Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Remembering John Inman

This British sitcom was broadcast between 1972 and 1985. It was set in the men's and women's fashion departments of Grace Brothers, an upscale (fictional) London department store. The idea for the show came from one of the creator's brief stints working at Simpsons of Piccadilly in the early 1950's. Edgy for the early 1970's was that Are you Being Served? featured an obviously gay character.

Played by actor John Inman"Mr. Humphrie" was a regular star of the show.  His catchphrases, very campy mannerisms and sexual double-entendres were a part of every episode. He worked in the men's clothing department and was always ready to measure pants when the male customer was handsome.  It's reported that the BBC, when contemplating making the series, tried at first to insist that Mr Humphries was removed because he was a gay character. Audiences took to him and the rest of the cast, which is why it lasted so long.  However, not all gay men were happy about the role.

Inman once reported that four or five members of the group Campaign for Homosexual Equality picketed one of his shows in protest as they believed his persona did not help their cause. Inman said that "they thought I was over exaggerating the gay character. But I don't think I do."  Others were happy to see a gay man portrayed on national television who was liked by his co-workers, not fired by his employers, and viewed the fact he was on television as a positive statement.

Both Inman and the producers denied that Mr Humphries compounded a stereotype of gay men. In 1976, he was named the BBC TV personality of the year.  In December 2005 Mr. Inman formed a civil partnership with his partner of 33 years, Ron Lynch.  Inman and David Croft (a show creator) stated that the character was "just a mother's boy" and that his sexual orientation was never explicitly stated.

Actress Rula Lenska, who worked with Mr Inman, told the BBC:  "It was suggestive but never in your face or aggressive. It had an innocent quality that you rarely find today." 

Inman continued to play in live shows after his success as Mr. Humphries, and began to incorporate camp mannerisms into those performances too, once saying "Even when I'm not playing Mr Humphries, say at a summer season, I camp it up a bit. If I don't the audience are disappointed.."  Inman went on to star in more than 40 pantomimes, and was often cast as the dame. He used to make his own costumes and write his own jokes. He passed away in 2007.



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