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Inman, John (1935-2007)  
 
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Mr. Humphries' speech was replete with sexual innuendo, but there was no specific reference to his sexual orientation. Actress Wendy Richard, who played the junior saleswoman, Miss Brahms, commented, "It was never stated that he was gay, merely that he was nice to his mother"--whom he occasionally played. Although the word was never uttered (a fact that itself testifies to the reticences of the time), it was impossible for viewers not to conclude that Mr. Humphries was a gay man.

Eventually Inman's portrayal of Mr. Humphries drew criticism from gay rights activists. In 1977 members of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality picketed a Brighton theater where Inman was appearing, decrying his depiction of Mr. Humphries in a way that reinforced stereotypical ideas about gay men. The protests continued even after Are You Being Served? went off the air.

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In 2007 gay journalist Matthew Parris offered a different perspective. While acknowledging that the over-the-top and caricatured image of Mr. Humphries is one that "we need to shed" now, back in the 1970s, he said, performers like Inman "were a light in the dark. Between the words, these men insinuated a wordless language of their own; they made a non-verbal statement, a shyly comical way of saying: 'This is who and what I am; this is my tribe--and, look, I'm famous and life is fun.' To anxious boys like me, who didn't even know a tribe existed, the lives and careers of these men showed we were not alone."

Parris points out that, back in those days, "the people who wanted these men taken off the stage, screen, and wireless were not the gay-rights campaigners but the bigots and guardians of conservative morality." He noted that Are You Being Served? debuted at a time when "the idea that homosexuality might be an amusing, unthreatening, and not uncommon oddity rather than scary--a moral poison and a mortal sin--was gaining ground. Such portrayals unsoured what it was to be gay. The point about this version of the Gay Everyman, surely, was that he was likeable."

But Mr. Humphries was not only an immensely likable and endearing character, as portrayed by Inman he was also slyly subversive, illuminating the hypocrisies and absurdities of conventional British mores from an outsider's perspective and frequently puncturing the pretensions and snobberies of middle-class life.

Inman not only charmed viewers but also won the respect of his fellow performers. Richard, who remained a lifelong friend, called him "one of the funniest and most inventive actors I have ever worked with." Mike Berry, who played Mr. Humphries' assistant during the last four seasons of the show, stated that Inman "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."

Indeed, the team on Are You Being Served? had great success. At the height of their popularity in the late 1970s, over 20 million British viewers were tuning in to the show. In 1977 the ensemble made a film (directed by Bob Kellett) also entitled Are You Being Served?. Inman also appeared in an Australian adaptation of the series in 1980-81.

The series found a new and enthusiastic audience when it was shown in the United States. Debuting on PBS in 1988, it quickly became a popular staple of the network. Inman was once again a fan favorite and made annual trips to America for interviews and public appearances, including frequently as a guest during public-television pledge drives, discussing the making of the show and responding to questions from viewers.

Because of the renewed interest in the original series, Lloyd and Croft wrote a sequel, Grace and Favour (U.S. title: Are You Being Served? Again!), that brought back five of the original cast members, including Inman, but transported them to a stately home that had been turned into a hotel. The new premise did not work as well as the first one, however, and the series had only a brief run in 1992-1993.

Since Mr. Humphries had been the vehicle for his success, Inman called him a "dear friend" and, he quipped, "extremely popular with my bank manager." Nevertheless, Inman was somewhat frustrated at being typecast afterward. Nicholas Smith, who played the often befuddled manager of Grace Brothers, recalled, "I once said to him, 'If I was casting, I would have you playing a peppery old colonel or a barrister--a completely different role.' He looked at me a bit sadly and said, 'Yes, but they won't let me, you know.'"

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