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Radio / Conversations From A Long Marriage

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Roger: I love the way you're a complete bossy-boots for the easy stuff, but as soon as there's something difficult to deal with, you decide it's my job.
Joanna: Of course! That's how marriage works.

Conversations from a Long Marriage is a BBC Radio 4 comedy written by Jan Etherington, starring (and especially written for) Joanna Lumley and Roger Allam as a long-married couple who, despite their advancing age, remain passionate about life ... and each other. As the show is a two-hander, they are the only characters who speak, and we only get to hear about the sometimes complicated lives of their friends and acquaintances when they come up in conversation. The show was first broadcast as a pilot episode in 2018 and runs to three series (and two Christmas specials) as of 2022.


Tropes from a long marriage:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: David, Joanna's "lentil-breathed groupie" in her Pilates class.
  • Actor Allusion: Occasional references to Bond films call to mind the fact that Joanna Lumley was one of Blofeld's Angels of Death in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, although a Celebrity Paradox is averted as that particular film isn't mentioned, and in any case Joanna hints that Sean Connery is the only Bond for her. In addition, the following exchange (referring to Roger being asked to be an honorary godfather to Peter and Kirsty's baby) also counts as this, given that Joanna Lumley has received honorary degrees from several British Unis.
    Joanna: What does that mean?
    Roger: What does any honorary award mean?
    Joanna: It means you've been around for years, but don't deserve a proper prize.
    Roger: I was rather touched.
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  • Actually Pretty Funny: Often at play when Joanna and Roger are snarking at each other, which happens frequently. Sometimes combined with an unintentional Double Entendre.
    Joanna: I don't think you realise how scary it was, waking up to find you looming over me.
    Roger: You used to love it.
    Joanna: That's when you had all your parts in working order. [both laugh] In fact, I'm really cross with you!
  • Age-Gap Romance: Slightly exaggerated with Peter and Kirsty, as he's older than her parents. Roger suspects Joanna of wanting one of these with Rix, while Joanna wonders if Roger had one with Jessica.
  • The Alcoholic: Discussed, as both Joanna and Roger like a drink.
    Roger: [bringing the shopping in] Why is it that when you buy more than three bottles of wine, they always ask at the checkout: "Having a party?"
    Joanna: Well, you've got twelve bottles there, so it's a reasonable question.
    Roger: I wanted to say: "No, this'll just last us till Tuesday."
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  • All Women Are Lustful: Joanna definitely comes across as being more keen on sex than Roger, not that he's complaining ... much.
  • Away in a Manger: Marian's grandson is born on Christmas Day. Roger is quick to predict that the poor kid is destined for a lifetime of only getting one present to cover both celebrations.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: And how. They do bicker, accuse each other of cheating and occasionally threaten to leave, but Joanna and Roger are clearly still smitten with each other.
  • Bait-and-Switch: A few examples, notably this gem from "Christmas Again".
    Joanna: [making appreciative noises] Mmmm. Ooooh!
    Roger: Steady.
    Joanna: I can't help it. Mmmm, this is Heaven! How do you manage to get it so perfect every time?
    Roger: Hot goose fat and regular tossing.
    Joanna: These aren't just roast potatoes, they're ... mmmm.
  • Berserk Button: The mere mention of certain people with whom infidelity has in the past been suspected is one of these for both characters.
  • Blatant Lies: In "Heroes and Villains", Roger doesn't buy Joanna's excuse that she accidentally aimed the power-washer at next door's tree.
  • Britcom: A radio example.
  • British Brevity: Three series of six episodes, plus the pilot episode and two Christmas specials.
  • Call-Back: In "Heartbreak Hotel", Roger mentions a "little-known fact" about The Graduate — that Anne Bancroft was actually just five years older than Dustin Hoffman. Joanna corrects him, stating that this is actually a "well-known fact". Later on in the same episode, Joanna mentions a "little-known fact" about When Harry Met Sally... — that the woman on the next table who says "I'll have what she's having" was Rob Reiner's mother. This time, it's Roger's turn to point out that this is actually a "well-known fact".
  • Celeb Crush: Roger's is Monica Bellucci.
    Joanna: You've fancied her ever since we saw her in Spectre. You were incandescent with rage. "How could they sign her up for a Bond film and then only use her for about thirty seconds?"
    Roger: I still feel the same.
  • Christmas Episode: There are two, entitled "Conservations from a Long Marriage at Christmas" and "Conversations from a Long Marriage at Christmas Again". In the latter, Joanna and Roger's plans for a quiet Christmas are derailed by Sally and Peter's plans, which themselves become subject to several changes.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Joanna. When she's in a reflective mood, she can and does justify being this, as she knows full well that her friends all find Roger attractive.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Several episodes after Marian's husband John dies, their daughter Rosie has a baby. It's a boy, and she names him John.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Roger, as is to be expected for a character played by Roger Allam. Joanna has her moments too.
  • Double Entendre: Quite a few, some intentional and others less so, but often lampshaded as such.
    Roger: "Can you come up and move my chest?"
    Joanna: And didn't you think that was a bit funny?
    Roger: In a Carry On sense, yes, I suppose it was funny.
  • Foreshadowing: In "Heartbreak Hotel", Joanna and Roger are making references to The Graduate before the wedding gets ... interrupted.
  • The Ghost: Given that Joanna and Roger are the only two characters with speaking parts, everyone else counts as one of these.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Joanna and Roger are both generally good people who still enjoy getting intimate with each other, quite often.
  • Grammar Nazi: Roger, a retired journalist, often points out grammatical errors in newspapers and letters from friends and acquaintances.
  • Grow Old with Me: Joanna and Roger have done, and are still doing, this.
    Roger: I'm glad we stayed married.
    Joanna: [laughs] Are you?
    Roger: Yes. Yes, I am.
    Joanna: Well, me too.
  • Hidden Depths: Roger. He demonstrated this to Joanna early on in their relationship by giving her a mix-tape that included the work of Thomas Tallis. And even after several decades together, he can still surprise her; it turns out, for example, that he's quite the baby-whisperer (although she does find that upsetting as it reminds her of the fact that they couldn't have children).
  • Men Can't Keep House: Defied by Roger.
    Joanna: [as she's getting ready to go away for a few days with Marian] Are you sure you'll be all right on your own?
    Roger: Put it this way. I'm better acquainted with the oven, the washing machine and the room thermostat than you, so I won't starve, freeze or wear the same pants two days running.
    Joanna: I'm so glad you're not like other men.
    Roger: That's a backhander. I'm very self-sufficient.
  • Mistaken for Cheating. Both Joanna and Roger can fall afoul of this. At one point, Joanna assumes that Roger's having an affair (or at least planning to do so) because he says the name "Amy" in his sleep; turns out, Amy is a dog who Roger encountered at the rescue kennels and was planning to adopt. Although the jeweller who's been repairing his watch is also called Amy...
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Joanna is a publishing editor who has been known to write feature articles, while Roger is a former Fleet Street journalist who later taught on a journalism course.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The TV adventurer Rix Roden is this to the likes of Ben Fogle and Dan Snow.
  • Only Sane Man: Roger mostly, Joanna sometimes; compared to their friends, they can come across as the Only Sane Couple — although everything is told from their perspective.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Something's clearly up in "Losing the Way" when Joanna and Roger visit their old friends Paula and Ray; the once free-spirited and party-loving couple are now worryingly quiet and sober, and Ray is much more controlling than he used to be. After Roger mentions that he noticed that Paula's arm was bruised, Joanna worries that he has become abusive. Turns out, Paula's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease; they stopped drinking after this and moved to a smaller house, but she's had a few bad falls of late, hence the bruises. It's got to the point where Ray, who is barely able to hold things together, has to supervise Paula in the kitchen, hence his apparently controlling behaviour.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Joanna does have a knack of being angry with Roger and not telling him why. This extends to her friendship with Sally.
  • Playing Gertrude: A rare male example — Roger Allam is in fact seven years younger than Joanna Lumley, whereas the characters they play here are of a similar age.
  • Posthumous Character: Bonzo Dog, Joanna and Roger's much-loved, and much-missed, pet. According to dialogue, he died six months before the events of the pilot epiosde.
  • Real Men Cook: Roger definitely knows his way around the kitchen. He makes ravioli from scratch, shows a familiarity with the works of Yotam Ottolenghi, and come Christmas, he's the one who does the dinner — and as the quotes from the entry for Bait-and-Switch above show, he's very good at it.
  • The Reveal: Roger always knew that Joanna had a miscarriage back in The '60s at a time when they weren't together, and that this has been the reason why she was unable to conceive. However, as she was deliberately vague about the dates when telling him about the miscarriage, he had no idea that it was his child. When Joanna finally tells him the truth, and about the fact that she had a nervous breakdown afterwards, he's understandably very upset.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The second and third series, broadcast (respectively) in 2021 and 2022, contain several references to the COVID-19 Pandemic. They quickly got fed up with dinner parties on Zoom, Roger got a very bad home-made haircut, and Joanna kept sniffing bunches of basil to check that she still had her sense of smell.
  • Shout-Out: Plenty in terms of music and films from The '60s, in addition to which both characters are well-read, providing some literary gems, among them references to Catullus and Geoffrey Chaucer.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Roger is asked to do the eulogy at John's funeral, which includes — at his widow Marian's request — part of Juliet's soliloquy from Act 3, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet ("Come, gentle night..."). Which allows the RSC veteran Roger Allam to quote the Bard.
  • The '60s: Frequently invoked; both Joanna and Roger are very much children of that decade. They first met at a gig on Eel Pie Island, she went to San Francisco during the Summer of Love, and both of them went to the Maharishi's ashram in Rishikesh (with different people, although they flew back to England together). Plot-relevant clips of songs from that decade appear often, as do references to such songs.
    Joanna: You know, what it says in "The Shoop Shoop Song" is so true. It is in his kiss!
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Played straight in "Heartbreak Hotel" when Peter and Kirsty's wedding is interrupted at this point by Kirsty's friend Harry, who declares his love for Kirsty, causing her to jilt Peter and run off with Harry. The similarities with The Graduate are not lost on Joanna and Roger.
    Joanna: I'd never say it to Peter, but it was really romantic.
  • Surprise Party: Roger gets one of these in "Birthday Blues" even though he’d asked Joanna not to throw him one. She claims that while she did organise it, she thought better of it and tried to cancel, but not everyone got the message. He does not believe her.
  • Title Drop: The episode title — usually taken from a song — is usually worked into the dialogue. In "Lean on Me", it's the first line.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Several strangely-named kids (and a couple of grown-ups for that matter) are mentioned, and the strangeness of their names is remarked upon. Examples include Hermes (Peter and Kirsty's baby, although everyone just calls him Joe), Rix (the adventurer whose book Joanna edits) and Paloma, Gideon and Clay (the new neighbours' kids).
    Roger: Plucked from the Instagram book of celebrity names.
  • Zany Scheme: Zigzagged. Roger's purchase of a power-washer at the start of "Heroes and Villains" looks like it's going to be a straight example of one of these, but he just uses it to clean stuff for the neighbours, who are generally appreciative. Then Joanna gets her hands on it...