The episodes rarely left the store, and to parody the stereotype of the rigid British class system, characters rarely addressed each other by their given names, even after work. In 2004, it came 20th in Britain's Best Sitcom.
Despite this abundance of gags, the main humorous base of the series was a merciless attack on the British class system. This permeated every interaction in the show and was especially evident in the conversations between maintenance men Mr. Mash or Mr. Harman and the ostensibly higher-class store personnel.
Characters included such stereotypes as the effeminate Mr. Humphries, who lived with his mother; Captain Peacock, the haughty floorwalker who purportedly fought Rommel in the North Africa Campaign of World War II (but was actually in the Service Corps), and the snobbish and boisterous Mrs. Slocombe of the ever-changing hair colour.
The show spawned the catch phrase "Are you free?", usually said by Captain Peacock to the staff; more often than not, the staff are noticeably free, and each would look solemnly from side to side before saying, "Yes I'm free, Captain Peacock." As John Inman remarked, when Mr. Humphries trilled, "I'm free!" it became his own personal catchphrase.
During its run, the series attracted some mild criticism for its reliance on sexual stereotypes and sexual double entendres, including jokes about Mrs. Slocombe's "pussy" (cat). John Inman's camp portrayal of Mr. Humphries as an effeminate man whose sexual orientation was never expressed was supposedly offensive to some gay men, but the character quickly developed a cult gay following. Inman pointed out that Mr. Humphries' true sexual orientation was never explicitly stated in the series, and David Croft said in an interview that the character was not homosexual, but "just a mother's boy". With a broad mixture of stereotypical gay characteristics and some apparent heterosexual attractions, viewers were left wondering about Mr. Humphries' true sexual orientation. In an episode of the spin-off Grace & Favour, the character is further described as neither a "woman's man" nor a "man's man" and as being "in limbo".
Are You Being Served? was first broadcast on 8 September 1972 on the BBC, in the form of a pilot for the series Comedy Playhouse. It only aired when it did because of free airspace created by the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. The pilot was reshown at the beginning of the first series on 14 March 1973. That first series was aired in the same timeslot as Coronation Street on ITV, and consequently received relatively little attention. However, repeats shown later in the year were much more successful. Although the pilot was produced in colour, only a black-and-white version of this episode remains.
The show went on to receive huge audiences, with later episodes attracting up to 22 million viewers. After 10 series, 69 episodes and a 13-year run, Are You Being Served? came to an end on 1 April 1985.
A remix of the theme was released in 1998 by a dance act calling itself "Grace Brothers", and featured samples of John Inman and Frank Thornton.
There is a homage to the theme song in the Ladytron song "Paco!" from the album "604", and New Zealand band Minuit's "I hate guns". A version of the theme song is featured on the album The Ape Of Naples by the experimental music group Coil. The theme song has also been covered by Australian band Regurgitator on their 1999 album ...art. Pop singer Jamelia's song "Window Shopping" (from her 2006 album Walk with Me) begins with a sample of the familiar cash register sound effect as well as Mrs. Slocombe's voice inquiring, "Are you free?". The Pink Floyd song "Money" also uses a similar cash register effect.
All ten series, as well as both series of Grace & Favour (in packaging titled Are You Being Served? Again!), are available on DVD in Region 1 (North America).
Currently, the first Eight series and the film have been released in Australia with Series 9 due to be released in October 2008 (Region 4). A DVD titled Are You Being Served? - Best of The Early Years and Are You Being Served? Christmas Specials have also been released.
|DVD Name||Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 1||27 August 2002||25 July 2005||2 March 2006|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 2||27 August 2002||19 September 2005||8 June 2006|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 3||27 August 2002||30 January 2006||5 October 2006|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 4||27 August 2002||27 March 2006||7 March 2007|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 5||27 August 2002||5 June 2006||6 June 2007|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 6||30 September 2003||28 August 2006||3 October 2007|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 7||30 September 2003||25 August 2008||6 March 2008|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 8||30 September 2003||13 October 2008||7 August 2008|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 9||30 September 2003||TBA||2 October 2008|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 10||30 September 2003||TBA||TBA|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 1-5||27 August 2002||2 October 2006||TBA|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 6-10||30 September 2003||TBA||TBA|
|Are You Being Served? : Complete Christmas Specials||27 September 2005||N/A||3 November 2005|
|Are You Being Served? : The Complete Series 1-10||7 September 2004||TBA||TBA|
|Are You Being Served? Again : The Complete Series||7 September 2004||TBA||TBA|