Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Are You Being Served? Week: This is Your Department- Part One

With the BBC (mostly) onboard with Are You Being Served?, the show began its regular run in the Spring of 1973. Using bawdy humor laced with double entendres, the show sought to poke holes in British propriety. Grace Brothers was depicted as a relic of a bygone Britain that struggled to keep pace with the modern world. The store was filled with lively characters who would give the world countless laughs over the next twelve years.

Mrs. Slocombe was the elder member of the women's counter, divorced and eager to find herself a new man, all while trying to keep her dignity. Sadly, Mrs. Slocombe would be mostly unlucky in love, but her faithful cat Tiddles provided much companionship as did her unseen friend Mrs. Axleby. One of Mrs. Slocombe's signature jokes was her tendency to refer to her cat as a 'pussy' which often created some surprising reactions to her fairly innocuous statements about her cat.

Mrs. Slocombe was brought to life by the hilarious Mollie Sugden, who came by her love of making people laugh rather early in life, at age five. During World War II, Mollie gained work at a munitions factory before attending a dramatic school in London. Prior to starring in Are You Being Served?, Mollie starred in such classic television shows as The Benny Hill Show, Up Pompeii! and Steptoe and Son. Unlike Mrs. Slocombe, Mollie found a lifelong husband in a fellow actor named William Moore. They had twin sons and remained married until his death in 2000. Ms. Sugden passed away in 2009.

The younger member of the women's counter was the feisty Miss Brahms. "Dead sexy" and the object of desire for many of Grace Brothers' gentlemen employees, Miss Brahms sought to leave her "common" background behind and elevate herself out of her lower class upbringing. While she often tried to speak in a more high end manner, her cockney accent would always return in fits of anger or excitement. Miss Brahms navigated the pitfalls of Grace Brothers expertly, swatting away the attentions and hands of the men who tried to become too familiar with her.

Miss Brahms was played by Wendy Richard, whose upbringing was much like that of Miss Brahms, though her parents were a tiny bit wealthier. Her father committed suicide when she was just 11, a situation that scarred her. Her big break came in 1962, when her cockney accent helped her get a number one song on the UK charts- Come Outside, performed with future Myra Breckinridge director Michael Sarne. She also appeared in 1965's Help, though her scenes were cut from the film. Coincidentally, future Are You Being Served? star Alfie Bass would also appear in the film. Wendy's biggest roles outside of AYBS? were on the soap operas The Newcomers and EastEnders. She stayed in touch with Mollie Sugden, becoming the daughter she never had and died in 2009, just four months before Mollie.

Supervising the floor staff was the imperious Captain Peacock. Pompous, stuck up and a self described "lady's man", Peacock brought the store an air of pretentiousness. As a "floorwalker", his only job was to supervise the staff and guide customers to the correct counter. His wandering eye and dubious use of the 'captain' title (We later learn that he was most likely a corporal, not a captain) often brought him down a peg. Despite putting on airs, it often seemed that Captain Peacock was not as financially stable as he let people believe.

Captain Peacock was brought to life by Frank Thornton. Mr. Thornton wanted to act from an early age, but his father, a banker, urged him to get a "proper" job. After two years of attending acting school in the evenings, Mr. Thornton was invited to enroll in the more prestigious daytime classes. At this time, he convinced his father to fully fund his acting classes. After an interval brought about by World War II, Mr. Thornton began his acting career, taking roles in films, televisions and radio. He mainly received comedic roles, often playing the pretentious authority figure who got knocked off his pedestal. He acted steadily both before and after AYBS?, becoming the only Castmember who had been chosen for the American version of the show. (He was rejected by the Screen Actors Guild.) Mr. Thornton passed away in 2013.