Following on from a very vague press release in September 2015, earlier this year the BBC announced full details of its Landmark Sitcom Season, launched to celebrate 60 years since Hancock’s Half Hour began on television. Some noted at the time that it would perhaps have made more sense for the BBC to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its first-ever, and arguably the world’s first-ever, TV sitcom, Pinwright’s Progress in 2016, rather than the sexagenary of Hancock – but those small voices were quickly silenced by other, louder ones, who focused on the news that, in addition to documentaries and panel shows and new pilots for BBC2, a host of classics would be resurrected as part of the celebrations. The announcement of new episodes of Porridge, Are You Being Served? and Goodnight Sweetheart, alongside a Keeping Up Appearances prequel, saw some comedy fans rejoicing. Many more, however, adopted the same attitude that is exhibited towards most comedy remakes, and were understandably wary.
Kicking off the Landmark Sitcom Season last night was Are You Being Served?, which came from the pen of Benidorm creator Derren Litten, following David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s deaths in 2011 and ‘14, respectively. So, with the creators and writers having passed away, and only one original cast member surviving, many were sceptical as to whether the new Are You Being Served? could match its predecessor. Of course, deep down everyone knew that it never would – but I doubt I’m alone in being surprised that Litten came closer than anyone imagined.
A heavy plot was neither needed nor provided, with broad innuendoes and cosy nostalgia being the order of the day. From the first trill of the cash register and sweeping shot of the set, a se nse of familiarity was immediately instilled, and this continued throughout the next thirty minutes. Despite Sherrie Hewson’s Mrs Slocombe (pictured, above) appearing to be little more than a watered-down Joyce Temple-Savage – her formidable manageress character in Benidorm – the cast and script were as near perfection as it was reasonable to expect. Litten proved quite quickly that his intention was not to create entirely predictable innuendo or simply rely on the show’s age-old catchphrases, as once Mr Humphries had declared ‘I’m free!’ and Mrs Slocombe’s pussy had had its moment in the spotlight, what the audience were left with was a pleasing script with moments of genuine brilliance, delivered by a cast of sitcom regulars who pitched their performances just right; distinguishable from their predecessors while also instantly familiar. Jason Watkins’s Mr Humphries (pictured, left) was a particular delight, providing proof – if proof were needed – that he is an actor of supreme talent. Few spring to mind who could portray Christopher Jefferies, the former teacher who was falsely accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates in 2010, with such sensitivity and authenticity, then slip into the kitten heels of the limp-wristed Mr Humphries – yet seem entirely suited to both.
The episode may have seemed cut-short, being wrapped up just as a plot was begin to take form, but this was an otherwise perfectly-pitched remake of an audience classic. One would have struggled to think of a writer better qualified to bring back Are You Being Served?, and I would be incredibly surprised if it didn’t follow in the footsteps of Still Open All Hours and were not at least considered for a more permanent return.
All images ©BBC
Are You Being Served? is available on BBC iPlayer until 27th September 2016.
The Landmark Sitcom Season continues throughout August and September across the BBC. Full details can be found on the British Comedy Guide.
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