Are You Being Served?

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This article is about the original British sitcom. For other uses, see Are You Being Served? (disambiguation).
Are You Being Served?
Are You Being Served pilot title card.png
Genre Sitcom
Created by Jeremy Lloyd & David Croft
Written by
Directed by


Theme music composer Ronnie Hazlehurst
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 10
No. of episodes 69 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) David Croft
  • David Croft
  • Harold Snoad
  • Bob Spiers
  • Martin Shardlow
Running time 30 minutes
Original network BBC One
Picture format PAL (576i)
Audio format Monaural
Original release 8 September 1972 – 1 April 1985
Related shows

Are You Being Served? is a British sitcom created and written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, with contributions from Michael Knowles and John Chapman, for the BBC.[1] The show follows the misadventures and mishaps of the staff, as well as various interludes with customers (portrayed by popular and well-known British actors in guest appearances, such as Joanna Lumley), of the retail ladies' and gentlemen's clothing floor departments of a fictional London department store called Grace Brothers.

Broadcast between 1972 and 1985 on BBC1, the sitcom itself spanned ten series (seasons) totaling 69 parts (episodes) — five of which are Christmas specials. Are You Being Served? was a great success in the UK and also captivated a large audience in Canada and Australia. In the United States, it gained a loyal and enthusiastic following when PBS television stations began airing reruns of it in the late 1980s, along with other popular classic "Britcoms". Since its original release, all ten series — including the Christmas specials — are available on DVD home video.

In 2004, the sitcom was ranked 20th in the countdown of Britain's Best Sitcom.[2] It is regularly repeated worldwide - (PBS and BBC America in the United States; and BBC UKTV in Australia and New Zealand). From 7 October 2013 to 17 March 2014, 61 episodes of the series were repeated in the UK on BBC Two as part of Daytime Classics.[3] A further season of repeats were shown on BBC2 during the spring and summer of 2015.


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.[4] The inspiration for the store has also been credited to Rossiters of Paignton department store from the time Lloyd and Croft spent there,[5] and the former Clements of Watford.

The series was penned under the Comedy Playhouse series, but the BBC disliked it and refused to air it. The episode ended up being aired as a filler when regularly scheduled Olympic coverage was interrupted due to the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics on 8 September 1972, which led to a full series being produced.[6] The pilot was reshown at the beginning of the first series on 14 March 1973. That first series was aired in the same timeslot as Coronation Street on ITV, and consequently received relatively little attention. However, repeats shown later in the year were much more successful.[7]

Although the pilot was produced in colour, the videotape was wiped in the 1970s leaving only a 16mm black-and-white film telerecording.[8] In 2009, the pilot episode was restored to full colour using the colour recovery technique previously used for the Dad's Army episode "Room at the Bottom". The restored version was first shown on BBC2 on 1 January 2010 as part of a special Are You Being Served? night.

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 parts 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!).

In addition, the cast performed in character for a stage sketch on the BBC1 programme Variety on 19 June 1976.

Following the death of Frank Thornton on 16 March 2013, Nicholas Smith is the only surviving member of the original regular cast. The other surviving cast members, Mike Berry and Candy Davis, joined the show in the 1980s.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

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 humor. 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 camp portrayal of Mr. Humphries as an effeminate man could easily be "misinterpreted" by viewers. 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".[10] 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.

International broadcasts[edit]

The series has become very popular 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 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 was repeated by ABC Television in Australia several times.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]



In 1992, most of the original cast reunited for a spin-off show, titled Grace & Favour in Britain and Are You Being Served Again! in the United States and Canada. It ran for only two series.

Film version[edit]

In 1977, as for many other popular British sitcoms of the time, including On the Buses, a feature film was produced: the Are You Being Served? film had the same characters and cast. It was set in the fictional resort of Costa Plonka, in Spain. The film was an adaptation of the very successful stage version of the show, which played at the Winter Gardens Theatre, Blackpool over the summer of 1976.

Adaptations in other countries[edit]

A US adaptation pilot episode called Beane's of Boston aired on 5 May 1979 on CBS, but it did not make it to series.

An Australian spin-off, also called Are You Being Served?, ran for sixteen episodes from 1980 to 1981 on Network Ten. It starred John Inman as Mr. Humphries, June Bronhill as a character similar to Mrs. Slocombe, Reg Evans, Christine Amor and Shane Bourne. The show takes place in the fictional Bone Brothers store, as "Grace Bros." was the name of an actual department store chain in Australia. While most episodes were somewhat direct re-films of old scripts (with minor changes like names), the first episode features a new start showing Mr. Humphries joining from Grace Bros, and a series 2 episode is completely original, dealing with Mr. Humphries' Visa running out.

The Singaporean MediaCorp sitcom Can I Help You? had a similar title and premise, and was described by former cast member Vernetta Lopez as "Are You Being Served, minus the wonderfully filthy jokes".[14]


Cast of Are You Being Served?
Series 8 cast of 1981. (left to right): (top) Arthur English, Wendy Richard, Benny Lee, Mike Berry; (bottom) Nicholas Smith, Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, Vivienne Johnson, John Inman, Kenneth Waller, Louise Burton

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).

Main characters[edit]

  • Mrs. Betty Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) , 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 her "pussy".
  • Mr. Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries (John Inman), a sales assistant in gents'; a campy-acting man who lives with his mother.
  • "Captain" Stephen Peacock (Frank Thornton), the haughty floorwalker who purportedly fought in the North Africa Campaign of World War II but was actually in the Service Corps and never saw combat.
  • Miss Shirley Brahms (Wendy Richard), a young, attractive, working-class, cockney-speaking junior sales assistant to Mrs. Slocombe.
  • Mr. Ernest Grainger (Arthur Brough), 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.
  • Mr. Cuthbert "Jug Ears" Rumbold (Nicholas Smith), the autocratic, obsequious (to "Young" Mr. Grace), yet bumbling and incompetent floor manager.
  • Mr. James "Dick" Lucas (Trevor Bannister), the young, penniless, womanising junior salesman; a source of irritation to the female sales staff.
  • "Young" Mr. Grace (Harold Bennett), the very old, rich but stingy store owner, surrounded by attractive young women.
  • "Old" Mr. Grace (Kenneth Waller), "Young" Mr. Grace's even-older brother - eventually replaced him at the store when he retired.
  • Mr. Mash (Larry Martyn) (Seasons 1 through 3) and Mr. Beverly Harman (Arthur English) (Seasons 4–10), the maintenance men who installed mechanised display units in store and were both often scolded by Captain Peacock for being on the floor during opening hours.
  • Mr. Percival Tebbs (James Hayter), Mr. Grainger's replacement. He retired after only one year in the men's department.
  • Mr. Harry Goldberg (Alfie Bass), Mr. Tebbs' 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), 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), joined the gents' department to help out with upcoming sales in the store. Klein lasted only four episodes.
  • Mr. Bert Spooner (Mike Berry, eventually replaced Mr. Lucas as gents' junior sales assistant and was similar to him in many ways.
  • 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.
  • Diana Yardswick (Doremy Vernon), the manageress of Grace Brothers' canteen at which the staff had their lunch. Known for serving grossly unappetizing 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.

Theme song[edit]

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 basically serves as the only percussion instrument) and a simple musical accompaniment.

The 1977 Are You Being Served? motion picture 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",[15] and featured 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 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?"


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.

DVD releases[edit]

All ten series, including both the black & white and colour versions of the pilot episode, and all five Christmas specials from those years, are now available on DVD in the UK (Region 2). Are You Being Served?: the Movie was released in 2002.

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 (in correctly titled packaging) 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.

See also[edit]


1. ^ Arthur Brough died just before filming of series 6 commenced.


  1. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Are You Being Served? (1973–85)". Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "Britain's Best Sitcom – Top 11 to 100". BBC. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "Are You Being Served?". BBC Two. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Going Down: 'Grace Bros' store closes". BBC. 1 February 1999. 
  5. ^ Camber, Rebecca (1 February 2009). "Store that inspired 'Are You Being Served?' forced to shut shop after 150 years". London: Daily Mail. 
  6. ^ "Obituary: John Inman". BBC News. Retrieved 4 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Coates, Sam; Asthana, Anushka (9 March 2007). "Obituary – John Inman". London: The Times. 
  8. ^ "Vintage British TV: Comedy Playhouse – Are You Being Served? (BBC) 8th September 1972". 7 January 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  9. ^ "Are You Being Served? actor Frank Thornton dies aged 92". BBC News. 18 March 2013. 
  10. ^ "I'm Free! – The Complete Are You Being Served?". Orion Books. 1999. 
  11. ^ Collier, Shayne. Again and again and again. The Sydney Morning Herald – The Guide: 2 June 1986, p.1, 6. [1]
  12. ^ Semmler, Clement. Why 'Are You Being Served?' is our top-rating program. The Sydney Morning Herald: 25 October 1978, p.8. [2]
  13. ^ "Australian TV shows top ratings.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (ACT: National Library of Australia). 30 December 1978. p. 3. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  14. ^ Lopez, Vernetta (2012). Memoirs of a DJ: Life in Progress. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. p. 112. ISBN 978-981-4361-21-7. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  15. ^ Grace Brothers – Are You Being Served?

External links[edit]