Are You Being Served?

Back in 2015 I had this urge to watch an episode of “Are You Being Served?” and was surprised to find that there wasn’t any at all on Netflix or Hulu or any other Roku channel.  There still isn’t.  So I checked YouTube and was even more surprised to find the entire series had been posted by a few different people.

I feel like I remember watching this with my Dad but not vividly.  He was a big fan of “All Creatures Great and Small”.  I do recall vividly watching it when it was on PBS Channel 10 in the evening before the Red Green Show.  I always thought Miss Brahms played by Wendy Richard was quite attractive.

Wendy Richard

The show ran from 1972 to 1985 on the BBC and like most British shows each season averaged about 7 episodes totaling 69 episodes.  There was also a film made in 1977 and a spin off called “Grace & Favour” which was called “Are You Being Served? Again!”  in the States.  Each episode averaged close to 30 minutes.

Wikipedia describes what the show is about better than I ever could:

Are You Being Served? featured humour based on sexual innuendo, misunderstandings, mistaken identity, farce and occasional slapstick. In addition, there were sight gags generated by outrageous costumes which the characters were sometimes required to wear for store promotions, and gaudy store displays frequently featuring malfunctioning robotic mannequins. The show is remembered for its prolific use of double entendres.

The main humorous base of the series was a merciless parody of the British class system. This permeated almost every interaction and was especially evident in the conversations between the maintenance men and the ostensibly higher-class store personnel. The episodes rarely left the store, and to parody the stereotype of the British class system, characters rarely addressed each other by their first names, even after work, instead using their formal titled names (“Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Miss”, or even “Captain”). When they did address each other by their first names, it was usually either as an aside, or often for comic effect (e.g. an underling addressing a superior).

Original Cast

The main cast was Captain Peacock the floor walker (assistant floor manager) men’s department consisted of the senior sales assistant in Mr. Grainger, sales assistant Mr. Humphries, and junior salesman Mr. Lucas.  The women’s department consisted of senior sales assistant Mrs. Slocombe and junior sales assistance Miss Brahms.  Also featured was Mr. Rumbold the floor manager who was primarily in his office.

One remarkable thing about the show is the fact that Mr. Humphries was clearly gay although it was never actually plainly said but it was implied by every character on the show and it seemed to be accepted.   Mrs. Slocombe makes frequent reference to her pussy, as in her cat, quite hilariously.  A running gag performed by everyone through-out the series was when one character asked another “Are you free?” they would always look around  before replying “Yes I’m free” or something similar. The main cast was Captain Peacock the floor walker (assistant floor manager) men’s department consisted of the senior sales assistant in Mr. Grainger, sales assistant Mr. Humphries, and junior salesman Mr. Lucas.  The women’s department consisted of senior sales assistant Mrs. Slocombe and junior sales assistance Miss Brahms.  Also featured was Mr. Rumbold the floor manager who was primarily in his office.

The first two seasons took place entirely on the floor of the department store even when they had meetings or a special banquet for Mr. Grainger it was had on the sales floor after hours.  In season 3 they started having scenes in the cafeteria with the cast.  I found it odd that everyone that works in the department was able to go eat lunch at the same time, and that they wanted to sit at the same table with each other.   Season 3 also was the introduction of the first Christmas Special.  Lots of BBC shows film and air Christmas Specials that tend to be stand-alone episodes that have nothing to do with the end of the previous season or start of the new one.  Syfy and USA had done that with a few shows as well like Warehouse 13 and Haven.

Season 4 marked the first member of the cast to leave the shows as Larry Martyn who played the maintenance man Mr. Mash left at the end of season 3.  Arthur English became the new maintenance man Mr. Harman until the end of the series.

In Season 6 Mr. Tebbs played by James Hayter was introduced to replace the departing Mr. Grainger played by Arthur Brough who had passed away between seasons.  I never recalled seeing Mr. Tebbs when watching the show and honestly his performance is quite forgettable.  He didn’t really add anything to the cast other than for his disdain for Mrs. Slocombe.  In truth it seems as though he was never really involved in any major storyline and left after one season.

Season 7 Mr. Tebbs departs after one season replaced by Alfie Bass as Mr. Goldberg.  To me Tebbs never fit in with the cast, kind of like how Joe Besser never really fit in as a Stooge.  Mr. Goldberg is introduced as the new Junior salesmen with Mr. Humphries and Mr. Lucas getting promotions, but quickly through a scheme he is made the Senior with Mr. Humphries and Mr. Lucas returning to their junior positions.

After only watching two episodes of this season Mr. Goldberg’s character has already ingrained himself in with the cast and is quite hilarious.  He even shares a history with Captain Peacock, as they were in the military together and our good Captain might only be a Corporal.

Season 7 episode 5 “The Hero” features pro wrestling!  Fantastic!  It was supposed to be a boxing bout between Captain Peacock and Mr. Franco of the sports department however Captain Peacock chickened out and there were no boxing gloves to fit Mr. Franco.  In the end Mr. Humphries ends up wrestling Mr. Franco, and of course the ring is set up on the sales floor.

Mr. Franco was played by English professional wrestler Jackie Pallo who was a top star on television in the 1960’s & 70’s with his feud with Mick McManus.  Pallo also held the British Heavy Middleweight Championship for a time in 1969.

Another running gag through the duration of the series are these odd ball mechanical displays and other devices that never work.  Mostly it is very rudimentary animatronic  mannequins that tip their hat, breast glow to show off new style bra, and even a pair of dancing ones to advertise a new dancewear offered at the store.

Season 8 brought about several changes with the departure of Mr. Goldberg leaving after one season, and Mr. Lucas played by Trevor Bannister who left after 7 seasons and the movie.  His departure was never addressed on the show they simply introduced Mr. Spooner as the new junior salesman and Mr. Grossman from shoes as the new senior salesman.   The first episode of season 8 also had Young Mr. Grace stepping down and his brother Old Mr. Grace taking over.  Old Mr. Grace is similar to his brother being a dirty old man and using the same catchphrase of “You’re all doing very well” before departing.

Mr. Grossman only stayed on for 4 episodes and was replaced by Mr. Kline who finished out the final 4 episodes of the season.  The last episode of season 8 was Christmas special and was significant as it featured the final episode of not only Mr. Kline but also Young Mr. Grace, Old Mr. Grace, and the nurse.

As I was checking the episode list I found it odd that the showed aired between 1972 and 1985 but for only 10 seasons. The first 5 seasons generally air between February and May each year.  The gap between season 5 & 6 was 17 months during this time the “Are You Being Served” movie was filmed and aired.  I haven’t watched it yet but I plan on trying to find it.  Season 6 & 7 aired in the late fall with the gap between seasons 7 & 8 being 15 months.  The gap between seasons 8 & 9 was 23 months while season 9 ended in May of 1983 and the final season, season 10 began in February 1985 some 22 months later.  While this might be common practice in England I’ve never heard of gaps like them between seasons over here in the states, until recently.

Season 8 Episode 6 “Closed Circuit” marks the first time that a scene was filmed outside the confines of the store.  They had filmed on different floors and on the roof but never outside the store.

The Season 8 episode 8 Christmas Special is the last Christmas Special of the series, also as I mentioned earlier it marks the final appearances of Old Mr. Grace, Young Mr. Grace, Mr. Klein and the Nurse.  Also this episode features several song and dance numbers by the cast, the last one featuring them all in black face.  Not sure how that would fly today, but it got a laugh then.  But then again it’s the UK and not the states.

Season 9 a regular cast billing was given to Candy Davis as Miss Belfridge Mr. Rumbold’s secretary.    Also there was no new senior salesman in the men’s department after Mr. Klein’s departure at the end of last season.   It’s never addressed they just go about their business as usual.

Season 10 has begun and I’ve noticed that the font for the opening graphics and title sequence changed, I’m not sure why it would suddenly change.  Also in the first episode it is stated that Mr. Humphries is the head of the men’s department.

The series ends with the final episode being about Mr. Spooner getting signed to a record deal as a pop star.  I’m not sure if they knew that this episode was going to be the final one or not.  Something very unique about the series was that every episode was a stand-alone episode.  There was no continuing story from one episode to the next.  They had gags that were used in just about every episode but done so in a way that you could watch any episode from at any point in the series and not feel lost.  I’m not sure if that was done on purpose or not, it worked.

Mrs. Slocombe, Mr. Humphries, & Miss Brahms

Sadly the no one from the original cast is still alive.  Mike Berry who played Mr. Spooner is also still with us and is an actual singer whose first single was released in 1961 and he is still active to this day.

I truly enjoyed this show and even though the episodes aired 32 – 45 years ago I found myself laughing out loud every episode.  Of course some were funnier than others but I can’t say there was a bad episode in the entire run.

The Story of Are You Being Served?

I discovered a documentary on You Tube called “The Story of Are you Being Served?” It aired on BBC 2 on January 1, 2010 and featured current or recorded interviews with the cast, creators, writers, and others involved with the production of the show.  It also features interviews with staff of Simpson’s department store.

Jeremy Lloyd wrote the episode based on his experience working for two years in the men’s department of Simpsons of Piccadilly.  Apparently a couple of the characters were based on his co-workers at the store as well as the hierarchy of the British class system

The Documentary breaks down each character on the show and their development as well as highlighting some of the funniest moments of the show.

It goes on to talk about the success of the show and the cast explaining one of the large gaps between seasons that I wrote about earlier.   In 1977 John Inman was offered a series called “Odd Man Out” that ran for only 7 episodes but as he was unavailable the BBC told creators Croft & Lloyd that they couldn’t do the series without him.

It speaks about Wendy Richards abusive relationship.

The documentary confirms that when the final episode was shot they were not aware it would be that last show for several months when it was decided that the show would not return for another season.

It’s a great hour long look at this great show from those who made it happen.

Grace & Favour (Are You Being Served? Again!)

In 1992 BBC 1 turned to Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft to bring back the characters of “Are You Being Served?” 7 years after the original series concluded.  This time though they are not working at Grace Brothers Department store.  In the storyline Young Mr. Grace has died the store is closed and it turns out that he had used the employee’s pensions in different ways.  For the workers of the Men’s & Ladies departments, as well as Young Mr. Grace’s secretary Miss Lovelock, they discover that they have inherited Milestone Manor.  They are not allowed to sell the property but can use it as they please.  So they decide to live in the home and convert it into and Inn and live off the profits.

Of the original cast those that returned were Mollie Sugden as Mrs. Slocombe, John Inman as Mr. Humphries, Wendy Richard as Miss Brahms, Frank Norton as Captain Peacock, and Nicholas Smith as Mr. Rumbold.  It’s not address as to what has happened to Captain Peacock and Mr. Rumbold’s wives.

Another difference from the previous series to this one is there are continuing stories from one episode to the next.  This sequel lasted for two seasons totaling 12 episodes.

The Cast of Grace and Favour or Are You Being Served Again?

Once again You Tube has come through and all 12 episodes are available to watch.

Watching season 1 episode 1 and it’s great to see these characters again.  The episode opens same as the first episode of “Are You Being Served?” with problems with the elevator.  The doors open but it’s about 2 feet shy of being all the way up on the floor.

It’s really weird seeing them in this county setting and not at the store.  The episode concludes with them deciding to stay on and run the Inn as their pension was not enough to live on.

In the first season all 6 episodes took place over the course of the first week they arrived at the manor.  In the last episode it’s their first weekend and they have taken on the responsibilities of the staff as they had all left prior to their arrival.

Miss Brahms’ character is a lot more posh in this series than in the original.  From her speech to her style of dress, I think otherwise she would be too much like the locals.

Fleur Bennett played Mavis Moulterd, the daughter of Maurice Moulterd who was the farm hand that ran the farm at the manor.  Mavis performed a series of duties at the Manor but her primary job was to take care of the needs of the staff but never the guests.  For reasons never quite explained other than there wasn’t enough room, she shared a bed with Mr. Humphries in a completely plutonic manner of course.  She is with-out a doubt my favorite character on the show.

Fleur Bennett

Season 2 picks up where the last season ended with the Americans having left the manor.  The episodes of season show the cast adjusting to running the Manor themselves as they cannot find a staff.  The adventures and hijinks include finding a gun, a cricket match with the townspeople, locating a mummified cat that when removed causes supernatural happenings, performing a ballet, and more.

Essentially it’s a long continuous fish out of water stories and how they adjust and overcome to complete their tasks.   It is fun though, to see these characters that we are familiar with in a completely different atmosphere.

In the sixth and final episode of the series Mr. Rumbold states that he has been frazzled since his wife left his for the manager of the tools department.   It’s also assumed that Captain Peacock’s wife also left him, probably because of his womanizing ways.  I’m glad they addressed this, although not really important in the long run I’m big on continuity.

I haven’t talked about two of the new cast regulars as of yet;

Billy Burden played Maurice Moulterd the lifelong farmhand of the Manor who was quite the character indeed.  Through-out the series he provided much of the comic relief, was the casts link to the townfolk, and implied that in their younger years had some sort of relationship with Mrs. Slocombe.

Joanne Heywood played Jessica Lovelock the former secretary and apparent life assistant of Young Mr. Grace.  She is seen in each episode but primarily as a minor character who lives above the stables and mostly rides and tends to her horse.  She has helped out from time to time with the cast including performing a ballet of Romeo and Juliet with Mr. Humphries for some Mongolian guests.

The final episode of the series and the final time we see these characters, they are at the local bar to accept the challenge from the locals of a dart game where Mr. Rumbold gets in a fight that Mrs. Slocombe settles.  From the beginning of the series until the end there is a bit of love story between Mavis and Mr. Humphries where he stands up for her at the pub after a suitor pushes her.  They also steal back sheep they had sold after finding out that they sheep were to be butchered.

As with the original series the show just ends with no satisfying conclusion as most likely it was cancelled in the off season.  I really enjoyed the twelve episodes and I feel they could have run with the premise for a few more seasons as they had barely scratched the surface of them being at the manor.

Are You Being Served? (Australian Version)

Filmed in 1980 and airing in 1980 – 1981 two seasons of an Australian version of “Are You Being Served?” was produced totaling 16 episodes.  This was filmed during the hiatus between seasons 7 & 8 of the original version “Are You Being Served?”

John Inman’s character Mr. Humphries is sent by Old Mr. Grace to work for his Australian cousin Mr. Bone at Bone Brothers Department store.  The fact that he has gone here is never addressed in the original series.

John Inman, Judith Woodroffe, & June Bronhill

The characters, set design and layout, as well as costuming was almost identical to the British Version.  Each character in the original had an identical counterpart in this version including the head of women’s department Mrs. Crawford, whose hair changes per episode like Mrs. Slocombe’s.

Reg Gillam as Captain Wagstaff the floorwalker                                 Captain Peacock

Anthony Bazell as Senior Salesman Mr Mankowitz                           Mr. Grainger & Mr. Goldberg

Shane Bourne as Junior Salesman Mr. Randel                                     Mr. Lucas

June Bronhill as Senior Sales Woman Mrs. Crawford                        Mrs. Slocombe

Judith Woodroffe as Junior Sales Woman Miss Buxton                   Mrs. Brahms

Peter Collingwood as Store Manager Mr. Dunkley                            Mr. Rumbold

Basil Clarke as Store Owner Young Mr. Bone                                      Old & Young Mr. Grace

Reg Evans as Maintenance Man Mr. Cocker                                         Mr. Mash & Mr. Harman

In the second season two characters were replaced

Christine Amor as Junior Sales Woman Miss Nicholls                        Miss Brahms

Ken Fraser as Store Manager Mr. Fenwick                                            Mr. Rumbold

Fifteen of the 16 episodes were shot from scripts in the original series and of the two I have seen they are exactly the same.  To me I find it odd that they did this because the original series aired in Australia.  I don’t just mean they are similar, it seems that they are a shot by shot remake with a different cast save Mr. Humphries.   The episodes are a couple minutes shorter than the originals so some sort of editing was done.

The only original episode that was shot was seasons two’s “Undesirable Alien.”

The opening theme is different and sung by John Inman, they did use the cash register sound in-between scenes like in the original.

The complete series is not on You Tube, but it does have 10 episodes.  From Season one episodes  4, 5, 6, 7, & 8 and from Season two episodes 2, 3, 4, 5, & 8.  Sadly Season 2 episode 6 “Undesirable Alien” isn’t on You Tube.

Beane’s Of Boston

Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft brought the show to United States in 1979 filming a pilot episode called Beane’s Of Boston that did not go on to be picked up.

The cast of the show is pretty remarkable;

John Hillerman, Higgins on Magnum PI as Mr. Peacock

Charlotte Rae, Mrs. Garrett on The Facts of Life as Mrs. Slocombe

Lorna Patterson, Pvt. Judy Benjamin on Private Benjamin as Miss Shirley Brahms

Alan Sues from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as Mr. Humphries

Morgan Farley, a popular character actor with over 70 movie credits at Mr. Grainger

Larry Bishop another popular character actor as Mr. Lucas

Other cast members consisted of Tom Poston of Newhart & Bob Newhart fame as Frank Beane and George O’ Hanlon as Franklyn Beane.

I found this on www.tvonscurities.com :

CBS broadcast “Beane’s of Boston” (also referred to as “Beanes of Boston” without the apostrophe) on Saturday, May 5th, 1979 from 8:30-9PM. It was indeed an attempt to adapt Are You Being Served? (which had premiered in September of 1972 on BBC1) for American audiences. Set at a large, conservative department store called Beane’s of Boston, the pilot starred Tom Poston as Frank Beane, the owner, and George O’Hanlon, Jr. as his nephew Franklyn Beane, the manager. The storyline saw Frank Beane grudgingly agreeing to hold a beer festival in an attempt to raise money. Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, creators of Are You Being Served? helped write “Beane’s of Boston” and Lloyd served as a producer. The pilot was directed by Jerry Paris and executive producer by Garry Marshall.

Rounding out the cast were John Hillerman as John Peacock, floor manager, Charlotte Rae as Mae Slocombe, manager of the women’s department, Lorna Patterson as Shirley Brahms, Mae’s assistant, and Alan Sues as George Humphries, the effeminate manager of the men’s department. The characters were based, and in some cases named, after the corresponding characters in the British series. According to The Los Angeles Times, the pilot included a “laughable, even pitiful gay” character [1]. In Are You Being Served? the sexuality of Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries (played by John Inman) was played for laughs and it is likely that George Humphries was the gay character mentioned by The Los Angeles Times. Whether that had anything to do with the pilot not being picked up is unknown.

The pilot does not appear to be held at any of the largest television archives (the Library of Congress, UCLA’s Film & Television Archive, the Museum of Broadcast Communications and the Paley Center for Media) but that does not mean it is missing or lost. The production company, or whoever owns its library today, probably has the original elements somewhere. I believe it was produced by Paramount Television

I recently found this pilot episode on YouTube, it is a very rough copy that was taped off television.  The opening theme is pretty lame and doesn’t really tell us anything about the show we are watching.

The set for the show is essentially the same as it’s British predecessor, two elevators at the stop of a staircase leading down to the sales floor with the men’s department on the left and the women’s on the right.  They recycle a lot of the same jokes but as the Unites States didn’t have the same class system as the British those bits fall flat.

The plot of the episode is taken from the Season 3 episode 6 “German Week”.  Franklyn Beane gets  a grand idea to have the departments sell traditional German clothes to set them apart from the other department stores.  First day sales go bad so the enhance the story by having the staff dress in the German clothes and serve German wine.  The episode even concludes with the same exact German dance number and face slapping bit between Mr. Peacock and Mr. Slocombe.

I’m glad to have found this to be able to watch it, but I can see why it didn’t work.  The original commercials were included which was really cool.

Are You Being Served? The Movie

Released in 1977 with a run time of 95 minutes between seasons five and six and featuring the current cast of the show.  The plot of the film is that Grace Brothers is being shut down and giving the staff a paid vacation to Costa Plonka, Spain.

Of course the hi-jinks once they arrive is that the hotel is overbooked and the only accommodations they are provided are tents out on the beach.  They are also there in during and attempted uprising and the staff is caught in a gunfight between revolutionaries and federal troops.

The humor in this film is very British and it really needs to be seen to fully understand.  I couldn’t do it justice in trying to explain the various tongue and cheek comments, innuendo, and mistaken identity jokes.

I was very surprised that this film, which is based on a television show a department store, doesn’t take place in the department store.

Are You Being Served? 2016 Revival

In 2016 the BBC celebrated 60 years of television sitcoms by making a new episode of four classic sitcoms including Are You Being Served?  With an all new cast playing the original characters the episode takes place in 1988 and marked the return Mr. Grainger who came to work to spend less time with his wife.

The Revival Cast

I watched this on-line when it was first broadcast but I cannot find it at this time.  It was panned by critics and I must say that it wasn’t very good.  Other returning characters included Mr. Rumbold, Mr. Harmon, Mr. Humphries, Captain Peacock, Miss Brahms, and Mrs. Slocombe.  They are are joined by new characters Mr. Conway as Junior Salesman, Mr. Grace, and Miss Croft.

Are You Being Served? The Play

In June 2016 Gaslight Theater in Hallowell, Maine put on a production of Are You Being Served?  When I found out about it earlier in the year I was pretty excited, being a fan of the series I couldn’t wait to find out what it was going to be about.

Gaslight Theater is a small community theater located in City Hall.  If I were to guess I would say that capacity is about 100 people, and we’ve been to five productions in the last four years.  We attended the evening show on June 18th after having dinner at the Liberal Cup in downtown Hallowell.

Once I read the synopsis in the playbill I was a bit disappointed to discover that the play was based on the feature film.  The play was broken down into three acts with the first act taking place at Grace Brothers and acts two and three the actually film, traveling to Spain and all the happenings there.

Cast photo from the Gaslight theater production

Acts two and three got a bit confusing and if I hadn’t seen the movie prior to this I most likely wouldn’t have been able to follow along as well as I did.  I had to explain several parts to my wife.  I thought the cast did a fantastic job and I loved the beginning so much.  It was so great to see some of the bits live.The first act was fantastic and was essentially an episode of the show as they did some of the best bits and even one of the mechanical displays that went awry.  Everyone really enjoyed this and if this was the whole play I think it would have been better.

In what I think was a very coincidental casting a women named Wendi Richards played Miss Brahms in the play and Wendy Richard is the name of the actress that played her on the show.

Thanks for reading I hope you enjoyed this detailed account of one of the finest British comedies.

Later Readers!

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