Are You Being Served? is one of the sitcoms being revived for a one-off special by the BBC, and ran for an – unprecedented by today’s standards – ten series from 1972 to 1985, whereas most run for 3 or 4 at most, partly due to there being so much more choice available these days, and that also partly leads to people having a short attention…. er… sorry, where was I?
An attempt to revive it in the early ’90s, as Grace and Favour, didn’t really do them any favours. Audiences had moved on, and even with a prime slot of starting the winter seasons in January 1992 and 93 didn’t work.
Set in 1988, so somewhere inbetween, this one-off special, You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, until they shoehorned the year in, I could tell it was set around the same era, as they refer to ‘fit men’ including Daley Thompson, Jimmy Connors and Jim Kerr.
Set against the original theme and a recreation of the original set, the cast work surprisingly well together with plenty of politically-incorrect humour, and with Jason Watkins (The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries) camping it up nicely in John Inman’s classic role, it’s interesting that they don’t get him to shout “I’m Free!” at the first available opportunity. You’re expecting it, the first time he’s asked whether he’s free, so it’s pleasing to note that it didn’t kick in instantly.
With plenty of innuendo, and mention of Mrs Slocombe’s pussy (its owner played by ex-Corrie‘s Sherrie Hewson), of some of the many other jokes in the script, referring to clothes, Mr Granger (Roy Barraclough) says he’s busy because he’s “rearranging his underwear”, to which Mr Humphries quips, “It’s always the quiet ones!” There’s confusion with scatalogical issues, including how to loosen the jaws of a dog, and mention of the “Wobbly Wand” – the junior version of The Magic Circle.
There’s also a slight plot with Matthew Horne as a flash Harry-type Mr Grace, who wants to modernise the department, but that rather gets lost in trying to recreate the magic of the original.
Yes, there’s canned laughter, but put yourself in the right frame of mind for this, and you’ll quite enjoy it. Overall, however, Are You Being Served? 2016 is a curiosity, but still best left as a one-off 30-minute for this Landmark Sitcoms season, and certainly not, as happened with Dad’s Army, trying to make a dreadful movie out of it.
Are You Being Served? airs on BBC1 on Sunday night at 9pm, but is not yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD. After broadcast, if you missed it, you can watch the episode on BBC iPlayer, up until September 27th, and click on the top image in this review for the full-size version.
Director: Dewi Humphries
Producer: James Farrell
Writer: Derren Litten
Mr Humphries: Jason Watkins
Mrs Slocombe: Sherrie Hewson
Captain Peacock: John Challis
Mr Granger: Roy Barraclough
Mr Conway: Kayode Ewumi
Miss Brahms: Niky Wardley
Mr Harman: Arthur Smith
Mr Grace: Mathew Horne
Mr Rumbold: Justin Edwards
Miss Croft: Jorgie Porter
Customers: Daniel Croucher and Alex J Phelps
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.