Thursday, July 02, 2009

Mrs Slocum: the joke goes on forever

I don't suppose I've actually watched "Are You Being Served" for many years. The beauty of this kind of comedy is you don't really have to watch it as long as you carry it around in your head. It's like the Carry On series. The predictability is what makes it work. The plot is only there to provide excuses for the characters to behave in stereotypical ways.

Mrs Slocum (what a wonderful name that is) embodied a stock character that you can find in English literature as far back as Chaucer. She was the lady of a certain age who kow-towed to her superiors, lorded it over her underlings and yet remained immensely vulnerable to flattery, particularly of a romantic nature. Mollie Sugden was a master of this kind of characterisation. Her lines came front-loaded with flowery pretension before souring into fish wife abuse at the end. She was high and low in a very English way. You could smell the face powder and the "products" in her hair but she could probably look after herself in a scrap in a dockside pub.

Of course a dockside pub is as much of an anachronism as Grace Brothers itself, which had probably gone out of business by the time the series was first launched. If there are any Mrs Slocums still around they're not wearing corsets or sitting at home with their pussies. Nonetheless the joke embodied in that character, just as the joke attached to the characters played by Charles Hawtrey or Sid James, chuckles on down the years.


  1. I don't think I realised the extent of the double entendre names in AYBS until reading this post. Obviously we all saw Ms Brahms, but the others are equally filthy:

    Mrs Slocombe
    Mr Humphries
    Capt. Peacock
    Mr Lucas
    Mr Harman
    Mr Rumbold

    Or has the heat addled my brain?

  2. PFacto9:43 am

    I was amazed to find that Grace Bros actually existed when I went to live in Sydney in 1989. And the main city store at cnr George & Market Sts seemed unchanged from at least the time AYBS was first on TV. (Around the corner, the more upmarket David Jones store still employed a smartly dressed man to operate the lifts, one could almost imagine the AYBS intro theme playing there). I'm sure many a visitor wondered if young Mr Grace was in his office upstairs. Gradually things changed: lines were discontinued and now even the name has gone, it's been rebranded Myer. The memories live on through my photo collection: too many have the then ubiquitous bright red Grace Bros carrier bags as badly placed picture elements.

  3. Never could stand AYBS but now that you've introduced the idea that Mrs Slocombe actually = The Wife of Bath I'm going to have to rethink. Dammit.

  4. Actually I've got the AYBS Christmas specials on DVD (which had to be imported from the US) - my kids 9 and 12 love it - but not as much as they love On The Buses. Literally tears and scream ups, when we capped it at two episodes per viewing ..

    Mrs Slocum's character was the Lady Bracknell of the lingerie department

    Word verification was 'pulom' you couldn't make it up could you

  5. I must admit "sitting at home with their pussies" made me laugh. Sometimes I think my sense of humour has regressed, I don't find Woody Allen all that funny anymore but the phrase "my pussy" makes me giggle.

  6. Though I watched one of the 'One The Buses' films again last year thinking it might provide the same kid of stupid saucy chuckles but it was just awful.

  7. I'm sure that Mollie Sugden would have been the first to admit that Mrs Slocombe owed a huge debt to both Hylda Baker's Nellie Pledge and Jean Alexander's Hilda Ogden.

  8. Lee: I think that just shows where hackery ends and great comic acting begins.
    Archie: It's a black day that isn't lightened in some measure by reading the words "Hylda Baker's Nellie Pledge". But I think they all owe a debt to the work of Norman Evans.

  9. Anonymous8:56 pm

    Nice piece guvnur.

    Any particular reason for writing it though? Did someone else die, or is it just Michael Jackson's favourite show?