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A guilty pleasure
on 25 October 2013
This is, I'm afraid, something of a guilty pleasure, akin, in fact, to my affection for Carry On films and ropey old horror movies.
Unlike some sit-coms, "Are You Being Served?" rarely touched on real drama or tugged at the emotional heart-strings; the characters were all pretty well stereotypes who behaved in an entirely predictable manner, while the jokes were not only predictable, they were also repeated from one episode to the next. Outrageous costumes were a staple feature, as were musical numbers; it may have been set in a department store, but it was hardly grounded in reality.
What made it so successful (and the reason I like it so much) is the quality of the performances; there is some serious talent featured here. The star of the show is, I suppose, John Inman's flamboyantly camp Mr Humphries; it is a strangely lovable creation and anyone who ever saw Mr Inman in pantomime will testify to his considerable artistry. I used to love Mollie Sugden as Annie Walker's occasional sparring partner Nelly Harvey on "Coronation Street" and she is equally brilliant as Mrs Slocombe. Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) was a very fine character actor and further viewing confirms that Trevor Bannister was more than just going through the motions as the archetypal "cheeky chappy", Mr Lucas; even Wendy Richard's Miss Brahms passes muster!
The supporting players are equally fine. From the original cast, Mr Grainger left at the end of Series 5 and he is here replaced by James Hayter as Mr Tebbs; Hayter is quite brilliant and it is a shame that he left after just one series. Apparently, his "other employer" felt that the outrageous goings-on at Grace Brothers sat uneasily with his image as the voice of Mr Kipling. Harold Bennett fumbles his lines delightfully as Young Mr Grace, while Arthur English is quite superb as Harriet Harman (Some mistake here, surely?). Nicholas Smith is perfect casting as Mr Rumbold; how sad it is to think that he is at the time of writing the only surviving member of the cast featured here.
Gosh, I've probably just devoted more words to a corny, 35 year old sitcom than I've done reviewing Shakespeare...that's showbiz, I guess! This may not be clever, but it certainly is funny!