This week on Wrestlecrap, we take a look at the classic British comedy, Are You Being Served?
The show, a bawdy workplace comedy, derived most of its humor from the type of double-entendres that naturally abound in a clothing store where salesmen stuffed their drawers and the saleswomen took down their underwear. Throw in the occasional mention of the furniture department, and this show’s lexicon of innuendo expanded to include poofs, chests, and knockers.
Are You Being Served? also had an ensemble cast of well-defined characters from the whole of English society, representing all social strata and ranging from overtly horny to covertly horny.
The long-running program aired in many other countries, including Australia. In fact, it was so popular over there that Australia’s Network Ten ordered its own version of the show with the same title (but nicknamed “Are You Being Served Down Under?” – if you know what I mean…).
The scripts were the same, too, meaning that Australian fans of the show got to watch the exact same episodes they’d already seen, but with a Bizarro World cast about as inspired and well-received as the new Razor Ramon and Diesel.
Unlike most foreign re-makes, the Australian program took place in the same canon as the original program and shared a character, as well; John Inman reprised his popular role as the campy, effeminate Mr. Humphries.
Upon his arrival in Australia, Humphries went right to work in a strangely familiar department store, with a strangely familiar class structure, experiencing strangely familiar scenarios, and working with strangely familiar colleagues. If it weren’t for his co-workers’ Australian accents and total lack of comedic timing, he’d have thought he’d never left Grace Brothers!
Now, I could spend an entire article chronicling what a debacle this remake was, but we’re Wrestlecrap, not TVcrap. Fortunately, like so many TV shows before and since, both versions of AYBS? featured a wrestling episode.
For the original Are You Being Served?, the inevitable wrestling episode came in series seven, episode five. For the Australian version, it was series one, episode two. Until I track down the Mullets pilot, that’s a Wrestlecrap record for earliest wrestling episode in a program’s run.
Sure, the original British version relied more and more on putting their strait-laced characters into outrageous scenarios as the years went on, but the Australian version spared absolutely no time plucking its fish out of water.
It’s as if in William Regal’s WWE debut, they’d had him dress as a showgirl or a buxom wench (or a real man’s man).
On Episode Damn One, the characters went from introducing themselves to doing ballet to getting naked, all within a 15-minute span.
By Episode Damn Two, they were wrestling on the floor of Gents’ Ready-Mades.
The story begins, as many episodes do, with Mrs. Slocombe (Crawford in Australia) talking about her pussy. (Only after watching the show for years as a kid did I finally figure out that a “pussy” was another name for a woman’s cat)
When she accidentally lets loose a clockwork mouse, the authoritarian floorwalker Captain Peacock/Wagstaff is incensed, chiding the senior saleswoman and the whole staff even more harshly than usual.
Senior salesman Mr. Goldberg/Mankowitz tells the staff not to take it personally, as the Captain is in such a foul mood because of a painful ailment. It seems that while the Captain was trying on jogging shorts in the sports department’s fitting room, a salesman named Mr. Franco noticed that he had a very large boil on his bum.
At lunch, the staff amuse themselves with more boil-talk until the Captain himself shows up with an inflatable rubber cushion to sit on.
Captain Peacock acts aloof and offers up the flimsy excuse that he is merely doing some product-testing, while Aussie Captain Wagstaff offers up the same flimsy excuse, but with the actor delivering his lines as if it’s legit.
A string of jokes about boils and bottoms ensues until the Captain realizes that his embarrassing secret has been found out.
His honor sullied, the Captain goes to his department manager to demand an apology from Mr. Franco of Sports, boasting that if he weren’t so civilized he’d meet Franco in the boxing ring and punch him out. If you’ve ever heard a wrestler make an empty boast about being able to beat someone with one arm tied behind his back, you’ll know what happens next:
Franco takes this claim literally and accepts the challenge for a boxing match.
Still, with everyone treating him like a hero, the Captain gets a misplaced sense of confidence until he learns that Mr. Franco is actually a former navy boxing champion.
This leads Captain Peacock to phone the store’s owner in a transparent attempt to weasel out of the fight. His Australian counterpart Captain Wagstaff, on the other hand, plays the phone call completely straight, suggesting not only that the actor has never seen the original episode, but that he hasn’t read the script very closely, either.
Now in the English version, the boss Mr. Grace is played by Harold Bennett, whose grandfatherly warmth allows the character to get away with being an unabashed horndog. But in the Australian version, Mr. Bone is just a decrepit old creep.
In both cases, they have money riding on Mr. Franco and refuse to cancel the fight.
That Saturday is the fight. For some reason, an upscale department has a boxing ring on hand, although in the Australian version’s defense, it has only two ropes and looks like absolute s**t.
Mr. Humphries and the rest of the staff are there to be the Captain’s cornerman. The whole situation reminds Mr. Humphries of his own days as a catch-as-catch-can wrestling champion nicknamed, “Hugger Humphries”. Get it? Gay?
Arriving late, Captain Peacock presents yet another lame excuse about being unable to compete for medical reasons (although, once again, his Australian counterpart, unaware that this is a comedy, seems convinced that this alibi is totally on-the-level).
Mr. Franco shows up soon after. In the English version, Franco is played by former wrestler “Mr. TV” Jackie Pallo. In Australia, he’s played by some stuntman. At this point, you’ve got to wonder why Aussie Captain Wagstaff ever entertained the idea of standing up to Franco.
British Captain Peacock has an excuse; at 6’1” (or 185 centipedes), he towers over the British Franco. So you can understand him thinking he’d make short work of his rival, if he didn’t know any better.
But in the Australian version, Mr. Franco is not only bigger than Capt. Wagstaff but looks and acts like a raving lunatic. That raises an important question: how exactly did he get hired as a salesman at a fancy department store, anyway?
Fortunately for the Captains, Franco can’t find boxing gloves big enough for his hands, so Mr. Lucas/Randel suggests they substitute the boxing match for a bout of catch-as-catch-can.
“That’s my favorite!” says Pallo with a wink to the camera.
“My favorite!” growls the other Mr. Franco.
And Hugger Humphries makes himself scarce in a hurry.
The Captain declines these new terms and conscripts Mr. Humphries to wrestle on his behalf. Humphries has to be hauled out of hiding and carried back to the ring, which is ironic considering that John Inman is the one carrying the entire Australian version.
His colleagues forcibly strip Mr. Humphries to his skivvies and heave him into the ring. At least he gets to keep his hat on, in lieu of his toupee.
The head of Maintenance makes the introductions, and Humphries again tries to run away. In the British version, it’s after Mr. Harmon brings up such nasty tactics as eye-gouging and pointed kicks. In the Australian version, this line is cut for time, so what frightens Humphries is the very idea of running away.
Mr. Franco quickly takes control of the bout but lets Humphries in on a secret: since they don’t really hate each other, they can just fake it to entertain the marks.
That’s right – wrestling’s biggest secrets were exposed for British and Australian audiences nearly two decades before Americans learned them from the likes of Skull Duggery and Slither.
Franco guides Humphries through a series of moves, calling spots louder than John Cena, while Mr. Humphries responds with innuendo. Case in point: the flying cross-buttock. Amazingly, that’s the name of a real wrestling move, albeit the wrong one – it’s actually an old-timey name for a hip toss, but on the show it’s an airplane spin also called “The Propeller”.
Franco follows this up with a body slam and a splash before stretching him like a gentleman’s jacket.
Next up is the Patagonian nose hold, which the British Franco tells Humphries to sell with a scream. So does the Australian Franco, who, despite being in on the work with Mr. Humphries, still relishes in his commands like perverted sadist. When Humphries suggests he get in some offense of his own, Franco assures him that he’s got to get some heat on himself before Humphries can make his comeback.
All the while, an outraged Mrs. Slocombe calls the action in disbelief (and, of course, knows all the moves).
Next in store for Mr. Humphries was the absolutely pathetic-looking “Brazilian elbow jab“, which makes Dusty’s bionic elbow look absolutely deadly by comparison.
In the Australian version, Franco has a different but equally-baffling take on the Brazilian elbow jab, which, thanks to an apparent typo in the script, has been re-named the Brazilian elbow jar.
Speaking of errors, there are two big mistakes in the original episode that actually get fixed in the Australian version.
On two occasions, the British Franco has Humphries pinned for at least a ten count while he feeds him instructions, yet the referee makes no attempt to count it.
The Australian Franco, on the other hand, holds Humphries in a pair of unlikely and/or homoerotic positions to avoid an accidental pinfall.
It takes some farcical Irish whips for Mrs. Slocombe to finally get fed up and head into the ring herself…
…where Jackie Pallo conspicuously positions himself to take this bump.
Her Australian counterpart also heads to the ring, where a cowardly Aussie Franco acts like Mrs. Slocombe’s cat, then gets flipped onto the mat.
Both women in both hemispheres are declared the winner via knockout, with the British Mrs. Slocombe putting Capt. Peacock in his place as well with a verbal jab at his infamous boil.
Nitpick the finish all you want, but it still makes more sense than the time Mike Awesome won a no-DQ match between Ric Flair and Billy Kidman via disqualification. Unlike WCW Thunder, however, which can be streamed in its entirety on WWE Network, the Australian version of Are You Being Served? has not seen an official release in forty years.
The original tapes? No doubt languishing in some television studio. And I’m not about to rummage around in some Australian TV engineer’s drawers to get a hold of them!