Wednesday, 11 April 2018

"Mrs Slocombe didn't like to take down your trousers without asking you first..."

"Mrs Slocombe didn't like to take down your trousers without asking you first..."

A look at 'Are You Being Served?' - The Pilot Episode...

Mr Rumbold has a graph of sales figures in his office that always seems to be going down, but our recent posting about the 'Are You Being Served?' episode 'A Change Is As Good As A Rest' saw a noticeable spike in readers, so what are we to make of that?

Well, it was certainly helped by some retweets and suchlike from some kind souls, to whom we offer our sincere thanks. Uploaded only a few days ago, it's sitting there at the top of our data, ahead of the next most popular post, which is the piece about 'Gideon's Way' that went up at the start of February.

We're aiming to do a short video review of every episode of the series, though we know this is going to be a very long-term project. There seems to be an audience for articles about the show, so here's some more thoughts on the Pilot Episode, with 'Dear Sexy Knickers...' to follow in due course,  although I'm already wondering if that particular title will garner us some new readers for one reason or another...

The Pilot Episode, made for the 'Comedy Playhouse' strand but left on the shelf, is an example of how even BBC Genome does not always tell you the full story of the schedules. The listing for 8th September 1972 was built around 'Olympic Grandstand', but the tragic events at Munich meant that 'Are You Being Served?' was one of the replacements shows that was actually broadcast.

Our DVD set comes from a few years ago now and as such contains the black-and-white version, which omits psychedelic 'Comedy Playhouse' flashing logo stuff at the beginning. We did look at the colour version for reference, but there's not much to talk about. Even Mrs Slocombe's hair colour has yet to wander into the more eccentric areas of the spectrum.

The opening music is not quite the finished version, with the cash registers and voice-over present, but the actual instrumental part still to be added. The set (which David Croft claims cost £600 - the recent remake added one or two or three noughts on the end of that, we suspect!) is reassuringly familiar, however.

Given that this episode is all about how the Gentlemen and Ladies Department now have to share floorspace, I'm a little mystified as to how the trio of Grainger, Humphries and Lucas managed to cover all that area, but perhaps I'm overthinking things again.

The air of tattiness at Grace Brothers is signalled straight away when the lifts don't work properly apart from some worrying grinding and banging noises. Mollie Sugden and Wendy Richard are the first two cast members we see, followed by Larry Martyn as Mr Mash who crosses to briefly talk to Mr Humphries.

In his autobiography, 'You Have Been Watching', David Croft mentions that his original choice for Miss Brahms was Sheila Steafel, but she was not available. Wendy Richard won the role instead, of course, although David was a little unsure at first, as Wendy had played Mollie Sugden's daughter in 'Hugh And I'  and he was concerned that the audience might be confused.

The first strange prop of the series makes an appearance with the new 'Beauty Belle' point-of-sale model which lights up accompanied by a doorbell sound. Over the years, the series will make increasingly strange demands of the Visual Effects Department, of course.

Mrs Slocombe does not approve and wants to hide it away, but Captain Peacock is not allowing that as it has to be displayed somewhere prominent.

More horrible noises from the lift heard the arrival of Mr Lucas plus dummy, who both have to be helped out by Miss Brahms. Mr Grainger wants the dummy covered up a bit and during this conversation we learn that Mr Lucas has only been at Grace Brothers for one month.

Miss Brahms and Mr Lucas seem to get on quite well at this point even when Mr Lucas leaves the dummy's head behind, wedged in the doors of the lift.

Mr Lucas briefly puts the dummy's wig on which Mr Humphries thinks suits him. Eventually all the bits of the dummy are put together in the right order, although the nose has got damaged in transit. Frankly, though, its mad staring eyes are more disturbing than its wonky conk...

Mr Grainger wants to know what Mr Humphries thinks of young Mr Lucas, and is unsure what the response of "he's very obliging" actually means in practical terms.

Mrs Slocombe mentions to Captain Peacock that at least Mr Lucas is trying to make the Ladies feel at home, which is more than can be said for other members of the Gents.

Ordered to straighten the seams on the dummy's legs, Mr Lucas accidentally performs this service for Mrs Slocombe, who is surprised but not entirely unhappy.

Mr Grainger notes that now the Gents have 30% less floor space, there could well be a similar drop in sales and possibly salesmen.

Captain Peacock discusses with Mr Lucas how ballpoints are preferred over pencils and demonstrates how to flute his top-pocket handkerchief in the approved manner. During this routine, something falls out of Captain Peacock's pocket (which is part of the plot) and Mr Lucas's pencil goes flying across the set (which probably isn't)...

Quite what was the exact cause of the dirty great hole in Mr Lucas' hanky is never explained, so perhaps he's be better off with a cardboard one like Mr Humphries, who we learn has been at Grace Brothers for ten years and is also experienced in the ways of tools, paint and hardware.

You may be wondering at this point as to where all the customers are, so enter Michael Knowles who doesn't want an ("almost entirely") waterproof overcoat, but does want to spend a penny. Mr Grainger observes that it must be raining again - they always come in when it's raining...

Young Mr Grace is due in shortly, but Mr Lucas seems not to be familiar with the name, which is a little odd to say the least. It's a slight bit of info-dumping, as surely if he's been there a month, Mr Lucas would know something about his ultimate bosses.

Young Mr Grace always comes in on the first Monday of the month. though Old Mr Grace doesn't get about very much these days, apparently. Ths throwaway gag will prove to be useful a long way down the line...

Mr Lucas picks up what Captain Peacock dropped, which turns out to be a membership card for the 'Blue Cinema Club' although the signature reads simply [Captain] 'John Smith'. Surely Captain Peacock hasn't borrowed this from Jon Pertwee's Doctor?!

Mr Humphries is familiar with the inside of this particular establishment and advises that Mr Lucas should not let on to Captain Peacock that he's found the card. Instead, it is left on the counter, where Captain Peacock manages to retrieve it doing the old fluted hanky trick.

Young Mr Grace, who is apparently worth two million (we presume pounds, but this is never clarified), makes it down the stairs and wishes everyone a good morning, even a display dummy. He heads off to Mr Rumbold's office at a fairly brisk pace.

Mrs Slocombe sends Miss Brahms to ask whether Mr Humphries can remove his shirts from the centre display stand, as he wants to put her strapless bras there. There are also assorted trousers that could be taken down in the process.

Mr Humphries is asked if he is free and the answer is in the affirmative, but the question of removing shirts and trousers has to go upwards to Mr Grainger.

Walter Goodman is being fitted with a jacket, although he should not worry about the sleeves as they will "ride up with wear", naturally. Miss Brahms goes to see Mr Grainger, although he mistakes her for a customer for a few seconds. He does not take kindly to the suggestion that he takes down his trousers, as protocol demans that any such request must come directly from Mrs Slocombe herself. Which it soon does, much to his displeasure.

One glass of water for Mr Grainger later, the whole matter escalates to Captain Peacock ("He's as weak as water!" claims Mrs Slocombe) and then to Mr Rumbold, once Young Mr Grace has clocked-off for the day. For the record, it seems that the staff have "all done very well", which is something at least.

The only obvious recording break occurs now as we cut to Mr Rumbold's office where we get a somewhat confused discussion that take in the Judgement of Solomon. Nicholas Smith has only this one short scene, but makes an instant impression here.

In story terms, this meeting actually goes on for two hours, Mrs Slocombe eventually energing with a face like thunder, so we can tell it's not gone her way after all.

However, Mr Grainger is magnanimous in victory, conceding that Mrs Slocombe can have a solitary bra on display. Mrs Slocombe is pleased to accept, as she has the very thing...

Mr Grainger is immediately on the phone to Mr Rumbold's office and the end credits begin to run... And we've got the instrumental track added to the theme tune now, finally. Hurrah!

Trevor Bannister gets his name up first, and John Inman is fifth. This order will change during the course of the series as Mr Humphries becomes more popular and prominent.

There are no outrageous costumes and not even a mention of Mr Slocombe's pussy, but the framework is already in place and it will be interesting to finally do the show in transmission order to see how characters evolve and themes develop.

As a pilot episode, there's really not much wrong with it. I can see little reason for shoving it to the back of the stock cupboard and forgetting about it, as almost happened.

Our score: 6/10 - a promising start, but with room for improvement...

Next Episode: 'Dear Sexy Knickers...'

(By Andrew Trowbridge)

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