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Grace and Favour comes to UK DVD

Tuesday, 24 May 2016 23:00 Written by 

Grace and Favour comes to UK DVDBuried in the mists of time is the spin-off from Are You Being Served? That original series began in September 1972 and concluded in April 1985 after ten seasons and (guffaw guffaw) 69 episodes! The idea for a new format, away from the constraints of the department store, was pitched immediately after the previous show had finished – the cast themselves suggesting it to writers and creators Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft. Unfortunately, it was some seven years before Grace & Favour made it to the screen, and in many respects its era had long since passed. Today, it certainly seems like an anachronism, but it would appear this was the same reaction back at its debut. Now you get to judge for yourself, as all 12 episodes appear on a UK DVD release for the very first time.

The first season of six episodes certainly seems to be very mixed-up about what it wants to be, and indeed the years it actually resides in. The set-up is your traditional ‘fish out of water’ scenario, where the newcomers from the city struggle to come to terms with an almost-primitive rural life, all based at a country hotel which they have reluctantly inherited instead of a pension fund. However, the attitudes, culture and technologies seem almost like they have been transplanted from the 1930s rather than the then-contemporary world of the early 1990s. Mrs Slocombe ends up in court for having a horse and cart run away with her; the hotel’s current staff are bumpkins who make The Beverly Hillbillies look sophisticated; and the trappings of the hotel have none of what might be expected of a late 20th Century manor house.

The characters parachuted into the series from their previous work are the five actors who featured in every single edition of Are You Being Served? Frank Thornton’s authority figure Captain Peacock, John Inman’s effeminate Mr Humphries, Mollie Sugden’s battleaxe Mrs Slocombe, Wendy Richard’s cockney girl-about-town Shirley Brahms, and all headed up by former head of department Cuthbert Rumbold, played by Nicholas Smith.

Aside from Rumbold, the other four are shown to be a tight-knit team, having been through thick and thin on the shop floor. They are none-too-pleased to discover that the late ‘Young Mr Grace’ has squandered their pension funds, and the only asset for them to acquire is Millstone Manor. With nothing to live off in their respective retirements, they have no choice but to try and make the country hotel a going concern.

Catchphrases from Are You Being Served? make a comeback, in particular “I’m Free” from Mr Humphries, and Mrs Slocombe constantly telling us she is “unanimous in that”, with ‘that’ being all sorts of things.

New characters are brought in to the mix, to allow for more interplay and comedic situations. First there’s Joanne Heywood as Miss Lovelock, the final ‘companion’ to ‘Young Mr Grace’, and a sporty and upmarket lady she is, too! She is also impervious to the snide comments from Messrs Slocombe and Brahms, and takes a real shine to Captain Peacock – a great source of teasing all around. She’s a very smart cookie, witnessed by a particular quote from her: “Democracy is authority conferred by common consent”. There’s no-one who could argue with that!

Fleur Bennett plays the farmer’s daughter, Mavis Moulterd, who pals up, rather unexpectedly for everyone else, with Mr Humphries. He’s inherited the former chef’s bed, which Mavis used to share with him, so now Mr Humphries benefits from her company. Rather than smutty, the set-up is really quite sweet, and is excellently handled by both actors.

Billy Burden portrays the farmer, Maurice Moulterd, complete with very broad country accent and stereotypical clothing. The manor house has all the ingredients of a working farm, complete with stables and more chickens roaming around than is probably sensible. Still, it all means there’s fresh eggs and milk every morning.

Michael Bilton makes the occasional appearance during the show’s run as ‘Young Mr Grace’s pompous solicitor, Mr Thorpe, who has an assistant in Miss Prescott, played by Shirley Cheriton.

The pension funds riff was topical at the time, being that the late Robert Maxwell, who had died on Bonfire Night, November 1991, was revealed to have plundered £440 million from the Mirror Group pension fund. Now, whether this nugget of current affairs was added to a different original take on the format is hard to say; it certainly would have been ahead of its time way back in 1985, had it always been part of the plot at its inception. Were these in fact never intended to be the same characters as portrayed in Are You Being Served? Maybe the reason it feels like it should have been set in the 1930s is that was perhaps the original idea?

Could there have been a change of direction necessitated when David Croft worked with Jimmy Perry on You Rang M’Lord?, broadcast between 1988 and 1993? Set in the 1920s and very much in the spirit of Upstairs, Downstairs, it had cast members from both Hi-De-Hi! and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum in its line-up. Perhaps there was a feeling there were too many shows in Croft’s catalogue of productions which weren’t contemporary, so Grace & Favour got retooled?

All in all, Grace & Favour has the hallmarks of a rock band reforming for one last tour. The solos are as good as ever, the old tunes still hit the spot, but new material is politely appreciated without exactly setting the world on fire. The extensive use of outside locations away from the studio, rendered on video tape rather than film, does create something of a new canvas for the cast to play on, and expands out the situations.

The second season of six episodes is so much better than the first half dozen – you could see that the writers had finally realised what to do with their cast. The original five stars were allowed to play to their strengths, and there’s actually character progression too. You get to find out about their backgrounds a lot more, much of it a revelation and almost ‘against type’, some of it confounding expectations. If you’re curious about these famous five, then the show does deliver on this front.

The final episode doesn’t give any sort of closure, and the fact there were no more is actually a shame, as it had found its niche. Don’t get me wrong, the first handful of episodes are at times painful to watch, but it really does get better!

In the USA, the series was renamed Are You Being Served? Again – the play on words of ‘grace and favour’ – meaning granted free of rent to a person to whom the owner wishes to express gratitude – was expected to be lost on an American audience.

This release also benefits from English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

One wonders if we are not too far away from Mollie Sugden’s ‘SF comedy’ series Come Back, Mrs Noah from 1977-78 making a UK DVD release – given it has only been let out to the world in Australia on VHS decades ago. Also created by Lloyd and Croft, and set in 2050, housewife Gertrude Noah (Sugden) wins a cookery contest. Her prize is a tour of Britannia Seven, the UK's new Space Exploration Vehicle. The craft is accidentally blasted off into deep space with Mrs Noah and crew aboard. Newscasts, officiated by Gorden Kaye, reveal the USA, Germany and others had to turn to the UK, the most successful nation on Earth, for help with the space programme. Science fiction indeed!

Grace & Favour is out now from Eureka Entertainment. The four DVD set has a running timr of 360 mins approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and a RRP of £34.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

 

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 May 2016 08:43