Goodnight Sweetheart (BBC1, 1993-1999)
Goodnight Sweetheart was a long-running and popular sitcom created by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who were also behind such memorable shows as The New Statesman and Birds Of A Feather. They also wrote the earliest episodes before other writers took over, and every episode was named after a popular wartime song. Although it was a mainstream show it did have a streak of weirdness to it.
Gary Sparrow (played by Nicholas Lyndhurst) is an ordinary TV repair man who has become bored with his job and his marriage to Yvonne. They live in Cricklewood (along with Spatz and Mike & Angelo, this is the third sitcom that I have written about that is set in Cricklewood!) and In the first episode he gets lost while trying to find an address.
Gary walks down a place called Ducketts Passage in Whitechapel and suddenly all is not what it seems. He enters a pub called The Royal Oak and realises that something rather strange has happened. It appears that he can travel through time has ended up in the year 1940 in the Blitz. Gary doesn’t realise this at first of course and I’ve always liked the look on his face when the penny drops and he realises the situation.
Gary meets a young barmaid called Phoebe and instantly falls in love with her. Phoebe was at first played by Dervla Kirwan who is actually Irish but her cockney accent was very impressive (and I feel qualified to know how well people can do cockney accents considering I am one myself). Gary also meets her father Eric and the rather dozy local policeman Reg.
Once Gary realises he can travel back and forth through time his life becomes much livelier but also rather more complicated. Yvonne is increasingly unconvinced by Gary’s explanations for his absences and realises he is up to something. He feels that he can only tell the truth to his friend Ron who runs his own printing business. Gary asks Ron to print documents for him so he can walk around wartime London without suspicion.
Gary also buys some old clothes so he can fit in more with the time but the Royal Oak regulars still think that there is something a little out-of-place about him. Of course he already knows what will happen in the war and he has to be wary not to bring things like mobile phones with him which are clearly decades ahead of their time. He also likes to entertain them with songs from the future which he claims he wrote himself.
As the series and the war progresses there are several plots including Gary wondering if Phoebe is still alive in the present day, opening his own memorabilia shop with all the wartime items he has collected and Yvonne going on to be a successful businesswoman. Eventually Gary married Phoebe meaning he is in the rather awkward situation of being a time-travelling bigamist. Well we’ve all been there haven’t we.
The time travel idea was also played around with in later episodes with odd things happening such as Phoebe visiting Gary in the present and meeting Yvonne, Ron being able to go back in time with Gary, a time traveller from the future turning up, and Gary and Phoebe befriending Noel Coward.
The two main actresses in the show also changed at the start of series 4 but it didn’t hurt the ratings which remained very good throughout the run. The show ended on a sad note when World War 2 finished in 1945 and the situation was resolved with the time portal suddenly closing and Gary being stranded.
After not thinking about the show for a while I watched a repeat run on ITV3 a few years back and because I enjoyed seeing it again I bought the DVD boxset. The reasons I like the show include the odd idea of time travel that was interestingly played around with, some funny moments and good performances from the cast including of course the dependable Nicholas Lyndhurst, and the idea that the wartime scenes were being played out very close to where I was born and live made it all the more involving. I have actually walked down the same street that Gary does when he enters the past.