British Colloquialisms used in As Time Goes By
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My wife and I love the old British comedy series, As Time Goes By, with Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, Philip Bretherton, Moira Brooker, and Jenny Funnell. This is a list of British slang, colloguialisms, terminology, cultural references, etc, from the shows various episodes. Some of these may be part of American English, but are probably not part of common usage. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any additions or corrections, please send them to me at .

A great site for information about As Time Goes By is ATGB Central

And I would like to thank Roger Fermor of the UK, who stumbled upon this web page very early on, and contributed a lot of useful information. When I refer to him below, I call him Rog, as he does.

1992The picnicChunteringMake complaining remarks or noises under one's breath. Also used in Branching Out 1994, Book Launch 1993. Thanks to Bonnie at - I thought it was chantering and could not find a definition.

According to Rog, it's derived from and often confused with chanter and its obvious religious associations. Local dialects pronounce differently so 'chunnering' is quite often heard.
1992The picnicDole queueUnemployment line. Dole payments are made to the unemployed who queue up for jobs/payout - the dole queue. Related to: to dole out money
1992The picnicRock cakesA chunky hard fruity buns. Jean said they bought these when they were dating in the 50's. Here's a recipe:
1993A weekend awaya squatContext: "Perhaps he lives in a..." Refers to living illegally on unoccupied land or in an unoccupied building, usually unknown to the owners.
1993A weekend awayQueueLine
1993A weekend away NarkyJudith to Lionel: you've gone all... Means irritable.
1993MisunderstandingPlaster, elastoplastAccording to Wikipedia, Elastoplast is a trademark name of a brand of sticking plaster (what we in the US would call bandage or tape) or medical dressing made by Beiersdorf. (They were manufactured by Smith and Nephew until 2000.)

The name has become a genericized trademark for "sticking plaster" in some Commonwealth countries, including the United Kingdom.
1993MisunderstandingsDodge-emsBumper cars
1993MisunderstandingswaistcoatVest. The British meaning of vest is undershirt. Lionel was confused by the reference to vest in the old American song 'Walking my baby back home'.
1993The book launchBrassed offAngry

According to Rog - In the days of horse power, when brass and horse brasses were very popular as ornaments, one of the weekly chores in the household was to clean and polish them. This was quite a skill because the cleansers used, left white smears if not 'buffed up' (polished) thoroughly. One of the sayings resulting from this, was, 'You've rubbed that up the wrong way!' and this led to 'rubbing someone up the wrong way' if you'd annoyed or displeased them. It soon followed that to 'Brass off' was to do likewise and so 'brassed off' became annoyed or displeased.
1993The book launchchatting me upflirting, hitting on, trying to pickup
1993The Book SigningCould I beg a cup of tea?Could I GET a cup of tea?
1993The Book SigningFood: beans on toastHere's a link. According to this web site, they have to be made with vegetarian beans, not traditional American baked beans which often have pork or bacon.

According to Rog: This dish is so, because ordinary beans in a rich tomato sauce were the only kind we used to get. Just after WW2 it was a quick, filling meal, that was convenient and cheap to feed loads of kids. Mums always kept two or three tins of beans in the cupboard just in case little Johny turned up with all his mates. Many people still like it, though there are many variations. My favourite is beans, on cheese on toast, with a poached egg on the top. Quite wonderful!
1993The Book SigningNow you are just taking the mickeyMaking fun, being sarcastic
1993Visiting RockyOff my chumRocky says 'you still think I am...'

According to Rog: This is a complicated issue from the use of 'Cockney Rhyming Slang'. For 'chum' read 'chuff' - chuff box or snuff box, which is rhyming for brain box or head. Someone 'off their head' is mad hence - " 'e's orf 'is flamin' chuff mate", as said by a cockney.

'Chuff', being the sound of a steam train, also alluded to a fart, because Olde English used 'chuff' for a puffing of the cheeks. Who's to say that puffing cheeks aren't responsible?
1993White HunterBeecher's BrookJudy: I've gotten over you. Lionel: You make me sound like...

This is a play on words. Beecher's Brook is a steepechasing fence in the Aintree (Liverpool) Grand National Stakes. You "get over" a fence physically when the horse jumps over it. Judy is "over" Lionel emotionally, not physically.
1993White HunterFish fingersFish sticks
1993White HunterSnoggingKissing, etc.
1993White HunterWhingingWhining (whine)
1994Branching outJacket potatoesBaked potatoes, often with some kind of filling - cheese, chili, tuna, etc.
1994Moving inUnder the coshUnder threat. Cosh as in a weighted stick used as a weapon. Alistair asks Lionel if he is under the cosh.
1994Problems, problemsTuck us up Madge 'in hospital' saying Mrs Bale will be in to... Presumably means "tuck us in."
1994Rocky's wedding dayAn MOTRocky uses this to refer to a medical checkup. I found a reference to MOT as the certificate given by the Ministry of Transportation (thus, MOT) when a car has passed its annual test - maybe it is used as a term for the results of ANY annual checkup.

Per Rog, this is again the use of English humour to convey a point. The Ministry Of Transport test (the annual car check up after 3 yrs on the road) used as an euphamism for 'Medical Examination', which shall remain nameless because it may be unpleasant.
1994Rocky's wedding dayhe's beginning to get up my noseAlistair with car following close - like 'up my butt'? Or just 'annoying'? I could not find another example of this.
1994We'll always have Parisa dirty weekenda weekend fling. Jean uses this in reference to their trip to Paris (or maybe to what it would have been when they were dating originally).
1994We'll always have ParisIt's pouring WITH rainLionel and/or Jean say this in Paris. We would say "pouring rain" or just "pouring." Also used in The Affair (1995)
1994We'll always have Parisswanning offThe context implied "gone away."

Per Rog: The 'swanning' here implies a devil-may-care (care-free) attitude to all and everything else, with a strong sense of irresponsibility. (Swans just swim around preening and posing whatever else happens)
1995A house full of womena bit of a cheekJudy and Sandy said that forcing Lionel to accept Sandy into the house was "a bit of a cheek." Our slang (somewhat old-fashioned) would be "rather cheeky."
1995A house full of womena good wigginga scolding. Jean ask Lionel if he is going to give the girls "a good wigging."
1995A house full of womenA sort-outClean out a storage area. Also called 'a clear out' in 1994 'Living together, but where?'
1995Getting rid of GwenGave him 'the push'based on context: Dumped him
1995Improvements?a carry-on filmJean, commenting on her character's short skirt. I did not write down any more of the context, so I am not usre about this, but there was a series of movies, referred to as the Carry On films, made between 1958 and 1978. The titles were all "Carry on (somethng)". They were low budget comedies, and included, presumably, women in short skirts.
1995Improvements?Hunting pinkRed - actually scarlet - jacket and related attire worn for a fox hunt.
1995Judith's new romanceBubble and SqueakFried left-over potatoes and greens (with perhaps some onions added for flavor) - from
1995Judith's new romancelooLionel talking about film crew: they even bring their own loos - meaning bathrooms.

Lots of other uses in the series, of course.
1995The AffairPimmsThis is a brand of bottled alcoholic beverages. The most popular is Pimms No 1, a light, gin-based drink. It can be served over ice, or in a mixed drink, usually with fruit.
1995Wedding day nervesa big ginger girla red head
1995Wedding day nervesarchibald heatherington nastyfaceWhat Lionel gave as his name at the wedding. There are just a few random references to this name on the internet - no details. If anyone has any information on the origin of this name, let me know!
1995Wedding day nervesNetballUsage on show implies it is a girl's game, but it seems to be played by men and women, separately. It appears to be a variation on American basketball. Information is available here:
1995Welcome newsKanoodlingJean, laughingly explaining what they were doing while hiding from Alistair, behind a tree.

To engage in caressing, petting, or lovemaking.

Per the Dictionary of Sexual Terms: petting amorously or sexually.
1996At Death's DoorCiila BlackA batty woman in hospital thinks Jean is Cilia Black.

She was a British singer, and, I think, a host of British game shows on television. Quite a long list of appearances listed in the Internet Movie Data Base, but very few pictures. There is one here:
1996Avoiding the country setFood: black puddingAnother word for blood pudding or blood sausage - made by cooking down the blood of an animal and adding meat, far, or filler. Server for breakfast.
1996Broadcast plansRemainderedAlistair's office delivers some copies of "My Life in Kenya" to Lionel. Lionel says his book has been remaindered and sold at half-price.

According to Wikipedia, a remaindered book is one whose publisher has allowed it to go out of print, and is liquidating their remaining unsold copies by selling them at greatly reduced prices.
1996Lionel's New Hobbyglove puppetLionel commenting on what Alistair is about to take out of his briefcase - 'it's not going to be a ...'

Glove puppets are similar to sock puppets, or other simple hand puppets, but with amrs that were controlled by your fingers.
1996Lionel's New HobbyLollipop manJean says 'can you see Lionel as a...' when dlscussing what Lionel can do so he won't be bored.

A lollipop man or woman is the British colloquialism for a crossing guard, called that because of the stop sign the hold up to stop traffic.
1996The Country SetpanteknicaNot sure I have the right spelling of this. It seemed to be a reference to a large car, or a truck.
1996The Country SetSpannera wrench
1997Alistair's EngagementMystic MegAccording to Wikipedia, Mystic Meg is a British astrologer and psychic who has regular astrology columns in the News of the World and The Sun. She came to greater public notoriety when she hosted what became a regular item on the first broadcast of the National Lottery draw in 1994. Her image also appears on various astrology-related books and merchandise.
1997The PsychotherapistLight the old blue touch paperRelated to a rocket launch? Alistair trying to get Lionel started with his 2nd book

Related to setting of a firecracker, with perhaps some connection to Guy Fawkes and hisplan to blow up Parliament back in 1604.
1998(unknown)Fairy cakesCupcakes, perhaps with fairy wings made from part of the cupcake. Here is one link and here is another, for more information.
1998An Old FlameSt Trinians girlsSandy was going to a party where all the women were to be dressed as a St. Trinian's girl, and Lionel and Alistaid were not sure it was appropriate. She ended up going in a conservative version of the costume.

The St. Trinian's girls were characters in a series of cartoons, books, and films after WW II. The girls were somewhat evil, rather than nice. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article.
1998the bypass bypassA highway extension to bypass a town
1998the bypass he who is tired of london is tired of lifeA quote from Samuel Johnson.
1998the bypass Jarrow marchersProtesters in 1936 who marched from Jarrow to London, looking for jobs during the depression. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article.
1998The New Neighborsbrown sauce Lionel needs some for his sausages. The same as our A1 Steak Sauce, but often used on sausage or bacon in the UK.
1998The New Neighbors J clothJean was cleaning stonework while watching new neighbors - Lionel questioned use ofJ cloth. J Cloth is a brand name of a cleaning cloth.
2001The bathroomChristmas crackerLionel was using a screwdriver that came from a ... We would call these party poppers - small cylinders that make a pop when you pull a cord or ribbon, and often contain a little gift.
2001The bathroomCisternA cisterm is the part of a toilet that holds the water until it is ready to be flushed.
2001The bathroomGot leglessDrunk - perhaps extremely drunk.
??A tender woman ... or just a crackpot?An identity paradeA police line-up
??A tender woman ... or just a crackpot?Pay riseA raise
??Nothing to fear but fear itself Busker guyStreet musician
(various)Custard tartsThese were small, packaged pastries that Lionel loved. Cannot find any examples of these for sale online.
(various)Fry-upA full English weekend breakfast - fried eggs & bacon, with regional variations.

Per Rog, there is also a case for this being the using up of all the leftovers. During and after WW2, when food was scarce here, all leftovers were fried up together and turned into a meal. Sometimes bread, extra vegetables and gravy were added, but the fry up was just that.
(various)Proper nouns used with no article: got cramp, in hospitalThe British use certain words without an article - for example, "in hospital" instead of "in the hospital."