Are You Being Served?: Accurate Representation of a British Workplace?


I realize that sitcoms are fiction, but I’m curious if Are You Being Served? doesn’t contain some kernels of truth about the British workplace (or at least, the British workplace of the late 70’s/early 80’s, and/or in stuffy department stores).

In particular:

  1. The employees address each other by Mr./Mrs./Miss, and only rarely by their first names.

  2. A very strict pecking order exists, and the lower you are on it, the worse you are treated (Mrs. Slocombe once game Miss Brahms a dressing down because her (Miss Brahms’) dress had more frills on it than Mrs. Slocombe’s).

  3. Even the most minor of shortcomings in your appearance are not tolerated (Captain Peacock once reamed Mr. Lucas because of some imperfection in Mr. Lucas’ hankerchief).

  4. The employees stand up and bow when the Big Boss (in this case, Young Mr. Grace) enters the room.

Is this in any way representative of what life is (or was) like in a British workplace?

It’s certainly not representative of the British workplace now. AYBS was very dated even in the seventies. Certainly I have never worked anywhere where colleagues address each other as Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss. It would be ludicrously over-formal. Even if the CEO turned up, you would only call them Mr or Mrs perhaps if you had never met them before. In the 70s, yes maybe the big boss would have been “Mr”. But no standing up or curtsying :stuck_out_tongue:
[ETA] Come to think of it, I do remember a seventies documentary about the branch of a bank, and there was quite a bit of Mr- and Mrs-ing in that, certainly to the bank manager himself, so I guess some types of workplace were more formal than others.

British department stores, the upmarket ones like Harrods at least, may have been like Grace Brothers in the fifties or earlier? I don’t know.

Sorry to hijack, but somewhat related. Speaking of British formalities, a Brit friend of mine said that on the phone, if your friend says how are you, you’re supposed to answer “_____, thanks.” She said that without the “thanks,” it’s just the slightest bit rude. To my American ears, if I told a close friend I was “Fine, thanks,” it would be seen as overly polite. Any UKers care to weigh in on their experiences with this?

Just “fine” is curt and definately unfriendly in my eyes (Irish)

Yes, just saying “fine” would be seen as very curt. Possibly like the person answering was in a snit about something.

I went out with an American girl and I’d say stuff like “could you pass the salt please” and she thought it was so formal it actually moved into the realm of rudeness for her.

AYBS? always struck me as a bit of the '30s moved into the '70s, without the style. Even the slightly racy characters were played somewhat coyly and would have fit in fairly well in that era. The only plot point that wouldn’t have was Mrs Slocombe’s hair color.

Years later Trevor Bannister turned up selling a kitchen countertop to Hyacinth on Keeping Up Appearances. You could easily imagine Mr Lucas in that line of work in middle age - especially when Rose took him home for a bit o’ fun at the end.

It was a carricature then and it’s an anachronistic carricature now.

Damn, and I had an image of you running through the corridors of power exclaiming “I’m free!”.

I worked in an old-fashioned office in the late 70s/early 80s with lots of small departments with only a few people in each of them… Hell,at one point I was at least three different small departments on my own!
The management and department heads were all ‘Mr.Grace’ or ‘Mrs. Slocum’ or whatever. The bosses’ secretary as well. Staff in their individual depts might use their supervisor’s first name, but not in all depts. We also had uniformed staff who were usually addressed by rank or surname. It depended on who was talking to whom. Things relaxed as the 80s wore on.

When I started the Manager and the office manageress was quite strict about appearance (skirt lengths, etc) but, again, that mellowed over the years. Nobody ever got sent home, though. Except one or two new starts on the uniformed side of things who hadn’t grasped the concept of ‘uniform’.

Work certainly stopped when the boss came in (he very rarely did) and there was often a chorus of ‘good mornings’ but no bowing and scraping… more often, an immediate and frantic appearance of having been working… :slight_smile:

Same to this American’s senses. “Fine, thanks,” but never just “Fine.”

Sounds like she had issues, that one. Everyone I know says stuff like “please pass the salt” or “could you pass the salt, please?”. What did she want you to say: “yo, gimme the salt already!”

I was raised to answer “how are you?” with “fine, and you?”. I think most people are (hope so, anyway).

I always thought that AYBS was a like a Noel Coward play or a Wodehouse knock off. British farce, but downplayed a bit.

It depends upon the nature of the conversation and the relationship between the speakers.

But “fine, thanks,” sound very E.S.L. to me. I think it more usually goes like this –

A: “Hey, B, how are you?”
B: “Great, man, how are you doing?”

AYBS? might be forgiven a bit of anachronism if you consider that Young Mr. Grace’s longevity probably helped to preserve old traditions. I don’t think the dynamic is exclusively British, either. I could certainly see the stodgier American businesses (banks, law firms) having been much the same back then.

Didn’t the cast reunite for a leter series, where they were all running a hotel or some such? (Shades of Facts of Life, for American viewers.) Were they as formal with each other then?

AYBS’s creator worked at Harrods in the early 50s. Now if I may add to HeyHomie’s list of strange business’s practices.

  1. Grace Brothers opening hours are 9 to 5, Monday thru Friday.

  2. The’s a canteen that serves full meals, but only to staff and the entire store shuts down for an hour for lunch.

  3. Everyone appears to work fulltime, nobody works partime.

  4. Instead of hiring more staff to work evening the management comes up with ideas like allowing the Ladies and Menswear deparments to turn the salefloor into a restaurant or nightclub afterhours.

The sequel series Grace & Favour (aka [Are You Being Served Again) is even weirder. Instead of retiring they all live together in an English country manor and run in as an in. Nobody has families and they still address eachother as Capt. Peacock, Mrs Slocombe, etc.

Grace and Favor, I believe, shown as Are You Being Served? Again in the States, and they still called each other by titles and last names, though it was a more casual atmosphere otherwise.

ETA: I swear alphaboi867’s reply wasn’t there when I posted.

Yeah, I’ll give you that, but the context is different (and point taken and given: context is everything). But “thanks” would seemappropriate in any circumstances where one is not soliciting one’s own response. So:

A: “Hey, B, how are you?”
B: “Great, man.”
[awkward silence]

Oh yes. She did. :eek:

When I started my apprenticeship in a large Midlands factory in the early 1960’s there was some shades of what you see in AYBS.

For instance, there were four separate canteens. These were for hourly paid employees (shop-floor workers), weekly-paid “staff”, monthly-paid staff and management. Different grades had different toilets, with the ones for the shop-floor workers marked “Male” and “Female”, while the staff ones were labeled “Ladies” and Gentleman"

I once got into terrible trouble for using the wrong entrance into the main office block. This was was reserved just for management. A uniformed attendant bore down on me and gave me a right telling off.

Working in a stockbroking firm in the 1980s, no bowing and scraping exactly, but the partners, anyway, were addressed as “Sir” or Mr Bloggs, then you get the occasional Lord Bloggs. (I suddenly recall one retired former partner who was pleasant and a bit dotty and probably could have been equivalent to young Mr. Grace). It would have been unthinkable for female staff to wear trousers, and even on hot days, a male assistant might remove his jacket while IN the library (where I was) or his own office, department, but had better put it on and be all proper if he had to take some papers elsewhere in the building, lest he be seen by a partner or senior partner who would then die of shock. Although this was just after the “Big Bang”, that particular company was very traditional in its ways and may not have been representative.

However, I reckon AYBS was meant as a sort of caricature, and, as someone else said, just a sort of light farce.

Was it by Perry and Croft? They tended to do rather old-timey nostalgia comedies, set in wartime or similar.

“Fine” without "thanks, or “thank you” (plus reciprocal enquiry) would sound curt and as though the person saying it actually meant they were in a bad mood about something. It’s not overly polite at all.