As Time Goes By Viewers’ Guide.


Okay, this is the viewers’ guide I was born to write. I have probably seen the entire run of the series “As Time Goes By” at least half a dozen times–my local PBS station has been running in nearly continuously for the past twenty years and even though I could watch it that way on any given Saturday night, I’ve also watched it on YouTube.

Yes, I know, I have a problem.

But really. Have you ever seen this show? It’s so, so great. It’s deliciously British and wonderfully romantic and it stars Dame Judi Dench. The basic premise is this: Jean Pargetter and Lionel Hardcastle bump into one another in London, many decades after they first met and fell in love during the Korean War. Jean worked as a nurse in England during that conflict, and Lionel was eventually posted to Korea, where they lost touch (with Lionel’s first letter to Jean never reaching her, Jean didn’t have a return address to reply to him at, and he thought she was not longer interested*). When they meet for this second time, Jean is a widow with an adult daughter, and Lionel is divorced and newly back from Kenya, where he ran a coffee plantation for many years.

Even though they are both, ahem, advanced in years, their second courtship has all the angst and hilarity of a relationship among teenagers–will they or won’t they? It takes a surprisingly long (luckily for the viewer) time to find out.

This show also features a very satisfying supporting cast; Lionel’s publisher (Lionel has written a memoir, titled, scintillatingly, My Life in Kenya) Alistair, who becomes an eventual love interest for Jean’s daughter Judith, is one of my favorite British characters of all time.

Years aired: 1992-2005

Episodes and seasons: 67 episodes over the course of 10 seasons (30-minutes episodes). Season 10 consisted of a two-part “Reunion Special,” with each part running for an hour.

Christmas episodes? Actually, no. That’s interesting. There’s a lot of weddings in this series but no Christmas specials.

Primary Stars: Judi Dench as Jean Pargetter, Geoffrey Palmer as Lionel Hardcastle, Moira Brooker as Judith, Philip Bretherton as Alistair, Jenny Funnell as Sandy

Creator and primary writers: Colin Bostock-Smith (creator), Bob Larbey

Setting: London (urban)

First aired on: BBC One

So, you’re out of As Time Goes By? Watch this next, luv:

Last Tango in Halifax. A recent program from Sally Wainwright, the writer and creator of “Happy Valley,” except it actually is much happier. Wainwright based this story of young sweethearts who have a misunderstanding, marry others, and eventually rekindle their romance with one another in their “mature” years, after the deaths of their respective spouses. Starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, whose love is all the stronger for all the intervening years of life which they didn’t get to share together.

A Fine Romance. Judi Dench was no stranger to playing a wry older woman who’s still up for romance when she starred in “As Time Goes By”; in this earlier series, she played a similar role opposite her real-life husband. I never found this one as sweet or funny as “As Time Goes By” (in parts it’s mostly just awkward, as both lead characters can’t quite seem to decide if they really like each other or not), but let’s face it, Dame Judi is compulsively watchable in anything. This series was also written by Bob Larbey, who wrote much of “As Time Goes By”; also of interest might be another series penned by Larbey, “Brush Strokes,” featuring a gently Casanova-like house painter named Jacko. “Brush Strokes” is dated but features humor very similar to that found in “As Time Goes By.” (It’s also a bit harder to find but can be tracked down if you look.)

Coupling: Okay, “Coupling” is not like “As Time Goes By” at all. It features an ensemble cast and modern love; nearly everyone in the group of six friends ends up sleeping with each other. But the writing is so good and so witty and the show actually ends up being quite romantic in its own way. Kudos also to this show for recovering, in its fourth season, from the exit of one of its most enjoyable actors; this is also one of the few shows I’ve ever seen that deals with pregnancy in the context of a relationship (and is also hilarious).

To the Manor Born. Okay, this one is even more a “classic” than “As Time Goes By” (read: older). In 20 episodes that ran from 1979 to 1981, the two very charismatic leads, Penelope Keith (as the former lady and now widow of the manor house, Audrey fforbes-Hamilton) and Peter Bowles (as the nouveau riche businessman, Richard DeVere, who buys the manor after Audrey has to vacate it) fought and outmaneuvered and smoldered with one another. Totally awesome and easily binge-watchable.

*Many thanks to D. Dillard in the comments for correcting the error in my original post (I thought Jean’s letter to Lionel got lost, but it was the other way ’round).


  1. I loved “To the Manor Born” — it was one of the first British series I got totally hooked on way back when it originally aired! Peter Bowles is still around; I keep seeing him in various roles, but I have no idea whatever became of Penelope Keith, one of the funniest people I’ve seen. Actually, all the characters in that series were hilarious, especially the butler and the best friend.

    Did you ever have the misfortune to see the American version of “Coupling”? I have no idea how it lasted even for the few episodes it did. Such a terrible knock-off of the the far-superior British series. (By the way, one of the guys from the British series was one of the leads in “Smash” a couple of years ago.)

    And thanks for the other suggested series — I will look for them!

    • Cardo–Oh, I agree. LOVE “To the Manor Born” and have consider it prime “comfort viewing.” That had a good Christmas episode too, if I remember correctly–I’ll have to add that to the holiday viewing list next year! Penelope Keith was also hilarious in “Good Neighbors”–have you ever seen that?

      The American “coupling” was a travesty and we will not speak of it. Jack Davenport, on the other hand, one of the stars of “Coupling” and a lead in “Smash”? We can totally talk about him. Think he’s very funny and absolutely adore his voice. He also had a small but meaty role in the early Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I wanted Kiera to end up with him rather than with Orlando Bloom!

  2. I love “To the Manor Born” and was quite addicted to “A Fine Romance”, but for some reason have never seen “As Time Goes By.”

    And TEN seasons? I don’t know whether to be thrilled or terrified.

  3. Hapax,
    LOVE To the Manor Born. Have seen it three times and am feeling the need to watch it again. Did you see the 25th anniversary special they did in 2007 or somewhere thereabouts? Not as good as the original but still fun.

    Come on, ten seasons, you can do it. They’re only 25-minute episodes. I think you’ll like Geoffrey Palmer as a lovely curmudgeon and of course Dame Judi. Trust me–once you’re hooked ten seasons isn’t going to feel nearly long enough.

  4. Hi, I will visit London in August and i would like to walk a quiet neighborhood like the one in this series. Can you tell me where i might find it?

    Thanks in Advance

  5. Lionel and Jean lost touch because Lionel’s first letter to Jean never reached her. She didn’t have a return address to write to, he didn’t hear back from her, so he thought she’d lost interest. The letter comes up in a later episode, but I won’t give it away for those who haven’t seen it.

  6. D Dillard:
    Thank you so much for the correction! I’m off to fix that in the original post next–I really appreciate your catching that.

    The letter from Lionel does come up again–in the best possible way.

  7. Okay, here’s a weird trivia search. In Jean’s kitchen, she has a tea set on a stand. The stand holds the tea pot and the cups and saucers. WHERE CAN I BUY ONE LIKE THIS???? I’ve been searching off and on and have trouble finding this kind of set at all, much less one that looks like the one used on the show. It’s a blue and white china/ceramic set. The stand is crucial.

    • Lisa, that is a specific question but I can respect it, because I actually covet Jean’s entire living room–it looks so comfy.
      I can’t actually picture the tea set/stand to which you are referring, but you’re right, it seems hard to find it online, for sale or otherwise. This is about as close as I can get, and it is stoneware, not ceramic:
      That said, doing a Google search and then looking at image results is the only way I can think of to find something that specific. Maybe look for other terms, like ceramic tea stand, then add “blue and white” to narrow results? And good luck to you!!

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