Dame Judi Dench has paid deep tribute to her friend and co-star in As Time Goes By, the late Geoffrey Palmer, saying she couldn’t have made the show with anyone else and she “wouldn’t have missed a moment of our time together”.
Dame Judi and Palmer played former lovers Lionel and Jean, who had a comically fractious relationship as they tried to rekindle their relationship 38 years after they broke up in the BBC One sitcom, which ran for nine series and three specials between 1992 and 2005.
Palmer died early in November at the age of 93 and Dame Judi told Radio Times: “When you acted with him, you’d just feel very safe. Geoffers was so sure on comedy that you could be pretty secure in knowing he would get you through it and make it funny. I certainly couldn’t have done As Time Goes By with anyone else.”
The iconic British star was primarily a dramatic actress, although she had starred in ITV’s A Fine Romance alongside her husband Michael Williams in the early ’80s.
It’s hard to believe she would have doubts over her ability to perform a role, but she said Palmer was a rock and did the heavy lifting on As Time Goes By.
“Every time we started shooting on the show, I thought: ‘How have I got myself into this?’ and every time he was there to remind me,” she said.
They hit it off from the moment they were introduced at lunch by As Time Goes By director Sydney Lotterby in 1992, although their screen partnership almost never happened.
“We met for lunch to discuss the show,”she recalled. “He got us off to a good start when he informed me that they’d wanted Jean Simmons for the part, but she’d declined!”
Although their relationship was close it was not without sparky moments. She fluffed her lines on one occasion and Palmer called to the crew to ask if Eileen Atkins or Maggie Smith were available for the role.
She got her own back. In 2018, presenting Palmer with an Oldie award, she joked that the trophy should be for “most promising newcomer” or “the naughtiest man I ever had the pleasure to work with”.
Dame Judi and Palmer subsequently worked on other projects together, notably 1997’s Mrs Brown and the James Bond blockbuster Tomorrow Never Dies.
“I loved him in Butterflies and would watch him in anything,” she said. “He’s unsurpassed as far as comedy is concerned, aided by that lugubrious face and his amazing voice.”
Nevertheless, she feels his sitcom performances overshadowed his dramatic performances in films such as Mrs Brown and The Madness of King George.
“He was a remarkable actor, full stop.”
She added: “Geoffers was a terrific man and most remarkable friend and actor. I wouldn’t have missed a moment of our time together for the world.”