On Saturday I amazed myself by watching Are You Being Served for the first time in about 30 years, and amazed myself still further by actually quite enjoying it. It was followed by a Making of documentary. Hey, I was ironing and it was a good diversion. It was also interesting to compare what I knew then with what I realise now.
(I often do this. I enjoyed Dad’s Army when I was young but I appreciate whole new levels to it now. Like: the Home Guard are inept but no one for a second doubts their courage. Like: the class difference between Wilson and Mainwaring, which the socially superior Wilson doesn’t care about at all but the technically superior Mainwaring cares about intensely.)
I think, even when I was young, I understood that Mr Humphries was Not the Marrying Kind. I’m impressed now that although this opened up all kinds of possibilities for innuendo, he could also play the part with dignity and be accepted by all the other characters as an equal. I also hadn’t realised he is also one of the two most intelligent, switched-on characters in the show – the other, surprisingly, being Young Mr Grace. (I also got the joke that Young Mr Grace was extremely old and doddery and constantly staring down his nurse’s cleavage; I didn’t get the fact that he was played with a pronounced nasal London/Yiddish accent and displayed a ruthless business mind beneath the geriatric vagueness.)
I hadn’t realised the humour of the firmly defined pecking order in Menswear that went Mr Grainger -> Mr Humphries -> Mr Lucas. Captain Peacock would intercept gentleman customers as they arrived on the floor, then aim them at the appropriate sales assistant based on their perceived spending power. Thus lines like: “Mr Humphries, are you available for a clip-on bowtie?” / “I have never been available for a clip-on bowtie …”
Strangely there wasn’t anything about Mrs Slocombe’s feline companion. Maybe it wasn’t such a running joke as I remember.
In this episode the staff had been disciplined by Young Mr Grace for some reason – I didn’t quite catch the beginning – and made to spend the day in the Toy department instead of Clothing. This not only led to jokes about Mr Humphries’ Wibbly-Wobblys but was a fantastic nostalgiafest for 1970s non-electronic, pre-computing kids’ games. It ended with all being forgiven and even Young Mr Grace joining in with playing with the railway set. It was really quite sweet.
I was pleasantly surprised but I don’t think I’ll be buying any DVD sets to catch up. As I say, first time in 30 years, and once every three decades is probably about right.