As Time Goes By (BBC1, 1992-2002, 2005)
This is a sitcom that ended up running for over a decade, usually being shown in the Sunday evening slot, and always seemingly being followed by Antiques Roadshow (I suppose that even now when I hear the theme music I think this will be shown next, or that it’s time for a bath), but this definitely found a durable formula with viewers.
The idea is that Lionel is someone who has returned to England after working in Kenya for many years, and he now wishes to write his memoirs. Whilst trying to organise this, he decides to hire a secretary, and he soon discovers that he is already familiar with her mother Jean. They had been rather fond of each other many years ago, but hadn’t been in contact for 38 years by this point.
When a name from the distant past unexpectedly walks back into your life, can you take a second chance, with the benefit of being older and wiser? It is fair to say that the on-off romance between Jean and Lionel continued to the point where viewers were very keen to follow the situation, and hoped that they would come to the right decision and eventually marry.
Other regular characters included Lionel’s literary agent Alistair, who he always had trouble with, and various other family members and friends who had complicated love lives too. But what really made As Time Goes By stand out were the main cast members. Even though they were having successful award-winning film careers by this point, they always managed to add a touch of class to the sitcom genre.
Jean was played by Judi Dench, and Lionel by Geoffrey Palmer. And well, I always felt that Palmer was worth watching because he had a terrific voice, and by this point he had long-since perfected his curmudgeonly but charming style. Whether it was in other sitcoms like Butterflies or Fairly Secret Army, you couldn’t go wrong him really (let’s not think about those “Slam In The Lamb” adverts for now though).
And all of the episodes were written by Bob Larbey, who by this point was something of a comedy veteran. There were 67 episodes of As Time Goes By in nine series, they have all been released on DVD and are still repeated fairly frequently. There were also three series on BBC Radio 2 in the late-90s that continued the story. After the end in 2002, a few years later there some reunion specials in the Only Fools And Horses-style where things were finished off for good.