Friday, July 3, 2009

The Passing of Mollie Sugden

Unless you're a fan of British television, you probably missed the news that Mollie Sugden passed away on July 1st at the age of 86. Take one look at the picture of her with blue hair that you see here, and you quickly realize Sugden was one of the best things about 1970s British television. She was part of the ensemble cast of Are You Being Served?, and with co-star John Inman (Mr. Humphries) she was arguably the best part of this show. Sugden played the middle-aged, divorced Mrs. Slocombe, one of the workers at Grace Brothers department store. Her co-workers included her younger, sexy assistant, Miss Brahms, and the aforementioned Mr. Humphries, the flamboyantly gay salesman who worked in men's trousers. Mrs. Slocombe regularly appeared with a new shocking hair color in each episode and frequently expressed concerns about her "pussy," i.e. her cat. Watching the show now, one of the things that strikes me is how much it parodied British class relations. Mrs. Slocombe, for instance, pretended she was middle class when in fact she was as working class as the Cockney Miss Brahms. The other thing that strikes me about the show is how much it objectified women, but then again American shows from the same time period, like Three's Company did the exact same thing. Are You Being Served? holds up well and is quite funny. The comedy is slapstick, but the double entendres make it hilarious, especially when expressed by Mrs. Slocombe and Mr. Humphries. Sadly, Sugden was one of the last surviving members of the show. Sugden was a television actress, having done other British comedies in her career, but she'll always be remembered best for playing Mrs. Slocombe. For more about Sugden's life and career, you can read her obituary from the Telegraph. You usually can find episodes of the show on PBS, but here are a few clips from YouTube. The first is a scene from an episode when Grace Brothers embarks on "German Week," and at the end the staff gather to perform the German dance in native costume. Watch for Sugden in the center dancing with Captain Peacock, and don't miss Mr. Humphries dancing with Mr. Lucas, especially the very end. The second is a video montage put together by Kingsley308 with clips of Mrs. Slocombe talking about her pussy.

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