Thursday, March 08, 2007

"I'm Free!"

When I first started watching PBS for non-Sesame Street related reasons one of the shows that I watched frequently was "Are You Being Served?" a british sitcom which ran from 1972-1985.
The show took place in the men's and women's department of a large fictional London store called Grace Brothers. Like other successful comedies ("Three's Company" comes to mind) the show used obvious humor based on sexual innuendo, misunderstandings, and mistaken identity as its standard fare. The stuffy Captain Peacock, the boistrous Mrs. Slocombe, young Mr. Lucas and the fey Mr. Humphries combined their comedic talents to turn working in a department store into the thinly-veiled class warfare of English Society. Mr. Lucas was a favorite of mine (the cheeky bastard) but the show belonged to Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries, played by John Inman.
John Inman died yesterday. And that's a bit sad.
John Inman's portrayal of the effeminate (but you were never quite sure) Mr. Humphries was a riot. From his shrill "I'm Free!" to his over-masculine way of answering the phone in the Men's Department ("Menswear") you were always assured of a laugh - in a "Three's Company" sorta way. At times caustic, always sensitive and ready with a sly barb at the overly-pompous Captain Peacock (the fantastically dry Frank Thornton), he was a very funny comedian.
So much so that Inman's portrayal of Mr Humphries won him the BBC TV Personality of the Year in 1976 and he was voted the funniest man on television by TV Times readers. From 1980 to 1981, Inman also played Mr Humphries in the Australian version of "Are You Being Served?" and in 1992, five of the "Are You Being Served?" cast, including Inman, reunited in character for the spinoff sitcom Grace & Favour, which ran for twelve episodes until 1993.
As I said earlier, "Are You Being Served?" was not high art. It is no "Seinfeld" and it is certainly not "The Office". In fact, Ricky Gervais took a brilliant pot-shot at "Are You Being Served?" on his new show "Extras"; specifically with regard to the use of catchphrases to get a cheap laugh.
Think about that for a second. Twenty years later, and a joke about Mr. Humphries and "I'm Free" was still relevent - and funny - to the English viewing audience. Now THAT'S saying something.
"Are You Being Served" was not high art (It wasn't even medium art), but it WAS funny. And funny is good. John Inman made me (and a lot of other people) laugh and for that, he will be missed.


Blogger FoxInDetox said...

I loved this show and now I'm sad...

I also loved Benny Hill...not because I thought the show was all that was because I got a kick out of watching my brother think the show was all that great.

11:20 AM, March 15, 2007  
Blogger Andy said...

I loved Benny Hill because I had never seen my parents laugh so hard that they cried before.

11:30 AM, March 15, 2007  

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