List of Are You Being Served? characters  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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This is a list of characters that appeared in the BBC sitcom Are You Being Served?, that aired from 1972 to 1985. A number of the characters later reappeared in the 1990s sitcom Grace & Favour.

Contents

Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries

Played by: John Inman

The senior menswear assistant, who later became head of the Gentleman's Department. His ambiguous sexuality is used as a catalyst for many comedic situations and one-liners. Mr. Humphries was particularly noted for his mincing walk and his high pitched voice, which he discarded when answering the phone: "Mennnnnnswear," he intoned in a falsified baritone. He had one of the most famous catchphrases of the era: when asked by a colleague, "Mr. Humphries, are you free? (to serve someone)", he always gave the camp and exaggerated response, "I'm free!" He often arrived at work in outrageous attire ranging from punk rocker clothing and hair, motorcycle leather jacket and chaps and sailor uniform, with an equally outrageous accounting of his previous night's activities and efforts to nonetheless make it to work on time. Mr. Humphries frequently spoke of a companion or companions referred to only as "my friend." The precise status of this friend was never elaborated upon.

Though Mr. Humphries exhibited many stereotypical gay male traits, his true sexual orientation was never explicitly confirmed in the series. Many jokes threw Mr Humphries into heterosexual clinches. Through these, whether he had homosexual or heterosexual attractions was never explicitly confirmed. At one point he was asked to fill in for Mrs. Slocombe at the ladies' counter when a female customer approached and complained about the stockings she was wearing, lifting up her skirt to show them to him, which caused him to remark that he was "rooted to the spot" and was considering "a new way of life". In the episode "The Agent," Mr. Humphries, in an attempt to get himself fired in order to take a higher paying position elsewhere, makes a red-blooded remark to a lady customer, only to find out later that the female customer in question called his bluff to meet him outside at 5:30. At the end of the episode, while counting his wage packet, he remarks to Mrs. Slocombe that he's got a date at 5:30 and dashes off excitedly. In the episode "The Erotic Dreams of Mrs. Slocombe", Miss Brahms attempted to teach him how to seduce Mrs. Slocombe (in order to shake her out of an alcoholic obsession); however, the lessons worked too well, as Mr. Humphries passionately threw himself on Miss Brahms at the end of the episode. Still further, the episode "Conduct Unbecoming" saw Mr. Humphries accused of stealing money from his department's till. When Mr. Humphries was vindicated (due to the till being faulty), Mr. Rumbold's beautiful blonde secretary threw her arms around him and gave him a passionate kiss, stating "I was always on your side,"; Mr. Humphries quickly replied that if the kiss had lasted any longer, he would have "gone over to your side."

On the same token, Mr. Humphries was often quite eager to wait on gentlemen customers, particularly those with a seemingly gay or exotic request; for example, when asked to wait on a gentleman who wanted to buy a dress to wear (for a fancy dress party), the previously busy Mr. Humphries promptly dropped what he was doing and intoned "I'm free!" When he was to direct a commercial for Grace Brothers, Mr. Humphries flirted quite openly with the (similarly camp) cameraman. Furthering his ambiguity, in the episode "The Apartment", Mrs. Slocombe attempted to seduce (an obviously nervous) Mr. Humphries; when her attempt failed due to extenuating circumstances, she asked Mr. Humphries if he was "relieved or disappointed", his simple reply was "I'm neither one way nor the other." Mr. Humphries also made numerous references to events in his childhood (usually prompted by his mother in one way or another) that might have influenced his development in some way. The overall impression is that Mr. Humphries is a gay-leaning bisexual instead of being fully homosexual.

Mr. Humphries was rarely shown to have a row or serious disagreement with anyone on the show; even potential disciplinary measures against him were often undertaken due to a misunderstanding rather than out of any actual wrongdoing or malice (although he was the subject of derisory comments or jokes about his "orientation" from either/both Mr. Grainger and Captain Peacock on occasion). About the worst thing that was ever said was in one particular episode where Mrs Slocombe calls him "fairy cake" and Mr Humphries replies in a hurt voice "It's all coming out now!" During one episode, the employees were to vote on which of them should be made redundant; each employee received exactly one nomination with the exception of Mr. Humphries, who simply wrote "don't know" as his vote (and as Mr. Rumbold also pointed out, this indicated that Mr. Humphries was the "most popular" person in the department, as nobody voted for him to be made redundant). In a few episodes, he claims to have served briefly in the Royal Navy, and at times mentioned being rejected for both the Army and the Royal Marines. He also made mention of attending Scouts meetings (with the implication that he was never actually in the Scouts). Mr Humphries is one character who often acknowledges the presence of the audience and breaks the proverbial fourth wall by smiling at, winking at and occasionally even addressing the viewer.

Mrs. Betty Slocombe

Played by: Mollie Sugden

Mrs. Slocombe, born Mary Elizabeth Jennifer Rachel Abergavenny Yiddell in 1926 in Blackpool, is the Head of the Ladies Department who frequently dyes her hair unusual colours such as lime green or orange. Mrs. Slocombe's husband left her, or was possibly arrested by the Fraud Squad, and she lived with her cat, Tiddles, which she referred to as "my pussy;" this was the source of many a double entendre, most of which Mrs. Slocombe herself completely misses. Mrs. Slocombe also tried to sound refined and "posh", but when exasperated or annoyed, she reveals more than a trace of a Northern accent. Mrs. Slocombe's catch phrases were "...and I am unanimous in that..." and "Weak as water!" She often mispronounces long words, rendering, for example, "obstreperous" as "obstropulous" and "organism" as "orgasm" and centimeters as centipedes. She spent much of her free time prowling gin mills, roller rinks and discos with her friend Mrs. Axelby, but due to her middle age, men were less and less attracted to her, which she dismissed as extreme politeness on the part of all men. It is often suggested that when she was younger she had quite a wild life and possibly even worked in a bar. At one point she mentioned a wartime experience of "being flung flat on me back on Clapham Common by a land mine", claiming "the German Air Force was responsible" (to which Mr. Lucas immediately replied, "All the other times she was flat on her back the American Air Force was responsible").

At various times, Mrs. Slocombe has (often while drunk) tried to flirt with various members of the male staff. Though she often sparred with Mr. Lucas, she was heard to remark that he had "very smooth hands" when he accidentally tried to straighten her stockings instead of a display dummy's. She has often cast an eye towards Captain Peacock, usually calling him "Stephen" in a conspiratorial tone and complimenting him in an effort to appeal to his masculine ego. At one point, when pretending to be locked in a passionate embrace with Peacock (in order to dissuade a woman Peacock had previously had a fling with), Mrs. Slocombe was overcome with the smell of Captain Peacock's cologne and commented that he was actually a rather handsome man (with the humorous result that when the "signal" was accidentally given, she pounced on Peacock with genuine passion). However, the majority of Mrs. Slocombe's attempts at seduction were by far directed towards Mr. Humphries, as she often fixated on him; at one point her (often thwarted) desires even led to her becoming obsessed, to which she became alcoholic in an effort to drown her sorrows. She even believed that Mr. Humphries had proposed marriage to her at one point (with which the good-natured Mr. Humphries resignedly decided to play along, in order to spare her feelings); however, Mrs. Slocombe herself broke off the "engagement" when she discovered that her previously missing cat (which prompted her to be despondent and thus fixate on Mr. Humphries) had in fact turned up with a litter of kittens.

Captain Stephen Peacock

Played by: Frank Thornton

Captain Peacock, the somewhat stuffy floorwalker, considers himself above the assistants with both his position and his dubious military record, which wouldn't be so shameful except Peacock feels the need to brag about his experiences fighting Rommel in North Africa. Mr. Mash likes to tell the staff that Peacock served in the NAAFI instead, and probably didn't ever leave England, and Mr. Goldberg hints that Peacock's real rank was a Corporal. Allegedly, despite his rank, Peacock began as a sweeper in the stockroom. Although Peacock usually talks as if he were a member of the elite Commando unit, on two occasions he admits he was in the Royal Army Service Corps. By 1975 he has been working at Grace Brothers for 20 years.

Captain Peacock considers himself to be somewhat of a "ladies' man". It is heavily implied in several episodes that Captain Peacock has had dalliances with women outside of his marriage, mostly with ladies from the store such as the secretaries working for Mr. Rumbold (in particular Miss Belfridge). He has also been known to cast his eye towards Miss Brahms (who has referenced his attempts at seduction during office parties). He has even been known to give Mrs. Slocombe a bit of charm now and again (though this is the exception rather than the rule, as usually it is Mrs. Slocombe who uses her charms on him when she wants something). These situations have often gotten Captain Peacock into both marital and professional trouble (usually as the extremely jealous Mrs. Peacock often confronts him while he's at work), but due to his quick wit he is usually able to work his way out of both situations. At one point, Mr. Harman referred to him as the store's "Robert Redford" and he also often takes pride in comments regarding his resemblance to David Niven.

Captain Peacock generally tends to have a hate-hate relationship with whoever is the junior in the menswear department; both Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spooner have gotten the sharp end of his tongue (as their more carefree, relaxed attitude towards work clashes with his more professional demeanor). He rarely clashes with Mr. Humphries, having told him at one point that he considered him to be an excellent salesman; however he had no qualms about stating the case against Mr. Humphries in "Conduct Unbecoming" when it appeared Mr. Humphries had embezzled money. He often clashes with the head of the menswear department, whether that be Mr. Grainger, Mr. Klein, Mr. Tebbs or Mr. Goldberg, usually over a matter that involves the menswear department having to share floor or counter space with the ladies' department. He also irritated Mr. Grainger whenever anything involving a promotion or the company boardroom was mentioned; Mr. Grainger would become jealous as he had been at the store longer, while Peacock seemed to relish the opportunity to reinforce his senior position.

Miss Shirley Brahms

Played by: Wendy Richard

Miss Brahms was the busty junior ladieswear assistant who was often cheeky to Mrs. Slocombe. Known for her Cockney accent, Miss Brahms was sometimes unintelligible to the person with whom she was speaking, but often put on her best voice when answering the telephone. Under Mrs. Slocombe's guidance, she became a more useful assistant throughout the series, though the hierarchy of Grace Brothers was such that she would have moved up only when Mrs. Slocombe left, if ever. Attractive and somewhat voluptuous, she was sometimes (but usually not) receptive to the advances of Mr. Lucas. Despite this, she considers herself to have standards. In one incident, when she was approached to participate in a store-wide Holiday Girl contest with the assumption that she would easily win, Miss Brahms refuses, mainly because one of the prizes is a vacation aboard the yacht of Old Mr. Grace, who had tried to indecently assault her hitherto. While she is proud of her working-class roots, she bemoans her present existence and yearns for a more glamorous and exciting life. The largest sale she ever made occurred when Mrs. Slocombe, who had temporarily replaced Mr. Rumbold, was not by her side.

Miss Brahms often made reference to her swinging social life and the mores of the times (such as not wearing a bra and sleeping in the nude), usually to the disdain of Mrs. Slocombe and the immediate interest of either (or both) Captain Peacock and Mr. Lucas. It was stated at times that she was considered the "prettiest" girl at Grace Brothers, with Young Mr. Grace at one point considering her as a strong candidate to be one of his secretaries. Miss Brahms' legs were displayed quite often to the members of staff, either innocently (as she attempted to fix a suspender or show off a ladder in her tights) or on purpose (such as when Mr. Lucas triggered an air vent under her skirt, Marilyn Monroe-style). Although she was picked to be the public face of Grace Brothers (in the episode "Closed Circuit") due to her good looks, her high-pitched Cockney accent proved to be unsuitable (and ultimately cost her a chance at romance, as a Lord fell in love with her voice, which was actually dubbed on by Mr. Grace's blonde nurse).

Although Miss Brahms resented being viewed as nothing more than a pretty face, she did on a couple occasions use her feminine wiles to charm Captain Peacock when she wanted something.

Mr. Cuthbert Rumbold

Played by: Nicholas Smith

Mr. Rumbold, the manager of the floor, who was in the Army Catering Corps during the war, was often mocked for his bald head, jug-ears, and lack of intelligence, both by the more junior members of staff and the Grace Brothers themselves (who often grew rapidly impatient with him). He frequently took slang phrases literally, leading to his formulating far-fetched explanations of incidents between staff members. He often took credit for others' ideas but subsequently tried to deny all involvement when the idea inevitably proved disastrous. Mr. Rumbold's greatest ambition was to be called to the board of directors at Grace Bros. (he looks up dreamily whenever the word "boardroom" is mentioned), and was usually oblivious to the sex appeal of his attractive secretaries. Mr Rumbold would also frequently find ways to reprimand Captain Peacock (usually in conjunction with his tendency to take phrases and situations literally).

Mr. James (later Dick) Lucas

Played by: Trevor Bannister

Mr. Lucas was the 'Jack the lad' junior menswear assistant, who was nearly always late for work but always had a creative excuse. He wasn't very concerned about the pecking order, and thus made many sarcastic remarks (usually towards Mrs. Slocombe). He directed much of his amorous attention toward Miss Brahms, but only went out with her once. His departure is never explained, although Captain Peacock remarked in an episode after Mr. Lucas left, in which the departments had performed no business for the day, that the last time the departments had no sale, "we fired the junior." Mr. Lucas serves as a representation of the fresh, current thinking in society against the stale, old-fashioned thinking that permeates Grace Brothers.

Mr. Ernest Grainger

Played by: Arthur Brough

The original head of the menswear department, he had been with Grace Brothers for over four decades. He resented being forced to share the floor with the Ladies Department. He vaguely resembled Winston Churchill, in both appearance and demeanour, and did impressions of him during the war while in ENSA. Mr. Grainger often fell asleep while in the store, and failed to wake up when being called, unless Mr. Humphries asked him "Are you free, Mr. Grainger?"

Although he generally got on well with the others, Mr. Grainger would protest and become resentful whenever a situation occurred that forced the menswear department to share valuable space with the ladies, or when Captain Peacock would nonchalantly drop a reference to a perk he had earned despite having less time at the store than Mr. Grainger (such as a visit to the company boardroom). When given a chance to fill in for Mr. Rumbold who was leaving for a three-day conference (in a nice gesture, as it would entitle Mr. Grainger to collect a bit more money on his pension), the position went to his head; while taking full advantage of all Mr. Rumbold's perks (in particular the liquor cabinet and cigars), he became a strict disciplinarian to the rest of the staff, threatening to put an adverse entry in Peacock's record and actually sacking Mrs. Slocombe (however, he did repent his ways by the end of the episode).

His character left when Arthur Brough retired from acting in 1978 following the death of his wife Elizabeth Addyman, to whom he had been married for 50 years. As fate would have it, Arthur Brough himself died several weeks later.

Mr. Percival Tebbs

Mr. Grainger's first replacement as head of menswear. Although he shared many traits with his predecessor, he appeared, unlike the somewhat sloppy Mr. Grainger, to be obsessed with order and propriety and (in his own mind at least) was an extraordinary salesman. He was also an overachiever, having received a number of recognitions from Grace Brothers for his contributions.

Mr. Harry Goldberg

Played by: Alfie Bass

Mr. Goldberg replaced Mr. Tebbs as Head of Menswear. He often tried to make a bit of extra cash to supplement his wages, for example by establishing his own recruitment agency (and recruiting Grace Brothers' employees away to better-paying jobs). At his job interview, he revealed that he had spent time in the Army with Captain Peacock, to the shock and amusement of all except Captain Peacock. A slick businessman, Mr. Goldberg allegedly burned down his own store for insurance purposes and blackmailed Captain Peacock with a picture of them in the army, in order to remain at Grace Brothers. Mr. Goldberg was much more relaxed than his predecessors, and was in general a friendly presence.

Mr. Grossman

Played by: Milo Sperber

Mr. Grossman replaced Mr. Goldberg as Head of Menswear. Not much is known about him as he only appeared in four episodes, although his first episode revealed him to be an expert in shoe sales. Like Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Grossman was a relaxed and friendly influence in the Men's Department. Mr Grossman also spoke with a foreign accent.

Mr. Klein

Played by: Benny Lee

He replaced Mr. Grossman as Menswear Head. He was formerly from the Cutting Department. Speaks often of his wife, generally in disparaging tones, and doesn't object to quietly making jokes at Captain Peacock's expense. Other than that, his character remained undeveloped over his brief tenure.

Mr. Bert Spooner

Played by: Mike Berry

Mr. Lucas' replacement was similar to him in many ways: he made rude remarks (often changing tables in the canteen for this) and had a crush on Miss Brahms. In the final episode he became a pop star.

Mr. Mash and Mr. Harry (or Beverley) Harman

Mr. Mash and Mr. Harman were the maintenance men, Mr. Harman replacing Mr. Mash in series 4. Neither had a fear of their superiors, and both had a thorough knowledge of store operations and union workers' rights (and took home much larger paycheques than the sales assistants due to overtime). Both were "common" and were frequently reprimanded by Captain Peacock for appearing on the sales floor during business hours. Mr. Mash was rather weedy and made sneering comments towards the sales staff.

Mr. Harman was rather knockabout but was more friendly towards the sales staff, and the other staff were much more accepting of him than they were of Mr. Mash. He graciously assisted Mrs. Slocombe in the episode "The Apartment", when she was allowed to stay on the sixth floor of the building, setting up various furniture and displays so she could have all the creature comforts. He also masterminded the deception pulled off in "The Hold Up", dressing up as the leader of "The Gumby Gang" in order to fool the small-time burglars that were holding Miss Brahms, Captain Peacock and Mr. Spooner hostage.

The Grace Brothers

The Grace Brothers, Young Mr. Grace and Old Mr. Grace, were the old-fashioned owners of the store. Both were old but loved young, curvaceous women. They both treated their employees with respect and encouragement, hence Young Mr. Grace's catch phrase, "You've all done very well!" However, they were terminally naive to the fact that Grace Brothers was in its declining years. Despite the wealth of the family, they were somewhat stingy with money. Young Mr. Grace started off as a fish salesman before inheriting the store from an uncle. Old Mr. Grace remained an unseen character until series 8, and there was a recurring joke for many years where, upon seeing Young Mr. Grace for the first time, someone would ask in surprise, "That's "Young" Mr. Grace?" The other person always replied, "Old Mr. Grace doesn't get about much anymore." Ironically, when he finally did appear in the show, "Old" Mr. Grace was actually a couple of decades younger than Young Mr. Grace.

Mrs. Diana Yardswick, Canteen Manageress

Manager of the canteen, once addressed as Diana and again as Mrs.Yardswick, mostly cooked disgraceful food, and had a large rubbish-strewn kitchen. She frequently had arguments with the senior staff and wasn't worried about being fired due to her union, 'National Associated Canteen Employees, Restaurant and Domestic' (NACERD, a play on the term knackered).




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