With the news that Wendy Richard has died from Cancer this week I thought I’d remember what I consider her finest role from the 1980’s. Â No, not Pauline Fowler from EastEnders, although that did start in the eighties. Â I am of course talking about Miss Brahms, the “pretty one” from Are You Being Served?
Are You Being Served? was a BBC situation comedy that ran from 1972 to 1985, and was primarily about a group of shop assistants who worked in the clothing department of Grace Brothers department store. Â It is one of those sitcoms that these days is considered crass and not politically correct, but at its peak would attract 22 million viewers. Â You don’t get viewing figures like that any more!
The clothing department of Grace Brothers was split in two halves, with the left hand side of the set being women’s clothes and the right side mens. Â The male counter was primarily run by Mr. Humphreys (John Inman), who was as camp as could be and is best known for his “I’m free!” catchphrase. Â Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton) was presumably in charge, and liked to let every one know this, although he rarely seemed to serve anybody himself.
The womens clothes counter was staffed by the afore-mentioned Miss Brahms, who had a strong cockney accent and very squeaky voice, and the brilliant Mrs. Slocombe (Mollie Sugden), who’s hair went through various strange colours (blue and purple mostly) and could always be relied on for some joke about her pussy, which brings me neatly onto the subject of the double entendre.
The amount of innuendo used in the show to generate laughs is one of the reasons the show is panned today (the other being the amount of stereotyping that the various characters suffered from). Â Mrs Slocombe’s cat always came up in conversation in some way or another with a quip along the lines of “my pussy got all wet“, but it was by no means the only crude joke. Â Animated mannequins would often perform repeating motions that were a bit suspect when viewed repeatedly, and the staff sometimes had to wear rather strange costumes for shop promotions.
All in all though I still have fond memories of Are You Being Served? although I haven’t seen an episode in ages. Â I think the thing that I will always remember most though is the theme song (have a listen below). Â Sounding like a load of old fashioned cash registers going off, with a musical melody that could only be termed as elevator music, the vocals were the sound of a lift operator announcing what was sold on each floor of the department store. Â When was the last time you rode in a lift that had someone operating it?
The show was written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd who also penned ‘Allo ‘Allo. Â When the show ended the cast were keen to continue with their characters in a spin off series, but it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the main cast were finally reunited for Grace and Favour. Â Here, the former employees of Grace Brothers end up running an Inn out of a country mansion house since their pensions have been squandered Robert Maxwell style by Mr. Grace, the old owner of Grace Brothers.