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Actress Wendy Richard died on Thursday, aged only 65. As Esmerelda pointed out, she played both the glamorous and winsome Miss Brahms - sex kitten to Mrs Slocombe's pussy - in Are You Being Served, and the miserable, hatchet-faced Pauline Fowler in Eastenders. Are You Being Served finished, and Eastenders began, in 1985, and yet Wendy Richard seem to age fifteen years in as many weeks. Perhaps she was made up to look younger for the sitcom and older for the soap; perhaps, like Julie Walters, she was a versatile actress who could play any age.
I thoroughly enjoyed Are You Being Served, without quite knowing why. After all, as I pointed out some time ago, this much-loved sitcom had only a small number of jokes, which featured every week:
“I’m free.” Said by Mr Humphries in a screamingly camp voice.
“Menswear.” Said by Mr Humphries in a deep voice in an attempt to sound manly.
“Inside leg please”/”That will be fine sir, fits just where it touches.”
“Don’t worry, sir, it will ride up with wear.”
“These cold mornings play havoc with my pussy/My pussy got soaking wet.” Said by blowsy old bat Mrs Slocombe, whose voice could go from posh to common in a split second. She was talking about her cat, of course. Americans did not believe this, however, and according to The Sun, suspected a double entendre. Honi soit qui mal y pense.
“Young Mr Grace” This was the younger of the two Grace Brothers. He was about ninety – that was the joke, you see - and a dirty old goat, always pinching his secretary’s hole punch.
When somebody dies, even somebody close, there is always an element of selfishness in my reaction: by dying they have disturbed the pattern of my life without asking my permission and reminded me, unasked, that I am getting older. I hadn’t seen Eastenders for years – since Dirty Den came back from the dead – so I really have no right to be indignant about Wendy Richard’s death. But I was. She had no business dying – she was the baby of Are You Being Served. Presumably, then, the others are long gone? I thought I would check.
First the bad news. John Inman, mincer extraordinaire, is now free, having measured his last inside leg two years ago. Regular readers will remember that I marked the event with an E. J. Thribb-style poem, which was promptly stolen by Private Eye. Young Mr Grace, born 1899, pinched his last bottom twenty-eight years ago. Time got the measure of Senior Menswear Assistant Mr Grainger (Arthur Brough) in 1978. Truculent maintenance men Mr Mash and Mr Harman (Larry Martin Arthur English respectively) will no longer make unauthorised appearances on the shop floor, having repaired to the great maintenance room in the sky in 1994 and 1995.
Now for the good news. Roguishly handsome Junior Menswear Assistant Mr Lucas (Trevor Bannister) is a sprightly 72, and guest-starred in Doctor Who in 2007. Bald, jug-eared manager Mr Rumbold is no balder or more jug-eared at 74 – like some men ill-favoured in their youth, he has changed little and looks better than those once more handsome. Pompous Floor Manager Captain Peacock was played by Frank Thornton (shortened from the singular Frank Thornton Ball). At 88, he is still walking the floor. Last but not least, Mollie Sugden, at 86, is still keeping up standards in Ladies’ Underwear. News of her pussy has not reached the wider public, but she may have had a replacement or two in the intervening years.