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As Time Goes By

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As a dashing young second leftenant, Lionel Hardcastle met the love of his life in nurse Jean Pargetter. The two had a three-month love affair in 1953, interrupted when Lionel was dispatched to Korea. Dutifully, he wrote her, but when he never heard back, he assumed that she wanted to hear nothing more from him. As she never received a letter from him, she assumed that he didn't want to continue their relationship. Each lived a separate life, with Lionel spending years in Kenya. Thirty-eight years later, the two meet by chance and discover that Lionel's letter had been misdirected. With Lionel now divorced and Jean a widow, the two resume their relationship and discover happiness together.

As Time Goes By enjoyed an unusually long run, particularly for a BBC show: nine seasons. It can often be seen in this country on videocassette and DVD, as well as on PBS stations, where Niki and I first discovered it. The show is a gentle comedy, quite different from the sort of in-your-face tripe that often finds its way to the television screen. It's a simple look at the joy of everyday life among people who love one another.

Judi Dench plays the role of Jean Pargetter, a successful woman in the throes of running a growing business, a secretarial agency called Type For You. Helping her there is her daughter Judith (Moira Brooker), competent around the office but unsuccessful in her romantic adventures, being twice divorced early in life. After her second divorce, she moves back in with Jean to get on her feet again. Another Type For You office employee, Sandy (Jenny Funnell), finds herself in a fix and Jean offers her accommodations as well.

The men in this world are Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer), who calls Type For You to get a secretary to help him with his book, My Life in Kenya; Lionel's publisher, Alistair Deacon (Philip Bretherton); and, later in the series, Harry (David Michaels), a local constable.

Lionel is probably my favorite character of the lot. He has a certain old school charm, reserve, and formality that is a pleasure to observe. For all of that, though, he can be prickly (and was especially so in the earliest episodes), is more frequently simply sardonic, and is ultimately just realistic. I daresay that even the best of men can be a bit of a trial when under pressure. (Even so, they manage to control themselves, just as Lionel will become exasperated sometimes and will speak his mind, he doesn't lash out harshly.)

My Life in Kenya brings Lionel neither fame nor fortune. A miniseries for American television, Just Two People, is made based on the book, but it also fails to become a smash hit. All things considered, though, he does lead quite a comfortable existence—albeit in a house full of women, whom he struggles to understand, briefly, before giving up, even though he does manage to develop a warm affinity for each, as a husband devoted to Jean, a loving stepfather to Judith, and something of a father figure to Sandy.

At the other end of the reality scale is Alistair, a successful young businessman who dashes around the world, endlessly chattering away into his mobile phone. He plays fast and loose with the English language, going beyond colloquial speech; everything that he does is “all about flash and glam”—driving Lionel mad in the process. Early in the series, when Lionel and Jean are just getting reacquainted, Alistair takes a fancy to Jean, but his interests eventually steer to Judith in an on-and-off relationship that makes for a secondary thread that runs through the series. Alistair seeks to prove his worth through his net worth and Judith just wishes that he would stay still long enough to have a proper relationship.

Harry is a fanatic for sport, playing Rugby every Saturday and manages to make every single date with her somehow connected, either by going to a game, seeing a movie about an athlete, or some other variation. Sandy is initially supportive, but grows weary, thus making for some tension between the two as she struggles to see who he is beyond the fan and he struggles to reach out to her but lacking the words and fearing that he's unworthy of her, “just a copper.” Later in the series, this makes for a tertiary thread.

These characters are realistic and are well-developed; they have a level of depth that helps us to do more than watch what they do from week to week, but to identify with them, to sympathize with them, and to cheer them on as they live happy lives. On reflection, they're a lot like us, in many ways being people we'd like to know, making us eager to tune in again, just like we're checking in to be sure our friends are doing well.

It seems that we're going to have one more opportunity than we thought. The ninth season was in 2002, and was a conclusion to the series. While preparing this review, however, I discovered that the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) identifies a tenth series, dated this year. Some random chatter I found suggests that it is something of a reunion show (perhaps the series is one episode long). In any case, seeing them again is sure to be a pleasure.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-11-12 11:17 AM
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