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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 14:48 GMT
Comedy actor Inman dies aged 71
John Inman
Inman had been ill for some time

Actor John Inman, most famous for the comedy Are You Being Served?, has died in London aged 71, his spokesman said.

Inman made his name in the 1970s show as Mr Humphries, whose catchphrase "I'm free!" entered popular culture.

In recent years he was a pantomime regular, most often taking the role of the dame. He also made appearances in BBC comedy show Revolver in 2004.

The Preston-born actor died in hospital and had been suffering from a Hepatitis A infection for some time.

Wendy Richard and John Inman
John was one of the wittiest and most inventive actors I've ever worked with
Wendy Richard

The infection, usually caused by eating contaminated food, forced him to cancel the opening of a pantomime in London in December 2004.

It was initially hoped he would be able to return to the production of Dick Whittington, in which he was due to play Wanda the Cook, but he never worked again.

His manager Phil Dale said: "John was known and loved throughout the world. He was one of the best and finest pantomime dames working to capacity audiences throughout Britain.

"John was known for his comedy plays and farces which were enjoyed from London's West End throughout the country and as far as Australia, Canada and the USA."

Inman's Are You Being Served? co-star Wendy Richard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "John was one of the wittiest and most inventive actors I've ever worked with.

"He was a brilliant, brilliant pantomime dame and he was a very good all-round actor, really. He was a true professional."

I bet everyone in heaven is laughing non-stop today; one of the funniest men to grace our TV's and stage.
Alan Darbyshire, Wigan

Fans favourite

Are You Being Served? ran on the BBC from 1972 to 1985 and depicted the antics of the staff of Grace Brothers, an old-fashioned department store.

Mr Humphries became one of TV's best known characters, and in 1976 Inman was voted funniest man on television by TV Times readers. He was declared BBC TV's personality of the year the same year.

Trevor Bannister, who played Mr Lucas in the series, told BBC News 24: "The 'I'm free!' was something put in because that is what people in those stores really said.

"We didn't realise it would become a running catchphrase.

"It was that way about the whole show - we never realised it was going to as successful as it was."

Veteran actress and co-star Mollie Sugden, who played Mrs Slocombe, told the BBC: "It's a very sad day. As far as I'm concerned, it's the end of an era."

Confident comedian

In the last four series, Mr Humphries was given an assistant, Mr Spooner, played by Mike Berry.

"I felt like going home at the end of the day and ironing my face, he made me laugh so much! As funny as he was in front of the camera, he was funnier off.

"He was such an astute comedian as well. He would get the script and mark in pencil the best lines and how to get the most laughs.

"And he was a confident comedian, which made him generous. He would help you in delivering a line to get the most out of it, he liked to work in a good team."

'Innocent quality'

John Inman
Are You Being Served? attracted up to 22 million viewers
Actress Rula Lenska, who worked with him on TV and in pantomime, paid tribute to his comic style.

"It was suggestive but never in your face or aggressive. It had an innocent quality that you rarely find today.

"He was a joy to work with and even after an exhausting day in pantomime he would have time for the fans who crowded round the stage door."

Fellow pantomime dame Danny La Rue called him "irreplaceable".

The 79-year-old added: "John was wonderful in panto. The children adored him. He had a magic touch. Panto can be exhausting - but he loved it.

"He was such a fantastic and inventive actor, and he could play serious roles too. He wasn't all about that flippant catchphrase 'I'm free!' But that's what made him. When that show first started he was just one of the salesmen, but they soon saw a star."

Inman's long-term partner, Ron Lynch, is said to be "devastated" at his death.

Obituary: John Inman
08 Mar 07 |  Entertainment
Your tributes to John Inman
08 Mar 07 |  Have Your Say
In pictures: John Inman
08 Mar 07 |  In Pictures
Actor Inman admitted to hospital
09 Dec 04 |  Entertainment


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