|Mrs Betty Slocombe|
|Are You Being Served? |
& Grace & Favour character
|Duration||1972–1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1992–1993, 2016|
|First appearance||Are You Being Served? (1972)|
|Last appearance||Are You Being Served? (2016)|
Mary Elizabeth Jennifer Rachel Abergavenny "Betty" Slocombe (née Yiddell) is a fictional character from the BBC One comedy shows, Are You Being Served? and Grace & Favour. She was originally played by Mollie Sugden and subsequently by Sherrie Hewson in a one-off 2016 revival.
Mary Elizabeth Jennifer Rachel Abergavenny Slocombe (née Yiddell), known as Betty, was born in 1926 in Blackpool. Mrs Slocombe is the Senior of the Ladies Department and known for her unusual hair colours, such as lime green, purple and orange. Throughout the series, her husband is alluded to as having either left Mrs Slocombe, or possibly been arrested by the Fraud Squad. In Grace and Favour, it is revealed that Mrs Slocombe's husband, Cecil, had walked out on her one morning (to buy slightly salted butter at Sainsbury's) and ended up a successful land developer. In one episode she accepts what she thinks is a marriage proposal from Mr Humphries, implying that she is now divorced from Mr Slocombe.
Mrs Slocombe lives with her cat, Tiddles, which she refers to as "my pussy", and is the source of many a double entendre. Mrs Slocombe also tries to sound posh and refined, but when exasperated or annoyed, she reveals more than a trace of a northern accent. Mrs Slocombe's catch phrases include "...and I am unanimous in that..." and "Weak as water!" Mrs Slocombe is prone to malapropisms when confronted with long words, rendering, for example:
- "obstreperous" as "obstropulous"
- "organism" as "orgasm"
- "centimetres" as "centipedes".
Much of her free time appears dedicated to prowling public houses, roller rinks, and discos with friends (referred to variously as Mrs. Axelby, Mrs Elthrop, or others). In her middle age, men are increasingly less attracted to her, which she dismisses as politeness on the part of all men. Mrs Slocombe is close friends with Miss Brahms, in spite of their 28-year age difference; they are often seen gossiping, and unite in stands against management.
The three junior salesmen, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Humphries, and Mr. Spooner, constantly make sarcastic jokes and remarks about Mrs. Slocombe's sex life, age, appearance, size and weight. Nonetheless, Mr Humphries is also the most congenial towards her. In one instance, for example, when the department was facing the possibility of having an employee sacked, Mr. Humphries is quick to jump to Mrs Slocombe's defence. The five senior salesmen (Mr. Grainger, Mr. Tebbs, Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Grossman, and Mr. Klein) resent having to share the floor with her. In Mr. Grainger's case, it this starts as a response her area taking space he regarded as rightfully part of his department, while the others seem to half-heartedly maintain this dislike.
In a number of episodes, namely "The Clock", "Cold Store", "German Week", "Do You Take This Man?", and "The Erotic Dreams Of Mrs Slocombe", she is shown to have a fondness for alcohol, mainly gin, and thus gets drunk.
Mrs. Slocombe is very vain about her age, once claiming to be "only 46" and another time claiming to be in her 30s. However, in the episode "Fifty Years On", the staff determine that she was born in the 1920s (they also determine that she is 50), and in "Founders Day" Mr. Lucas announces her year of birth as 1926. In "The Junior", Captain Peacock threatens to reveal that she worked at Lyons as a nippy, possibly implying that she was at least in her late teens during World War II, although Lyons Corner Houses existed until 1977, so she could have worked there later.
In the Second World War, as a child, Mrs. Slocombe was evacuated to Tiverton in Devon, where she worked on a farm as a Land Girl. As she grew older, she became an ARP Warden; in this role she met her husband, who saved her from a bomb in an air raid. She then became an ambulance driver, and was nearly killed by a land mine explosion on Clapham Common. She described the experience several times, saying: "I remember being thrown on my back in Clapham Common during an air raid ... the German air force was responsible." Mr Lucas snarkily replied, "All the other times the American air force was responsible."
At various times, often while drunk, Mrs. Slocombe tried to flirt with various male staff members. Though she often sparred with Mr. Lucas, she was heard to remark that he had "very smooth hands" when he accidentally tries to straighten her stockings instead of a display dummy's, and she was very pleasant towards him in the early episodes (although he was young enough to be her son). Mrs. Slocombe often casts an eye towards Captain Peacock, usually calling him "Stephen" in a conspiratorial tone and complimenting him in an effort to appeal to his masculine ego. At one point, when pretending to be locked in a passionate embrace with Captain Peacock, Mrs Slocombe is overcome with the smell of his cologne, and comments that he is actually a rather handsome man. (On the other hand, when he once beckoned to her, she famously declared, with typical solemnity, "I do not respond to any man's finger.") She was occasionally known to smile and wink at Mr Humphries. Mrs Slocombe also once implied that she had a crush on Mr Spooner (although she was just saying this when she heard that he was a pop star; again, he was young enough to be her son).
It is mentioned later on in the series that Mrs. Slocombe's residence is a block of flats at the end of a cul-de-sac backing onto a common. In series 7 Mrs. Slocombe's residence on the top floor of Grace Brothers resembles what Mrs Slocombe's home actually looks like.
Mrs. Slocombe mentions on three occasions that she has a pet canary called Winston, who is seen in "The Apartment". She sometimes refers to her cat Tiddles as a male, even though Tiddles has given birth to two litters of kittens. In every episode, and sometimes during the episode, Mrs Slocombe's hair colour and style changes, and yet it is not mentioned by any of her fellow workers.
Grace and Favour
Are You Being Served? (2016)
BBC TV revived Are You Being Served? for a one-off revival in 2016, featuring Sherrie Hewson as Mrs Slocombe. In this single episode, Mrs Slocombe was portrayed with pink hair.
- "I'm Free! - The Complete Are You Being Served?". Orion Books. 1999.
- "Founder's Day". Are You Being Served?. Season 5. Episode 3. 11 March 1977.
- Slide, Anthony (January 1996). Some Joe You Don't Know: An American Biographical Guide to 100 British Television Personalities. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-313-29550-8.
- "Fifty Years On". Are You Being Served?. Season 4. Episode 5. 5 May 1976.
- "Heir Apparent". Are You Being Served?. Season 8. Episode 5. 7 May 1981.