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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 08:59 GMT


Going down: 'Grace Bros' store closes

You have been watching. . .

The department store which inspired the sitcom Are You Being Served? served its last customers this weekend.

Simpson of Piccadilly - the London store where comedy writer Jeremy Lloyd once worked - is to become a bookshop.

Although Mr Lloyd's stint as a Simpson's employee was very brief, it proved to be fertile territory for his later career.

Since 1936, the emporium and purveyor of "quality clothes for the well-heeled" has welcomed customers to its Piccadilly Circus base.

But its owners have decided the premises are uneconomic, although its line of suits will carry on.

[ image: The store which inspired Grace Bros shuts on Saturday]
The store which inspired Grace Bros shuts on Saturday
The Simpson family established their bespoke tailoring workshop in the City of London in 1894.

In 1929, it moved to North London and in the early 30s created the DAKS brand. The DAKS trouser, with its patented self-supporting waistband, became a worldwide best-seller.

And in 1936, the company opened its own eight floor speciality store in Piccadilly.

Jo Smith, a spokeswoman for the firm, said: "We are keeping the closure pretty low key, as the DAKS brand will continue its strong presence with the opening of two new men's and women's shops in February."

[ image:  ]
The writing team of Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft immortalised the spirit of the store, and brought the characters of Mr Humphries, Mrs Slocombe, Captain Peacock, Miss Brahms, Mr Lucas, Mr Grainger and Mr Lucas to TV screens in the early 1970s.

The comedy was bawdy and quintessentially British.

John Inman's EMI release: Grace Brothers
The TV critic for the UK communist daily paper, the Morning Star, once wrote of an episode called Camping In, that the studio audience laughed at dropped trousers and collapsing beds "as if they'd never seen such things before".

John Inman camped it up as a tape measure-brandishing men's sales assistant - always ready to take an inside leg measurement.

The innuendo was loud and clear

Before he was offered the part in Are You Being Served? he was already working in a department store - selling toys in London's Selfridges.

Gay rights groups initially reacted with outrage to Inman's character.

Although Mr Humphries was never explicity called a homosexual in the show, the innuendo was loud and clear.

[ image: Hair-raising Mrs Slocombe]
Hair-raising Mrs Slocombe
However, his "I'm free!" catchphrase was being repeated across the country within weeks of the first shows - and the character is now a gay icon.

Molly Sugden's violently coiffed Mrs Slocombe regaled viewers with tales of her pussy.

And the banter between Miss Brahms and Mr Lucas bordered on Benny Hill.

So successful was the TV show, that in 1976 - the year of Britain's most memorable drought - the production took to the stage in Blackpool. A movie followed shortly.

The phenomenon did not escape the attention of overseas programme commissioners and makers.

International acclaim

By 1979 the Americans had created their own version of the show, called Beanes of Boston.

[ image: Hitting the stage in 1976]
Hitting the stage in 1976
In the pilot, John Hillerman, later to be cast as Higgins on Magnum P.I., played Captain Peacock. The series, however, was never picked up by a network.

The following year the Australians came up with Bone Brothers, which starred John Inman as Mr Humphries.

Fifteen episodes were adapted by Jeremy Lloyd for Aussie audiences.

American fans

But the huge American love affair with the British shop assistant hierarchy was about to begin in earnest.

In 1987, a total of 24 public service channels began screening the British version of the show.

It scored a hit with American audiences, who formed fan clubs, flocked to meet the stars of the show on their visits to the States, and snapped up souvenirs and mementoes.

So even though Simpsons of Piccadilly closd its doors for the last time on Saturday, the memory of the store looks set to live on - on TV screens across the world.

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