Are You Being Served?

This article is about the original British sitcom. For other uses, see Are You Being Served? (disambiguation).
Are You Being Served?

Original title card for the show, in 1972
Genre Sitcom
Created by Jeremy Lloyd & David Croft
Written by
Directed by
Theme music composer Ronnie Hazlehurst
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 10
No. of episodes 70 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) David Croft
  • David Croft
  • Harold Snoad
  • Bob Spiers
  • Martin Shardlow
Running time 30 minutes
Original network BBC One
Picture format PAL (576i)
1080i HDTV (2016)
Audio format Monaural
Surround sound 5.1(2016)
Original release Original run:
8 September 1972 (1972-09-08) 
1 April 1985
28 August 2016
Related shows

Are You Being Served? is a British sitcom created and written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft (Croft also directed some episodes), with contributions from Michael Knowles and John Chapman, for the BBC.[1] Set in London, the show follows the misadventures and mishaps of the staff of the retail ladies' and gentlemen's clothing departments, in the flagship department store of a fictional chain called Grace Brothers.

Broadcast between 1972 and 1985 on BBC1, the sitcom itself spanned ten series totaling 69 parts – five of which are Christmas specials. Are You Being Served? was a great success in the UK and was also popular in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Israel. In the United States, it gained a loyal and enthusiastic following when PBS television stations began airing reruns of it in the late 1980s, along with other British sitcoms.

In 2004, the sitcom was ranked 20th in the countdown of Britain's Best Sitcom.[2] It is regularly repeated worldwide (PBS and BBC America in the United States; and BBC UKTV in Australia and New Zealand). From 7 October 2013 to 17 March 2014, 61 episodes of the series were repeated in the UK on BBC Two as part of Daytime Classics.[3] A further season of repeats were shown on BBC2 during the spring and summer of 2015. A one-off special, with a revamped cast very closely matching the appearance of the original, was broadcast on 28 August 2016.


The idea for the show came from Lloyd's brief period in the early 1950s working at Simpsons of Piccadilly, a clothing store which traded for over 60 years until 1999.[4] The inspiration for the store has also been credited to Rossiters of Paignton department store from the time Lloyd and Croft spent there,[5] and the former Clements of Watford.

The pilot episode was created as part of the Comedy Playhouse series, although the BBC had originally chosen not to broadcast the programme. The pilot was used as a filler during the 1972 Summer Olympics when the coverage of the Olympiad was interrupted by the Munich massacre on 8 September 1972, leading to a full series being produced.[6] This first episode was repeated at the beginning of the first series on 14 March 1973. Although the first series was aired in the same timeslot as Coronation Street on ITV, consequently receiving relatively little attention, the repeats shown later in the year were much more successful.[7]

The show became a ratings hit, and after a successful 13-year run, Are You Being Served? came to an end on 1 April 1985.

Of the original cast, only Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richard and Nicholas Smith appeared in all 69 parts of the programme's 13-year run; these five later featured in the sequel sitcom, Grace & Favour (also known as Are You Being Served? Again!). The cast performed in character for a stage sketch on the BBC1 programme Variety on 19 June 1976.

Following the death of the last remaining original cast member, Nicholas Smith, on 6 December 2015, the only surviving cast members are Mike Berry, Candy Davis (both of whom joined the show in the 1980s), Penny Irving, who played Mr Grace's secretary Miss Bakewell between 1976 and 1979, Doremy Vernon, who played the fierce staff canteen manageress Diana Yardswick and Vivienne Johnson, who played both Young and Old Mr Grace's nurse from 1977 to 1981.[8]

Although the pilot was produced in colour, the videotape was wiped in the 1970s leaving only a 16mm black-and-white film telerecording.[9] In 2009, the pilot episode was restored to colour using the colour recovery technique previously used for the Dad's Army episode "Room at the Bottom". The restored colour version was first shown on BBC2 on 1 January 2010 as part of a special Are You Being Served? night.

Critical reception

The series gained much of its popularity with TV viewers by "pushing the envelope" through its deliberate-yet-subtle use of risqué visual gags, innuendo-infused dialogue and cleverly-disguised sophomoric humour. These comical devices also attracted some mild criticism, in part for relying on sexual stereotypes and double entendres – e.g. Mrs Slocombe discussing her cat: "Animals are very psychic...the least sign of danger and my pussy's hair stands on end".

John Inman's portrayal of Humphries' over-the-top antics and sharp-tongued, witty responses, along with his trademark catch-phrase "I'm free!", were enthusiastically embraced by many audience members, and the character evolved into a gay icon in popular culture. Despite this, Inman pointed out that Mr Humphries' true sexual orientation was never explicitly stated in the series, and David Croft said in an interview that the character was not homosexual, but "just a mother's boy".[10] In an episode of the spin-off Grace & Favour, the character is further described as neither a "woman's man" nor a "man's man" and as being "in limbo".

The characters (Mr Humphries especially) sometimes broke the fourth wall for comical effect.

International broadcasts

The series was shown in the United States on PBS stations and on BBC America, as well as in many Commonwealth nations around the world. PBS first began airing it (on 24 stations) in 1987, and viewership steadily climbed as more stations carried it. By the early 1990s, it had gained such a loyal following that American viewers of the show formed fan clubs and were in large attendance wherever cast members made guest appearances.

Are You Being Served? aired in Canada late night on YTV. It also became available to Canadian viewers on PBS station WNED (Buffalo). The show aired on Saturday evening prime time from the mid 1980s to late 1990s.

The series was also extremely popular in Australia. It started on ABC Television in 1974 and was repeated by ABC in Australia several times.[11] By 1978 it had been acquired by the commercial Seven Network who successfully screened repeats of the program to audiences larger than those who viewed it on the ABC.[12] Are You Being Served? was ranked as the top rated show on Australian television for 1978, being watched by 2,255,000 people in five cities.[13]

The Best of Are You Being Served? (1992)

Buoyed by the huge success of the series in the USA, BBC America commissioned a special straight-to-VHS compilation in 1992. Running at 78 minutes, The Best of Are You Being Served featured newly-shot scenes of Mr Humphries reminiscing with his elderly mother, Annie, about his time working at Grace Brothers. Both roles were played by John Inman. The additional sequences were filmed in America, and directed by Don Hopfer.



In 1992, most of the original cast reunited for a spin-off show, titled Grace & Favour in Britain and Australia, and Are You Being Served Again! in the United States and Canada. It ran for two series.

Film version

In 1977, as for many other popular British sitcoms of the time, including On the Buses, a feature film was produced: the Are You Being Served? film had the same characters and cast. It was set in the fictional resort of Costa Plonka, in Spain. The film was an adaptation of the successful stage version of the show, which played at the Winter Gardens Theatre, Blackpool over the summer of 1976.

Adaptations in other countries

A US adaptation pilot episode called Beane's of Boston aired on 5 May 1979 on CBS, but it did not make it to series.

An Australian spin-off, also called Are You Being Served?, ran for sixteen episodes from 1980 to 1981 on Network Ten. It starred John Inman as Mr Humphries, June Bronhill as a character similar to Mrs Slocombe, Reg Evans, Christine Amor and Shane Bourne. The show takes place in the fictional Bone Brothers store, as "Grace Bros." was the name of an actual department store chain in Australia. While most episodes were somewhat direct re-films of old scripts (with minor changes like names), the first episode features a new start showing Mr Humphries joining from Grace Bros, and a series 2 episode is completely original, dealing with Mr Humphries' visa running out.

The Singaporean MediaCorp sitcom Can I Help You? had a similar title and premise, and was described by former cast member Vernetta Lopez as "Are You Being Served, minus the wonderfully filthy jokes".[14]


It was announced that a revived series would be broadcast, in the summer of 2016, set in 1988 and still with its original characters. The cast were announced on 22 February 2016.[15] Captain Peacock would be played by John Challis, Mrs Slocombe by former Coronation Street actress Sherrie Hewson, Mr Humphries by Jason Watkins, Miss Brahms by Niky Wardley, Mr Grainger by Roy Barraclough (Grainger having come out of retirement "To spend less time with his wife"), Mr Harman by Arthur Smith, and Mr Rumbold by Justin Edwards.[16] New characters in the show are Young Mr Grace's grandson – also called Young Mr Grace – played by Mathew Horne, Miss Croft – named as a tribute to series co-creator David Croft – who will be played by Hollyoaks actress Jorgie Porter, and newcomer Mr Conway, played by Kayode Ewumi. The series would be written by Benidorm's Derren Litten. The BBC issued a press release saying: "It's 1988 and Young Mr Grace is determined to drag Grace Brothers into, well 1988, but he has a problem on his hands. Mr Humphries, Captain Peacock, Mr Rumbold and Mrs Slocombe all seem to be stuck in another era. A new member of staff, Mr Conway, joins the team but will he help shake things up or will he just put a pussy amongst the pigeons?"

BBC comedy commissioner Shane Allen said: "The Are You Being Served? special is a riot of a script from Derren and has attracted a real comedy pedigree cast to pay homage to this glorious and much-loved show."[17]

Derren Litten added: "Writing a new episode of Are You Being Served? has been the most fun I have ever had as a professional writer. We have an amazing cast, a brilliant producer and a great director, it was just too exciting an opportunity to pass up; and I am unanimous in that."[17]

The episode was aired in August that year, but received poor critical acclaim.[18][19][20]


Cast of Are You Being Served?
Series 8 cast of 1981. (left to right): (top) Arthur English, Wendy Richard, Benny Lee, Mike Berry; (bottom) Nicholas Smith, Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, Vivienne Johnson, John Inman, Kenneth Waller, Louise Burton

Are You Being Served? featured humour based on sexual innuendo, misunderstandings, mistaken identity, farce and occasional slapstick. In addition, there were sight gags generated by outrageous costumes which the characters were sometimes required to wear for store promotions, and gaudy store displays frequently featuring malfunctioning robotic mannequins. The show is remembered for its prolific use of double entendres.

The main humorous base of the series was a merciless parody of the British class system. This permeated almost every interaction and was especially evident in the conversations between the maintenance men and the ostensibly higher-class store personnel. The episodes rarely left the store, and to parody the stereotype of the British class system, characters rarely addressed each other by their first names, even after work, instead using their formal titled names ("Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", or even "Captain"). When they did address each other by their first names, it was usually either as an aside, or often for comic effect (e.g. an underling addressing a superior).

Main characters

Theme song

The theme song, written by the show's co-writer David Croft and composer Ronnie Hazlehurst, consists of a lift girl (whose voice was provided by Stephanie Gathercole) announcing each floor over the musique concrète sounds of a cash register (which effectively serves as the only percussion instrument) and a simple musical accompaniment.

The 1977 Are You Being Served? film has a different version of the theme song which is longer, in a different key and without the floor announcements. A remix of the theme was released in 1996 by a dance act calling itself "Grace Brothers",[21] and featured vocal samples of John Inman and Frank Thornton.

There is a homage to the theme song in the Ladytron song "Paco!" from the album 604, and New Zealand band Minuit's "I hate guns". A lugubrious version of the theme song is featured on the album The Ape of Naples by the experimental music group Coil. The theme song has also been covered by Australian band Regurgitator on their 1999 album Pop singer Jamelia's song "Window Shopping" (from her 2006 album Walk with Me) begins with a sample of the familiar cash register sound effect as well as Mrs Slocombe's voice inquiring, "Good morning, Mr Grainger; are you free?"

The song was also used in a 2016 Audi advertisement for their Quattro range.


Seven early episodes were novelised for a book, written by Jeremy Lloyd, called Are You Being Served? – Camping in and other Fiascos. This was written in 1976, and republished in 1997 by KQED Books. The seven episodes featured are Camping In, Up Captain Peacock, Wedding Bells, His and Hers, Coffee Morning, The Hand of Fate and The Clock.

In 1995, KQED Books published Are You Being Served – The Inside Story by Adrian Rigelsford, Anthony Brown, and Geoff Tibbals, with a foreword by Jeremy Lloyd, and sub-titled: "The Inside Story of Britain's Funniest – and Public Television's Favorite – Comedy Series". In 212 pages, the book's six chapters cover: The Cast of Characters, Behind the Scenes, The Episodes, The Spin-offs, Trivia Quiz, and Glossary. ISBN 0-912333-04-9.

In 1999, I'm Free! The Complete Are You Being Served?, a guide to the series, was published by Orion Books. It was written by Richard Webber, with contributions from David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd.

A board game was also produced in the 1970s. Players moved round a board resembling the shop floor to purchase one item from each of the four counters and leave the store, before their opponents and without going over budget.

DVD releases

All ten series, including a black and white version of the pilot episode, and all five Christmas specials from those years, are now available on DVD in the UK (Region 2). Are You Being Served?: the Movie was released in 2002. A colour-restored version of the original pilot episode has yet to be released commercially.

All ten series, as well as both series of Grace & Favour (in packaging titled Are You Being Served? Again!) and the film are available on DVD in Region 1 (North America).

All ten series, as well as both series of Grace & Favour (in correctly titled packaging) and the film have been released in Australia (Region 4).

A DVD titled Are You Being Served? – Best of The Early Years and Are You Being Served? Christmas Specials have also been released.

DVD title Discs Year Ep. # DVD release Special episodes
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Complete Series 1 1 1972–1973 6 27 August 2002 25 July 2005 2 March 2006 The Pilot B&W version
Complete Series 2 1 1974 5 27 August 2002 19 September 2005 8 June 2006
Complete Series 3 2 1975 9 27 August 2002 30 January 2006 5 October 2006 1975 Christmas Special
Complete Series 4 1 1976 7 27 August 2002 27 March 2006 7 March 2007 1976 Christmas Special
Complete Series 5 1 1977 7 27 August 2002 5 June 2006 6 June 2007
Complete Series 6 1 1978 6 30 September 2003 28 August 2006 3 October 2007 1978 Christmas Special
Complete Series 7 1 1979 8 30 September 2003 25 August 2008 6 March 2008 1979 Christmas Special
Complete Series 8 1 1981 8 30 September 2003 7 September 2009 7 August 2008 1981 Christmas Special
Complete Series 9 1 1983 6 30 September 2003 24 May 2010 2 October 2008
Complete Series 10 1 1985 7 30 September 2003 13 September 2010 5 March 2009
Complete Series 1–5 6 1972–1977 34 27 August 2002 2 October 2006 N/A Same as individual releases
Complete Series 6–10 5 1978–1985 35 30 September 2003 N/A N/A Same as individual releases
Complete Series 1–10 11 1972–1985 69 7 September 2003
11 August 2009
13 September 2010 1 April 2010 Extra Disc with Profile Specials on Mollie Sugden, Wendy Richard etc. The 2009 R1 reissue comes in the smaller 2 disc thinpak cases instead of standard Amaray keep cases.

See also


1. ^ Arthur Brough died just before filming of series 6 commenced.


  1. "BFI Screenonline: Are You Being Served? (1973–85)". Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  2. "Britain's Best Sitcom – Top 11 to 100". BBC. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  3. "Are You Being Served?". BBC Two. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  4. "Going Down: 'Grace Bros' store closes". BBC. 1 February 1999.
  5. Camber, Rebecca (1 February 2009). "Store that inspired 'Are You Being Served?' forced to shut shop after 150 years". London: Daily Mail.
  6. "Obituary: John Inman". BBC News. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  7. Coates, Sam; Asthana, Anushka (9 March 2007). "Obituary – John Inman". London: The Times.
  8. "Are You Being Served? actor Nicholas Smith dies aged 81". BBC News. 6 December 2015.
  9. "Vintage British TV: Comedy Playhouse – Are You Being Served? (BBC) 8th September 1972". 7 January 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  10. "I'm Free! – The Complete Are You Being Served?". Orion Books. 1999.
  11. Collier, Shayne. Again and again and again. The Sydney Morning Herald – The Guide: 2 June 1986, p.1, 6.
  12. Semmler, Clement. Why 'Are You Being Served?' is our top-rating program. The Sydney Morning Herald: 25 October 1978, p.8.
  13. "Australian TV shows top ratings.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 30 December 1978. p. 3. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  14. Lopez, Vernetta (2012). Memoirs of a DJ: Life in Progress. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. p. 112. ISBN 978-981-4361-21-7. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  15. Guide, British Comedy (22 February 2016). "New Are You Being Served? cast revealed". Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  16. "Alf Garnett back as part of BBC sitcom revival". BBC News. BBC. 10 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  17. 1 2 "BBC - Are You Being Served? is returning to BBC One - Media Centre". Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  18. Telegraph - Are You Being Served made Mrs Brown's Boys look like Woodehouse - review
  19. 'An epic fail'
  20. Are You Being Served remake panned by viewers
  21. "Grace Brothers - Are You Being Served?". Retrieved 8 October 2016.

External links

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