Are You Being Served?
Are You Being Served? is a British sitcom created and written by executive producer David Croft (Croft also directed some episodes) and Jeremy Lloyd, with contributions from Michael Knowles and John Chapman, for the BBC. Set in London, the show follows the misadventures and mishaps of the staff of the retail ladies' and gentlemen's clothing departments in the flagship department store of a fictional chain called Grace Brothers.
|Are You Being Served?|
Typical Are You Being Served? intertitle
|Created by||Jeremy Lloyd & David Croft|
|Theme music composer||Ronnie Hazlehurst|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||10|
|No. of episodes||70 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||David Croft|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Distributor||BBC Worldwide |
ABC (Australia, home video)
Warner Home Video (US, home video)
KAET (US, television)
|Original network||BBC One|
|Picture format||PAL (576i) |
1080i HDTV (2016)
|Audio format||Monaural |
Surround sound 5.1(2016)
|Original release||Original run:|
8 September 1972 –
1 April 1985
28 August 2016
The series was broadcast on the BBC for ten series, totalling 69 episodes between 8 November 1972 and 1 April 1985 – and included 5 Christmas specials. There was also a 1977 film, a spin-off series Grace & Favour with some of the same main cast in 1991–92, and a one-off episode with a new cast in 2016. Since its original release, all 69 episodes, the restored pilot, the Christmas specials, the sequel and the film have been released on DVD. Are You Being Served? was a great success in the UK and was also popular in three other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (Canada, New Zealand, and Australia), and was successfully aired in The Netherlands and Belgium with Dutch subtitles. The show was also popular in Israel and in the United States, where it gained a loyal and enthusiastic following when PBS television stations began airing reruns of it in the mid-1980s, along with other British sitcoms. In 2004, it was ranked 20th in a television countdown of Britain's Best Sitcom. It is regularly repeated worldwide (BBC Two, Drama and Gold in the UK; PBS and BBC America in the United States; and BBC UKTV, Fox Classics and 9Gem in Australia).
The idea for the show came from Lloyd's brief period in the early 1950s working at Simpsons of Piccadilly, a clothing store which traded for over 60 years until 1999. The inspiration for the store has also been credited to Rossiters of Paignton department store from the time Lloyd and Croft spent there, and the former Clements of Watford.
The pilot episode was created as part of the Comedy Playhouse series, although the BBC had originally chosen not to broadcast the programme. The pilot was used as a filler during the 1972 Summer Olympics when the coverage of the Olympiad was interrupted by the Munich massacre on 8 September 1972, leading to a full series being produced. This first episode was repeated at the beginning of the first series on 14 March 1973. Although the first series was aired in the same timeslot as Coronation Street on ITV, consequently receiving relatively little attention, the repeats shown later in the year were much more successful.
The show became a ratings hit, and after a successful 13-year run, Are You Being Served? came to an end on 1 April 1985.
Of the original cast, only Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richard and Nicholas Smith appeared in all 69 episodes of the programme's 13-year run; these five later featured in the sequel sitcom, Grace & Favour (also known as Are You Being Served? Again!). The cast performed in character for a stage sketch on the BBC1 programme Variety on 19 June 1976.
Restoration of the 1972 pilotEdit
Although the pilot was produced in colour, the videotape was wiped in the 1970s leaving only a 16mm black-and-white film telerecording, which was made for international syndication to countries where colour television broadcasts had not been adopted. In 2009, the pilot episode was restored to colour using the colour recovery technique previously used for the Dad's Army episode "Room at the Bottom". The restored colour version was first shown on BBC2 on 1 January 2010 as part of a special Are You Being Served? night.
The theme song, written by the show's co-writer David Croft and composer Ronnie Hazlehurst, consists of a lift girl (whose voice was provided by Stephanie Gathercole) announcing each floor over the musique concrète sounds of a cash register (which effectively serves as the only percussion instrument) and a simple musical accompaniment.
The 1977 Are You Being Served? film has a different version of the theme song which is longer, in a different key and without the floor announcements. A remix of the theme was released in 1996 by a dance act calling itself "Grace Brothers", and featured vocal samples of John Inman and Frank Thornton.
There is a homage to the theme song in the Ladytron song "Paco!" from the album 604, and New Zealand band Minuit's "I hate guns". A lugubrious version of the theme song is featured on the album The Ape of Naples by the experimental music group Coil. The theme song has also been covered by Australian band Regurgitator on their 1999 album ...art. Pop singer Jamelia's song "Window Shopping" (from her 2006 album Walk with Me) begins with a sample of the familiar cash register sound effect as well as Mrs Slocombe's voice inquiring, "Good morning, Mr Grainger; are you free?"
The series was shown in the United States on PBS stations and on BBC America, as well as in many Commonwealth nations around the world. PBS first began airing it (on 24 stations) in 1987, and viewership steadily climbed as more stations carried it. By the early 1990s, it had gained such a loyal following that American viewers of the show formed fan clubs and were in large attendance wherever cast members made guest appearances.
Are You Being Served? aired in Canada in prime time on Global Television Network in the mid 1980s and late night on YTV. It also became available to Canadian viewers on PBS station WNED (Buffalo). The show aired on Saturday evening prime time from the mid 1980s to late 1990s.
The series was also extremely popular in Australia. It started on ABC Television in 1974 and was repeated by ABC in Australia several times. By 1978 it had been acquired by the commercial Seven Network who successfully screened repeats of the program to audiences larger than those who viewed it on the ABC. Are You Being Served? was ranked as the top rated show on Australian television for 1978, being watched by 2,255,000 people in five cities. New episodes were aired on ABC until 1984 after that the last season was broadcast on the Seven Network.
Characters and castingEdit
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). The joke is that lower class people, even when married, addressed each other as Mr. or Mrs. Middle and upper-class people on familiar terms always use given or nicknames. The use of titles is therefore a pretention to being posh or refined.
- Mrs. Betty Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) (Series 1–10), a senior sales assistant and head of the ladies' department. She is known for her changing hair colour and conversations about her cat, which she always refers to as "my pussy".
- Miss Shirley Brahms (Wendy Richard) (Series 1–10), a young, attractive, working-class, cockney-speaking junior sales assistant to Mrs Slocombe.
- Mr Ernest Grainger (Arthur Brough) (Series 1–5), a 40-year veteran of Grace Brothers, a senior sales assistant and head of the gents' department, who often falls asleep on the job, is usually grumpy, and wears a measuring tape over his shoulders. Arthur Brough died before the filming of Season 6.
- Mr Percival Tebbs (James Hayter) (Series 6), Mr Grainger's replacement. He retired after only one year in the men's department.
- Mr Harry Goldberg (Alfie Bass) (Series 7), Mr Tebbs's replacement. Originally the junior salesman, he was quickly promoted to senior after proving to be a master salesman. Like Tebbs, Goldberg lasted only one year.
- Mr Grossman (Milo Sperber) (Series 8), an expert shoe salesman, joined the gents' department, when some of the floor space was given over to shoes. He lasted only four episodes.
- Mr Abraham Klein (Benny Lee) (Series 8), joined the gents' department to help out with upcoming sales in the store. Klein lasted only four episodes.
- Mr Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries (John Inman) (Series 1–10), a sales assistant in gents'; a camp-acting man who lives with his mother, also played on several occasions by John Inman. He made frequent use of double entendre, especially related to his implied gay lifestyle. He often breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the television audience, unusual at the time of the original broadcast.
- Mr James/Dick Lucas (Trevor Bannister) (Series 1–7), the young, penniless, womanising junior salesman; a source of irritation to the female sales staff. Always referred to as the department 'junior', but Bannister was in fact one year older than Inman. The character left the series after Series 7 (1979). (In Series 2 his name was given as "James" but was stated as "Dick" in Series 5 and 6). Wendy Richard claimed in an interview that the series was originally devised as a "vehicle" for Trevor Bannister, which suggests that Mr Lucas was intended to be the series main character, the early series' story lines bear this out.
- Mr Bert Spooner (Mike Berry) (Series 8–10), eventually replaced Mr Lucas as gents' junior sales assistant and was similar to him in many ways.
- "Captain" Stephen Peacock (Frank Thornton) (Series 1–10), the haughty floorwalker[discuss] (an employee who both supervises sales staff and assists customers) who purportedly fought in the North Africa Campaign of World War II but was accused of actually being in the Service Corps and never seeing combat.
- Mr Cuthbert Rumbold (Nicholas Smith) (Series 1–10), the autocratic, obsequious (to the Grace brothers), yet bumbling and incompetent floor manager.
- "Young" Mr Grace (Harold Bennett) (Series 1–8), the very old, rich but stingy store owner, surrounded by attractive young women. The character's final appearance was in 1981 following Bennett's death. The character was killed off in the first episode of the spinoff series Grace & Favour.
- "Old" Mr Grace (Kenneth Waller) (Series 8), "Young" Mr Grace's even-older brother – replaced him at the store when he took a sabbatical to write his memoirs. In Series 9 & 10, the management of the store was again attributed to "Young" Mr. Grace, who was by then an invisible character.
- Miss Belfridge (Candy Davis), the last and longest-running of Mr Rumbold's secretaries. She was admired by all male staff, including Mr Humphries and especially Captain Peacock, who dined her at The Ritz Hotel.
- Mr Mash (Larry Martyn) (Series 1-3), the stock and maintenance man who installed mechanised display units in store and was often scolded by Captain Peacock for being on the floor during opening hours.
- Mr Beverley Harman (Arthur English) (Series 4–10), Mr. Mash's replacement. Mr. Rumbold calls him "Harry" in seasons 5 and 9, but in season 9 he states his name is actually "Beverly".
- Diana Yardswick (Doremy Vernon), the manageress of Grace Brothers' canteen at which the staff had their lunch. Known for serving grossly unappetising food, and for her ill temper and sarcasm, as well as for enforcing strict social order, which dictated that management, sales staff and the maintenance crew and lift operators all dine separately.
Are You Being Served? was initially broadcast from 1973 to 1985. Each series had between four and nine episodes. Counting the pilot episode, all episodes and specials from the series, and the film, the show ran for sixty-nine episodes and ten series.
Unlike many sitcoms, each episode was self-contained, there being no continuing story or theme throughout a series. For example, we find out there are certain rules that staff should follow in one episode, it is no longer in place in further episodes. It becomes apparent that the male staff should wear hats appropriate to their status. Capt. Peacock is informed by Mr. Rumbold that a Floor Walker should wear a homburg, not a bowler. Neither Mr. Humphries nor Mr. Lucas have worn hats up to this point, but both have to purchase one. At the end of the episode Young Mr. Grace informs Capt. Peacock that a homburg doesn't suit him and he should wear a bowler "all the time". However, in all future episodes, when he arrives with a hat on, it is a homburg and Mr. Humphries and Mr. Lucas also go back to not wearing hats.
In 1977, as for many other popular British sitcoms of the time, a feature film was produced. The British film industry assumed at the time that audiences wouldn't come to the cinema unless enticed by a plot they couldn't get from their television, so they demanded bigger plots for such films. The film version of Are You Being Served? followed this trend, following the staff as they take a package holiday together while the store is closed for redecoration, a loose adaptation of the play version from the year before. Set in the fictional resort of Costa Plonka, in Spain, the entire cast of the television series reprised their roles in the film. Reviews of the film were generally negative, with one reviewer declaring, "The humour consists mainly of withering selection of patent British puns; an inflatable brassiere, some let's-insult-the-Germans jokes and a rickey thunder-box which bolts from the outside are thrown in for good measure."
The Best of Are You Being Served? (1992)Edit
Buoyed by the huge success of the series in the United States, BBC America commissioned a special straight-to-VHS compilation in 1992. Running at 78 minutes, The Best of Are You Being Served featured newly-shot scenes of Mr Humphries reminiscing with his elderly mother, Annie, about his time working at Grace Brothers. Both roles were played by John Inman. The additional sequences were filmed in America, and directed by Don Hopfer.
In 2016, a one-off revival episode was announced and filmed at Dock10. It was broadcast as part of BBC's Landmark Sitcom Season, a celebration of 60 years of television sitcoms. It was set in 1988 with the original characters, played by a new cast.
Captain Peacock was played by John Challis, Mrs Slocombe by Sherrie Hewson, Mr Humphries by Jason Watkins, Miss Brahms by Niky Wardley, Mr Grainger by Roy Barraclough (Grainger having come out of retirement "To spend less time with his wife"), Mr Harman by Arthur Smith, and Mr Rumbold by Justin Edwards. New characters in the show were Young Mr Grace's grandson – also called Young Mr Grace – played by Mathew Horne, Miss Croft – named as a tribute to series co-creator David Croft – played by Jorgie Porter, and newcomer Mr Conway, played by Kayode Ewumi. The episode was written by Derren Litten. The BBC issued a press release saying: "It's 1988 and Young Mr Grace is determined to drag Grace Brothers into, well 1988, but he has a problem on his hands. Mr Humphries, Captain Peacock, Mr Rumbold and Mrs Slocombe all seem to be stuck in another era. A new member of staff, Mr Conway, joins the team but will he help shake things up or will he just put a pussy amongst the pigeons?"
Almost immediately after the cancellation of Are You Being Served? in 1985, the cast began suggesting a spin-off to Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft. Though all felt the department store format was exhausted, it was suggested the characters could be moved to a new location. In 1992, most of the original cast reunited for Grace & Favour (known as Are You Being Served Again! in the United States and Canada). The new series followed the characters after Young Mr. Grace's death, when they are forced to run a hotel in a dilapidated manor house that was purchased using their pension fund. Grace & Favour ran for two series.
In the summer of 1976, a stage adaptation of Are You Being Served? ran at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. Directed by Robert Redfarn, John Inman, Mollie Sugden, Frank Thornton, Wendy Richard, and Nicholas Smith reprised their characters from the television show while the characters of Mr. Lucas, Mr. Grainger, and Mr. Mash were recast. The play had basically the same plot as the film version which would debut the next year, though Young Mr. Grace's role was omitted entirely and Mr. Mash had less to do than Mr. Harman in the film. Reviews for the play were mixed; a writer for the Blackpool Diarist of the Stage declared it the funniest show he'd seen in thirty years, while Michael Leapman from The Times, declared the play to be worthless except for the final line, though he admitted he'd never seen the television show. The play has occasionally been run at other theaters since, including in 2012 at the Manifest Theater in Manningtree.
In 1979, Garry Marshall, in the midst of success producing and directing Happy Days and its spin-offs, produced a pilot for an American version of Are You Being Served? At the time, Americanised versions of British series, including Three's Company, All in the Family, and Sanford and Son were doing well in the ratings, and Marshall hoped to capitalise on this with his script for Beane's of Boston. Jeremy Lloyd's Laugh-In partner, Alan Sues, was cast as Mr. Humphries, a decision Lloyd regretted, saying Sues had been miscast. Other cast included future Magnum PI star John Hillerman as Mr. Peacock, Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Slocombe, and Lorna Patterson as Miss Brahms. Ultimately, CBS passed on Beane's of Boston and a full series was not produced.
An Australian adaptation, also called Are You Being Served?, ran for two series and sixteen episodes from 1980 to 1981 on Network Ten. It starred John Inman as Mr Humphries, who travels to Australia on loan from Grace Brothers to work for Old Mr. Grace's cousin, Mr. Bone at his department store, Bone Brothers. Renamed versions of characters from the original series rounded out the cast including June Bronhill as Mrs. Crawford, a copy of Mrs. Slocombe, and Shane Bourne as Captain Wagstaff, a copy of Captain Peacock. Jeremy Lloyd adapted episodes for the show from his own scripts from the British Are You Being Served, drawing from the then-new episodes of the seventh series for series one of the Australian version, and a selection of older episodes for series two. Lloyd would later say he hated the process of adapting the episodes, which were mostly left intact with the exception of some topical jokes, which were changed or deleted.
The series gained much of its popularity with TV viewers by "pushing the envelope" through its deliberate-yet-subtle use of risqué visual gags, innuendo-infused dialogue and cleverly-disguised sophomoric humour. These comical devices also attracted some mild criticism, in part for relying on sexual stereotypes and double entendres – e.g., Mrs Slocombe discussing her cat: "Animals are very psychic...the least sign of danger and my pussy's hair stands on end".
John Inman's portrayal of Humphries' over-the-top antics and sharp-tongued, witty responses, along with his trademark catch-phrase "I'm free!", were enthusiastically embraced by many audience members, and the character evolved into a gay icon in popular culture. Despite this, Inman pointed out that Mr Humphries' true sexual orientation was never explicitly stated in the series, and David Croft said in an interview that the character was not homosexual, but "just a mother's boy". In an episode of the spin-off Grace & Favour, the character is further described as neither a "woman's man" nor a "man's man" and as being "in limbo".
The characters (Mr Humphries especially) sometimes broke the fourth wall for comical effect.
Seven early episodes were novelised for a book, written by Jeremy Lloyd, called Are You Being Served? – Camping In and other Fiascos. This was written in 1976, and republished in 1997 by KQED Books. The seven episodes featured are "Camping In", "Up Captain Peacock", "Wedding Bells", "His and Hers", "Coffee Morning", "The Hand of Fate" and "The Clock".
In 1995, KQED Books published Are You Being Served – The Inside Story by Adrian Rigelsford, Anthony Brown, and Geoff Tibbals, with a foreword by Jeremy Lloyd, and sub-titled: The Inside Story of Britain's Funniest – and Public Television's Favorite – Comedy Series. In 212 pages, the book's six chapters cover: The Cast of Characters, Behind the Scenes, The Episodes, The Spin-offs, Trivia Quiz, and Glossary. ISBN 0-912333-04-9.
In 1999, I'm Free! The Complete Are You Being Served?, a guide to the series, was published by Orion Books. It was written by Richard Webber, with contributions from David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd.
A board game was also produced in the 1970s. Players moved round a board resembling the shop floor to purchase one item from each of the four counters and leave the store, before their opponents and without going over budget.
All ten series, including a black and white version of the pilot episode, and all five Christmas specials from those years, as well as both series of Grace & Favour are now available on DVD in the UK (Region 2). Are You Being Served?: the Movie was released in 2002. A colour-restored version of the original pilot episode has yet to be released commercially.
All ten series, as well as both series of Grace & Favour (in packaging titled Are You Being Served? Again!) and the film are available on DVD in Region 1 (North America).
All ten series, as well as both series of Grace & Favour and the film have been released in Australia (Region 4).
A DVD titled Are You Being Served? – Best of The Early Years and Are You Being Served? Christmas Specials have also been released.
|DVD title||Discs||Year||Ep. #||DVD release||Special episodes|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Complete Series 1||1||1972–1973||6||27 August 2002||25 July 2005||2 March 2006||The Pilot B&W version|
|Complete Series 2||1||1974||5||27 August 2002||19 September 2005||8 June 2006||—|
|Complete Series 3||2||1975||9||27 August 2002||30 January 2006||5 October 2006||1975 Christmas Special|
|Complete Series 4||1||1976||7||27 August 2002||27 March 2006||7 March 2007||1976 Christmas Special|
|Complete Series 5||1||1977||7||27 August 2002||5 June 2006||6 June 2007||—|
|Complete Series 6||1||1978||6||30 September 2003||28 August 2006||3 October 2007||1978 Christmas Special|
|Complete Series 7||1||1979||8||30 September 2003||25 August 2008||6 March 2008||1979 Christmas Special|
|Complete Series 8||1||1981||8||30 September 2003||7 September 2009||7 August 2008||1981 Christmas Special|
|Complete Series 9||1||1983||6||30 September 2003||24 May 2010||2 October 2008||—|
|Complete Series 10||1||1985||7||30 September 2003||13 September 2010||5 March 2009||—|
|Complete Series 1–5||6||1972–1977||34||27 August 2002||2 October 2006||N/A||Same as individual releases|
|Complete Series 6–10||5||1978–1985||35||30 September 2003||N/A||N/A||Same as individual releases|
|Complete Series 1–10||11||1972–1985||69||7 September 2003
11 August 2009
|13 September 2010||1 April 2010||Extra Disc with Profile Specials on Mollie Sugden, Wendy Richard etc. The 2009 R1 reissue comes in the smaller 2 disc thinpak cases instead of standard Amaray keep cases.|
- Walker, Dave (19 August 1992). "You folks bein' served?". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- "BFI Screenonline: Are You Being Served? (1973–85)". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
- "Britain's Best Sitcom – Top 11 to 100". BBC. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
- "Going Down: 'Grace Bros' store closes". BBC. 1 February 1999.
- Camber, Rebecca (1 February 2009). "Store that inspired 'Are You Being Served?' forced to shut shop after 150 years". Daily Mail. London.
- "Obituary: John Inman". BBC News. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
- Coates, Sam; Asthana, Anushka (9 March 2007). "Obituary – John Inman". The Times. London.
- "Vintage British TV: Comedy Playhouse – Are You Being Served? (BBC) 8th September 1972". Vintagebrittv.blogspot.co.uk. 7 January 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
- "Grace Brothers – Are You Being Served?". Retrieved 8 October 2016.
- Collier, Shayne. Again and again and again. The Sydney Morning Herald – The Guide: 2 June 1986, p.1, 6. 
- Semmler, Clement. Why 'Are You Being Served?' is our top-rating program. The Sydney Morning Herald: 25 October 1978, p.8. 
- "Australian TV shows top ratings". The Canberra Times. 30 December 1978. p. 3. Retrieved 11 August 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
- Rigelsford, Brown, and Tibballs, pp. 181-183
- Pym, John (1977). "Are You Being Served?". Monthly Film Bulletin. London: British Film Institute. 44 (516).
- "BBC – Are You Being Served? is returning to BBC One – Media Centre". Retrieved 8 October 2016.
- "All-star cast of Are You Being Served? remake spotted arriving for filming at Salford Quays". Manchester Evening News.
- Guide, British Comedy (22 February 2016). "New Are You Being Served? cast revealed". Retrieved 8 October 2016.
- "Alf Garnett back as part of BBC sitcom revival". BBC News. BBC. 10 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
- "Are You Being Served? made Mrs Brown's Boys look like Wodehouse – review". The Daily Telegraph.
- "Furious BBC viewers demand licence fee refunds after blasting Are You Being Served? remake as 'truly ghastly'". 29 August 2016.
- "Are You Being Served? remake panned by viewers". Your Local Guardian.
- Rigelsford, Brown, and Tibballs, pp. 175-179
- Rigelsford, Brown, and Tibballs, p. 186
- "Manifest Theatre - Are You Being Served". www.manifesttheatre.co.uk. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
- Rigelsford, Brown, and Tibballs (1995), p. 187
- Rigelsford, Brown, and Tibballs, pp. 187-188
- "I'm Free! – The Complete Are You Being Served?". Orion Books. 1999.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Are You Being Served?|
- Are You Being Served? at BBC Online
- Are You Being Served? at the British Film Institute
- Are You Being Served? at British Comedy Guide
- Are You Being Served? at the BFI's Screenonline
- Are You Being Served? on IMDb
- Are You Being Served? Virtual Video Vault
- Are You Being Served? Forever
- The Grace Brothers' Multimedia Department
- Are You Being Served? Central (Official site)