Are You Free, Miss Brahms?


Like any self-respecting homo who grew up in the nineties, thanks to the good folks at PBS I watched my fair share of the fabulous British sitcom "Are You Being Served?" Okay, I'll come clean. I've probably seen every episode five times and if you asked me over for a marathon I'd have my shoes on faster than you could say "my husband will be home in five minutes". The BBC comedy ran for ten seasons between 1972 and 1985, was wildly popular in Great Britain and even spawned a movie and a two season spin off sequel "Grace And Favour" in 1992 that was actually ever bit as well written as the original and should have carried on far longer.

Casual viewers of the show will of course remember the flamboyant Mr. Humphries and the hilarious and brightly coiffed Mrs. Slocombe (played by John Inman and Mollie Sugden, respectively) but although the cast changed over the years, the core cast remained largely the same. Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock), Nicholas Smith (Mr. Rumbold) and Wendy Richard (Miss Brahms) also appeared in all sixty nine of the original series' episodes, alongside other long running memorable characters such as Young Mr. Grace, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Spooner and Mr. Grainger.

Are You Being Served? wasn't without its skating references. Mr. Lucas (played by Trevor Bannister), who often flirted with Wendy Richard's character on the show, arrived at Grace Brothers with a pair of skates around his neck in the second episode of the show's second season with a pair of ice skates around his neck. Mr. Humphries said to him: "Oh look! It's Sonja Henie!" One of the funniest moments on the series' final Christmas special was Miss Brahms' assumption that the Welsh singing festival Eisteddfod "had something to do with ice skating". In reality. Wendy Richard knew quite a great deal about skating.


She was a talented and quite versatile actress who had appeared in numerous television series in the sixties. She even found success as a singer reaching #1 on the UK singles chart in 1962. The year "Are You Being Served?" ended, she took on the role of matriarch Pauline Fowler on the popular British sitcom EastEnders, a character she portrayed for an incredible twenty two years, even concurrently with her reprisal of the role of Miss Brahms in "Grace And Favour", which was presented to U.S. audiences under the name "Are You Being Served? Again!" After being diagnosed for breast cancer in 1996, she had an operation and seemed to be doing okay but the cancer returned in 2002. She again went through treatment and went into remission, being given a clean bill of health by doctors in 2005. However, the next year, the cancer was back. Richard passed away on February 26, 2009 at a London clinic, living a remarkable life and touching the lives of many, but never getting to realize one of her greatest childhood dreams... to be a champion figure skater.

In a 2003 appearance on the ITV Wales series "My Favourite Hymns", Richard was interviewed by John Stapleton and asked about her skating aspirations. Richard explained, "Oh, yes, I used to go to ice skating classes down at Queensway Queen's Ice Rink. And I thought I was going to be the next Sonja Henie or something like that, but unfortunately it didn't work out." A childhood tragedy was the real reason Richard's skating career was cut short. Her father, a pub landlord, committed suicide when she was eleven. Only a young girl, she was the one that found her father's body, and as her mother wasn't really dealing that well with what went on she sent young Wendy off to a boarding school to live. Her interest in film and pantomime, which also played a huge role in her childhood, saw her go off to drama school, and she never laced up seriously again. She may never have been Sonja Henie, but she was every bit as much a legend in her own right.

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