Are You Being Served? was a hilarious 1970s British sitcom. We share some trivia about the cast who played these department store characters.
They don’t make ’em like that anymore. Are You Being Served?, the BBC’s slugfest of innuendo and triple entendre, ran from 1972-1985. For over 69 episodes, viewers were immersed in the world of Grace Brothers, an old-fashioned London department store that was home to a rivalry between the ladieswear and menswear departments.
What makes the series so special? Well, the characters are comic classics and the sexy zingers come hard and fast. The flamboyant Mr. Humphries, cutie cockney Miss Brahms, bumbling womanizer Mr. Lucas, and totally over-the-top Mrs. Slocombe bring the battle of the sexes to the front lines of comedy. Here are 10 things you don’t know about the cast of this saucy classic.
An Ensemble Cast Made In Heaven
Let’s face it. Are You Being Served? is a period piece, a creature of a distant, politically incorrect time. It is slapstick. It is double entendre heaven. And the cast is comic acting gold, all with backgrounds on the stage and screen. These talented actors are considered British royalty in terms of acting.
This delicious parody of the class system has it all. The premise is simple: Take a floor of an old-fashion London department store and put the menswear and ladieswear departments side by side. Stock with hysterical, clashing personalities, and stand back and laugh. It’s thanks to this top-notch cast the series is still popular to this day.
Mollie Sugden – Gold Standard Comic Actress
Mollie Sugden is brilliant as the decidedly middle-aged Mrs. Slocombe, the head of the ladieswear department. She is a force of nature. A smutty force of nature. Mrs. Slocombe’s trademark is her technicolor hair. Every week brings a new color.
Mollie Sugden was considered one of the finest comedic actresses of the time. She also appeared in The Liver Birds and even did a turn or two on the Benny Hill Show. That show made Are You Being Served? look tame. Mollie (as Mrs. Slocombe) got her face onto a First Class Stamp.
Wendy Richard – Cheeky Cockney Makes Good
Miss Brahms, the ultimate young “dumb blonde” Cockney, is Mrs. Slocombe’s assistant in the ladieswear department. Wendy Richard, the actress who made Miss Brahms a comic force, went on to have a long career as Pauline Fowler on the BBC’s flagship dramatic soap opera EastEnders, playing, wait for it, a middle-aged “dumb blonde” Cockney. She was on the show for nearly twenty-two years.
Richard died in 2009, survived by her fourth husband, painter and decorator John Burns.
John Inman – Pantomime Dame Extraordinaire
Menswear department assistant Mr. Humphries became a camp icon. The show is peppered with innuendos about his sexuality, though he never comes out on the show. Again, it was a different time.
John Inman was also a popular pantomime dame, with over forty performances under his belt. Openly gay, he entered into a civil partnership with his long-time companion Ron Lynch, a couple of years before he died in 2007.
Arthur Brough – From Boring Office To Treading the Boards
Arthur Brough brings ineffectual, bumbling manager Mr. Grainger to comic life. Let’s face it, Grainger’s not very good at his job. And he doesn’t really seem to care.
While working in a solicitor’s office, the young Brough began doing amateur dramatics. Bored with office work, he jumped ship and later trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Just getting into the school is impressive, never mind graduating. Are You Being Served? made Brough a household name.
Nicholas Smith – Not At All Like Mr. Rumbold
Veteran actor Nicolas Smith is the lecherous, incompetent manager of the menswear and ladieswear department, Mr. Rumbold. He spends most of his time ogling his attractive female assistant, carefully avoiding having to make anything approaching a decision. His nickname was “Jug Ears,” which will tell you what his colleagues thought of him.
RADA-trained Smith was a soft-spoken amiable man, a million miles away from Rumbold. For many years he was kept busy in repertory theater, as well as in London’s West End. Later in life, he found a new role in voice acting, lending his talents in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit as Reverend Clement Hedges.
Frank Thornton – Determined To Act
If you were going to typify a stiff upper lip, uptight British male, it would be “Captain” Peacock, the floor walker. To tell you the truth, he doesn’t really do much other than stand there and pontificate, a red flower in his lapel. He only goes to Christmas parties in hopes of seducing Miss Brahms.
As a young man, Frank Thornton worked in insurance, before chucking it and going to acting school. He even managed to persuade his reluctant father to finance the enterprise. Thornton served as a pilot in World War II, was demobilized at the end of the war, and promptly joined a touring repertory company. He worked steadily in TV, films and on the stage before taking up the role of Mr. Peacock in 1972.
Trevor Bannister – Comedic And Classical Talent
Young menswear assistant Mr. Lucas is incompetent, bumbling and broke. He’s usually late for work, often incurring the wrath of Mr. Peacock. Mr. Lucas thinks of himself as a ladies’ man. We know. Forget it.
Trevor Bannister brought Mr. Lucas to three-dimensional life. He played Lucas from 1972 to 1979 when he left the show to join the runaway TV success that was The Last of the Summer Wine. While a fine TV actor, Bannister was a noteworthy stage actor, performing Shakespeare and, of course, in pantomime playing a dame.
Five Stayed The Course
Characters and actors came and went, but five of the original cast stayed the course from 1972 to 1985. Mollie Sugden as Mrs. Slocombe, John Thornton as Captain Peacock, John Inman as Mr. Humphries, Wendy Richard as Miss Brahms, and Nicolas Smith as Mr. Rumbold were the central core around which everything else revolved. The result was a comedy masterpiece, an iconic classic.
The show became an institution and the five actors and their characters became iconic symbols of the best that British comedy can provide. Is it sometimes smutty? Yes. Do the double entendres fly thick and fast? Of course. Do we sometimes veer into slapstick? Absolutely. It’s what makes Are You Being Served? such a cult classic.
The Time Of Our Lives
Frank Thornton, a.k.a. Captain Peacock, has said that over the years the cast developed hard and fast friendships. The routine for filming was simple. The cast would rehearse for five days and film on the sixth. They tended to barrel through, allowing the odd fluff. As Thornton said, it wasn’t Shakespearean drama.
And, in any event, most of the main cast had busy stage careers. So scheduling could be a bit of a nightmare, particularly around the holidays and pantomime season. His final verdict? It was one of the best times of his life. Most of the other cast agree.
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