Episode Reviews Part 7
The final AYBS? Christmas episode, featuring a malfunctioning display, the staff's greed, musical numbers and outlandish costumes. Nothing out of the ordinary, really….
First episode with the copyright date in Roman numerals.
- The "Sexual Relations Act" referred to by Mrs. Slocombe was actually the Sex Discrimination Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1975.
- Only AYBS? episode to mention Alabama, the home of the Virtual Video Vault ("My heartstrings are tangled around Alabamy", from "Mammy").
- Captain Peacock's fluting at the beginning of the episode is reminiscent of the pilot.
- Stafford Cripps
- 1940s British statesman/diplomat.
- Leslie Hore-Belisha
- British Minister of Transport, who, in 1934, introduced the Belisha beacon to mark pedestrian crossings.
During the "Mammy" rehearsal scene, the music begins playing before the phonograph needle touches the record.
The CDU ("Christmas Display Unit!"), one of the most dangerous Grace Brothers displays ever, as it was the only one to cause harm (at least two customers were injured).
- (Puzzling Bit) Oddly enough, there are very few Christmas decorations in "The Father Christmas Affair" other than a small artificial Christmas tree in front of the ladies'.
- Mr. Grainger's getting his tie caught in the till.
- Mr. Humphries' reaction to the CDU's disrobing.
- Mr. Lucas' playing the "Mammy" record at about 8 1/3 rpm to help Mr. Grainger master the complex dance routine.
- The Father Christmas candidates, including Mr. Lucas in a leftover costume from the Snow White display and Mr. Humphries as "Merry Stripmas".
- (Shocking Bit) Mr. Grainger's arrival in black greasepaint.
Racism and Censorship:
- Mr. Rumbold: Where have you been, Mr. Humphries?
Mr. Humphries: Where no other man has ever been before.
Mrs. Slocombe: Have you been in the ladies' powder room?
- The immortal words of the CDU: "Ho, ho, ho, little boy, have I got a surprise for you!"
- Miss Brahms: Isn't [vitamin E] supposed to make you be sexy?
Mr. Humphries: Is it? Hang on a minute…(swallows pill, waits for results)…Nothing yet.
- (Mr. Grainger joins the rest of the staff in the canteen.)
Miss Brahms: Did you get your minute steak?
Mr. Grainger: No, they said it would take ten minutes, so I settled for spaghetti bolognese, then I'm having some junket.
Mr. Humphries: Mr. Lucas, get in touch with the dry-cleaning department; tell them to stay open late.
Mr. Grainger (struggling with his spaghetti): I'm very fond of this, you know. Yes, Mrs. Grainger and I first had it in Sorrento.
Mr. Lucas: Did you ever finish it?
- Mr. Grainger (trying to remember the words to "Mammy"): "Mammy! Mammy!"…I'm not very clear after that.
- Captain Peacock (seeing Mr. Humphries dressed as "Merry Stripmas"): Now I've seen everything.
Mr. Humphries: I hope not!
The sight of Mr. Grainger in blackface in "The Father Christmas Affair" is understandably upsetting to many viewers, and the original ending of this episode, in which a black child selects Mr. Grainger, greasepaint and all, as the ideal Father Christmas, may seem positively bizarre to some.
Some public television stations air an edited version of "The Father Christmas Affair", in which Young Mr. Grace chooses Mrs. Slocombe to play Father Christmas. Mr. Grainger's closing line has been cut out, and an earlier scene of Mrs. Slocombe saying "Ho, ho, ho, little boy, have I got a surprise for you!" to Young Mr. Grace has been inserted in its place. (Thanks to James Han for posting this information at Jeff Rice's Canteen.)
Other than the incongruous ending, a tidy Christmas treat.
Series Five (1977)
The 1977 series was the last season of AYBS?'s classic era and the last featuring the original sales staff (Arthur Brough [Mr. Grainger] sadly passed away in 1978). Four of the 1977 episodes ("Mrs. Slocombe Expects", "A Change Is as Good as a Rest", "Founder's Day", and "The Old Order Changes") have been released on home video (VHS).
A blessed event for the Slocombe household: Tiddles gives birth. As usual, the rest of the department is hilariously caught up in the excitement/confusion.
- Tiddles again gives birth in the 1983 episode "Lost and Found".
- Name of Tiddles' toy cat: Hector.
- The staff's late arrival for an early-morning meeting after being forced to stand outside in the snow for 20 minutes because of Rumbold's failure to notify security.
- One of Grace Brothers' most desperate sales ploys (or, if you prefer Mrs. Slocombe's description, "daftest") has the staff posing as customers making complimentary remarks about the goods as real customers look on. Some of the pretend remarks "offered" for Rumbold's consideration:
- "Damn! There's none left!"
- "Are we going to have much more of that, Mr. Lucas?"
- An all-time classic scene: Mrs. Slocombe's telling Miss Brahms that her cat is expecting, as the rest of the staff overhear their conversation and assume Mrs. Slocombe is the one expecting. (Mrs. Slocombe to a curious Mr. Humphries: "I can find good homes for six. If there are any more than that, they'll have to be drowned in a bucket.")
- Rumbold's awful punning ("au purr girl", "puss-ability", etc.) as her turns down Mrs. Slocombe's request to "give [her] pussy facilities for her confinement."
- Miss Brahms' performance as an upper-class customer—dressing for the part too well, she prompts this Peacock admonishment: "Miss Brahms, you are supposed to be buying, not selling." She is then called upon to express her admiration of the bras on display:
"Her Ladyship": Yes, 'ow much is they?
Mrs. Slocombe: They is 4.95.
- Grainger and Humphries aren't much more successful in their roles as customers. After Mr. Grainger drives a customer away who is offended by Grace Brothers' "cruelty" to the aged, Mr. Humphries' "I wish I could afford that" mantra backfires with an especially friendly and generous customer ("I don't think I could afford that").
- Young Mr. Grace proving he can still take an inside leg.
With Mr. Harman's help, Mrs. Slocombe smuggles Tiddles into the department's fitting room. Peacock finds the newborns there, and his stern demeanor melts in the face of cute baby animals (that does it every time). Each staff member gets one of the kittens (who seem to be awfully big to have just been born); Rumbold is left holding the pajama case used by the mother.
- Mr. Harman: I like to get out of bed before Mrs. Harman wakes; she don't look her best first thing in the morning. Come to think of it, she don't look so hot last thing at night.
- Mr. Humphries, after coming in from the cold: I can't feel any of my extremities, and it's unusual for me.
- Mrs. Slocombe, also in from the cold: The central heating broke down. I had to light the oven and hold my pussy in front of it [one of the quintessential pussy jokes].
- Grainger: My-my-my teeth won't stop chattering.
Humphries: Well, put them in your pocket.
- Mrs. Slocombe, storming out of Rumbold's office: Men!
Humphries: Well, don't look at me!
- Peacock, to Humphries: Choose something out of the stockroom—the gent's stockroom, Mr. Humphries.
- Peacock, upon seeing Mr. Humphries in his motorcycle leathers and helmet: The face eludes me but I recognize the walk.
- Young Mr. Grace, after a typical Lucas remark: That boy's an idiot, isn't he?
Clever storyline, although the ending is a bit sentimental.
This episode could be called "Ladies' and Men's Wear in Toyland", as the staff are temporarily assigned to the toy department.
In the boardroom scene, the shadow of a boom microphone can be seen moving across the table.
- The toy department looks suspiciously like a re-dress of the ladies' and men's department.
- Slocombian milestone(?)—"weak as water!" and "and I am unanimous in that!" in the same scene.
- The beginning date of Mr. Grainger's Grace Brothers tenure is given as 1926, contradicting the earlier "The Clock" episode (1937).
For some reason, the CBS/Fox home video version of "A Change Is as Good as a Rest" has portions of two scenes edited out:
Best Bits and Top Toys
- The full-length version has Peacock demonstrating the Annie the Air Hostess doll, after which Lucas grabs the doll and checks to see if she is wearing knickers. (In both versions Peacock can be seen holding the air hostess doll during the end credits.) This bit occurs just before the "Playtime Penny-Funtime Freddy" bit.
- Also in the long version, the scene of the staff meeting in Rumbold's office ends with Harman barging in to show them the results of an attack by a customer's bulldog: a decapitated mechanical dog (Billy the Bassett) and considerable damage to the seat of Harman's pants. This is followed by the scene with the Native American costume customer.
- The signing-in book's replacement by the "fairy-time" book.
- The Wibbly-Wobbly playground, with Wobbly slide, Wobbly rocker, Wobbly roundabout, Wobbly swing, and fast friends Charlie and Roger Wibbly-Wobbly. (One wishes he/she had a Wibbly-Wobbly set as a child.)
- Roger Wibbly-Wobbly's emerging from Mr. Humphries' top pocket in a later scene.
- Billy the Bassett's getting personal with Daisy the Dachshund (Humphries: "Very realistic, isn't it?").
- Grace Brothers' answer to Barbie and Ken, Playtime Penny and Funtime Freddy.
- Humphries and Lucas selling a child's Native American costume as if they were selling a suit back in Men's Wear.
- Grainger's enthusiasm for selling model trains.
After initially complaining about having to switch departments, the staff become so enamored with the toy department that they only reluctantly go back to their old trouser and bra displays.
- Peacock: Perhaps it's a takeover by the army and navy.
Humphries (with enthusiasm): Oh, that would be nice!
- Humphries (to the newly rehired Grainger): We debag the juniors on their first day.
- Peacock (after demonstrating an unimpressive wind-up bear): I understand it's very exciting when you're two.
- Miss Brahms: Why not "one to three" [instead of "for ages three and under"]?
Peacock: We prefer to call them three and under.
Lucas: That's so it includes those at naught.
- Mrs. Slocombe (watching the TV Robot in action): Oh, look, it's Star Trek!
Lucas: I bet it's a repeat.
- Mrs. Slocombe, after seeing a plethora of mechanical dogs: Is there no demand for mechanical pussies?
Peacock: I'm told people prefer the real thing.
- Humphries (answering the phone): "Toddlers' Wear?"
- Rumbold: I'm having trouble getting through to Mr. Grace.
Peacock: Why? Is his telephone out of order?
Rumbold: No, his brain.
A classic episode—sheer delight for children of all ages.
(shouldn't it be "Founders' Day"?)
A uniquely British take on This Is Your Life, as the staff stage their own version, "Here Is Your Department," in honor of Young Mr. Grace's 80th birthday.
First appearance of Mr. Humphries' mother. [On some public television broadcasts of this episode, the film of Mrs. Humphries seems so faded as to be in black-and-white. The CBS/Fox home video version, however, has a bit more color.]
- In this episode we learn Mrs. Slocombe's maiden name (Yiddell) and her true year of birth (1926).
- The actual name of the store is Grace Brothers Limited (as Mr. Harman insists to Mr. Lucas).
- Folkestone, Mr. Grainger's putative birthplace (Grainger to Lucas: "It was really Eastbourne, does it matter?"), was actually the home of Arthur Brough's repertory company for 40 years.
- The front cover of the scrapbook Lucas holds during "Here Is Your Department" actually reads "This Is Your Department."
Superimposing the actors' faces onto old photographs to create "childhood" pictures. (At least the studio audience seemed to enjoy this gimmick.)
Young Mr. Grace's Biographical Bits:
- Born in 1897 to Henry and Ethel Grace. (When Old Mr. Grace finally appears in the 1981 series, we learn his name is also Henry. Young Mr. Grace's first name was never mentioned in AYBS?'s 13 years.)
- Worked as an apprentice haddock filleter instead of following the family's traditional occupation of cobbler (leather worker).
- Inherited Grace Brothers Limited in 1926, the year Ernest Grainger joined the firm and the year Rachel Yiddell (later Mrs. Betty Slocombe) was born.
- "Roll Call" in Rumbold's office (Mrs. Slocombe: "Well, if I'm here, I must be present.")
- The "French underwear" customer, who requests a receipt for income tax purposes (she uses the underwear for business).
- The two fur coats customer: Miss Brahms and Mrs. Slocombe assume the roles of his mistress and wife, clashing violently with each other and with the customer.
- Mr. Humphries' kosher lunch.
- Before "Here Is Your Department" begins, Harman, learning Lucas' tape recorder is on, grabs the microphone and shouts, "I, Mr. Harman of the Maintenance Department, worship that man!"
- Also during "Here Is Your Department," each staff member embraces Young Mr. Grace in turn, except Mr. Humphries ("I won't kiss you; I've got a bit of a cold.")
- The tinned pilchards Young Mr. Grace made for the troops in World War II are still being served in the store's canteen 30 years later.
- Mrs. Slocombe: In the trade we call it "Junoesque."
- Mr. Harman: I couldn't help overhearing your conversation, seeing as I've been listening to every word.
- Young Mr. Grace (about the "master of the snug fit"): It's the one with the funny walk.
- Lucas (referring to the secretarial "applicant"): This girl is just a decoy, brought here for one reason only.
- Lucas: For eight long years you tried your hand at this, that, and quite a bit of the other.
- Rumbold (realizing he was left out of the tribute to YMG): What about me?
YMG: Well, I expect you were too boring.
Funny yet somewhat odd episode revealing several facts about such key characters as Young Mr. Grace and Mrs. Slocombe.
Just as the staff has recovered from a day in the toy department, another bizarre sales gimmick produces upheaval in Ladies' and Men's wear as the staff are now required to don "mod" clothing and adopt a more casual approach to serving customers, not to mention the horror of addressing fellow staff members by their first names.
"In Name Only"
- Miss Brahms has been with Grace Brothers for 4 years.
- Captain Peacock has been with the firm for over 20 years.
- Mr. Lucas' first name is revealed to be Dick, but in the 1974 episode "The Clock", it was given as James ("Dick" was probably more useful to writers fond of double-entendres). It is hard to believe that Miss Brahms doesn't even know the first name of a co-worker she has dated.
- Mr. Rumbold calls Mr. Harman "Harry". In the 1983 episode "Monkey Business", Rumbold also addresses Harman as "Harry", but Harman tells the rest of the staff his first name is actually Beverley.
This episode's featured display could be called the YMGDU: an automaton replica of Young Mr. Grace that repeats the phrase "Welcome to my store!" As is usually the case with Grace Brothers displays, this one is faulty: when it raises its hat, the head comes off with it.
- When Miss Brahms exceeds the store's frills quota for juniors, Mrs. Slocombe angrily orders her to cut 4 of the 6 frills off (Mrs. Slocombe hadn't been allowed any frills at all until she was 30.) When the incident is reported to Rumbold, he gets the details slightly wrong (he thinks Mrs. Slocombe hadn't had as many thrills as Miss Brahms until she was 30).
- Young Mr. Grace arriving in Western garb and trying out American slang ("You've all done very swell!")
- The staff's declaring their "friendship" for each other (Mrs. Slocombe snarls to Miss Brahms, "I like you, Shirley.")
- The staff's mod clothes, including Mr. Humphries' lime green glitter/lamé suit and "I'm Free!" t-shirt; and Captain Peacock's groovy Afro.
- The rock music playing in the store (actually pretty nifty—who was that group?)
- Mrs. Slocombe's ambush on the tan pantyhose customer ("I really do like you, Cynthia!")
After returning from a trip to Beijing, Young Mr. Grace decides to try the Maoist approach to selling after the American approach doesn't work out.
- Peacock (scolding Mrs. Slocombe for not following Grace Brothers' standard procedure): Mrs. Slocombe, go back to your counter and stand behind it. When I happen to look in your direction, raise your hand a little. If I nod, say "Captain Peacock, are you free?" If I am, I will beckon, and you may then approach me—that is the correct procedure.
- Humphries (reporting to Lucas what his doctor had told him): "Two out of 10 people are just like you…There's a lot of it about."
- Mrs. Slocombe: Miss Brahms, I will not have you knocking my knickers!
Miss Brahms: And I'm not too keen on you nicking my knockers!
- Peacock: I do not want to see fallen hairs on your collar again.
Lucas: No, sir. If I feel it falling, I'll jump out of the way.
- Peacock: You were off the floor for 25 minutes in Accounts.
Humphries: It's that ledger clerk in Sanctions; he will insist on telling me about Ramadan.
- Humphries (explaining to Peacock why a customer thought he was wearing too much after-shave): It's my new skin tightener…You should see the commercial they do for it: it shows a prune being turned back into a plum.
Peacock: It has been my experience after 30 years in the distributive trades that customers place more trust in an honest prune than in someone desperately trying to look like Donny Osmond!
- Humphries (to Lucas after the above dressing-down from Peacock): I've never been spoken to like that in the whole of my life…I quite enjoyed it!
- Peacock: Peace, man.
Afroed customer: Love!
Peacock: That as well.
"The Old Order Changes" has everything—costumes, wit, tacky displays—and deftly explores each character's reaction to an unusual situation.
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©1999 Emily Jackson