December, 2005. It consists of nine seasons of 30 minute episodes and two reunion specials. Came twenty-ninth in Britain's Best Sitcom
This show provides examples of:
- Acting Unnatural: More than once, such as waiting for Judy to bring in her boyfriend or Jean to return from the psychotherapist: they are waiting but they shouldn't look like it!
- Adaptation Decay: The adaptation of Lionel's book is an in-universe example, a parody of Executive Meddling-plagued American adaptations of British works which seemed ubiquitous at the time.
- Apologises a Lot: In one episode, Sandy dates a guy who is always apologising, sometimes preemptively just in case something goes wrong. She leaves him when she realises this is an aspect of a fetish he has.
- Beta Couple: Rocky and Madge function as the Beta Couple in the beginning of the series, bringing to the forefront Lionel and Jean's concerns that its too late for them to fall in love and get married. Indeed, it is at Rocky and Madge's wedding that the two decide to live together. After Lionel and Jean's marriage, however, Judith and Alistair are the primary Beta Couple, and Jean spends much of her time managing their On-Again, Off-Again Relationship.
- The Bore:
- Stephen's chief quality is his tendency to chatter on about the most mundane subjects with intense interest (for instance, his attempt to give up newspapers), although he's rather sweet-natured. Jean and Lionel use this to their advantage in one episode.
- Mrs. Flack, Lionel's replacement secretary, talks so much that it's completely impossible for him to get any writing done. However, she's so well-intentioned and cheerful that he can't manage to fire her.
- Judy's brief, much-older boyfriend Eric is a very nice man, but also terribly dull. She's half-relieved that he ends up breaking it off, because she "didn't have the heart to give him the push."
- British Brevity: (Sort of) Each series is only about seven episodes long, but there are nine series(ten if you include the series 10 specials.
- Brought Down to Normal: In one episode Alistair's publishing company collapses and he has to cope with living on the same level as the rest of the cast. In the end, he remembers he forgot one of his regional stations and still has a million pounds or so to build back up from (which is essentially treated as a Reset Button).
- Cassandra Truth: When Lionel agrees (very reluctantly) to treat Stephen in his fake-capacity as a psychiatrist (Jean had told her in-laws that he was one in an attempt to change the subject), he breaks down and tells Stephen that he's not a psychiatrist. Stephen responds by taking this to be some sort of healing method and declares "If you're not at the top of your profession, Lionel, I'd like to know who is."
- Catch Phrase:
- Alistair has a few, including "Hey, hey..."
- Rocky's "Rock on!"
- Mrs. Bale: "(Lunch/Dinner) will be served in _____ and a half minutes"
- Characterization Marches On: In his first appearance, Stephen is rather more astute than his wife and knows immediately that the "met on the dodgems" story is a lie for Penny's benefit. After that he's switched into friendly but dull and a bit dim, and in a blatant Retcon is astonished at the real story of their meeting (and calls that a fiction).
- The City vs. the Country: A variation, as Jean and Lionel are embraced by the locals in the country at Rocky's old house (as they are happy to embrace the simple life), while the other "townies" that come down for weekends are frowned upon for their energy, rudeness, and "gang-like" socializing.
- Clip Show: As a cap to the end of the series, a 60-minute episode aired, made up of flashbacks as Lionel and Jean (mostly Jean) reminisce about the funniest bits of the series.
- Cool Old Guy: Lionel's father likes to "boogie" at the Hard Rock Cafe, frequently travels the world, and is constantly encouraging the gang to "Rock on!"
- Cool Old Lady: Madge, Rocky's country-singing, drum-playing wife, whom he marries in Series Three.
- Coupled Couples: Played with in the first season, with potential ships between Lionel and Judy, and Alistair and Jean. The four exchange partners and get married later on.
- Covers Always Lie: ''My Life In Kenya", Lionel's (dull) book about running a coffee plantation, ends up with a cover featuring him holding a rifle with a beautiful woman hanging onto his leg.
- Cut Himself Shaving: Lol's repeated claims that he "fell over" after getting beaten up by the townies' goons.
- December-December Romance: Madge and Rocky, who had been having an affair for ten year before tying the knot. Lionel and Jean are a lesser version (maybe October or November).
- Deadpan Snarker: Lionel is apt to make sarcastic comments, especially when everything around him (often from the intervention of Jean) is going to completely mad. Example:
"Compared to pushing a pea up Vesuvius with my nose, it was a delightful experience"
- It's not just Lionel. Something like 90% of the show's humor comes from this.
- Determined Widow: After her husband's death, Jean supports herself by starting a secretarial firm, even though she confesses to Lionel that if they had gotten married, she wouldn't have wanted to go into business.
- Did Not Do the Bloody Research: Inverted in the episodes where Lionel and Jean are in Los Angeles. Americans do know what "take a leak" means, actually.
- Ear Trumpet: Referenced by Lionel in the episode when he's having difficulty hearing: "I'm not having an ear trumpet!"
- Executive Meddling: In-universe, the reason for the Adaptation Decay in the American TV adaptation of Lionel's books, Just Two People. Includes tropes like Cliché Storm, London England Syndrome, Critical Research Failure, and Viewers Are Morons (specifically, that their target demographic is 'a potato farmer in Idaho').
- Flanderization: Jean gets much sillier by the later seasons, starting a Lies Snowball as a matter of routine, and Lionel is almost always the Only Sane Man to the messes she creates with her meddling.
- Foil: The fun-loving, adventurous, and wild Richard "Rocky" Hardcastle is a complete contrast to his son. He even calls Lionel a "dismal Jimmy" at one point.
- Gossip Evolution: A staple in the village. After sternly telling off the posh townies, Jean and Lionel return the next weekend to find that Lionel holds the Victoria Cross (Jean invented the "KBM"note medal for him during the argument), that Jean put out the barbecue with a fire extinguisher, and that she and Lionel threw six of them over the hedge. Jean eventually "admits" that Lionel only threw two, because a little notoriety never hurts.
- Handsome Lech: Alistair.
- Happily Married: Rocky and Madge definitely fit the bill, traveling the world together from the Nashville to Tibet and never thinking they're too old for pretty much anything. The two are as devoted as they come and true soul-mates.
- Henpecked Husband: Jean's ex-sister-in-law Penny abuses her poor husband Stephen to no end. Because of Penny's incessant talking, Stephen can never get a word in edgewise, except in the episode when Lionel and Jean conspire to keep Stephen talking in order to avoid unpleasant personal inquiries from Penny. Ironically, their marriage is improved when Stephen pretends that he had an affair, but this is counteracted when he admits the truth.
- I Never Got Any Letters: Plays an integral part in Lionel and Jean's relationship. Lionel's (misdirected?) letter to Jean ends their relationship; if the letter had gotten to Jean they probably would have gotten married. They both start off rather cross with each other until they talk about it; fortunately they believe each other.
- Later, they find the missing letter in a wartime museum.
- Informed Attractiveness: "Ms. Icecubes," the new woman at Type for You is described by all the characters as incredibly beautiful.
- Lies Snowball: This happens quite often, especially when Penny and Stephen come to visit. Consequently, it is never revealed to the troublesome couple that Lionel is not in fact a psychiatrist, and he even ends up counseling Stephen professionally. Other such lies include that Jean and Lionel met whilst in bumper cars at a fairground, Jean takes judo, Lionel sprained his ankle while playing golf, and that Jean and Lionel were sleeping together (before they were), which resulted in their first night together being spent at Penny and Stephen's house in the country.
- A lot of the humour stems from Jean's reflexive creation of a Lies Snowball and Lionel either refusing to play along or doing it under protest.
- Love Triangle: Inverted when Judy and Sandy each (unknowingly) try to set the other up with Alistair, to Jean and Lionel's amusement. He feels rather put out when it falls apart.
- Ludicrous Precision: A mild example, but Mrs Bale always says lunch will be served in an odd number of minutes, or "X and a half" minutes, in an unnatural way.
- May-December Romance:
- Played with at the beginning of the series. Judy is attracted to Lionel and Alistair is attracted to Jean. While Jean and Lionel are flattered by the attentions of young, attractive people, they also judge each other for inviting them.
- Much later, Judy briefly dates a bookshop owner who's at least ten years older than Jean and Lionel.
- The Nicknamer: Alistair constantly annoys Lionel by calling him "Ly" and Jean "Lovely Lady."
- Nosy Neighbor: Jean, to an extent, whenever someone new moves in next door. Dies down a bit once she meets them, but her curiosity is usually channeled in other directions.
- Not So Above It All: In later seasons, Lionel is the Only Sane Man... except when his hearing starts to become erratic and he resists every sensible and well-meaning entreaty to have his ears checked.
- Not What It Looks Like: When Jean tries to cheer up young newlywed Anne on their Paris holiday, Lionel winds up meeting husband Terry and having to haul him up to their room, drunk. When Jean arrives later she tries to help him clean up when Anne unexpectedly calls—and sees Terry half-dressed behind Jean.
Anne: How could you?!
Jean: What? [cottons on] Oh don't be ridiculous!
- Old Retainer: Mrs Bale, the housekeeper for the country house. She cared for Lionel when he was a boy. She also has aspects of The Jeeves, although her employers are not stupid.
- Only Sane Man: This often applies to Lionel, especially when Jean, Judith, and Sandy are participating in feminine behavior which is totally mysterious to him. For example, the episode in which Judy and Sandy are each trying to set the other up with Alistair.
- Orphaned Punchline: Lionel's "I got so excited I fell off my perch" joke that several people convince him to omit during his best man speech at his father's wedding. He says it's about a parrot with no legs, but the full joke is never revealed to the audience. Just as well since the humor is in the Chirping Crickets reaction it invariably receives.
- Picnic Episode: "The Picnic."
- Put on a Bus: A Real Life Writes the Plot example. Joan Sims (Madge) became very ill by the end of the series and was unable to appear in the finale, and passed away before the reunion special. Her absence was explained as going on vacation to places Rocky wasn't interested in.
- Real Song Theme Tune: "As Time Goes By", as sung by Joe Fagin.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jean and Lionel deliver a blistering one to the townies after finding that they had their gardener Lol beaten up for getting mad at their off-roading through his garden. Jean ends by threatening to set the dogs on them—no, they don't have any dogs, but for the townies they'll get some.
- Roadside Wave: Judy and Sandy get splashed in a rainstorm after an already-bad week thanks to Alastair and Harry. Lionel's unsympathetic reaction helps to kick off that episode's plot.
- Rushed Inverted Reading: Jean quickly grabs a book and shoves one at Lionel to pretend they've been reading rather than sleeping when one of the girls knocks on the door.
- Sassy Secretary: Sandy is definitely sassy, often gossiping with Judy about Jean's PL (personal life), and offering sage dating advice to her boss. She gets away with it because of her warm heart and skill at her job.
"I'm only facetious on Fridays."
- Scrabble Babble: (Series 5, Episode 1) After disagreements over furzes and an attempt to change cottage to pottage, Jean places flug and claims it's Old English.
- Sexy Secretary: When Lionel hires a temp from Jean's second branch to help him revise his book, Jean is furious to learn that they have sent him a gorgeous secretary named Daisy. Although she is temporarily replaced by the distinctly non-sexy and endlessly talkative Gwen Flack, Daisy returns after Mrs. Flack relieves them all by going to live with her cousin in Dorset. Daisy is well-aware of this trope and not happy with it, as Sally Curtis had been sending her out to male clients with the recommendation of "bright and attractive" rather than just "bright".
- Shaggy Dog Story: When Lionel, Alastair, Judy, and Sandy go through a good deal of effort and subterfuge to arrange a surprise trip to Barbados for Lionel and Jean, the whole thing comes to naught because Jean's passport is out of date. But she's quite happy anyway that they tried it at all (and they go off to get her passport renewed before the credits roll).
- Show Some Leg: This is hinted at rather innocently a number of times. In an early episode, Jean suggests that her daughter Judy cross her legs while apologizing to a man. She does this when speaking with Lionel, who notices, and asks her if she always does that.
- After being turned down for a promotion, Judy complains about feeling like her main job in the office is to be "knees and dimples" for unsatisfied customers.
- Show Within a Show: Lionel's miniseries "Just Two People" based on his romance with Jean is featured prominently in the show. The miniseries tanks (thanks to some terrible acting and re-writes), but not before we get to see portions of just how awful it is.
- Smithical Marriage: When Lionel and Jean slept together for the first time in their youth, Lionel checked them into the bed & breakfast as Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Smith in the faint hope that the unusual first name would make them more plausible. But they figure the employees probably figured it out from their evident nervousness and lack of luggage.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Lampshaded by Jean in "The Mini-Series".
Lionel: She seemed thoroughly nice.
Jean: Did she flop on the desk and cry "Why is my beauty such a curse?"
- Surprise Party: Stephen tries to throw a surprise anniversary party for Penny. When she notices his furtive behavior, she assumes he's having an affair—and he goes along with it because...
"I'm not very good at thinking up excuses. So when she said 'you swine, you're having an affair!' I thought 'well that's a good excuse!'"
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Harry is played by a different actor in the reunion special.
- Take That: The aforementioned miniseries is a none-too-subtle dig at American television.
- Trademark Favourite Food: Lionel's love of custard tarts.
- Translator Buddy: Judy sometimes serves as this between Alastair and Lionel.
- Triang Relations: Inverted around the middle of the series, when Judy and Sandy are simultaneously trying to set the other up with Alastair. Both of them confide to Jean and Lionel, who decide to stay out of it except to be amused.
- Upper-Class Twit:
- The "gang" of townies in the country that Jean and Lionel eventually tell off for their rude behavior.
- And Alistair of course, but at least he's likeable, more or less. (He seems to be rich more by work than by inheritance.)
- Video Inside, Film Outside: In the first few series.
- Wacky Guy: Alistair is a millionaire publisher who is often completely incomprehensible to the other characters, using words like "hype," "mega," and "hey, hey, hey." He also seems to know just about everyone worth knowing, and often offers to help Lionel get dinner reservations or redecorate his apartment. He's also prone to grand romantic gestures; when Judy rejects his Herald-Gram, Alastair turns up on horseback in full armor.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: During the third series, Lionel learns his father, Rocky, is terminally ill and is not expected to last out the year. He apparently got better, because eleven years later he was still around for the reunion special, and suffering no apparent effects from his illness.
- Although this could be logically explained if you assume the doctor on the other end of the line is the same doctor who made Mrs. Bale and Lionel feel absolutely rotten in one latter-season episode; if he could make Mrs. Bale feel like a used-up old rag (instead of feeling general exhaustion) and Lionel feel like he's on his last legs (instead of suffering from a minor illness), he could certainly convince Lionel that his father was close to his death bed (instead of going through a major but completely recoverable illness).
- Will They or Won't They?: There was some question as to whether Judy and Alistair would get together. The two ping-ponged from dating to fighting to just friends, and after one offer to move in and two proposals scattered throughout the series, the two finally tie the knot in the final season.