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Summer Viewing Guide: 'Are You Being Served?'

My first job in high school was working at a grocery store. I worked that job for seven years, and it sucked every shift. Now, imagine what kind of hilarious jokes and situations would arise during the day and imagine what those situations would be like as a TV show. That show was named the 12th best British sitcom in 2004 when Are You Being Served? became one of the earliest workplace comedies.

Believe it or not, the show was not an initial success. Originally written for the Comedy Playhouse series on the BBC, the show was not supposed to air. The only reason Are You Being Served? ever made it on the air was because of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre which left some unused airtime, and the BBC was forced to use the pilot as filler. The show would run until 1985, with ten series (seasons, as we Americans know them) of 69 episodes. Are You Being Served? would then lead toa film and a spin-off called Grace and Favour.

Are You Being Served?'s kind of comedy hit every aspect of humor, double entendres, breaking of the fourth wall, humorous musical numbers, sight gags and lots of slap stick. Featuring a diverse and equally talented cast, the show was able to nail on so many aspects of the workplace. That's why one of the main themes of Are You Being Served? relied class and work conflict. But then again, what British comedy would be complete without an attack on bureaucracy?

Key Episodes and Themes

The British Class System
The have and the have-nots. Every level of Grace Brother's is shown. At the top is the old hierarchy, Young Mr. Grace and eventually Old Mr. Grace have a patrician relationship with the staff. Below that is the floor manager, Cuthbert Rumbold, played by Nicholas Smith, who shows the ineptitude of the autocratic system employed by the store. Then you have the cushy job of floor walker, Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton), who eyes for any chance to raise himself above the floor staff.

The floor staff consists of the heads of the ladies' and men's departments as originally depicted by Mrs. Slocombe (Mollie Sudgen) and Mr. Granger (Arthur Brough) respectively. Then there are overly emphasized "junior" assistants. The cockney-speaking Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard) is the only female junior. On the men's original cast, Mr. Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries (John Inman) and Mr. Dick Lucas (Trevor Bannister) are the juniors.

Rounding out the cast is the blue-collar worker force: The maintenance staff. To great derision, Captain Peacock is always chastising First Mr. Mash (Larry Martyn) and later Mr. Beverly Harman (Arthur English) for their constant appearance on the floor. However, as the middle-class floor staff always has run-ins with management concerning their pay, it's the maintenance staff reaping the benefits of the unionized.

The show also plays off the idea of post-war Britain. But this will be hit on later.

Mrs. Slocombe 
Played by Sudgen, the senior sales associate of the ladies' department provides many great verbal comedy moments. Whether it's her accounts of meeting Mr. Slocombe during the war or her cat — which she calls her pussy — she is a colorful member of the cast. The character was also noted for her colorful hairstyles, making it fashionable way before Kelly Osbourne was doing it.

The Musical Numbers
Nearly every episode would try to wrap up the main plot point of the show with a unique musical performance. While it's not exactly something you would see in comedies now, it adds a bit of a vaudevillian aspect to the show. It seemed to really suit the universal skills of Inman.

Capt. Peacock's Service Record
It's a point of pride for Stephen Peacock to always be addressed as Captain Peacock. He will always fill episodes with his brave heroics in Africa during WWII. Of course, the truth of Peacock's war record was revealed when Mr. Goldberg (Alfie Bass) joined the staff in Series 7 of Are You Being Served?. Captain Peacock and Mr. Goldberg served in the same unit during the war.

The Center Display
Series co-creator Jeremy Lloyd worked at a department store during his youth and played up on the grand center displays stores employed to increase sales. It seemed that every big event or holiday promotion at the store needed an even bigger display. However, there was always a snag in the execution or performance of these displays.

It's easy to say that without Are You Being Served? we would not have The Office. This show attacked every aspect of the workplace and more importantly focused on how awful jobs in retail are. Over the show's long run, the humor never dipped, even though the cast saw numerous changes. For a show that ended in 1984, it's amazing to consider that only two members of the regular cast are still alive. Smith, who played Mr. Rumbold, and pop singer Mike Berry, who played Mr. Spooner, are the only living castmembers.

The show did try to make it across the pond. In 1979, CBS ordered a pilot called Beane's of Boston, but it never became a series.
Summer Viewing Guide: 'Are You Being Served?' Reviewed by Seth Pohorence on 6/12/2013 Rating: 5

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