Saturday, 18 February 2012

I'm Free

This is the sort of record that makes me want to go out and kill someone.

Running for 13 years, Are You Being Served? Was a British sitcom set in the clothing department of Grace Brothers, a fictional London department store. 69 episodes (and a God awful film) were produced over the years, and there were even a couple of series of a sequel in the 1980s, Grace & Favour.

The show was known for is saucy, seaside-postcard style double entendres and for its cast of sitcom stereotypes: the sex crazed young man, the pompous middle-aged ex-army type, the air-headed blonde, the prudish battle-axe and the camp-as-Christmas mincing Mr Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries, just one of the many disgusting and disturbing gay caricatures that populated our television screens in the 1970s.

 During its run, the series attracted criticism for its endless reliance on sexual stereotypes and double entendres, the stupid ‘jokes’ about Mrs Slocombe's "pussy" and John Inman's portrayal of Mr Humphries as the most effeminate man you were ever likely to meet. Inman pointed out that Mr Humphries' true sexual orientation was never stated in the series, and co-creator David Croft said that the character was "just a mother's boy", yet throughout the show’s run he made his attraction to other men obvious and used every stereotypical gay characteristic you could imagine.

I hate Mr Humphries.

Not because the actor who played him refused to discuss his sexuality for decades (he finally came ‘out’ and had a Civil Partnership with his partner of 33 years, Ron Lynch, in 2005, less than 14 months before he died), but because for a boy growing up in the 70s struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality there were no positive gay role models anywhere, just a procession of pansies which minced their way through our living rooms each evening on TV. Everywhere you looked there were people like John Inman, Larry Grayson or Danny La Rue but not one real man who also happened to be homosexual. These people should have been helping people understand and accept gay men, not pushing back the gay liberation movement decades.

I also hate him for this, a spin-off single released in 1975. Written by the show’s other co-creator Jeremy Lloyd along with David Croft’s daughter Penny, I could transcribe the lyrics for you but I’m afraid my computer would explode from the overload of campery. Inman went on to make several other records – including a vile version of the standard the Teddy Bear’s Picnic – but nothing quite plumbs the depths of this piece of crap.



  1. I took students to the memorial in the Tiergarten in Berlin to homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis. No sign or information is provided to explain the memorial which is an ugly concrete box with a flickering video inside of two men kissing. What bothers me is this focus on the infamous Paragraph 175 as if it were part and parcel of Nazism when it dated from 1871 and was never repealed in Western Germany until the 1990s. But then, homosexuals were persecuted in the UK too, of course. I think of Brian Epstein and his possible suicide during a time when people like Mr. Humphries could not openly live as a normal gay man.

  2. I'll not try to defend this single, as it's admittedly total rubbish.
    I will defend Mr. Inman, however.
    He was a true Gentleman. A real one will naturally avoid questions about their conquests, whether they were male or female and will stay loyal to the ones they love.
    Kiss and tell is all the rage these days, but true to form, John would have nothing to do with this.
    Same partner for Thirty Three years.
    Hetero couples could learn much from this.

    1. Hi Bob,

      you make some very valid points and your defense is extremely fair and reasoned. It's not John I hate (I never met the man and I try, although its hard, not to prejudge) it's the character he portrayed in AYBS? and in other shows, such as the cringeworthy Take a Letter Mr Jones.

      It's a very personal thing, but for a kid growing up in the 70s trying to come to terms with his own sexuality, watching shows like this was hell

  3. Tsk tsk, Sir, ragging on Mr. Humphries. That's my future wife you're talking about...

    I jest, but in all truth, I think your point about hating Mr. Humphries is very misplaced. I can understand being a gay youth and wanting to see typically masculine role models, that would remind you of yourself. So why not just champion and push for an increased number of those, instead of bashing on the ones that *weren't* like yourself? Doesn't it occur to you that there may have been other young gay boys who were, themselves, as effeminate as Mr. Humphries, and were pleased to see their own kind reflected in media? They're the real marginalized group, the ones that were bullied all through their youth for being too sissy and whatnot. Not all gay men should have to live up to your idea of what a "real man" should be.

    I'm a more or less masculine man myself, who happens to prefer the effeminate, campy ones. I see so few of them these days as it is, I really do think it's the sort of prejudice you're espousing here that's downright beating the effeminacy right out of them at an early age, and no leaving me any sufficient pickings!

    ~ Lycere Cunningham

    1. Hi Lycere,

      fair point. I guess my prejudice (and I do claim it as my own) stems from the difficulty I had coming out: trying to explain to my father that because I was gay did not necessarily mean that I would go skipping through life with a limp wrist trying to goose every man that came my way. Not that there is anything wrong with that in itself.

      It's too late to champion those more masculine role models - we're talking about a moment in time that has now (thankfully) long passed. I should, however, probably point out that I'm a much more tolerant person now and, as the phrase has it 'some of my best friends are....'

  4. >real man who also happened to be homosexual.

    Some gay men have beards and bodyhair and like to ride round on motorbikes. Get used to it!
    Other gay men have bleached hair and no socks and like to dance to late 80s pop. Get used to it!
    Still other gay men smoke pipes and wear tweed and corduroy and like to go for long walks in the countryside. Get used to it!

    Diversity is strength and there are all sorts of different kinds of gay men - wedges, clones, bears - and no type has any business claiming itself to be the only "real" type of gay man.

    Wedge culture and overt camping was still very big on the gay underground scene in the mid '70s, particularly among younger gay men (the clone look appealed more to older gay men) and the full album
    is a remarkable document, just 6 years after Stonewall and 8 years after UK legalisation, for taking then-current gay scene culture and not only bringing it overground but actually passing it off as light entertainment. And people though Channel 4 was being cutting edge by doing that in the early 90s!

    1. With respect, Mr. Humphries wasn't gay. Not according to his creator nor the man who played him. John Inman was not out. They are not bringing gay culture overground and passing it off as light entertainment, they are making fun of, and belittling, camp men.


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