Are You Being Served? The Movie (1977)

“You were beckoning and waving your y-fronts.”

Jonathan at Ruthless Culture recently popped over here for a few minutes and took the trouble to recommend a film based on the popular comedy series Are You Being Served? I haven’t seen all the episodes in the series, but when I heard that there was a film version of the series set in the Costa Plonka, well I knew I had to see it. Films that show the British abroad often make good comedies (Carry on Abroad), and then there’s that idea that the British go a little mad when set loose on a beach under a baking sun (Shirley Valentine).

Are You Being Served? The Movie  begins in the familiar environment of the Grace Brothers department store. With renovations about to take place that will necessitate the closing of the business, Young Mr. Grace decides that all employees will be given the incentive to take their holidays during the shop’s closing, and the incentive underwriting this whole deal is an all-expenses paid package tour to various exotic destinations. While the departments are selected for different destinations, the Ladies Wear and the Men’s Wear departments are collectively slated for the Costa Plonka and the Don Bernardo Palace Hotel.

The film starts off a bit slowly as the back ground for the Costa Plonka adventure develops. Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) doesn’t want the necessary vaccinations, Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton) stalks Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard), and Dick Lucas (Trevor Bannister) hopes the holiday will yield sexual opportunities. The fact that Mrs. Peacock won’t be accompanying her stuffy husband, opens up perceived opportunities to both Captain Peacock and Mrs. Slocombe, but unfortunately not towards each other.

The only person who seems to really enter into the spirit of things is Mr Humphries (John Inman) and his liberation from the Men’s Wear Dept. allows him to reveal a colourful, imaginative wardrobe. His eye-catching pink leisure suit and matching hat are worn for the plane trip.

The arrival at the Don Bernando Palace hotel begins the holiday-from-hell scenario. The film was made during a period when many British holidaymakers were adventuring abroad for the first time, and returning home with nightmare stories of unfinished hotels that lacked plumbing. A similar sort of situation awaits the Grace Bros. staff when they arrive and are greeted by Don Carlos Bernardo (Andrew Sachs, who played the role of Manuel in Fawlty Towers). Difficulties with the language and a handy mispronunciation leave the Grace Bros. staff in their individual ‘Pent-a-houses.’ And they’re not what you’d expect.

During dinner, the shenanigans take place with a love note addressed to “Dear Sexy Knickers,” and this is where the misunderstandings begin. As the night arrives and the moon rises, assignations and unexpected interruptions begin to take place between the Pent-a-houses. Part bedroom farce and part Shakespearean Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, bed-hopping takes place at a furious rate. Whipped into a frenzy by an outhouse toilet, a randy revolutionary and the promise of Mrs. Slocombe’s knickers, the Grace Bros staff spend a restless night in the torrid Costa Plonka

Are You Being Served? The Movie is not subtle humour. It’s lowbrow and crude at times, and the humour doesn’t really take off until the Costa Plonka. The script is full of double entendres–some really funny and some a bit tired and worn, but overall there were certainly enough laughs for me. Part of the film’s success can be found in showing how the holiday in the Costa Plonka liberates some of the characters from their usual Grace-Bros-bound behaviour, while others still try to assert the hierarchy so firmly established within the workplace. The opportunistic union man Mr Harman (Arthur English) ever harking on about the rights of working man, masquerades as a lord to get the best room. And this brings up the general inadvisability of going on holiday with people you also work with….

And then of course, there’s even a drag scene and a fake drag queen.

Some quotes from the film:

Oh don’t they get bold in the tropics?

I hardly think that 2 mussels and a shrivelled up prawn will effect my libido.

She needed a father figure.

You’ll give the British a bad name.

Here have you been showing  ‘em your knickers again?

Just tell them we’re British and they’re spoiling our holiday.

Look at that crumpet around the pool!

Those are false booby-doos.

I object to being ravaged.

What are you going on about? Bet that’s not the first time you’ve lost your knickers in the tube?

You’ve got no authority over me, so get stuffed.

I’d be halfway to Paris by now if the electric blanket hadn’t caught fire.

Ride off into the sunset and try to forget you ever met me.

So thanks for the recommendation, Jonathan!

2 Comments

Filed under British, Comedy

2 responses to “Are You Being Served? The Movie (1977)

  1. My pleasure Guy :-)

    You’re right that it’s not a subtle film but then it was the spin-off from a series that produced dozens and dozens of episodes anchored in the moment when Molly Sugden says “Pussy”.

    Nonetheless, I think it’s one of the better films made out of a British sitcom. It does interesting things with the characters, it nicely reflects an age when Spain seemed incredibly exotic (note the confusion between Spain and South America) and it functions, as you mention, as a bedroom farce in the grand British tradition (everyone wants sex, nobody gets it).

  2. I read some reviews written by fans of the series who were horribly disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed at all, but perhaps my expectations were different. Then again, my sense of humour largely resides in the gutter anyway.

    Thanks again. It really was great fun to watch.

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