The Comedy Vault – Are You Being Served?

Are You Being Served? (BBC1, 1972-1985)

This is one of the longest-running sitcoms that launched in the 70s, and this is one of the few from that era that has endured with viewers and still seems to be repeated. Are You Being Served? had an unlikely start, the pilot being shown as a late-minute schedule change. But this seemed to go down well enough for there to be a full series, where there would always be camp craziness guaranteed.

This is the sitcom that was set at the Grace Brothers department store. Only this seems to be a rather threadbare store, with barely anything for sale, and barely any customers either. But this doesn’t stop the somewhat committed staff from turning up, so the likes of Mr Humphries, Mrs Slocombe (providing a rather unlikely source for quirky blue-haired women), and Miss Brahms had to fill most of the time grumpily bickering with each other.

And most of the episodes just seemed to consist of building up to a set piece where staff members would come out of the lift and walk down the stairs in a ridiculous state of dress, to much bemusement from the others (especially Captain Peacock), and much cackling from the studio audience. But this was definitely a formula that worked, so why try and do anything different.

I was really surprised when I discovered that Are You Being Served? was going as late as 1985, because always seemed to be associated with the 70s. This even became popular enough for there to be a film version (a definite sign of success) where all the staff rather oddly all go on holiday together. Maybe they wanted to do some bonding exercises to prepare themselves for the next outrageous lot of antics back at the store.

There were 69 episodes in ten series, they have all been released on DVD, they have been repeated on various channels too, and they’d all done very well. But there was still more to come. In 1992, there was the sequel sitcom Grace And Favour, where we saw what some of our staff were now up to (presumably Grace Brothers has finally closed its dusty doors for good).

Mr Humphries was still saying “I’m free!” (yes, that was his catchphrase). He was clearly in denial and still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he didn’t work there any more. And then, in more recent years, as part of a classic comedy season, there was an episode made with a new cast playing the familiar characters. This was a rather unusual sight, but unfortunately by this point, the jokes were as threadbare as the store.


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