As Time Goes By – British Television Series

I had not planned to write an entry about this delightfully clever British sitcom because it has been running on local PBS stations since… well… almost forever! (Also, it is not a mystery series.) I have a feeling everyone knows about As Time Goes By already. But I have gotten several letters from Cozy Mystery readers who have urged me to get the word out to those of you who may have never watched the show.

First of all, let me say As Time Goes By is one of my husband’s and my favorite shows. It is a character-driven sitcom with very humorous  and touching dialog. I truly cannot adequately express what a good show this is. There is only one “negative thing” I can say about the show, which isn’t really negative, simply a word of caution: If you are not familiar with the show, you really need to watch it in its correct chronological order. I tried the show years ago by simply “dropping in” on it after watching another PBS show (Keeping Up Appearances) and I did not like As Time Goes By at all. This is why I am urging you to watch the shows in the correct chronological order.

As I said, it is a character-driven show. To enjoy the show, you really need to know the characters. When I tried to watch it out of sequence, I did not like the character who turned out to be my favorite character of the show. (I hope that makes sense!) I thought he was a caricature of a total idiot. Once I got to know him (Alistair) from the beginning, as the show introduced him and kept adding to him, I couldn’t wait until he appeared on the screen.

There are five characters in the show. The two main characters are Jean (Judi Dench) and Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer). They are two “more mature” people who were once each other’s first loves – many years ago. They meet quite by chance – and get reacquainted with each other.

Jean runs a secretarial agency which specializes in temporary placements. Jean’s adult daughter Judith (Moira Brooks) and Sandy (Jenny Funnell) work for the agency, and eventually move into Jean’s and Lionel’s home. (I know this sounds contrived, but it really does make sense if you follow the story line chronologically.)

The fifth character is Alistair (Philip Bretherton). As I mentioned, he turned out to be my favorite character in the series. Alistair is a very rich playboy who endears himself to the family. They (sort of) adopt him into the fold, even though he really doesn’t have much in common with any of them. (Did I mention he is VERY rich?)

As Time Goes By progresses through the years, and follows all five of the characters as their lives go through many different changes. I strongly recommend this very British sitcom. Great acting, terrific scripts, and delightful characters.

For more Cozy viewing ideas, click on my Cozy Mystery TV & Movies page.


  1. Lexie says

    Was one of my Mom’s favorite shows, we often watched it together. Brilliant acting. I found her a book about the series years ago on Amazon and the DVD’s are now available

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Lexie, I’m glad you have fond memories of this show. My daughter and I watch a lot of British shows together, too.

  2. Donna says

    This is one of my favorites, too! I agree that the first few episodes may seem a bit contrived, but it quickly becomes a wonderfully unique, very human show – not typical sitcom humor at all. That’s probably why it’s still so popular today. Every time my local PBS stations tries to drop As Time Goes By (and Are You Being Served – another favorite), people protest and they have to schedule it again!

      • Danna - cozy mystery list says

        Donna and BB, I’ll have to revisit Are You Being Served. Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe were beyond funny.

        • Donna says

          Danna, I love ’em all! Keeping Up Appearances, Last of the Summer Wine, The Old Guys, never get tired of watching those shows.

    • Billie says

      Alas, we are undergoing an experiment to go without tv for awhile. I would watch this series again even though I have seen it over and over. I’d like to thank whoever suggested the Phryne Fisher series via Netflix. After I had gotten all the available discs, it started being shown on the local PBS tv and we are slowing making our way thru Last of the Summer Wine via Netflix. The local PBS channel was also showing Father Brown with “Mr. Weasley” as the good Father.

      • Danna - cozy mystery list says

        Billie, good luck with your “no TV” experiment. I guess it means you’ll be enjoying Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries via books.

      • Billie says

        Did I mention Last of the Summer Wine? It is the longest running BBC comedy. We are watching it on Netflix. I watched Martin too, but it took several viewings to really like it. I do miss PBS.

  3. says

    Oh how could anyone not be familiar with “As Time Goes By”? But of course, if someone isn’t, and they find it, after this post… Wonderful.

    We also have great fun watching “Keeping Up Appearances.”


  4. alfred says

    HI Danna this was the very first show that I have bought all the dvds to. I had been watching it a while and knew I wanted the whole series so that is what I did. I also watch Keeping Up Appearances every Saturday night when they’re on. Have you seen the blooper reel over at it is hilarious just put in their title and bloopers at the end. My favorite episode was the one where Jean thinks Lionel is going deaf so he goes to the ear doctor and comes home with a bag that he says they had a lot of wax in his ears and they syringed it out and gave it to him as a souvenir and throws it up on the counter only thing it is Sausages. I crack up every time I see that eppy.

  5. Elizabeth says

    Last month I watched the entire series of As Time Goes By in chronological order thanks to my Amazon Prime account. Agree that you need to watch it in order to understand the later nuances of the show. Delightful series.

  6. alfred says

    Danna the episode I am referring to is episode #48 called Pardon. It is something and the old folks home is a funny one too.

  7. says

    This was a “brilliant,” (as the British say) series. The one liners and wacky situations make for great television – even years after they were produced. Also love The Vicar of Dibley with Dawn French. Where are the American equivalents of these shows?

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Good question, Susan. I don’t think we have any shows that come close to these timeless British shows.

  8. Diana says

    Danna, I love this British comedy series. I began watching it years ago. I never get tired of it even though I have seen it over and over. I love Judi Dench. You are right that it is better to watch the series from the beginning.

  9. Ann H says

    My all-time favorite!!! I think I am on my third or fourth go ’round with this series and I must totally agree that one needs to watch it in chronological order. I had the same experience years ago – just dropping in – and “was not amused”. But, thank goodness, I went back and am now a huge fan of all the characters. Who can outdo Judi Dench?

  10. says

    This is a series I adore watching over and over again! Even the side characters are wonderful (remember Mrs. Flack?). I’ve loved Geoffrey Palmer since Butterflies, and Judi Dench is awesome – I was delighted when she was such a central part of the latest James Bond. (BTW, this is why I love your blog – you always know to write about the things I love to read about!)

  11. Regina V says

    Danna I never found that show very interesting, but now with your recommendation and the others’, I will try it. My two absolute favorite British shows were “Are You Being Served” and “Keeping Up Appearances”. I loved the humor of Are You with its many double entendres. Who can forget Mrs. Slocombe’s pussy or Mr. Humphrey’s camp actions. One of my happiest days occurred when I went to spend a week with my grandchildren in CO and they wanted to watch the show. We had a ball watching every one of them that week. Needless to say, Hyacinth’s Mrs Bouquet not Bucket is still engraved in my mind.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Regina, when you mentioned “Mrs. Bouquet not Bucket” I immediately envisioned Patricia Routledge rolling her eyes upward!

  12. Angela says

    I love British sit-coms! As Time Goes By is one of my favorites!! And check out The Vicar of Dibley if you haven’t, it’s hilarious!! And Keeping Up Appearances of course!

  13. Joan says

    Have you watched Midsomer Murders? They are a bit cozy, and actually have a murder or three every week. They are currently running on our local PBS station. DCI Barnaby and DS Jones solve many a crime weekly. Lots of villagers acting suspiciously and they sort out the ‘bad guys and gals’.

      • Angela says

        Talk about British cozies.. Don’t forget Rosemary and Thyme about 2 women lansdacapers who are always stumbling upon murder… My favorite! And of course Hamish Macbeth based on the M. C. Beaton books and starring Robert Carlisle, and check out New Tricks too if you haven’t, about a group of aging former police detectives who get called back up to solve cold cases…

  14. Sheila says

    I love watching As Time Goes By and Keeping up Appearance. I also watched Butterflies and The Vicar of Dibley. Another British series I watched and enjoyed very much was “Are You Being Served”.

  15. apple says

    I’ve watched and rewatched all those British comedies that are shown on our local PBS channel. As Time Goes By really grows on you. My absolute favorite though, is Last of the Summer Wine. Since I can’t get it on PBS, or BBC America, we rely on Netflixs. I started watching Downtown in the middle and then want back to the beginning, never saw the original Upstairs Downstairs, but now watch the new one. Please let me recommend Call the Midwives which is based on the memoirs of an actual midwife during the time period. And I apologize, I have written her name down and mislaid it.

  16. Patty H says

    I too love watching As Time Goes By. I believe this is the 3rd time I am watching it from the beginning. I especially enjoyed the reunion shows. Ballykissangel is one of my all time Irish county life favorites. Has anyone seen DCI Banks which stars the actor who played Father Peter Clifford who was written out of Ballykissangel?

  17. says

    I love As Time Goes By and I agree with you about Alistair, unless you’re with him from the beginning he can be annoying. I got the beginning of the series from the library.

  18. linda c says

    Danna, I have really gotten hooked on ‘Downton Abbey.” This is a great series. I had never seen the show until this year. I had only heard about it from watching one of the morning TV news shows. The reason I watched was because of Maggie Smith. I wanted to see if she was just as feisty in “Downtown Abbey” as she was in Harry Potter. She is! I love Maggie Smith when she plays a British role. I watched her in another movie sometime in the last year or so where I didn’t care for her at all. I can’t remember the TV show because I only watched about 15 minutes of the thing. But I do enjoy this “Downton Abbey.’ I especially like the actors and actresses but also the time period that it is set in. Now when I read the books that are set in England at that time period I can have an image of the clothes, hairstyles, the goings on with the upstairs and the downstairs people and the interchanges between the two groups. Wish I would have known about the series before this. Believe it or not, I watched “Downton Abbey” instead of the football game between the yukkie Baltimore Ravens and the more yukkie New England Patriots!!

    • Julia says

      I too am a big “Downton Abbey” fan, and a longtime Maggie Smith fan. I found her very amusing in the theatrical release of “Evil Under the Sun,” with Peter Ustinov. She plays the hotel owner, Daphne, and although I don’t recall the part being all that much in the book, as usual she owns any scene she’s in. :)

  19. popcycle says

    This show ties with first place I Love Lucy as my favorite sitcoms. The characters become your friends as you get into the series. Love it!!!

  20. Mel says

    Besides Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis,& the BEST SHERLOCK EVER, with Benedict Cumberbatch, even BBC commercials are better than tv here.

  21. Val H says

    It’s really good to hear how much you enjoy British sitcoms and mystery series. Many of your favourites are mine, too and I have happy memories of “As Time Goes By” and “Keeping Up Appearances”. Keep up the good work on your brilliant website and thanks for all the book recommendations!

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Thank you for the very kind words, Val H. It looks like a lot of us enjoy the same shows, doesn’t it?

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Gale S, As Time Goes By really is a delightful show. (I am so glad I finally decided to watch it from the beginning.)

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