Are You Being Served? (originally styled as “Are You Being Served?” in quotation marks) is a British sitcom created and written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft (Croft also directed some episodes), with contributions from Michael Knowles and John Chapman, for the BBC. Set in London, the show follows the misadventures and mishaps of the staff of the retail ladies’ and gentlemen’s clothing departments, in the flagship department store of a fictional chain called Grace Brothers.
Broadcast between 1972 and 1985 on BBC1, the sitcom itself spanned ten series totaling 69 parts – five of which are Christmas specials. Are You Being Served? was a great success in the UK and was also popular in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Israel. In the United States, it gained a loyal and enthusiastic following when PBS television stations began airing reruns of it in the late 1980s, along with other British sitcoms.
In 2004, the sitcom was ranked 20th in the countdown of Britain’s Best Sitcom. It is regularly repeated worldwide (PBS and BBC America in the United States; and BBC UKTV in Australia and New Zealand). From 7 October 2013 to 17 March 2014, 61 episodes of the series were repeated in the UK on BBC Two as part of Daytime Classics. A further season of repeats were shown on BBC2 during the spring and summer of 2015. A one-off special, with a revamped cast very closely matching the appearance of the original, was broadcast on 28 August 2016.
The idea for the show came from Lloyd’s brief period in the early 1950s working at Simpsons of Piccadilly, a clothing store which traded for over 60 years until 1999. The inspiration for the store has also been credited to Rossiters of Paignton department store from the time Lloyd and Croft spent there, and the former Clements of Watford.
The pilot episode was created as part of the Comedy Playhouse series, although the BBC had originally chosen not to broadcast the programme. The pilot was used as a filler during the 1972 Summer Olympics when the coverage of the Olympiad was interrupted by the Munich massacre on 8 September 1972, leading to a full series being produced. This first episode was repeated at the beginning of the first series on 14 March 1973. Although the first series was aired in the same timeslot as Coronation Street on ITV, consequently receiving relatively little attention, the repeats shown later in the year were much more successful.
The show became a ratings hit, and after a successful 13-year run, Are You Being Served? came to an end on 1 April 1985.
Of the original cast, only Frank Thornton, Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richard and Nicholas Smith appeared in all 69 parts of the programme’s 13-year run; these five later featured in the sequel sitcom, Grace & Favour (also known as Are You Being Served? Again!). The cast performed in character for a stage sketch on the BBC1 programme Variety on 19 June 1976.
Following the death of the last remaining original cast member, Nicholas Smith, on 6 December 2015, the only surviving permanent cast members are Mike Berry as Mr Spooner, Candy Davis (Miss Belfridge in the final two seasons), Penny Irving, who played Mr Grace’s secretary Miss Bakewell between 1976 and 1979, and Vivienne Johnson, who played both Young and Old Mr Grace’s nurse from 1977 to 1981. Doremy Vernon, starring as feisty canteen manageress Diana Yardwick over several seasons, also survives, however only appeared on a recurring basis and was never part of the regular cast. 
Although the pilot was produced in colour, the videotape was wiped in the 1970s leaving only a 16mm black-and-white film telerecording. In 2009, the pilot episode was restored to colour using the colour recovery technique previously used for the Dad’s Army episode “Room at the Bottom”. The restored colour version was first shown on BBC2 on 1 January 2010 as part of a special Are You Being Served? night.
by simon schofield