When you have so many different TV channels and different streaming platforms to watch, it is sometimes difficult to settle on a choice, but when I have a half an hour to fill, I find myself gravitating towards Are You Being Served?
From the catchy signature tune…
Ground floor: perfumery Stationery and leather goods Wigs and haberdashery Kitchenware and foods Going up First floor: telephones Gents' ready-made suits Shirts, socks, ties, hats Underwear and shoes Going up Second floor: carpets Travel goods and beddings Materials and soft furnishing Restaurant and teas Going up
…to the ever plentiful innuendos, farce and slapstick, to the weird and wonderful shop floor displays and the relationships between all the shop staff, this programme was a gem amongst sitcoms in the 70s and 80s.
The pilot episode was originally filmed as part of the Comedy Playhouse series for the BBC, but it was not broadcast. It was broadcast though when the 1972 Summer Olympics was interrupted by the Munich massacre and the BBC used it as a filler while the games were off air and this led to a full series being produced.
Unfortunately, the first series was scheduled opposite Coronation Street which was being shown on ITV, so the viewing figures weren’t very high, but the series was repeated later on in the year and this time the ratings were much higher.
The series lasted for ten seasons and 69 episodes between 8 September 1972 and 1 April 1985 and they also recorded five Christmas specials. There was a 1977 film and a spin-off series called Grace & Favour in 1991/1992.
Mr Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries:
John Inman – Sales Assistant in the Gentleman’s Department, he often used double entendre in respect of his gay lifestyle. His reply to, “Are you free?” with a high pitched, “I’m free,” and an exaggerated walk was a highlight of the programme.
- “I’m free!”
- (In a deep voice: “Menswear.”
- “Mr Grainger, are you free?”
- “It’s unusual for me.”
- “Before you say anything…”
Mrs Betty Slocombe
Mollie Sugden – With her brightly coloured hair, Mrs Slocombe was the Senior Sales Assistant of the Ladies Department and was always telling double entendre stories about her pet cat Tiddles, who she referred to as “my pussy.”
- “…and I am unaminous in that.”
- “Ooh, you’re as weak as water. Weak as water!”
- “Oh, that does suit madam.”
Mr Dick Lucas
Trevor Bannister – The Junior Salesman in Menswear, always had a put down to Mrs Slocombe and was a bit of a womaniser, always making suggestions to Miss Brahms. He was, in fact, one year older than John Inman.
- “I can see it all now…”
Miss Shirley Brahms
Wendy Richard – the cockney-speaking middle class Junior Sales Assistant to Mrs Slocombe, who went on to play Pauline Fowler in the long running tv soap opera, Eastenders.
- “Ooh, they’s dead common.”
Captain Stephen Peacock
Frank Thornton – Grace Brother’s floorwalker who reminds everyone when he can that he fought in the North Africa Campaign of World War II but rumours were that he served in the Service Corp and never saw combat.
- “Are you being served, sir?”
- “Mr Humphries, are you free?”
Mr Ernest Grainger
Arthur Bough – One of the oldest serving members of Grace Brothers having worked for them for 40 years. Senior Sales Assistant in the Gentlemen’s department and prone to falling asleep whilst at work. He was in series 1-5 as he unfortunately passed away before filming series six.
- “And don’t worry about the sleeves, they’ll ride up with wear.”
Mr Cuthbert Rumbold
Nicholas Smith – Floor manager of Ladies and Gents Department, bumbling and incompetent and prone to taking the praise for other members of staff’s ideas.
- “It was a boardroom level decision.”
“Young” Mr Grace
Harold Bennett – Always surrounded by attractive secretaries and nurses, he was very rich, but also very stingy which led to some entertaining episodes.
- “You’ve all done very well.”
Larry Martyn – The maintenance man who installed the mechanised displays and was always in trouble with Captain Peacock for being on the shop floor during opening times.
- Blows raspberry at Captain Peacock.
- “It must be awful for you, to keep telling me off.”
Other cast members:
After Mr Grainger leaving the shop, his position was taken over by Mr Percival Tebbs (James Hayter) who retired after only a year in the men’s department, to be replaced by Mr Goldberg (Alfie Bass).
After Mr Mash’s departure, his position is filled by Mr Beverley Harman, (Arthur English).
Mr Bert Spooner (Mike Berry) replaced Mr Lucas as Junior Sales Assistant and “Young” Mr Grace was replaced by his older brother, “Old” Mr Grace (Kenneth Waller).
There were lots of secretaries during the show’s run, both for Mr Grace and also for Mr Rumbold, the longest serving was Miss Belfridge (Candy Davis) who was in series 9 and 10.
I hope you enjoyed this brief look at this long running comedy, set in a fictitious department store, with over the top characters and lots of innuendoes, I’ll leave the final word with Mrs Slocombe….