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Miss Piggy and Mrs. Slocombe - Separated at Birth?

Updated on December 25, 2013

Are you Being Served? and Grace and Favour

With about 70 now-classic episodes spanning 10 programming years, a few specials and a film, Are You Being Served is a cult classic British television comedy shown on the Public Broadcasting System and one that Americans might consider a multi-year mini-series. In the US, the episodes would have been broadcast over three years' time. In reality, they entertained the original UK audiences from 1972 - 1985. A black and white pilot was broadcast on PBS in Central Ohio approximately 5 years ago with the announcement that it had been filmed in 1970. Forty years later, fans wish it were just beginning now. With the Federated Department Stores downsizing, people miss the old Lazarus and Rikes stores and are eaily engaged by Grace Brothers Department Store and its shenanigans.

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Department Store Tales

This Simpsons is located in Toronto and is taller than Simpsons of Piccadilly, which had only four floors.
This Simpsons is located in Toronto and is taller than Simpsons of Piccadilly, which had only four floors.

Lloyd and Croft

I was not too surprised to learn that that one of the show's creators, writer Jeremy Lloyd (with David Croft) had worked in such a store briefly and took his idea for the show from his experiences. It was the Simpsons Department Store (Simpsons of Piccadilly), a 4-floor store that closed in 1999 and was taken over by a Waterstone's book store. Lloyd was a junior men's ready-wear suit salesman.

Such a business creates much opportunity for laugher, in the style of the Marx Brothers' The Big Store. In our local Downtown Lazarus for many years, a lady clerk on one of the middle floors always wore a 3-inch piece of Scotch tape vertically on her forehead and no one knew why. This could have been a recurring role on Are You Being Served.

Jeremy Lloyd wrote for:

  • Are You Being Served? from 1972-1985; its sequel
  • Grace and Favour from 1992-1993,
  • the farsical Lost-In-Space type, Come Back Mrs Noah with Mollie Sugden 1977-1978;
  • Oh, Happy Band! in 1980;
  • 'Allo 'Allo! for 10 years from 1982-1992;
  • Which Way to the War in 1994, and
  • The Return of "Allo 'Allo! in 2007. In 2010 he is 80 years old (in July) and still ticking.

Lloyd's friend David Croft is 8 years older and has had a longer writing career, but joined up wioth Lloyd again in 2007 for the 'Allo 'Allo! special. Croft wrote the unreleased pilot for Beanes of Boston in 1979, which might have brought Are You Being Served? to the American Continent with American actors. Instead, we received the original on PBS and continue to watch it with vigor.

Jeremy Lloyd did some acting as well. He was in The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night and Help!, as well as The Magic Christian, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. The last film shone a frighteningly bright light in 1969 on just how far people will go for money and featured the Paul McCartney song Come and Get It: People in the film went.

Comedy Twins

Having seen The Muppets long before finding Grace Brothers, I was struck by the similarity of Mrs. Slocombe and Miss Piggy. They might have been placed side by side in one of the now defunct World Weekly News'shilarious "Separated at Birth" articles. The timing is about right - Mrs. Slocombe appeared sometime between 1970 and 1972 and Miss Piggy, voiced by Frank Oz, a few years later. I think Molly Sudgen's characterization of the Senior Lady's Department Sales Clerk might have been an influence on the aggressive curly-haired pig. What fun it could be if Disney's MuppetsĀ® would stage a production of Are You Being Served? with Muppet characters taking all the parts!

Sad to say, that most of the original cast members that walked the floors of Grace Brothers are deceased, except for the store floorwalker Captain Peacock's alter ego Frank Thornton, who still appears on stage at 89. Mollie Sudgen, the irreparable Mrs. Slocombe (women's intimate apparel sales senior clerk), died only recently in 2009, soon after Wendy Richard (Miss Brahms, sales junior). Ms. Sudgen came to Columbus. Ohio in her 80s to speak to audiences on PBS to solicit donations to keep the network alive locally and in doing so, she was charming and well spoken. She had the Mrs.Slocombe twinkle in her eyes and a bright spirit about her. It was a good year for the telethon and her fans. People smiled just being in her presence.

Mrs. Slocombe in her scheming and angry personas reminds one very much of Miss Piggy in the same moods. If Mollie Sugden's characterization was not an influence on Miss Piggy, then we have an extreme coincidence.

John Inman may have played the most popular character overall, Mr. Humphries, the flamboyant middle-status and then senior men's department clerk at Grace Brothers. He was to play a person of indeterminate gender and the regularly included double entendres of the show added to the hilarious stories surrounding him, without being vulgar. One such running joke involved probl;ems with taking the measurement of men's - and women's - inside leg seam. Inman reprised his character in an Australian version of the show at Bone Brothers Department Store that was broadcast 1980 - 1981. Grace Brothers was a real store in Australia and so the name of the fictional store was changed to Bone Brothers.

In televised conventions held in celebration of Are You Being Served?, elementary school children have appeared in the audience dressed as the men's wear clerk Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries , complete with tape measure around their necks .

Mrs. Slocombe's Hats

Mrs. Slocombe ala Piggy

If the Muppets Worked at Grace Brothers

Perhaps these characterizatons would fit:

  • Mrs. Slocombe - Piggy
  • Miss Brahms - Camilla Chicken
  • Capt. Peacock - The Count
  • Mr. Humphreys - Beaker
  • Mr. Lucas - Pepe the Prawn
  • Mr. Granger - Gonzo
  • Mr. Mash - Animal
  • Mr. Harmon - Rowlf
  • Mr. Rumbold - Bunsen Honeydew
  • Young Mr. Grace - Kermit the Frog
  • Old Mr. Grace - Oscar the Grouch
  • Mr. Grace's Nurse - Janice, from the Electric Mayhem band.

1937, Toronto: Window shopping at Simpsons department store.
1937, Toronto: Window shopping at Simpsons department store.

Favorite Characters

Mr. Humphries (John Inman) and Mrs. Slocombe have become the favorite characters of 1,000s of long-term fans of the two shows revolving around the staff of Grace Brothers. The ensemble cast produced timeless entertainment that we'll be laughing at in 100 years' time. In addition, the production numbers they performed with song, dance, and costumes; and the sample TV commercials for the store are wonderful. Group pranks in which the cast took on other vocal accents and personalities are also hilarious and well played. Send ups of "This is Your Life" TV episodes and cultural developments like the Psychedelic Movement will always be funny.

My favorite epidose of Grace and Favour is that in which Mrs. Slocombe's ex-husband shows up at the B &B and she attempts to disguise herself from him. It is one of the funniest half-hours of television.

Another favorite TV moment is captured in an episode of Keeping Up Appearances, in which Hyacinth (Patricia Routledge) enters a kitchen furnishings store and is served by Trevor Bannister, who played Mr. Lucas on Are You Being Served? An unexpected treat.

My favorite cast members include:

The Ladies' Department

  • Miss Shirley Brahms = Wendy Richad
  • Mrs. Betty Slocom = Mollie Sudgen

Men's Wear

  • Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries = John Inman
  • Mr. James/Dick Lucas = Trevor Bannister
  • Mr. Ernest Granger = Arthur Brough


  • Captain Steven Peacock = Frank Thornton
  • Mr. Cuthbert Rumbold = Nicholas Smith
  • Young Mr. Grace = Harold Bennett
  • Old Mr. Henry Grace = Kenneth Waller
  • Mr. Harmon = Arthur English
  • Mr. Mash = Larry Martyn
  • The Canteen Manageress = Doremy Vernon
  • Young Mr. Grace's Nurse = Vivienne Johnson

Capt. Peacock and Mr. Humphries in Wizard of Oz


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