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An unusual Brit Com whose premise is that Gary Sparrow (Nicholas Lyndhurst), a down-on-his-luck TV repairman in a failing marriage, discovers a time portal which leads to 1940s London. Once there, he meets a young woman and they fall in love. And now suddenly there's no need to go through the trauma of a divorce in the 1990s, because he can have two separate lives...
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Gary gets away with it by having his best friend Ron, a printer, print him easily-forged 1940s white banknotes to fund his past lifestyle. He justifies his knowledge of the future events of World War II to Phoebe (his past wife) by claiming to be a secret agent, while he says he earns his money as a singer-songwriter, passing off much of the next fifty years of popular music as his own. Eventually Gary ends up running a 1940s memorabilia shop built over the time portal, whose merchandise, while genuine, is suspiciously well preserved.

Came fiftieth in Britain's Best Sitcom. The series originally ran from 1993 to 1999 and a one-off revival episode aired in 2016.


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Provides Examples Of:

  • Aborted Arc: Crossed with Canon Discontinuity, the revival special 'Many Happy Returns' ignores numerous plot points from seasons/series 5 and 6, notably including the major story points of Phoebe losing the Royal Oak due to the a sexist brewery manager, Gary and Phoebe moving into Mayfair, become close friends with Noel Coward, and the two of them purchasing a Soho nightclub while also ignoring a frequently brought-up plot point in the last two seasons/series about Phoebe wanting to leave London... in favour of Gary and Phoebe moving back into the Royal Oak, with not even a casual mention as to why they would leave their luxurious Mayfair flat, abandon their profitable nightclub, or fail to move out of London entirely, particularly in consideration that World War II had long ago finished and the time portal's closure in 1945 means that Gary has no need or reason to remain in London.
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  • Accidental Pervert: Gary ends up groping the new owner of the Royal Oak, when he discovers her bent over in her underwear in the bedtroom, thinking she is Phoebe
  • Acting Unnatural: When Ron sucessfully travels back to the past, his attempts to fit in end up with the locals believing him to be clinically insane.
  • Actor Allusion: In one episode someone props up the bar access behind Gary and he almost leans on the empty space, but then notices and nods to himself — this provokes gales of uproarious laughter from the audience, which will seem a strange non sequitur to anyone not familiar with the famous scene in Only Fools and Horses in which Del Boy (not Lyndhurst's character Rodney, oddly) does the same but goes crashing to the floor with a fixed expression.
    • In one episode Gary claims he was taught how to speak in any dialect: his cockney is identical to Rodney.
  • Advice Backfire: Ron goes to Gary for help with his failing marriage, Gary having two women seems the obvious choice. Gary's advice of staying out all night to leave Stella guessing, backfires spectacularly.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys / Evil Is Sexy: In one episode the portal is struck by lightning just as Gary enters it and he's split into multiple Garys, Yvonne (and, to a lesser extent, Phoebe) is quite taken with Evil Gary.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Phoebe's husband Donald, he only married her because his family forced him into it and had had plans to move abroad with another man who he was very upset about the death of. He happily handed Phoebe over to Gary, admitting he didn't love her but was fond of her in a brotherly way and wanted her to be happy.
  • Anti-Hero: Gary. He's a bigamist, an adulterer and a plagiarist, treats his friends Ron and Reg poorly, and apparently has no qualms about threatening Britain's wartime economy by passing around large sums of counterfeit money.note 
  • Artistic License – History: Surprisingly averted, although Gary does meet some major figures, his interactions with them could have happened in the history we know today.
  • Bad Present: After Gary accidentally changes the past, he travels back to discover that amongst other things, Thatcher had been in power for over 20 years. And was somehow a president instead of prime minister.
  • Big Eater: Ron, who can't decide between Indian and Chinese takeaway, so he has both.
  • Black Comedy: Some parts could be extremely black; not surprising, considering half the show was set during the Second World War.
    • Perhaps the blackest part was when Gary met his old friend Reg Deadman (from the 1940s) in an assisted living facility in the 90s where he was suffering from severe dementia.
  • Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: Gary and Ron try buying shares in a small company in the 1940s knowing it will be a large multinational by the 1990s. But unbeknown to them, the company was split in the intervening years, and they invested in the wrong half.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In the final episode, Yvonne and Ron are in Gary's Mayfair flat just as he is writing his message to Ron on the wall back in the 1940s, revealing that he is now trapped in the past. There is probably no other way Ron could have convinced Yvonne that her husband was really a time traveller.
  • Denser and Wackier: Started out as a fairly straight sitcom about a cheating husband with a time travel twist but in the final series we had Gary being split into multiple Garys, a time travelling teenage criminal from the future and Jack the Ripper.
  • Disappeared Dad: Gary was this to his daughter Ellie, albeit unwittingly. He only learns of her existence when the time portal re-opens and he returns to 2016.
  • Downer Ending: In the final episode Gary discovers the time portal has closed, meaning he will be trapped in the past for good. In spite of everything, he and Yvonne are genuinely upset that they won't see each other again. In a touching last scene, they speak to each other, unknowingly, on opposite sides of the now-closed portal.
    Gary: I'm never gonna see Yvonne, or Ron, or Baywatch ever again!
  • Everybody Smokes: In the 40s. Gary, at first, is shocked and tries to warn Phoebe of the danger to her health but by Series Three he's happily puffing away himself after an Of Course I Smoke false start.
    • However, he does convince her to give up during her pregnancy.
  • Flanderization: Compare the portrayal of Reg Deadman in the pilot with what he would become by series 2. He essentially transforms from a dopey yet competent constable into a man who is an older and thinner (but far nicer and uncorrupt) version of Chief Wiggum.
  • Henpecked Husband: Gary to Yvonne (It's no wonder he decided to stay with Phoebe in the end) and Ron to Stella.
  • Historical In-Joke: Jack the Ripper was never caught because he was a time traveller who got run over in modern-day London while fleeing from Gary.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Ron does this while trying to impress the people of 1940s Britain; lampshaded by Reg.
  • Identical Grandson: Reg has an identical grandson in the nineties and an identical grandfather in the Victorian era, and Ron has an identical grandfather in the forties. There's also a Victorian woman identical to Yvonne (who turns out to be famous real-life music-hall singer Marie Lloyd), who is presumably an ancestor of hers.
  • I Have Nothing to Say to That: Gary tries to warn Phoebe about the dangers of smoking, but she retorts that it's silly to worry about smoking when a bomb could fall on your house at any moment. Gary has no answer to this.
  • Jack the Ripper: Appears in one episode where Gary accidentally time-travels the wrong way. Turns out his mysterious disappearance was because he, too, was a time traveller, and got run over in modern London.
  • Karma Houdini: Stella. She was continually abusive to Ron, cheated on him, and then blackmailed him into accepting a one-sided divorce (following an altercation with Stella's fancy man when Ron came home early) that ended up leaving him without his money, home or business.
  • Killed Offscreen: Phoebe's father (a main character in Series One) was killed in a bomb blast between the first and second series.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: Part of the entertainment troupe in "How I Won the War".
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In "Have You Ever Seen A Dream Walking" Gary gets a dose of this in a nightmare, in which Phoebe, Yvonne, Ron and Reg all confront him together and call him out for his treatment of them.
  • A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll": Gary, a pianist, would play songs from the future and claim he had written them himself. By the end of the series, he has laid claim to most of The Beatles' back catalogue. One of the show's cleverer aspects was that they were sometimes arranged in a more contemporary style, such as a jazz version of California Dreamin'.
  • The Load: Arguably, Yvonne. Gary clearly wasn't happy in the 90s to begin with and most of his problems stem from trying to juggle his life with her and his life with Phoebe. One could argue that the fact Gary keeps going back to the past is a clear indication that it's the only place he actually is happy and all his problems stem from his time period.
    • It's also worth noting that apart from Ron, we never see Gary engage with any other friends in his present. Compare that with the numerous relationships he forges in the 40s, which definitely signifies a lot about where Gary would rather be.
    • Even his relationship with Ron was only made in the first episode and probably wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for him travelling to the past to make Gary interesting and Ron necessary for printing 1940s currency.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Averted by Gary after he meets his daughter when he returns to the present in 2016; he decides against telling her who he is.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted. Many famous characters appear in the 1940s segments... but of course none of them are around to complain about their portrayal. In later series, Noël Coward was a recurring character and Clement Attlee appears in the final episode.
    • Also Robert Maxwell and George Formby.
  • Oh, Crap!: Gary, when Phoebe and Yvonne come face to face in "When Two Worlds Collide".
  • Pass the Popcorn: In one of Gary's nightmares, he's confronted by both Yvonne and Phoebe whilst Ron also calls him out on his behaviour towards him. The women then demand Gary choose between them while Ron sits watching and tucks into a bag of popcorn.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Invoked by Gary in the 2016 episode when he repairs the television. Subverted in that it stops working again ten seconds later.
  • Politically Correct History: Subverted in the episode The Yanks are Coming. Two black American soldiers find themselves the victims of racism at the hands of a Southern sergeant. Also notable in the kind but surprised reactions of Phoebe and Reg, who had never seen black men in the East End before.
  • Portal Slam: Gary finds himself trapped in 1945 in the final episode, although in the 2016 episode the portal re-opens again and he is able to return to the present day.
  • Reality Ensues: For Gary in "We Don't Want To Lose You". If you go around wartime London claiming to be a spy, then eventually MI5 are going to take an interest in you.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "Goodnight Sweetheart" was a popular 1930s song by Ray Noble.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Reg delivers one to Gary (in a dream):
    Reg: Really? Really? That's a laugh coming from you. Nothing real about you as far as I'm concerned, Gary Sparrow. You're not really a spy are you? Or a talented songwriter? You're just a conman with a pocket full of counterfeit fivers. If I wasn't such an exceptionally stupid policeman I'd have run you in years ago!
  • Rule of Cool: The writers make no attempt to explain why only certain people can use the time portals or why they can be affected by outside influences such as lightning, bombs and rescuing future British Prime Ministers. Probably for the best.
    • This could be a case of Fridge Brilliance; the first two instances can be explained as the result of the time portal being hit with a large blast of energy (from lightning, or the bomb) temporarily destabilising its normal effect. In the last case, it was mentioned in an episode early in the final season that time agents from the future had identified Gary's time portal, but were not closing it, despite closing another portal nearby. Gary theorises after he finds that his portal had closed that he was originally sent back in 1993 to save Clement Atlee (the future prime minister) from assassination, owing to the fact that it was later on that same night that the portal had vanished.
  • Sadistic Choice: Gary has a nightmare about Yvonne and Phoebe forcing him to choose between them.
  • San Dimas Time / Meanwhile, in the Future...: Rarely used but occasionally crop up, for example in the last episode where Gary's message to Ron and Yvonne in the future appears as he writes it in the past.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Gary makes one to Yvonne. Naturally, she doesn't believe him.
    I wear these when I go back to 1940 to see my girlfriend, and I take her chocolate, and cigarettes and stockings because she can't get them in the war!
  • Sequel Hook: The 2016 episode ends with Gary able to travel between the past and the present again and planning to resume his dual life, setting up potential future episodes.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Ron sometimes talks like this. As Gary puts it, "He never uses one word when ten will do."
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: In the present, Gary is upset to discover that his grown-up son Michael has fallen on hard times and is selling some of Phoebe's belongings. Gary therefore returns to the past and arranges for Michael to receive the royalties from a song he "wrote" in the 1940s. When Gary meets Michael again, he finds that the money helped him and he is now more prosperous and married with children.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In one episode Gary ends up meeting the Resistance in Occupied France, who are represented by a woman who dresses like Michelle from 'Allo 'Allo! and uses her Catch-Phrase "Listen very carefully, I will say zis only wurnce".
    • An episode with a bank manger called Mainwaring and a chief clerk named Wilson who act identically to the characters of the same name in Dad's Army. Gary even sings the show's theme song to Mr. Mainwaring, getting a bemused reaction. Subverted when the bank's tea boy shows up; Gary asks if he's called Pike, but his actual name turns out to be Major.note 
    • Gary claims his boss at MI5 is called M and he has a secretary named Miss Moneypenny.
  • Temporal Paradox: Gary encounters this when passing off later popular music as his own. He points out that if he takes the credit for writing a Stevie Wonder song in order to make money from it, then Stevie Wonder will never write the song, meaning Gary won't be able to steal it from him in the first place.
  • The Slow Path: Hinted at in a couple of episodes. Used by Gary a few times to send messages to himself in the future.
  • Time Travel Romance: Gary, a down-on-his-luck TV repairman in a failing marriage, discovers a time portal which leads to 1940s London. Once there, he meets a young woman and they fall in love. And now suddenly there's no need to go through the trauma of a divorce in the 1990s, because he can have two separate lives...
  • Time Travelers are Spies: Gary gets mistaken for a spy in an early episode. He manages to convince his captors that he's a British spy.
  • Title Drop: Gary to Phoebe as they fall asleep on their wedding night.
  • Too Dumb to Live and Cloudcuckoolander: Reg Deadman.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The time portal has this effect on Gary. In the present, he's just a lowly TV repairman in a drab marriage. In the 1940s, aided by his knowledge of the future and some forged banknotes, he's wealthy, a spy, a singer-songwriter and a playwright, and has access to luxury items which were scarce in wartime Britain.
    • Of course, once the time portal closes in the final episode, Gary loses his endless supply of future-forged banknotes and his access to modern luxury items. Still, his future knowledge should allow him to make enough money to live off for the rest of his life. This is a possible explanation as to how the Royal Oak came back into their possession by the 1960s.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: When the new actress for Yvonne took over in Series 4, Yvonne became considerably more bitter and demeaning towards Gary in comparison to Series 1-3 Yvonne.
  • Two-Timer Date: Gary has one with Yvonne and Phoebe in "Who's Taking You Home Tonight?".
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Phoebe hides a stolen watch after Gary gives her a Wonderbra from the nineties.
  • World War II
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": In the past, Gary has a lazy and overweight dog named Ron.
  • Write Back to the Future

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