Are You Being Served?

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Mr. Humphries, are you free?


Long-running Britcom following the exploits of the employees of the Ladies and Gentlemen's ready-to-wear departments of Grace Brothers, a London department store, probably a Fictional Counterpart to Harrod's. The show lasted from September, 1972 to April, 1985. A total of 69 episodes in ten seasons.

In classic Britcom tradition, the episodes generally had relatively little in the way of plot. Individual episode storylines were largely a framing device to deliver a rapid-fire series of double entendres, typically dealing with the reactions (or over-reactions) of the staff to the latest management scheme, or tension between the Ladies' and Gentlemen's departments. Almost every episode ended with the characters dressing up in silly outfits. The show rarely strayed beyond the department floor, and almost never left the confines of the store itself.

Came twentieth in Britains Best Sitcom.

The core characters of the show were:

  • Mrs. Slocombe, senior assistant on the Ladies' counter. She sported exotically colored hair and made constant comments about her cat, which she always called "her pussy".
  • Mr. Humphries, associate (later senior) assistant on the Men's counter. Ambiguously Camp Gay: the general confusion about his sexual orientation made up much of the show's jokes. Among his perennial gags was the substitution of a deep baritone for his usual effeminate voice when answering the telephone.
  • Mr. Lucas, junior assistant on the Men's counter. A borderline Casanova Wannabe, often in trouble for minor violations of the store's baroque codes of conduct (for example, his failure to display a properly fluted pocket handkerchief). He was later substituted in favor of Mr. Spooner, essentially the same character reduced to a background role. Mr. Lucas was well-known for being almost predictably late -- he usually attempted to cover it by signing false names in the work register, but this backfired when Captain Peacock dryly pointed out that the majority of the names Mr. Lucas chose were either celebrities, fictional, dead, or a combination thereof.
  • Miss Brahms, the sexy Deadpan Snarker ladieswear junior, noted for her sometimes incomprehensible Estuary accent.
  • Captain Peacock, the floorwalker. Due to his (somewhat exaggerated) military background (he served in the Catering Corps) and higher position, he considers himself above the assistants and flaunts his greater social standing. Constantly in trouble with his wife for supposed improprieties, although it is not clear whether he ever actually crossed the line into outright infidelity.
  • Mr. Grainger, the elderly, cantankerous senior assistant in menswear. He was later replaced by the progressively younger and less cantankerous Mr. Tebbs, then Mr. Goldberg, then Mr. Grossman, and finally Mr. Klein. For the final few seasons, this role was removed, reducing the core cast to a Five-Man Band.

Additional recurring characters included:

  • Mr. Rumbold, the floor manager, often called upon to invent wild explanations for the staff's actions. Called 'Jug Ears' by the staff (and not always behind his back, either), his poor eyesight often lent itself to comical misunderstandings when he was forced to read anything. Verbal explanations also tended to be misunderstood due to him taking things very literally.
  • Mr. Mash (later Mr. Harman), maintenance personnel used to make jokes about the class system (for example, though they are "dead common" and considered social pariahs by the staff, the maintenance staff is, thanks to their union, better paid than the sales staff). Mr. Harman could be a Deadpan Snarker when the situation called for it, but he could usually be counted on to help the Grace Brothers' staff out of that week's predicament.
  • Young Mr. Grace, the ancient owner of the store. Dirty Old Man, but generally a pleasant, if easily confused boss. Though described as "young", he is well over 80: the query, "That's Young Mr. Grace?!" elicits the response, "Old Mr. Grace doesn't get around much any more." (However, after the actor who played Young Mr. Grace dropped out of the show, they tried an Old Mr. Grace for a while: he was obviously played by a younger actor under gobs of makeup.)

In parody of the British class system, characters are almost never referred to by their first names, and it is several seasons before we even know all of them.

The characters in the show were, in large part, roles rather than people: actors were replaced frequently, each one playing essentially the same role as his predecessor.

Spawned a feature film, an Australian remake, and a short-lived Revival, Grace & Favour, which reunited most of the cast as the keepers of a country inn (as the final management scheme before the store went under was to sink their pension fund into it). A number of the show's stars suspect that the viewing public did not realize that Grace & Favour was meant to be a Revival, and therefore did not give it a chance. This is somewhat borne out by the fact that the show had more success in the US, where it was aired under the title Are You Being Served Again.

US viewers know this show from its near-universal syndication on public television stations. In Mystery Science Theater 3000: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, while running a fake public TV pledge drive as a moneymaking scam, Pearl Forrester identifies footage of Mike and the Bots as a clip from Are You Being Served.

Tropes used in Are You Being Served? include:
  • Ambiguously Gay: Mr. Humphries most of the time. As the series progressed, there were increasing suggestions that Mr. Humphries was actually attracted to women...predominantly.
  • The Barnum: Mr. Humphries
  • Building of Adventure: The setting very rarely leaves Grace Brothers Department Store.
  • The Boxing Episode / Pro Wrestling Episode: Captain Peacock is challenged to a boxing match, but backs out. Mr. Humphries is chosen to take his place in a wrestling match and loses. Then Mrs. Slocombe enters the ring.
  • Breakout Character: The concept was originally to have Mr. Lucas and Miss Brahms as the leads, being the younger and more normal characters. However, Mrs. Slocombe and Mr. Humphries stole the spotlight.
  • British Brevity: Even though the show ran for ten seasons over 13 years, it produced only 69 episodes. This averages out to about seven episodes a season.
  • Camp Gay: Mr. Humphries when he reveals what he does for fun.
  • The Cast Showoff: Mr. Lucas's replacement, Mr. Spooner, was played by singer Mike Berry. The last episode was centered around Mr. Spooner trying to break into the pop music scene. Nicholas Smith, who played Mr. Rumbold, could play various musical instruments, a talent which was exploited in a number of episodes.
  • Catch Phrase: "Are you free?" "You've all done very well!" "Thank you, Mr Grace!" "Glass of water for Mr. Grainger." "And I am unanimous in that." "Weak as water!" "They'll ride up with wear."
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Mr. Lucas and Mr. Grainger disappear without a word of acknowledgment.
  • Cute Kitten: One episode has Mrs. Slocombe's cat about to give birth, whereupon she smuggles it into work. The wrath of Captain Peacock is avoided via Cuteness Proximity.
  • Dawson Casting: To a minor extent. Mr. Lucas was supposed to be in his mid-twenties when the show began, but the actor, Trevor Bannister, was 36 years old. In fact, he was only a few months younger than Nicholas Smith, who played Mr. Rumbold, and nearly a year older than John Inman, who played Mr. Humphries. Inverted for "Old" Mr. Grace who was played by Kenneth Waller age 54; his younger brother was played by Harold Bennett, who was 28 years older.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Mrs. Slocombe was frequently prone to this.

"The earth began as a soup, with little orgasms floating about in it."

  • Dirty Old Woman: Mrs. Slocombe, and it's never plainer than when gossipping with her junior. Consider this scene when Miss Brahms is about to throw away a number she picked up and Mrs. Slocombe stops her from "littering the floor":

Miss Brahms: D'you know, I can't bear them big muscley men with hairy chests and tattoos; they can only think of one thing!
Mrs. Slocombe: I quite agree! ... Is that a five or an eight?

  • Double Entendre: Put simply, the show lives and breathes double entendre, most notoriously those involving Mrs. Slocombe's pussy.
    • Another was a man coming in to inspect the furniture of an executive's office. The cast listens in, and thinks he's talking about them. Brahms gets very upset when the man says "and the knockers aren't real".
    • In one Christmas show, the floor had a mechanical Santa, which was programmed to say "Ho Ho Ho, little boy! Have I got a surprise for you!", and then open its arms in a welcoming gesture. The phrase itself was enough of a Double Entendre, but the person creating the dummy had sewn the sleeves of the dummy's gown to the body of the gown, resulting in the dummy acting like a flasher. Mr. Humphries faints when he sees it.
  • Elderly Blue/Grey/Pink/Purple/Orange/Red/Green Haired Lady: Mrs. Slocombe
  • Elevator Floor Announcement: The show's Thematic Theme Tune has this. ("Ground floor: Perfumery, / Stationery and leather goods"). So good it was turned into a techno dance number, Are U Being Served? by Australian band Regurgitator. It rocks.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Mr. Humphries's full name is "Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries". Mr. Harman's first name is "Beverly". Mr. Rumbold's first name is "Cuthbert". Mr. Lucas's first name is "Dick", which everyone else seems to find hysterical.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Jug Ears" Rumbold
  • Faking Amnesia: Used by Mrs. Slocombe in a later episode when she pretended to have forgotten everything since early childhood and spent the majority of the episode acting like a schoolgirl. The ordeal was a ploy to scare the management with a possible lawsuit.
  • Funny Foreigner: Several episodes involve one.
    • In one, an Arab Oil Sheikh visits. He attempts to bargain, and pay in goats. You read that right. Not groats. Goats.
    • In another it's a Japanese Tourist with his "Cledit Caa" (Sooooooo!). Captain Peacock's attempts to communicate with him are at least as hilarious as the tourist himself ("You wanty buy?" "Whaty-wanty?")
    • Also, a cranky German couple in "German Week", and Japanese businessmen looking to take over the store in "Monkey Business". Also, short-lived regular Mr. Grossman could qualify as a Funny Foreigner.
  • The Ghost: Mr. Grace becomes this during the final two seasons, although he continues to be mentioned. However, no one ever specifies whether "Young" or "Old" Mr. Grace is the one being referred to.
  • Glad I Thought of It: In "The Think Tank", Mr. Rumbold appropriates Captain Peacock's idea for a store fashion show.
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Slocombe affects this trope much of the time. When angry or flustered, however, she backslides to her "vulgar" working class roots (sometimes in the middle of a sentence).
  • Hello, Nurse!: Miss Belfridge, full stop.
  • Hey, Let's Put on a Show: Done pretty frequently in the latter seasons, often in celebration of Mr. Grace's birthday.
  • Idiot Ball: It's shared around pretty equally; the characters' intelligence level can be extremely variable. However, Miss Brahms seems to get stuck with it a lot later in the series, which is odd considering she was generally quite smart earlier in the series.
  • Kaleidoscope Hair: Mrs Slocumbe wears wigs, but every one is a different color.
  • Last-Name Basis: Sometimes a well meaning person tries to change this, and it only makes everyone visibly uncomfortable.
  • Making a Spectacle of Yourself: Mr. Humphries seems to prefer flamboyant sunglasses.
  • Marilyn Maneuver: This is a common trope in this series that occurred several times including:
    • This happened to Shirley Brahms thrice in "The Club" (twice in which her unmentionables are shown). The first time when she and the other staff members are in a basement and Young Mr. Grace presses a button or lifts a switch on a wall, which causes air from a floor vent to blow up the skirt of her uniform, revealing her white undies and Mr. Lucas gets a kick out of it. The second time Ms. Brahms is wearing a different outfit and she has a windblown skirt moment again, this time with Mr. Lucas jokingly pressing the button and she's wearing white undies with matching bustier or corset underneath. Third time, Mr. Lucas does it again, but the skirt lifts from the back and Ms. Brahms' back is turned to the wall.
    • Earlier in the same episode, Young Mr. Grace's nurse (Vivienne Johnson) bends over at one point in front of him and he dress rides up, flashing her white panties and that sends his heart racing (and his pacemaker sounding off).
    • In another moment in the same episode, Miss Bakewell (Penny Irving), lifts her skirt for Young Mr. Grace, presuming he wanted her to flash him.
    • In another episode, "Monkey Business", Miss Belfridge's (Candy Davis) pink dress gets lifted in a draft from an electric fan nearby and she struggles to keep it down when her white panties are shown.
  • Comedy of Errors
  • Momma's Boy: Mr. Humphries
  • The Movie: A movie was made where the cast take a holiday and hilarity ensues.
  • Multiple Choice Past: Captain Peacock could never quite keep straight his stories of just what he did in World War II.
  • Nose Tapping
  • The Other Darrin: Mrs. Peacock, who makes appearances in a few episodes, was played by two actresses.
  • Outdated Outfit: Captain Peacock wears semi-formal morning dress, which at the time of the series had been abandoned by all but the staunchest businessmen.
  • Panty Shot: Shirley Brahms at one point, wearing her dark brown, knee-length, split-skirt, as part of one of her uniforms. Light blue panties are seen underneath with her legs are uncrossed at one point and another when she's trying to get off of some furniture in one episode.
    • Miss Belfridge's white panties are displayed when her pink dress gets drafty from an electric fan in a separate episode ("Monkey Business").
    • Ms. Brahms had three windblown skirt moments in another episode. See one of the tropes above for more info.
  • Pet Homosexual
  • Phony Veteran: Captain Peacock. He may well have served in North Africa during the War, but one doubts he saw much action in the Royal Army Service Corps.[1]
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Mr. Rumbold, much of the time.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few times a fur was a minor plot point. One was when a lady comes in to buy a fur, and Hilarity Ensues when Slocombe and Humphries compete for the commission.
  • Put on a Bus: Young Mr. Grace was said to have gone on a sabbatical to write a book when actor Harold Bennett became too infirm to continue in the role. However, he appeared once to say good-bye and made one cameo before Bennett died.
  • Queer People Are Funny
  • Reality Subtext: Mr. Humphries was eventually promoted to Senior Salesman because the producers were tired of casting elderly actors who subsequently died. In turn, actor John Inman asked for Humphries' promotion not to be formally acknowledged, because he was superstitious about all those dead actors before him.
    • Only Arthur Brough, who was the original crotchety old senior salesman, Mr. Grainger died during his run on the show. The other actors who played seniors had left for various reasons.
  • Running Gag: Mrs. Slocombe's pussy.
  • Serious Business: Everything from what sort of pen you keep in your pocket, to how you fold your handkerchief, to what sort of hat you wear on your way in are matters of dire consequence at Grace Brothers.
  • Sexy Secretary: Young Mr. Grace (and his brother Old Mr. Grace) had multiple sexy secretaries during the series. Just the sight of them often put quite a lot of stress on his weak heart, and in the sequel series Grace and Favour, a sexy secretary's bikini top popped off (off-screen, of course), and gave Young Mr. Grace a fatal heart attack.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Captain Peacock, to an extent.
  • Social Semi-Circle: None of the actors have their back to the camera when sitting at a table or gathered in a meeting. Instead they leave one side of the table empty or line up.
  • Sound Defect: In one episode, the staff of Grace Brothers are performing a radio play. Captain Peacock's character arrives at a pub and asks for a pint. The sound effect of the pint being poured is created by a jug of water being poured into a bowl from a significant height, and sounds more like somebody urinating. Miss Brahms, playing the barmaid, says "I bet you were dying for that".
  • El Spanish-O: A Japanese version, when a tourist comes to Grace Brothers.

Mr Lucas: What does the customer require, Captain Peacock?
Capt Peacock: I'll try to find out.
Mr Lucas: Yes, of course. You were out east weren't you?
Capt Peacock: Mmm. (Beat) Whatee wantee?

  • Spot of Tea: All most every episode had some sort of reference to tea-- Tea breaks, putting the kettle on, tea at meetings, and even a tea trolley at one point.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Too many to count.
  • That's What She Said: Mr. Mash indulges in a bit of this with the perfume salesgirl in "His and Hers".

(Holding an extension cord) "Here we are the are, then. Let's hope we don't get a short-circuit when we plug it Mae West said when she picked up the midget. I suppose it'll take a few moments to warm Mae West said to the Eskimo."

  • Three Is Company
  • Trans-Atlantic Equivalent: A spinoff of sorts was created in Australia, in which Mr. Humphries decides to work in a Melbourne store for a while. All the episodes, save one, were re-stagings of episodes from the original series, save for a minor tweak here or there to fit the new setting. Suspiciously Similar Substitutes filled out the rest of the cast.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Mr. Humphries' mother is, naturally, John Inman. In one episode, Mr. Humphries dresses up as her so he can fill in for her at her job. Mr. Rumbold also has an identical brother, Mycroft, who appears in one episode in a Double Vision scene.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Mrs. Slocombe's choices of hair color, including pink, green, purple, and others, are never remarked upon in the entire series.
  • Video Credits: Since the episodes are practically teleplays, the clips are of the actors -- sometimes not in-character -- after completing the episode.
    • This is a hallmark of writer David Croft.
  • Work Com: Well, duh.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Mrs. Slocombe is "unanimous" in all her opinions.
  1. That's the logistics branch of the Army, for those unacquainted.