Series: Are You Being Served?
"Mr. Humphries, are you free?"Long-running BBC sitcom created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, following the exploits of the employees of the Ladies' and Gentlemen's ready-to-wear departments of Grace Brothers, a London department store, probably a Fictional Counterpart to Harrod's. The show lasted from September 1972 to April 1985, a total of 69 episodes in ten series.In classic Brit Com tradition, the episodes generally had relatively little in the way of plot. Individual episode storylines were largely a framing device to deliver a rapid-fire series of double entendres, typically dealing with the reactions (or over-reactions) of the staff to the latest management scheme, or tension between the Ladies' and Gentlemen's departments. Almost every episode in later seasons ended with the characters dressing up in silly outfits. The show rarely strayed beyond the department floor, and almost never left the confines of the store itself.Came twentieth in Britain's Best Sitcom.
The core characters of the show were:
- Mrs. Slocombe, senior assistant on the Ladies' counter. She sported exotically colored hair and made constant comments about her cat, which she always called "her pussy". An evidently artificial posh accent was undercut by a propensity for malapropisms and a tendency to revert back to a working class accent when surprised or angry.
- Mr. Humphries, associate (later senior) assistant on the Men's counter. Ambiguously Camp Gay: the general confusion about his sexual orientation made up much of the show's jokes. Among his perennial gags was the substitution of a deep baritone for his usual effeminate voice when answering the telephone.
- Mr. Lucas, junior assistant on the Men's counter. A borderline Casanova Wannabe, often in trouble for minor violations of the store's baroque codes of conduct (for example, his failure to display a properly fluted pocket handkerchief). Mr. Lucas was well-known for being almost predictably late — he usually attempted to cover it by signing false names in the work register, but this backfired when Captain Peacock dryly pointed out that the majority of the names Mr. Lucas chose were either celebrities, fictional, dead, or a combination thereof. He was later substituted in favor of Mr. Spooner, essentially the same character reduced to a background role.
- Miss Brahms, the sexy Deadpan Snarker ladieswear junior, noted for her sometimes incomprehensible Estuary accent.
- Captain Peacock, the floorwalker. Due to his (somewhat exaggerated) military background (he served in the Catering Corps) and higher position, he considers himself above the assistants and flaunts his greater social standing. Constantly in trouble with his wife for supposed improprieties, although it is not clear whether he ever actually crossed the line into outright infidelity.
- Mr. Grainger, the elderly, cantankerous senior assistant in menswear. He was later replaced by the progressively younger and less cantankerous Mr. Tebbs, then Mr. Goldberg, then Mr. Grossman, and finally Mr. Klein. For the final few seasons, this role was removed, reducing the core cast to a Five-Man Band.
- Mr. Rumbold, the floor manager, often called upon to invent wild explanations for the staff's actions. Called 'Jug Ears' by the staff (and not always behind his back, either), his poor eyesight often lent itself to comical misunderstandings when he was forced to read anything. Verbal explanations also tended to be misunderstood due to him taking things very literally.
- Mr. Mash (later Mr. Harman), maintenance personnel used to make jokes about the class system (for example, though they are "dead common" and considered social pariahs by the staff, the maintenance staff is, thanks to their union, better paid than the sales staff). Mr. Harman could be a Dead Pan Snarker when the situation called for it, but he could usually be counted on to help the Grace Brothers' staff out of that week's predicament.
- Young Mr. Grace, the ancient owner of the store. Dirty Old Man, but generally a pleasant, if easily confused boss. Though described as "young", he is well over 80: the query, "That's Young Mr. Grace?!" elicits the response, "Old Mr. Grace doesn't get around much any more." Young Mr. Grace was replaced for a series by Old Mr. Grace, an obviously younger actor under gobs of makeup; the character proved to be unpopular and was written out after one series, with the writers opting instead for an unseen Mr. Grace.
This series provides examples of:
- Absentee Actor: After Harold Bennett (Young Mr Grace) had died and the replacement Old Mr Grace had proved unacceptable, the writers decided to move the character permanently off-screen. The character was still around and at Grace Brothers, issuing orders via telephone or memo, but he was never seen nor heard. There was never any indication whether this "Mr Grace" was the "Young" or the "Old" one.
- After Show / Revival: Grace & Favour (known as Are You Being Served? Again! in the U.S.) continues the series eight years after the original left off, but replaces the store with a country manor that the Ladies' and Gents' staff inherit from Young Mr. Grace and run as an inn.
- Almighty Janitor: Mr Harman is multitalented and, therefore, frequently helps, in various roles, the Ladies and Gents staff members (getting extra pay for it doesn't hurt, either). His powers are highly evident in "Take-over," when he finds out about the plot point "emptying the waste-paper basket" and comes up with his own plan for saving the firm.
- Ambiguously Gay: Mr. Humphries most of the time. As the series progressed, there were increasing suggestions that Mr. Humphries was actually attracted to women...predominantly.
- As Himself: British wrestling legend "Mr TV" Jackie Pallo pretty much played himself in the Pro Wrestling Episode. He even did all of his best known moves to Mr. Humphries before being beaten up by Mrs. Slocombe.
- At the Opera Tonight: On one of their few outings, they attend a ballet in "The Erotic Dreams of Mrs Slocombe". Appropriately enough ...
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Captain and Mrs Peacock, "... although they've got a very strange way of showing it," reminds Mr Humphries.
- Bad Bad Acting: In "Forward Mr Grainger", when Mr Rumbold asks Captain Peacock to "act suitably surprised" when publicly announcing something that Rumbold had already told Peacock in confidence, Peacock's reactions are hilariously stilted.
- The Barnum: Mr Humphries.
- Bilingual Bonus: In "Fire Practice" the Emir speaks actual idiomatic Arabic. The translator embellishes a bit, but is largely accurate; it's just that Arabic speakers get the joke a bit earlier.
- Birthday Episode: Doubling as Hey, Let's Put on a Show episodes: "Happy Returns" for Young Mr Grace and "Roots?" for Old Mr Grace.
- Blitz Evacuees: Mrs Slocombe continually mentions having been a "Land Girl" during the war. However, she's always very vague about exactly how old she was when it happened. Her experience is elaborated upon when the cast retire to the country in Grace And Favour.
- Blowing a Raspberry: Mr Mash without the two-fingered salute. Mrs Slocombe and others on the floor with it.
- Bob from Accounting: Or, shall we say, Mr Patel from Accounting. The staff make frequent references to the Accounts Department, and how all of them are Asian, and in one episode, Mr Patel from Accounts does appear.
- The Boxing Episode: In "The Hero", Captain Peacock is challenged to a boxing match by another department head but backs out. Then Mr. Humphries is chosen to take his place in a wrestling match and loses. Then Mrs. Slocombe enters the ring.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- Series 4, Episode 5, "Fifty Years On", deals with Mrs. Slocombe's (allegedly) fiftieth birthday. They deliver to her the present, which comes in a red cubic box at least a foot on each side, wrapped up with a gold ribbon, in a moment that would probably be said to be shouting out to Pulp Fiction, except that hadn't been filmed yet.Mrs Slocombe: (looking in the box) Oh! It's just what I've always wanted!
Miss Brahms: (leaning aside to peek in) Lovely, innit!
Mr. Lucas: (approaching the box eagerly, hands outstretched to take it from her) Well, come on, let's have a look at it, then! Oh, look at that, that's worth every penny!note
Mr. Grainger: (looking in the box, smiling and shaking his head) Oh, you know, Mrs. Grainger's always wanted one.
Mr. Humphries: (taking the box from Mr. Grainger) Well, I've had one of these for years, I wouldn't be without it!
Cpt. Peacock: (taking the box from Mr. Humphries) I wish I had had one in the desert!
Mr. Rumbold: (taking the box from Cpt. Peacock) I've never actually seen one before.
Mr. Humphries/John Inman: (winking directly into the camera and not at any of the other actors) We're not going to tell you what it is, it's a secret!
- Series 4, Episode 6, "Oh What a Tangled Web", has Captain Peacock and Mr. Rumbold's secretary arrive very late for work, leading to another direct address to camera by John Inman as Mr. Humphries:Cpt. Peacock: Good morning, Mrs. Slocombe.
Mrs. Slocombe: Good afternoon, Captain Peacock.
Cpt. Peacock: Yes, I am a bit late... there's a reason, of course.
Mr. Lucas: (scoffs) Yeah, here it comes.
Mr. Humphries: (direct to camera, as though introducing an object on Twenty Questions) And the next object is... a lie. A lie.
- Series 10, Episode 3, "The Hold Up": Mr Humphries as gangster Italian Tony is being offered Miss Brahms by the burglars:Miss Brahms: (feigning disgusted fright) No, no, I shall never give in to an Italian whopper!
Mr. Humphries/Italian Tony: (direct to camera, looking very puzzled) They do have rumours in the underworld.
- Series 4, Episode 5, "Fifty Years On", deals with Mrs. Slocombe's (allegedly) fiftieth birthday. They deliver to her the present, which comes in a red cubic box at least a foot on each side, wrapped up with a gold ribbon, in a moment that would probably be said to be shouting out to Pulp Fiction, except that hadn't been filmed yet.
- Breakout Character: The concept was originally to have Mr. Lucas and Miss Brahms as the leads, being the younger and more normal characters. However, Mrs. Slocombe and Mr. Humphries stole the spotlight.
- Brick Joke: Usually, a semi-, mal-, or non-functioning display shows up to close out the closing credits.
- British Brevity: Even though the show ran for ten seasons over 13 years, it produced only 69 episodes. This averages out to about seven episodes a season.
- Building of Adventure: The setting very rarely leaves Grace Brothers Department Store.
- Butt Monkey: While not the only one to suffer this, Mr. Rumbold is clearly the resident Butt Monkey of Grace Brothers!
- Buxom Is Better: Miss Brahms. Also, Miss Belfridge later.
- Call Back: Late in Are you Being Served? Captain Peacock is established as a gambling addict. The Call Back comes over a decade later in Grace & Favour (Are you Being Served? Again! in the states;) when Morris Moulterd is commenting on how Mrs. Slocombe's cat is only 100 yards ahead of the pack (of hunting dogs) and losing ground fast, he gives Tiddles 5:1 odds of not making it. Captain Peacock doesn't hesitate a moment in shouting "You're on!"
- Camp Gay: Mr. Humphries when he reveals what he does for fun.
- Camp Straight: Mr. Humpries. Word Of God from John Inman supported this.
- Camping Episode: In "Camping In" a transport strike forces the staff to stay in the store overnight using tents from the sporting-goods department.
- Catch Phrase:
- "Are you free?"
- "I'm free!"
- "You've all done very well!"
- "Thank you, Mr. Grace!"
- "Glass of water for Mr. Grainger."
- "And I am unanimous in that."
- "Weak as water!"
- "They'll ride up with wear."
- "That will do, Miss Brahms."
- Mr. Humphries answering the phone (in an obviously fake very deep voice): "Menswear."
- Chain of Corrections: Whenever Mr Rumbold is writing down staff complaints.
- Character Aged with the Actor: The entire cast in Grace & Favour. This is lampshaded in the first scene of the first episode, when Mr. Humphries says that the shaky elevator ride has "put ten years on all of us".
- Character Outlives Actor: Arthur Brough, who played senior salesman Mr. Grainger, died in 1978 while preparations were being made for the sixth series (though he had announced his retirement from acting following his wife's death two months before, Lloyd and Croft were hoping to persuade him to return). He was replaced without explanation in-series by the character of Mr. Tebbs. Contrary to popular perception, Brough was the only actor who died before his character was written out of the series. Harold Bennett (Young Mr. Grace) retired due to ill health and died in 1981 after filming a few scenes for Series 8, but the character remained alive until just before the first episode of Grace and Favour nearly ten years later. Meanwhile, James Hayter (Mr. Tebbs), Alfie Bass (Mr. Goldberg), Milo Sperber (Mr. Grossman), and Benny Lee (Mr. Klein) all lived for at least five more years following their various departures from the series.
- Christmas Episode: "Christmas Crackers" (Series 3), "The Father Christmas Affair" (Series 4), "Happy Returns" (Series 6), "The Punch and Judy Affair" (Series 7), "Roots?" (Series 8).
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Numerous characters disappear without explanation or acknowledgement, most notably Mr. Lucas and Mr. Grainger. Other characters who succumb to the syndrome include Mr. Mash, Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Grossman, and Mr. Klein, as well as numerous recurring secretaries and staff of Mr. Rumbold and both Grace brothers.
- The Coconut Effect: Parodied in "Calling All Customers," when Mr Harman works the sound effects (and sound defects for the radio show, using the fruit for the horse sounds. He keeps on until Mr Humphries commands "Cut your nuts!"
- Coconut Meets Cranium: Mr Rumbold removes his hat in "By Appointment" to reveal bandages for injuries from a coconut falling on his head in Coconut Island.
- Color-Coded Characters:
- The female sales assistants and lift girls wear dark brown uniforms (except in the first series, when the lift girls wore red) with the Grace Bros. logo.
- Upper-level male staff are entitled to wear a red carnation (and not a variegated color as Captain Peacock found out the hard way in "The Old Order Changes."
- The Packing and Maintenance Department wear light brown overcoats with the Grace Bros. logo.
- The Couch: The show had its own version of this: the long cafeteria table at which every character sat on the same side, so the set could be built with only one wall.
- Cute Kitten: One episode has Mrs. Slocombe's cat about to give birth, whereupon she smuggles it into work. The wrath of Captain Peacock is avoided via Cuteness Proximity.
- Damsel in Distress: Miss Brahms in "The Hold Up".
- A Day in the Limelight: Mr Spooner in "The Pop Star."
- Deadpan Snarker: Mr. Harman and Miss Brahms in the classic sense of the term. Mr Lucas without the deadpan aspect.
- Death Glare: From Capt Peacock and Mrs Slocombe.
- Delusions of Eloquence: Mrs. Slocombe was frequently prone to this."The earth began as a soup, with little orgasms floating about in it."
- Deus Ex Scuse Me: How Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Peacock meet in "Oh What a Tangled Web".
- Did You Get a New Haircut?: Played With in "It Pays To Advertise", when Mrs. Slocombe and Mr. Humphries have mannequins made of themselves, and Mr. Grainger mistakes the mannequin of Mrs. Slocombe for the real thing:Mr. Grainger: Your hair's looking nice today, Mrs. Slocombe. (after a few moments) Alright, ignore me, you bad tempered old cow.
- Dirty Old Woman: Mrs. Slocombe, and it's never plainer than when gossipping with her junior. Consider this scene when Miss Brahms is about to throw away a number she picked up and Mrs. Slocombe stops her from "littering the floor":Miss Brahms: D'you know, I can't bear them big muscley men with hairy chests and tattoos; they can only think of one thing!
Mrs. Slocombe: I quite agree! ... Is that a five or an eight?
- Disco: A favorite pastime of Miss Brahms.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: On Grace and Favour, Mavis often says that her father will "give her the strap" if she gets caught doing something.
- Dope Slap: Mr Spooner was often the recipient of this, from either Mrs Slocombe, Miss Brahms, or Mr Humphries.
- Double Entendre: Put simply, the show lives and breathes double entendre, most notoriously those involving Mrs. Slocombe's pussy.
- Another was Mr Harman coming in to inspect the furniture of an executive's office. The cast listens in, and thinks he's talking about them. Brahms gets very upset when the man says "and the knockers aren't real".
- In one Christmas show, the floor had a mechanical Santa, which was programmed to say "Ho Ho Ho, little boy! Have I got a surprise for you!", and then open its arms in a welcoming gesture. The phrase itself was enough of a Double Entendre, but the person creating the dummy had sewn the sleeves of the dummy's gown to the body of the gown, resulting in the dummy acting like a flasher. Mr. Humphries faints when he sees it.
- Dragged into Drag: Guess who falls victim to this to compete in Grace Brothers'"Holiday Girl Outfit" contest in "Front Page News"?
- Elderly Blue/Grey/Pink/Purple/Orange/Red/Yellow/Green Haired Lady: Mrs. Slocombe
- Elevator Failure: The opening gag in the first episode, and a Running Gag throughout the show.
- Elevator Floor Announcement: The show's Thematic Theme Tune has this. ("Ground floor: Perfumery, / Stationery and leather goods"). So good it was turned into a techno dance number, Are U Being Served? by Australian band Regurgitator. It rocks.
- Embarrassing First Name: Mr. Humphries's full name is "Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries". Mr. Harman's first name is "Beverly". Mr. Rumbold's first name is "Cuthbert". Mr. Lucas's first name is "Dick", which everyone else seems to find hysterical.
- Embarrassing Nickname: "Jug Ears" Rumbold.
- Endangered Soufflé: In "Take-over", Mr Humphries was trying to hold down a souffle that was growing out of control.
- Everything Is an Instrument: The opening musique concrete theme started with cash register sounds forming a melody. This was a couple years before Pink Floyd's "Money".
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: On "Monkey Business", the Mischief Making Monkey becomes an Accidental Hero.
- Fainting: Done without the scream on multiple occasions by Mr. Humphries, typically as a silent collapse into the arms of his coworkers.
- Fake Hair Drama: Mr. Tebbs puts on a toupee in hopes of not being made redundant in "Shedding the Load."
- Faking Amnesia: Used by Mrs. Slocombe in a later episode when she pretended to have forgotten everything since early childhood and spent the majority of the episode acting like a schoolgirl. The ordeal was a ploy to scare the management with a possible lawsuit.
- Fashion Show: Considering all the crazy costumes they had over the years, only two were actually this:
- Put on by the gang in "The Think Tank".
- The Holiday Girl contest in "Front Page Story".
- First Name Basis: Captain (Stephen) Peacock and Mr (Ernest) Grainger, mutually - the only aversion of the Last Name Basis trope this show became famous for throughout its run.
- A Foggy Day in London Town: In the episode "The Bliss Girl," the fog has entered the building, and into the elevator.
- Foreshadowing: The penultimate episode of the original series, "Friends and Neighbors", finds the staff sharing apartments at the top of the store. The next series finds them all sharing an old country manor.
- Fun with Foreign Languages: In "German Week", the German Band arrives, and a character says something to them in German, and they respond in English. In Germany and other European countries with a large proportion of people who speak English as a second language, it's common for tourists attempting to speak the local language to receive a reply in English. The guidebooks specifically warn people not to be disheartened by this and that the attempt is always appreciated.
- Funny Foreigner: Several episodes involve one.
- In one, an Arab Oil Sheikh visits. He attempts to bargain, and pay, in goats. You read that right. Not groats. Goats.
- In another it's a Japanese Tourist with his "Cledit Caa" (Sooooooo!). Captain Peacock's attempts to communicate with him are at least as hilarious as the tourist himself ("You wanty buy?" "Whaty-wanty?")
- Also, a cranky German couple in "German Week", and Japanese businessmen looking to take over the store in "Monkey Business". Also, short-lived regular Mr. Grossman was an Alter Kocker example.
- Mrs. Slocombe's American uncle in "Do You Take This Man?"
- Fun with Acronyms: Mrs. Diana Yardswick, the Canteen manageress, is a member of National Associated Canteen Employees, Restaurant and Domestic (NACERD).
- The Gambling Addict: Captain Peacock, in the late episode "Gambling Fever", is established to have been this. It was on the cusp of ruining his life as early as his wedding night (established as having been 30+ years ago,) but he apparently struggled away from it, though, as with all addictions, he struggled with relapsing.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The cast and crew had their own Catch Phrase for this: "self-cleaning jokes."
- The Ghost: Harold Bennett, who played Young Mr. Grace, died in 1981. Though the writers tried to create a replacement in the form of his brother, Old Mr. Grace, the character proved unpopular and was written out after only one series. For the final two series, the characters would frequently refer to Mr. Grace and call him on the phone, but he was not seen again for the remainder of the show. However, no one ever specifies whether "Young" or "Old" Mr. Grace is the one being referred to.
- Glad I Thought of It: In "The Think Tank", Mr. Rumbold appropriates Captain Peacock's idea for a store fashion show. This backfires on him when Young Mr. Grace tells him it's a rotten idea.
- Grande Dame: Mrs. Slocombe affects this trope much of the time. When angry or flustered, however, she backslides to her "vulgar" working class roots (sometimes in the middle of a sentence).
- Grand Finale:
- The original series had "The Pop Star," which ended with a big musical number.
- The final episode of the sequel series, Grace & Favour had all the characters finally giving Mr. Rumbold a piece of their mind at what an incompetent he is as the Pointy-Haired Boss of the hotel, since they are all partners now, and he finally concedes the point.
- Groin Attack: Mr. Lucas gets one courtesy of a toy horse in "Happy Returns".
- Hair Decorations: As Wendy Richard's hair grew, her character started using them in Series 5.
- Hello, Nurse!: Miss Belfridge, full stop.
- He Who Must Not Be Heard: Goddard, Young Mr. Grace's chauffeur during the first six series, never said a word during his numerous appearances. Also, Young Mr. Grace's original unnamed nurse never said a word.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Mrs. Slocombe's oft mentioned but never seen friend, Mrs. Axelby. Also, Mrs. Slocumbe's beloved cat, Tiddles, is often mentioned and seen twice using props, but the actual cat is never seen during the course of the series, though she shows up in the spin off, Grace and Favour.
- Hey, Let's Put on a Show: Done pretty frequently in the latter seasons, often in celebration of Mr. Grace's birthday.
- Historical Character Confusion: Mr Grainger comments that a plan the staff come up to avoid starting work earlier sounds like something Bulldog Drummond would have come up with to defeat Oscar Peterson. It has to be pointed out to him that Oscar Peterson is a pianist, and that Bulldog Drummond's arch-nemesis was Carl Peterson.
- Hurricane of Puns:
- In "Mrs. Slocombe Expects", Mr Rumbold says three terrible puns about cats when Mrs Slocombe tells him about the possibility of her kittens being born - he says puns like a 'cat-tastrophe' and a 'pussy-bility'.
- The entire conversation in the canteen in "The Hero", as the staff discuss Captain Peacock's "misfortune." Put simply, he was the Butt Monkey for the episode!
- Iconic Outfit:
- Captain Peacock's Outdated Outfit, complete with red carnation.
- The saleswomen's and lift girls' uniforms.
- Idiot Ball: It's shared around pretty equally; the characters' intelligence level can be extremely variable. However, Miss Brahms seems to get stuck with it a lot later in the series, which is odd considering she was generally quite smart earlier in the series.
- Incompetence, Inc.: Grace Brothers is a declining old fashioned British department store run by two doddering old men whose managerial practices are hopelessly outdated and out of touch with reality while the staff continually bicker among themselves in petty rivalries for privileges and sales quotas.
- Induced Hypochondria: In an episode, the staff convince Mr Rumbold that he's suffering from some unspecified stress-related disease, and that he should dismantle the security cameras to save himself from the urge to watch them all the time.
- Japanese Ranguage: In "The Hand of Fate", a Japanese Tourist came into the store with his "Cledit Caa" (Sooooooo!). Captain Peacock's attempts to communicate with him are at least as hilarious as the tourist himself ("You wanty buy?" "Whaty-wanty?")
Captain Peacock: And this, Honourable Mr Lucas.Tourist: Rucas (bows deeply) Sooooo!Lucas: No, no, no, Lucas.Tourist: Rucas!Lucas: No, Luuucas—Captain Peacock: (interrupting) You must understand, Mr Lucas, that this gentleman is Japanese. He has difficulty getting his tongue 'round his "r"s.Long beat
- Jewish and Nerdy: One of Mr Goldberg's signature traits is his skill at mental maths. Also, after the fashion (i.e. broad ethnic humour) of the show, the first time he demonstrates his skill, he sounds like Orthodox Jewish prayer (with the book in hand and the chanting and all).
- Kaleidoscope Hair: Mrs Slocombe wears wigs, but every one is a different color.note
- Lady Drunk: Mrs Slocombe.
- Lame Excuse: Mr Lucas tries to fake being sick so he can meet a woman who's coming for him from Oop North. Among other things, he tries the trick of sticking soap in his mouth. It was supposed to go under his tongue, but he swallowed it when Captain Peacock ordered him to speak clearly (he couldn't very well have spat it out under the circumstances, now could he?). He persuades Captain Peacock to send for the medical staff, as bubbles from his hiccups float by, prompting Captain Peacock to add:Captain Peacock: ...and a loofah.
- Last Name Basis: Sometimes a well meaning person tries to change this, and it only makes everyone visibly uncomfortable.
- Lethal Chef: Working in the canteen.
- Limited Advancement Opportunities: Only Mr. Humphries gets permanently promoted to Senior Sales Assistant.
- Love Letter Lunacy: In the first-season episode "Dear Sexy Knickers", a saucy note is delivered to the wrong person, who misunderstands who it's from. And when the sender is identified, the recipient is misunderstood. In the meantime, innocent people are cussed out and much Hilarity Ensues.
- Making a Spectacle of Yourself: Mr. Humphries seems to prefer flamboyant sunglasses.
- Marilyn Maneuver: This is a common trope in this series that occurred several times including:
- This happened to Shirley Brahms thrice in "The Club" (twice in which her unmentionables are shown). The first time when she and the other staff members are in a basement and Young Mr. Grace presses a button or lifts a switch on a wall, which causes air from a floor vent to blow up the skirt of her uniform, revealing her white undies and Mr. Lucas gets a kick out of it. The second time Ms. Brahms is wearing a different outfit and she has a windblown skirt moment again, this time with Mr. Lucas jokingly pressing the button and she's wearing white undies with matching bustier or corset underneath. Third time, Mr. Lucas does it again, but the skirt lifts from the back and Ms. Brahms' back is turned to the wall.
- Earlier in the same episode, Young Mr. Grace's nurse (Vivienne Johnson) bends over at one point in front of him and he dress rides up, flashing her white panties and that sends his heart racing (and his pacemaker sounding off).
- In another moment in the same episode, Miss Bakewell (Penny Irving), lifts her skirt for Young Mr. Grace, presuming he wanted her to flash him.
- In another episode, "Monkey Business", Miss Belfridge's (Candy Davis) pink dress gets lifted in a draft from an electric fan nearby and she struggles to keep it down when her white panties are shown.
- Mean Boss: Miss Featherstone in "Goodbye Mrs Slocombe."
- Mineral MacGuffin: In "Diamonds Are a Man's Best Friend."
- Mistaken for Index
- Momma's Boy: Mr. Humphries
- The Movie: A movie was made where the cast take a holiday and hilarity ensues.
- Multiple-Choice Past: Captain Peacock could never quite keep straight his stories of just what he did in World War II.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Italian Tony, The Tooting Terror!
- Never Win the Lottery: In the episode "Goodbye Mr Grainger": old Mr Grainger resigns after a bad depression, but the depression lifts when he discovers that he won a First Drawing in the pools. He buys the entire staff farewell gifts, and they discover that he didn't win anything. So they just club the money together that the gifts cost, tell him he just won that much, and manage to intercept his resignation before the boss reads it.
- No Name Given: Both of Young Mr. Grace's nurses, even though the second one appeared in every episode for three series. To a lesser degree, Mr. Rumbold's original secretary and the porters.
- Nobody Poops: Completely averted. Frequently, customers asked - usually Captain Peacock - for the restroom. Then there was an episode when Mr Grainger's Potty Emergency was a subplot.
- Noodle Implements:
Miss Brahms: Oh, ho, ho! You've changed your tune since the Christmas party!
- In "Shedding the Load," two for one in one Noodle Incident: Cpt Peacock objects to Mr Harman about a female mannequin being displayed "without knickers":
Captain Peacock: I don't recall anything untoward happening at the Christmas party!
Miss Brahms: Ooh, you mean you've forgotten about the lift girl doing the belly dance on the tabletop?
Captain Peacock: I, I, I, I didn't see that.
Mr Harman: That's because you were doing an impersonation of the Man in the Iron Mask with a waste paper basket over your 'ead!
- Cpt Peacock's Berserk Button in "A Personal Problem" is one word: blancmange.
- Noodle Incident: This show thrived on noodle incidences:
- The annual (but never seen) Christmas party is a nonstop source of these.
- Mr. Humphries sometimes refers to an incident with a vicar (or possibly several incidents with different vicars).
- Nose Tapping: By Mr Humphries in "Goodbye Mrs Slocombe".
- Oh Crap!: In "It Pays to Advertise", it is either one extended moment or several in rapid sequence when Mr Humphries pretends to be his own dummy.
- Only in It for the Money:
- The only motivation for being involved in a Zany Scheme.
- The stated reason for the Ladies' and Gents' departments being the only ones to cross the picket line in "The Punch and Judy Affair".
- Outdated Outfit: Captain Peacock wears semi-formal morning dress, which at the time of the series had been abandoned by all but the staunchest businessmen.
- Out-of-Context Eavesdropping
- Overly Long Name: Mrs. Slocombe, née Mary Elizabeth Jennifer Rachel Abergavenny Yiddell.
- Panty Shot: Shirley Brahms at one point, wearing her dark brown, knee-length, split-skirt, as part of one of her uniforms. Light blue panties are seen underneath with her legs are uncrossed at one point and another when she's trying to get off of some furniture in one episode.
- Miss Belfridge's white panties are displayed when her pink dress gets drafty from an electric fan in a separate episode ("Monkey Business").
- Ms. Brahms had three windblown skirt moments in another episode. See Marilyn Maneuver for more info.
- Pet Homosexual Mr. Humphries.
- Phony Veteran: Captain Peacock. He may well have served in North Africa during the War, but one doubts he saw much action in the Royal Army Service Corps.note
- Pilot: Originally aired as an episode of the anthology show Comedy Playhouse. The original master tape was unfortunately wiped, which is why for years the episode was only available in black and white (it was restored to color in 2010) and why it has such poor video quality compared with the other episodes.
- Playing Sick: Mr Lucas attempts this in "Cold Store."
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Mr. Rumbold was generally and genuinely clueless about running the store, albeit kinder to the staff and more well-intentioned than a lot of other PHBs. In fact, pretty much all the higher-ups at Grace Bros. could be classified as either "well-meaning but incompetent" or "knowledgable but with a big stick up their arse".
- Much of the senior staff at Grace Brothers could fit this category. Mr. Rumbold is the most blatant example, but a recurring theme is that everyone in a position of authority at the store is incompetent in one way or another; Captain Peacock is a blowhard, Mrs. Slocombe is far too self-absorbed to be much help to anything except for her pussy, Mr. Grainger is worn-out and well past the point when he should have retired, and Young Mr. Grace is virtually senile. Only Mr Humphries can handle additional responsibilities while escaping mostly unscathed.
- Potty Emergency: Miss Brahms had to ask permission to use the gents' room in one episode, but this led to an endless chain of requests that ensured all the men were asked if it was ok for her to go. Once the ok was given:Miss Brahms: I don't have to go now.
- Pretty in Mink: A few times a fur was a minor plot point. One was when a lady comes in to buy a fur, and Hilarity Ensues when Slocombe and Humphries compete for the commission.
- Prima Donna Director: Mr Humphries, whenever the cast puts on a show.
- Product Placement: Not on the original (it is forbidden under The BBC's rules), but Diners Club is featured prominently on the counters of the Australian version.
- Professional Wrestling: "The Hero" involves an early public recognition of kayfabe, where Mr Franco from Sports Equipment (played by 60s-70s English pro wrestling star Jackie Pallo) coaches Mr Humphries (whose reasons for being in the ring are too complicated to explain) while wrestling him (setting himself up as the heel and Mr Humphries as the face).
- Put on a Bus: Young Mr. Grace was said to have gone on a sabbatical to write a book when actor Harold Bennett became too infirm to continue in the role. However, he appeared once to say good-bye and made one cameo before Bennett died.
- Queer People Are Funny Mr. Humphries
- Questioning Title
- Reluctant Retiree:
- Subverted in the episode "Goodbye Mrs. Slocombe": in the end, the management expands the policy, sending two other characters to an early retirement (Of course, this is all fixed in the Snap Back).
- Played straight in "The Clock," where Mr. Grainger is terrified of receiving a cuckoo clock - the standard gift for retirees at Grace Brothers.
- Rhythm Typewriter: Both as the base for the theme tune and occasionally as an interstitial sound between scenes.
- Running Gag: You'll see we have a generous selection of ready-made examples:
- Mrs. Slocombe's pussy: to the point where David "The Mary Whitehouse Experience" Baddiel said that she changed the meaning of the word "pussy" in the UK from "Cat, with overtones of vagina, to vagina, with overtones of cat."
- Captain Peacock's admonishing Mr. Harman for being on the floor during opening hours, and being answered with wild and various reasons for Harman being there.
- Mr Lucas' Hurricane of Excuses for being late.
- Mr Humphries' adventures (and their explanations) in his quests to arrive on time to work.
- Mrs Slocombe removing her earring to speak on the phone.
- Sausage String Silliness: The staff rehearses a live-action Punch and Judy show for the children of Grace Bros. employees. Mr. Goldberg plays a butcher and Punch (Mr. Lucas) gets in a tug of war with him over a string of sausages.Lucas: How can I steal 'em if he won't let go of 'em?Goldberg: What do you think? You want me to stand by idle while he pinches a pound of my best chipolatas while I've got a good customer waiting for them?Mr. Humphries (director): Mr. Goldberg, please, don't get carried away with your role. It's only make believe.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In "Front Page Story", this is the reaction to the "second part of the prize" of the Holiday Girl contest.
- Senior Sleep Cycle: Here is the only way to wake up a sleeping Mr. Grainger:Mr. Humphries: Mr. Grainger, are you free?
Mr. Grainger: Er, yes, I'm free!
- Sequel Escalation: Grace & Favour continues the adventures of the core cast of the series, but now they're equal partners in the hotel business and the productions values are dramatically increased with regular outdoor scenes using location shooting and the series has story arcs.
- Serious Business: Everything from what sort of pen you keep in your pocket, to how you fold your handkerchief, to what sort of hat you wear on your way in are matters of dire consequence at Grace Brothers.
- One episode centered around that Mr. Rumbold was allowed to wear a top hat, but Captain Peacock, who worked under Rumbold, couldn't. However, Captain Peacock could wear a bowler, but the sales clerks somewhat under him couldn't, even one who was older than Peacock. They could wear caps.
- Sex Sells: "His and Hers" (Series 1, Episode 5) features the "His and Hers" perfume lady (played by Joanna Lumley), who explicitly calls it "corny" but plays this to the hilt.
- Sexy Santa Dress: Mr. Humphries wears one in "The Father Christmas Affair".
- Sexy Secretary:
- Young Mr. Grace (and his brother Old Mr. Grace) had multiple sexy secretaries during the series. Just the sight of them often put quite a lot of stress on his weak heart, and in the sequel series Grace and Favour, a sexy secretary's bikini top popped off (off-screen, of course), and gave Young Mr. Grace a fatal heart attack.
- Miss Belfridge under Mr. Rumbold.
- Slippery Skid: Mr Mash and Mr Lucas staged one of these in an attempt to get Mr Lucas off work for the day. Mash makes a big show of spilling cleaning fluid on the stairs, then loudly moans in Mr Lucas' direction that he hopes no one slips on it.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Captain Peacock, to an extent.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Between Miss Brahms and Mr Lucas.
- Social Semi-Circle: None of the actors have their back to the camera when sitting at a table or gathered in a meeting. Instead they leave one side of the table empty or line up.
- Soul-Sucking Retail Job: The Ur-Example.
- Sound Defect: In one episode, the staff of Grace Brothers are performing a radio play. Captain Peacock's character arrives at a pub and asks for a pint. The sound effect of the pint being poured is created by a jug of water being poured into a bowl from a significant height, and sounds more like somebody urinating. Miss Brahms, playing the barmaid, says "I bet you were dying for that".
- El Spanish O: A Japanese version, when a tourist comes to Grace Brothers.Mr Lucas: What does the customer require, Captain Peacock?
Capt Peacock: I'll try to find out.
Mr Lucas: Yes, of course. You were out east weren't you?
Capt Peacock: Mmm. (Beat) Whatee wantee?
- Spiritual Successor: The newspaper comic strip, Retail, is in many ways the modern American answer to this series. . This similarity has been acknowledged in that comic strip by one or two Shout Outs to, like Stuart spending his vacation at a "Power Management Retreat" run by a Mr. Rumbold.
- Spit Take: Mr Humphries' reaction at the end of the Hurricane of Puns in "The Hero".
- Spot of Tea: All most every episode had some sort of reference to tea— Tea breaks, putting the kettle on, tea at meetings, and even a tea trolley at one point.
- Stealing from the Till: Mr. Humphries is accused of doing this in "Conduct Unbecoming" and asked to resign. Fortunately, Almighty Janitor Mr Harman finds that the till is faulty, and the missing pound notes were actually jammed into the back.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Taken to its logical conclusion in "A Bliss Girl" when Mr Humphries puts on heels and a wig to model a ladies' coat. Then Young Mr Grace shows up and ...Young Mr Grace: Do you have a boyfriend?Mr Humprhies: Not at the moment.Young Mr Grace: I’ve got a table at Romano’s with caviar and snapper dinner. Care to join me?Mr Humphries: Well, it is Monday and me mother’s only got cottage pie!Young Mr Grace: Well, that settles it!
- Sus Law: Happens in several episodes, including an instance of Mr. Rumbold refusing to vouch for the staff to get revenge. Mr. Humphries was once detained for having a "suspicious-looking bulge" from an orange in his pocket
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lots.
- Most notably Mr. Tebbs replacing Mr. Grainger, Mr. Harman replacing Mr. Mash, and, to an even less successful degree, Old Mr. Grace replacing Young Mr. Grace.
- It could also be argued that Mr. Spooner was this to Mr. Lucas.
- In addition, almost all of Mr. Rumbold's and the Grace brothers' secretaries were virtual copycats of each other.
- The cast of the Australian version of the show.
- That Syncing Feeling: In the last episode, "The Pop Star," Mr Spooner gets discovered and is off to become a famous singer. In his first TV appearance he sings the song which got him discovered, "Chanson D'Amour." He makes a demo reel-to-reel recording to send to the talent scout. He is booked on a TV show but his voice is getting tired. During the TV performance his voice gives out so they switch to the recording - but the cheap recorder they used and the studio use different speeds, so it comes out sped up to double time.
- That's What She Said: Mr. Mash indulges in a bit of this with the perfume salesgirl in "His and Hers".(Holding an extension cord) "Here we are the are, then. Let's hope we don't get a short-circuit when we plug it in...as Mae West said when she picked up the midget. I suppose it'll take a few moments to warm up...as Mae West said to the Eskimo."
- Trans Atlantic Equivalent: A spinoff of sorts was created in Australia, in which Mr. Humphries decides to work in a Melbourne store for a while. All the episodes, save one, were re-stagings of episodes from the original series, save for a minor tweak here or there to fit the new setting. Suspiciously Similar Substitutes filled out the rest of the cast.
- An American version, produced by Garry Marshall and titled Beane's of Boston, was attempted in 1979 but didn't make it past the pilot stage.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: Mr. Humphries' mother is, naturally, John Inman. In one episode, Mr. Humphries dresses up as her so he can fill in for her at her job. Mr. Rumbold also has an identical brother, Mycroft, who appears in one episode in a Double Vision scene.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Mrs. Slocombe's choices of hair color, including pink, green, purple, and others, are never remarked upon in the entire series. This was likely a reference/homage to Raymond "Mr. Teasy Weasy" Bessone, a flamboyant London celebrity hairdresser popular in the 30s through to the 60s known for dyeing women's hair outlandish colours.
- The Vicar: Never seen but often mentioned when Mr Humphries is speaking with his mother.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Miss Brahms kept her radio play submission for "Calling All Customers".
- Video Credits: Since the episodes are practically teleplays, the clips are of the actors — sometimes not in-character — after completing the episode. This is a hallmark of writer David Croft.
- Walk This Way: In "Fire Practice," a visiting Arab sheikh's interpreter after being told to ask his master to "walk this way" stared at Mr Humphries' mincing walk and replied, "It's more than my job's worth!"
- We Sell Everything: Try to keep track of the number of departments inside Grace Brothers, from Wigs to Joke products to Do-It-Yourself.
- Weird Trade Union:
- Mrs Yardswick is a member of National Association of Canteen Employees, Restaurant and Domestic (NACERD).
- The Packing Department workers union is a satire of union rules.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Literally. The runaway clockwork mouse that led to the chain of antics in "The Hero" was confiscated by Cpt Peacock. He got Laser-Guided Karma for this (and more) but the mouse was never seen or referenced again.
- When I Was Your Age: Mrs. Slocombe will complain about a junior salesperson's behavior or attitude by stating, "When I was a junior ... ."
- Whoopee Cushion: Mrs Slocombe is greeted with one in her first day as "Mrs Slocombe, Senior Person." It came with a note:
- Work Com: Well, duh.
- You Keep Using That Word: Mrs. Slocombe is "unanimous" in all her opinions.
- Younger Than They Look: Nicholas Smith (Mr. Rumbold) played the part of a middle manager, but he was in reality only five months older than Trevor Bannister (Mr. Lucas), who portrayed a junior.
"And I am unanimous in that!"