Are You Being Served?

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Are You Being Served? was a popular British sitcom that aired from 1972 to 1985. It employed broad humour, with double entendres, catchphrases, and occasional elements of farce. Despite the almost incessant repetition of jokes and gags, sexism, and ethnic stereotyping that would not be acceptable today, it remains an enduring favourite in British popular culture.

Are You Being Served? was the creation of Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, and like many of their comedic offerings was drawn from their real-life experiences, in this case Lloyd's brief stint in a London department store. Almost all of the action is set in the Ladies and Gentlemen's Department of Grace Brothers, a fictitious London store, although some scenes take place in other areas of the store, notably the canteen, the boardroom and Mr Rumbold's office.

Situation

The fictional Grace Brothers is the sort of old-fashioned department store that was already anachronistic when the programme first aired. The staff are bound by and in some cases defensive of certain hopelessly outmoded practices, such as only calling coworkers by courtesy title and last name, the wearing of style of hat that corresponds with one's professional level (senior male staff, for example, cannot wear bowlers, which are reserved for executives, female sales assistants may not have more frills on their blouses than the department head) and ridiculous levels of protocol on the selling floor.

The Gentlemen's Department of Grace Brothers is disrupted by news that the Ladies' Department will be moving into their space. Friction between the two heads of department plays a part in many story lines during the first two seasons. Interpersonal relationships of all sorts play a major role in the action, which also depends heavily on character development.

Most scenes are set directly on the selling floor, although many sequences take place in the canteen, some in the boardroom, and some in the executives' offices.

Cast of characters

Character development is integral to this sitcom. The characters include:

  • Mrs Betty (Marie Elizabeth Jennifer Rachel Abergavenny) Slocombe (Mollie Sugden)- the head of ladies' wear. She is a woman well into middle age, but always pretends to be younger.
  • Mr Ernest Grainger (Arthur Brough) - the crusty, ageing head of men's wear.
  • Captain Steven Peacock (Frank Thornton)
  • Mr Wilberforce Claiborne Humphries (John Inman) - the effeminate chief sales assistant in menswear.
  • Mr Dick Lucas
  • Miss Shirley Brahms (Wendy Richard)
  • Mr Cuthbert Rumbold (Nicholas Smith)- the obsequious, bumbling department manager.
  • "Young" Mr Grace - the elderly, skirt-chasing, absent minded and very wealthy store owner.