Actor Nicholas Smith, best known for his role as Cuthbert Rumbold in Are You Being Served?, and its spin-off Grace and Favour, has died aged 81.
Smith starred in the department store based sitcom from its pilot in 1972 through to its final run in 1985. A hit with viewers the show followed the workers of the ladieswear and menswear departments – who had to share a floor – in the fictional Grace Brothers store somewhere in London. Smith’s character, nicknamed ‘Jug Ears’, was the manager of the farce filled shop. At its peak over twenty million viewers tuned in weekly for the slapstick and innuendo fueled antics of John Inman, as ‘camp’ menswear salesperson Mr Humpfries, Mollie Sugden, as head of ladieswear Mrs Slocombe, who often spoke about the misfortunes of her pussy, Frank Thornton, as floorwalker Captain Peacock and Wendy Richard, as sales assistant Miss Brahms.
From 1972 to 1980 the show also featured Trevor Bannister as Mr Lucas, a junior salesperson on the menswear counter. He was replaced by Mike Berry as Mr Spooner for the last three series (1981, 1983 and 1985). He is now the sole surviving main cast member from the show, with Smith the final of the original cast to die.
Written by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft Are You Being Served? made stars of many of the cast – and took them to the big screen in 1977 with a comedy movie spin-off of the series. In 1985 BBC One dropped the show after ten series and 69 episodes, however the format was revived in 1992 for two further series as Grace and Favour – which saw many of the department store favourites running a countryside hotel – following the closure of Grace Brothers.
Born in Banstead, Surrey, in 1934, Smith’s other television credits included serious parts in BBC science fiction serial Doctor Who, ITC action series for ITV The Saint which starred Roger Moore in the lead role as Simon Templar and BBC police drama Z Cars where he had a regular role as PC Yates.
Less remembered comedy roles include as a regular sketch performer on David Frost’s BBC show The Frost Report, LWT comedy Doctor In The House, BBC Two sitcom Up Pompeii! and The Liver Birds. His last major comedy role was in an episode of Last of the Summer Wine from 2008. In 2005 he provided the voice of Reverend Clement Hedges in animated comedy Wallace and Gromit; The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Smith’s daughter is Holby City actress Catherine Russell, who plays Serena Campbell in the BBC One medical saga. Are You Being Served? was recently repeated on BBC Two as part of its classic comedy afternoon strand.
“It is with great sadness we can confirm that our client passed away yesterday [December 6th]… He was a lovely man and a terrific actor. He will be much missed by all who knew him.” – spokesperson for his agent Michelle Braidman Associates
Nicholas Smith 1934 – 2015
- The first of the main Are You Being Served? stars to die was Arthur Brough who died in 1978 aged 73. He played senior menswear salesman Ernest Grainger from the shows beginning until his death. He was replaced by James Hayter, as Mr Tebbs, for one series. Hayter for many years the voice of a brand of cakes. James died in 1983 aged 75. The third replacement for Arthur Brough was Alfie Bass who joined the show as Mr Goldberg. Bass died in 1987 aged 71.
- Harold Bennett, the dithering Young Mr Grace, who always had a ‘dollybird’ on his knee died in 1981 aged 81. He was replaced by Old Mr Grace, actor Kenneth Waller, who became better known as the miserable granddad in Liverpool-set sitcom Bread. Waller died in 2000 aged 72.
- Larry Martyn played Mr Mash the original maintenance engineer at the department store from 1972 to 1975. Martyn died in 1994 aged 60. His replacement Arthur English, as Mr Harman, died aged 75 in 1995.
- John Inman became one of the best known personalities from the series as ‘camp’ menswear sales assistant Mr Humpfries. Inman died in 2007 aged 71. The success of the BBC series saw John travel to Australia in 1980 to take part in a Network 10 version of the show. The Aussie series was based at Bone Brothers department store, it failed to live up to the the original’s success ending in 1981. Back home ITV lured him to front his own sitcom in 1977 with Odd Man Out for Thames Television and in 1981 he teamed up with Rula Lenska for Southern Television’s Take A Letter Mr. Jones.
- Wendy Richard became better known as Pauline Fowler in BBC One’s soap opera EastEnders from 1985 through to 2006. While she also had many television roles before Are You Being Served? – including ATV department store drama Harpers West One in the sixties – it was the character Miss Brahms that made her a household name. Richard died in 2009.
- Mary “Mollie” Sugden died in 2009 aged 86. She is best remembered as Grace Brothers hard-as-nails Mrs Slocombe who told tales of her cat. Sugden also had several other popular television roles including a recurring part in Coronation Street as landlady Nellie Harvey.
- Trevor Bannister died in 2011 aged 76. He had been a popular face on television before Are You Being Served? however the show, and his character of Mr Lucas, the saucy junior menswear sales assistant, made him much sought after. He played twins Ken and Keith Willets in Crossroads, had three different roles in Coronation Street and became a regular in sitcom Last of the Summer Wine.
- Frank Thornton died aged 92 in 2013. Best remembered as the pompous, yet attracted to young women, Captain Peacock in the Grace Brothers set show. He also had a long list of comedy credits including working with comedians such as Benny Hill, Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Harry Worth as well as becoming a regular in Last of the Summer Wine.