Skip to content

Are You Being Served?

The hugely popular BBC sitcom "Are You Being Served?" followed the hilarious mishaps and misadventures of the staff of Grace Brothers department store. Written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, it occupied a primetime slot on BBC1 from 1972 to 1985, spanning 10 series and 69 episodes, with regular audiences of 22 million viewers.

It was set in the gentlemen's and ladies' clothing departments of Grace Brothers' flagship London store and featured a wonderful collection of staff going about their day-to-day lives, creating comedy mayhem and chaos.

The series proved so popular that a 1977 film was made - there was also a follow-up series from 1991 to '92 with the same cast and a one-off special with a new cast in 2016. The original series was aired again in the mid-1980s and was ranked 20th in a list of the Best British Sitcoms of all time. As well as being a big hit in the UK, the series gained a massive following in the USA, New Zealand, Canada and Israel. It's repeated worldwide to this day in the UK and also in America, New Zealand and Australia.

Lloyd created the show based on a number of real-life retail stores he was familiar with. It was part-based on the time he worked in the clothing store, Simpsons of Piccadilly, in the 1950s - the store had traded for more than 60 years until its closure in 1999. Inspiration also came from department store, Rossiters of Paignton, as Lloyd and Croft had performed a summer season in the town in their younger days and frequented the store quite often -Rossiters closed down after 150 years in 2009. The show was also said to be based on a third retail store. Clements in Watford was one of England's oldest department stores before its closure in 2005.

The pilot episode was filmed in 1972 but initially the BBC decided to shelve it. However, the tragedy of the 1972 summer Olympics - when the Munich massacre occurred on 8th September - led to all television coverage being suspended. TV chiefs hurriedly broadcast "Are You Being Served?" to fill the air space and this led to a full series being made.

The many regular characters gelled well together and the often-raucous humour occurred as their different personalities bounced off each other. Five actors from the original cast appeared in every episode throughout the series' 13-year run - Mollie Sugden, Frank Thornton, John Inman, Nicholas Smith and Wendy Richard.

Mollie Sugden played ladies' department senior sales assistant, Mrs Slocombe, famed for her often rainbow-coloured bouffant hair and airs and graces. Frank Thornton was department floor-walker Captain Peacock, a World War II veteran who was a stickler for rules. He ran the floor with a rod of iron. Perhaps the most famous character was Mr Humphries, a former dancing school instructor played by John Inman. He was always kind and polite and famous for his high-pitched response of, "I'm free!" when customer service was required. Nicholas Smith played Mr Rumbold, manager of the ladies and gentlemen's departments. His life was totally wrapped up in Grace Bros. He was affectionately called "Jug Ears" by the other staff - would scriptwriters get away with this in today's politically correct climate? Wendy Richard played the glamorous Miss Shirley Brahms, the ladies' department junior, who sometimes attempted to disguise her broad Cockney accent with a more refined one but not very convincingly! A little-known fact was that Shirley Brahms was the name of Wendy Richard's dog in real life!

The humour in the series was often based on the use of innuendo-infused dialogue and risqué visual gags. Although popular with viewers, the comedy style of the show received some criticism for relying on stereotypes, such as Miss Brahms' "bimbo" image or Mr Humphries' over-the-top antics. However, the '70s was an era of less political correctness and the humour in "Are You Being Served?" was positively tame compared with some of its counterparts, such as Love Thy Neighbour or On The Buses.

To celebrate 60 years of BBC television sitcoms, in 2016 "Are You Being Served?" was revived for a one-off special, although with different actors.

When you're running a retail business - from a department store the size of Grace Brothers to a tiny corner shop - you need top quality shop fittings to display your goods to their best advantage. This is where KAS Shopfittings can help. Our range of retail shop fittings includes shelving systems, slatwall panels, chrome shelving, shop counters, card racks and slatwall gondolas… and if it’s second to none customer service you’re looking for, well, “we’re free!”

Previous article Zara – the Most Successful High Street Retailer