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I TALK Are You Being Served?

When it was announced that the BBC were bringing Are You Being Served? back for a one-off with a brand new cast, I’ll admit I had my head in my hands and was pretty sure it was the worst decision the BBC have made in a long time.

However, I always said that I'd reserve judgement until I'd seen it and actually, the closer it got to me seeing it, the less concerned I was.

The one-off episode was written by Benidorm writer and creator Derren Litten, who has proved for eight series that he is able to deliver year after year and draw in huge audiences. But it was when the cast photo was released that my opinion towards the revival really started to change.

The attention to detail both in the set and the costumes proved that the BBC were taking this seriously, they had kept true to the original with the only real difference being the cast and as that type of department store is very much of its time, the one-off episode is set three years after the original series ended rather than the present day.

The original series ran for 69 episodes from September 1972 to April 1985 and unfortunately all of the cast have passed away either since the series ended in 1985 or during. The only surviving members of the cast are Mike Berry who played Mr Spooner, Doremy Vernon who played the Canteen Manageress and Candy Davis who played secretary Miss Belfridge.

None of these characters are in the revival, although there is a very similar secretary in the one-off which was clearly based on Miss Belfridge. This meant that unlike Goodnight Sweetheart which will see the original cast reunite, Are You Being Served? had to involve a brand new cast.

Picking up where Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft's classic comedy left off, the show will bring Grace Brothers and some of the nation's all-time favourite sitcom characters, including Mrs Slocombe, Captain Peacock and Mr Humphries back to life with an all-star cast.

Litten has assembled an impressive cast, including Sherrie Hewson and John Challis who he works with on Benidorm and Niky Wardley and Mathew Horne who he worked with on The Catherine Tate Show.

Completing the cast are Jason Watkins, Roy Barraclough, Arthur Smith, Justin Edwards, Jorgie Porter and Kayode Ewumi.

It's 1988 and Young Mr Grace is determined to drag Grace Brothers into, well 1988, but he has a problem on his hands. Mr Humphries, Captain Peacock, Mr Rumbold and Mrs Slocombe all seem to be stuck in another era. A new member of staff, Mr Conway, joins the team - but will he help shake things up or will he just put a pussy among the pigeons?

Sherrie Hewson (Benidorm) and Niky Wardley (Benidorm) take on the roles of Mrs Slocombe and Miss Brahms and minutes in it feels as though they’d been playing those parts all their lives. Yes there’s an element of impersonation, as with all the characters, but as the characters are so ingrained in our minds, it makes sense to keep them as close to the original interpretation as possible.

One this that definitely hasn’t changed for Mrs Slocombe is the numerous jokes about her pussy, my favourite being "Mrs Slocombe wins prizes every time she shows off her pussy”.

It’s a sense of humour which was very much of its time but weirdly still draws a laugh today. After all, you only have to look at programmes like The Great British Bake Off to know that we all love a sexual innuendo. Soggy bottom anyone?

Another favourite who’s back is Mr Humphries, or Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries to give him his full name.

This time around he is played by the wonderfully versatile Jason Watkins. His versatility as an actor is something which I admire greatly as not only is he able to do comedy brilliantly in shows such as Trollied and W1A but The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies proved that he's also a fantastic dramatic actor.

Anyone tackling Mr Humphries will of course be inspired by John Inman's incredible performance and it’s clear that Watkins has studied the mannerisms Inman brought to the role as he does a great Mr Humphries walk and the voice, especially when exclaiming “I’m Free!” is spot on.

There was a danger I suppose that the new portrayal of Mr Humphries would be too over the top, too camp and in many ways a mockery of the original, but luckily between Watkins and Litten they’ve ensure that he remains the same Mr Humphries we know and love.

It’s hard to not picture John Challis as Boycie from Only Fools And Horse but as Captain Peacock he absolutely manages it.

Justin Edwards most definitely looks the part as Mr Rumbold as does Roy Barraclough as Mr Grainger who is back despite not appearing after the fifth following original actor Arthur Brough’s retirement and subsequent passing. But what does that matter really? He’s a great character and I’m glad he’s back. And Arthur Smith steps into the role of maintenance man Mr Harman.

As well as the original favourites, there are some new characters joining the show. Young Mr Grace, the original Young Mr Grace's grandson will be played by Mathew Horne (Gavin & Stacey), secretary Miss Croft will be played by Jorgie Porter (Hollyoaks) and newcomer Kayode Ewumi will play Mr Conway.

Watching the revival of Are You Being Served? it was hard to believe that it was more than thirty years since it was last on our screens. I’m too young to remember the series when it first went out, but I most definitely remember watching the repeats growing up.

The new set is incredibly detailed and whilst recording in HD would mean it can’t be the same set it has been superbly recreated, so a real credit to the team who put it all together. Which begs the question, was all this effort really just for a 30-minute episode? Or are they planning to bring it back as a series.

Whether or not that’s been decided yet I don’t know, but it looks as though every effort has gone in to making it a returning series. Darren’s script proves that there’s still an appetite for this kind of comedy and as the characters are so strong, there’s really no end to where he can take them next.

Each and every actor has done their best to make this a success, with authentic, nostalgic performances which leave the viewer wanting more. But if it wasn’t to come back as a full series, then I’d be happy for it to be left as a one-off as it’s very much a celebration of the original series which was so widely loved by the public.

Are You Being Served? airs Sunday 28th August at 9pm on BBC One


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