UK, BBC (Alomo Productions), Sitcom, colour, 1993
Starring: Nicholas Lyndhurst, Michelle Holmes, Dervla Kirwan
When interviewed by Radio Times at the time of Get Back, writers Marks and Gran were asked about their next project. Gran replied, 'It's a love story between a guy of 30 and a woman of 80 who might be dead.' Although this seemed flippant it was a perfectly accurate answer. With Goodnight Sweetheart, the writers crossed the period-piece flavour of their Shine On Harvey Moon with the contemporary domestic setting of their drama Love Hurts (BBC1, 1992-94), a combination achieved by the simple expediency of introducing time-travel into the mix.
Nicholas Lyndhurst was cast as Gary Sparrow, a TV repairman whose marriage to Yvonne is in the doldrums. Out in London looking for a business address one day, he wanders down an alley, Duckett's Passage, and finds himself - though of course he does not immediately realise it - in the London of 1940. In a street-corner pub, which at first he mistakes for a 1940s themed hostelry, he meets Phoebe, the landlord's attractive daughter, and they are immediately smitten with one another. Returning through the same alley brings Gary back to the present, and he discovers that he can enter 1940s London the same way at any time. So begins his double life.
As the weeks pass, Gary begins a fiery 'past' romance with Phoebe (who, as her father Eric constantly reminds her, is engaged, albeit reluctantly, to a serviceman fighting overseas) while somehow managing to hold his 'present' marriage together. Yvonne knows nothing of her husband's time-traversing escapades yet she is aware that the lame excuses to cover his absences mean that something 'funny' is going on. The only person in whom Gary confides his secret is his best friend Ron, who becomes increasingly embroiled in the expanding tissue of lies that Gary creates to allay his wife's fears. A printer by trade, Ron spots the financial opportunities of Gary's time-travelling and gets him to acquire records and other items worth big money to collectors in the 1990s. In return for these favours, Ron forges 1940s papers so that Gary can move about in wartime London without suspicion.
Back in the past, Gary weaves a similar web of lies to explain the tell-tale idiosyncrasies and anachronisms that mark him out, to them, as an odd fish. Firstly he convinces Phoebe that he is working undercover for the government, a fib that neatly accounts for many anomalies, including his non-enrolment in the forces and his knowledge of future wartime events. Secondly, he claims to have spent a long time in the USA, so that whenever he accidentally produces modern-day gadgets and devices, years ahead of their time, he claims they are commonplace in America. This explanation usually satisfies the somewhat naive bar-drinkers but if a particular device, like a Walkman, is obviously revolutionary, Gary falls back on excuse one, claiming that it is a top-secret prototype. At the same time, he makes a great impression as an entertainer, playing and singing songs from the 1960s and beyond (especially Beatles hits) and claiming them as his own.
As the series progressed, Gary becomes increasingly obsessed with his life in the past and manages to cover his frequent absences by creating a successful 1940s memorabilia business, which purportedly sends him away on trips. At home, Gary's marriage to Yvonne has survived despite all the problems. At various times he debates whether to give up one of his lifestyles and commit himself completely to the other, but the lure of living in both worlds is too strong. Eventually, to complicate matters still further, he marries Phoebe, she gives birth to his son, Michael, and they move into a swish Mayfair apartment with Noel Coward as a neighbour. (He was played by David Benson, whose one-man stage-show about - and as - Kenneth Williams had won deserved acclaim.)
The series ended on a bittersweet note with Gary stuck in the past, the portal inexplicably closing on VE Day. Ron is left to explain the whole fantastic story to Yvonne, who is distraught when she realises she will not see her husband again. Gary feels sorry for Yvonne but accepts that his life is now totally with Phoebe and Michael.
Yet another Marks and Gran creation named after a song title (following Shine On Harvey Moon, Roll Over Beethoven, Love Hurts and Get Back), Goodnight Sweetheart proved both durable and funny, providing the writers with another monster hit, unusual not only for its fantasy premise but for the fact that its lead character was a practising adulterer. The casting of the likeable Nicholas Lyndhurst was an important factor in the public's acceptance of, and empathy with, such a philanderer. Dervla Kirwan made a bewitching 1940s beauty and Victor McGuire was consistently good as Gary's grumbling but loyal friend, Ron. But Michelle Holmes, as Gary's modern-day wife Yvonne, had the toughest and most thankless role - she had to be convincing as a character pleasant enough for a nice guy like Gary to marry and stay with, yet one who couldn't be too nice lest the audience be angry with him for his adultery.
Michelle Holmes and Dervla Kirwan both left after the third series and were replaced by Emma Amos and Elizabeth Carling. The viewing figures did not suffer and some nine million tuned in to see Gary become a fully fledged bigamist in the fourth series, when he married Phoebe; and more than eight million tuned in to the final episode to see how the storyline would be resolved.
Researched and written by Mark Lewisohn.
Number of episodes: 57
Length: 30 mins