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As Time Goes By follows the somewhat unusual love story of Jean and Lionel, two former lovers who reunite unexpectedly 38 years after their romance during the Korean War. In the opening episode, Lionel has returned to England from a coffee plantation in Kenya and is seeking a secretary to help with his autobiography. He requests one from the "Type for You" secretarial agency, not realizing that it is run by his old flame Jean, who by this time is widowed and has a grown daughter, Judith. After Lionel asks Judith on a date and the two main characters finally meet, Lionel and Jean both realize the other's identity. We find out that their relationship ended not from any loss of affection, but as the result of the post office losing a letter that Lionel had sent to Jean. Although they part on good terms never intending to meet again, they are thrown back together once again and eventually fall in love.
Although they are eventually back where they started, Lionel and Jean's romance gets off to a slow start, with each being the object of youthful affection during the first series, he from her daughter Judith and she from his publisher Alistair. At the conclusion of the first series, Lionel and Jean share their first kiss (again), by series three -- after some hilarious miscommunications -- Lionel has moved into Jean's house, and they marry the following series. Along the way, Lionel writes a mini-series about their romance for American television which fails spectacularly (not through any fault of his own), Jean opens a second branch of her secretarial agency and eventually retires, and the two acquire a country house from Lionel's somewhat unconventional parents.
The series also focuses also on the adventures of Judith, Jean's daughter, Sandy, her secretary who eventually comes to live with them, and Alistair, Lionel's wealthy and flamboyant publisher. The three "young people", as they are sometimes called, provide much preoccupation for Jean, who enjoys managing their love lives, and much hilarity for the audience. Judith and Alistair, after being on and off for nine years, finally get married in the final series of the show. Sandy, who moves in with the Hardcastle/Pargetter clan after a bad break-up, starts dating a policeman named Harry, whom she eventually accompanies to Canada. Adding extra sparkle to the show are Lionel's father and stepmother Rocky and Madge, an older couple, though in their 80s, constantly remaining young at heart, and their housekeeper Mrs. Bale, a Mrs. Danvers-esque figure who is somewhat obsessed with the shipping forecast.
The series lasted from January, 1992 to December, 2005. It consists of nine seasons of 30 minute episodes and two reunion specials. Came twenty-ninth in Britains Best Sitcom.
- Adaptation Decay: The adaptation of Lionel's book is an in-universe example.
- Apologises a Lot: In one episode, Sandy dates a guy who is always apologising, sometimes preemptively just in case something goes wrong. She leaves him when she realises this is an aspect of a fetish he has.
- Beta Couple: Rocky and Madge function as the Beta Couple in the beginning of the series, bringing to the forefront Lionel and Jean's concerns that its too late for them to fall in love and get married. Indeed, it is at Rocky and Madge's wedding that the two decide to live together. After Lionel and Jean's marriage, however, Judith and Alistair are the primary Beta Couple, and Jean spends much of her time managing their on-again, off-again relationship.
- British Brevity: (Sort of) Each series is only about seven episodes long, but there are nine series(ten if you include the series 10 specials.
- Brought Down to Normal: In one episode Alistair's publishing company collapses and he has to cope with living on the same level as the rest of the cast. In the end, he remembers he forgot one of his regional stations and still has a million pounds or so to build back up from (which is essentially treated as a Reset Button).
- Cassandra Truth: When Lionel agrees (very reluctantly) to treat Stephen in his fake-capacity as a psychiatrist (Jean had told her in-laws that he was one in an attempt to change the subject), he breaks down and tells Stephen that he's not a psychiatrist. Stephen responds by taking this to be some sort of healing method and declares "If you're not at the top of your profession, Lionel, I'd like to know who is."
- Catch Phrase:
- Alistair has a few, including "Hey, hey..."
- Rocky's "Rock on!"
- Mrs. Bale: "(Lunch/Dinner) will be served in _____ and a half minutes"
- Cool Old Guy: Lionel's father Rocky definitely qualifies - he enjoys to "boogie" at the Hard Rock Cafe, frequently travels the world, and is constantly encouraging the gang to "Rock on!"
- Cool Old Lady: Rocky wouldn't be half as cool, however, without Madge, his country-singing, drum-playing wife, whom he marries in Series Three.
- Covers Always Lie: My Life In Kenya", Lionel's (dull) book about running a coffee plantation, ends up with a cover featuring him holding a rifle with a beautiful woman hanging onto his leg.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lionel is apt to make sarcastic comments, especially when everything around him (often from the intervention of Jean) is going to completely mad. Example:
"Compared to pushing a pea up Vesuvius with my nose, it was a delightful experience"
- It's not just Lionel. Something like 90% of the show's humor comes from this.
- Determined Widow: After her husband's death, Jean supports herself by starting a secretarial firm, even though she confesses to Lionel that if they had gotten married, she wouldn't have wanted to go into business.
- Happily Married: Rocky and Madge definitely fit the bill, traveling the world together from the Nashville to Tibet and never thinking they're too old for pretty much anything. The two are as devoted as they come and true soul-mates.
- Henpecked Husband: Jean's ex-sister-in-law Penny abuses her poor husband Stephen to no end. Because of Penny's incessant talking, Stephen can never get a word in edgewise, except in the episode when Lionel and Jean conspire to keep Stephen talking in order to avoid unpleasant personal inquiries from Penny. Ironically, their marriage is improved when Stephen pretends that he had an affair, but this is counteracted when he admits the truth.
- I Never Got Any Letters: Plays an integral part in Lionel and Jeans relationship.
- Informed Attractiveness: "Ms. Icecubes," the new woman at Type for You is described by all the characters as incredibly beautiful.
- Lies Snowball: This happens quite often, especially when Penny and Stephen come to visit. Consequently, it is never revealed to the troublesome couple that Lionel is not in fact a psychiatrist, and he even ends up counseling Stephen professionally. Other such lies include that Jean and Lionel met whilst in bumper cars at a fairground, Jean takes judo, Lionel sprained his ankle while playing golf, and that Jean and Lionel were sleeping together (before they were), which resulted in their first night together being spent at Penny and Stephen's house in the country.
- A lot of the humour stems from Jean's reflexive creation of a Lies Snowball and Lionel either refusing to play along or doing it under protest.
- The Nicknamer: Alistair constantly annoys Lionel by calling him "Ly" and Jean "Lovely Lady."
- Old Retainer: Mrs Bale, the housekeeper for the country house. She cared for Lionel when he was a boy. She also has aspects of The Jeeves, although her employers are not stupid.
- Only Sane Man: This often applies to Lionel, especially when Jean, Judith, and Sandy are participating in feminine behavior which is totally mysterious to him. For example, the episode in which Judy and Sandy are each trying to set the other up with Alistair.
- Orphaned Punchline: Lionel's "I got so excited I fell off my perch" joke that several people convince him to omit during his best man speech at his father's wedding. He says it's about a parrot with no legs, but the full joke is never revealed to the audience. Just as well since the humor is in the Chirping Crickets reaction it invariably receives.
- Picnic Episode: "The Picnic"
- Put on a Bus: A Real Life Writes the Plot example. The actress who plays Madge passed away before the reunion special.
- Real Song Theme Tune: "As Time Goes By", as sung by Joe Fagin.
- Sassy Secretary: Sandy is definitely sassy, often gossiping with Judy about Jean's PL (personal life), and offering sage dating advice to her boss. She gets away with it because of her warm heart and skill at her job.
"I'm only facetious on Fridays"
- Scrabble Babble: (Series 5, Episode 1) After disagreements over furzes and an attempt to change cottage to pottage, Jean places flug and claims it's Old English.
- Sexy Secretary: When Lionel hires a temp from Jean's second branch to help him revise his book, Jean is furious to learn that they have sent him a gorgeous secretary named Daisy. Although she is temporarily replaced by the distinctly non-sexy and endlessly talkative Gwen Flack, Daisy returns after Mrs. Flack relieves them all by going to live with her cousin in Dorset.
- Show Some Leg: This is hinted at rather innocently a number of times. In an early episode, Jean suggests that her daughter Judy cross her legs while apologizing to a man. She does this when speaking with Lionel, who notices, and asks her if she always does that.
- Show Within a Show: Lionel's miniseries "Just Two People" based on his romance with Jean is featured prominently in the show. The miniseries tanks (thanks to some terrible acting and re-writes), but not before we get to see portions of just how awful it is.
- So Beautiful It's a Curse: Lampshaded by Jean in "The Mini-Series".
Lionel: She seemed thoroughly nice.
Jean: Did she flop on the desk and cry "Why is my beauty such a curse?"
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Harry is played by a different actor in the reunion special.
- Trademark Favourite Food: Lionel's love of custard tarts.
- The Unpronounceable: "Mrs Thing", as she is inevitably referred to as because of this trope.
- Wacky Guy: Alistair is a millionaire publisher who is often completely incomprehensible to the other characters, using words like "hype," "mega," and "hey, hey, hey." He also seems to know just about everyone worth knowing, and often offers to help Lionel get dinner reservations or redecorate his apartment.
- Case in point, when Alistair overhears Judy wishing for a Knight in Shining Armor, he appears the next day in full armor, on horseback.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: During the third series, Lionel learns his father, Rocky, is terminally ill and is not expected to last out the year. He apparently got better, because eleven years later he was still around for the reunion special, and suffering no apparent effects from his illness.
- Although this could be logically explained if you assume the doctor on the other end of the line is the same doctor who made Mrs. Bale and Lionel feel absolutely rotten in one latter-season episode; if he could make Mrs. Bale feel like a used-up old rag (instead of feeling general exhaustion) and Lionel feel like he's on his last legs (instead of suffering from a minor illness), he could certainly convince Lionel that his father was close to his death bed (instead of going through a major but completely recoverable illness).
- Will They or Won't They?: There was some question as to whether Judy and Alistair would get together. The two ping-ponged from dating to fighting to just friends, and after one offer to move in and two proposals scattered throughout the series, the two finally tie the knot in the final season.