Geoffrey Palmer, a British character actor whose career peaked during the long run of “As Time Goes By,” the romantic BBC sitcom in which he and Judi Dench played lovers reunited after 38 years apart, died on Nov. 5 at his home in Buckinghamshire, near London. He was 93.
His agent, Deborah Charlton, confirmed the death.
Palmer worked in films and theater but was best known for his work in television, including comedies like “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin” and “Butterflies” as well as several episodes of “Doctor Who.”
With his hangdog expression and grumpy demeanor, he also made a memorable appearance on a 1979 episode of the sitcom “Fawlty Towers” as a guest who finds it difficult to get his breakfast order while Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), the hapless proprietor of a rundown hotel, is hiding a corpse.
“I’m a doctor,” Palmer says to a waiter, with great exasperation. “I want my sausages!”
Over 67 episodes between 1992 and 2005, “As Time Goes By” became popular in Britain (and on PBS stations in the United States) largely because of the chemistry between Palmer and Dench.
“When you acted with him, you’d just feel very safe,” Dench told Radio Times, the British television and radio magazine, after Palmer’s death. “Geoffers was so sure on comedy that you could be pretty secure knowing he would get you through it and make it funny.”
Palmer’s character on “As Time Goes By,” Lionel Hardcastle, had been a coffee planter in Kenya. Dench portrayed Jean Pargetter, owner of a secretarial agency. They fell in love in 1953, before the British Army sent Lionel to serve in Korea. A letter he had written to Jean with his military address never arrived, and they went about their lives.
They reunite in a bar in England.
“Why didn’t you write?” she asks in that scene.
“Let’s not play games,” he says. “Why didn’t you write?”
“Where to?” she asks. “2nd Lt. Hardcastle, somewhere in Korea?”
“I sent you the full address as soon as I had one,” he says.
“I didn’t get a letter,” she says firmly.
“Well, I sent it,” he says with finality, then quickly realizes all they had missed.
“As ridiculously simple as that?” he asks, with a chuckle. “A lost letter?”
Palmer and Dench appeared in two films together in 1997: the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “Mrs. Brown,” in which Palmer played the private secretary to Dench’s Queen Victoria.
Palmer told the Chicago Tribune in 1999 that Dench “is an actress who anyone would give their eyeteeth to work with.”
“She drags you up to her standards,” he added. “She’s extraordinary.”
Geoffrey Dyson Palmer was born June 4, 1927, in London. His father was a surveyor, his mother a homemaker.
After serving in the Royal Marines as World War II was ending, Palmer joined an amateur theater group while working as an accountant. After becoming the assistant stage manager of the Grand Theater in Croydon, he began acting in regional theater.
He got his first television roles in the mid-1950s. Early in the ’60s he appeared on “The Saint,” with Roger Moore, and in three episodes of “The Avengers,” in three different roles.
He mixed television, film and stage roles for the rest of his career; did voice-over work for commercials; and narrated “Grumpy Old Men,” a BBC talk show on which men aired their gripes about modern life, from 2003 to 2006.
His recent film roles included a geographer in “Paddington” (2015), about a bear looking for a home in London, and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in “W.E.” (2011), which was inspired by the romance between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
His survivors include his wife, Sally (Green) Palmer; a son, Charles; and a daughter, Harriet.
The last season of “As Time Goes By” consisted of two episodes in 2005, sort of a Christmas reunion, to wrap up the series. Palmer said that the impetus for the revival, two years after the previous episodes had aired, came from the United States.
“It is ludicrously popular over there,” he told The Times of London. “I think it’s because it’s rather understated, English and well mannered, and nobody is seen in full-frontal nudity.”