Thursday, June 28, 2018

Born Today In 1935, Actor John Inman Known for Playing Mr. Humphries On 'Are You Being Served?'

Frederick John Inman was born today, June 28, in 1935.  He was known as John Inman, an English actor and singer best known for his role as Mr. Humphries in the television show, Are You Being Served? He was also well known character actor in the United Kingdom as a pantomime dame.

Born in 1935, he made his West End debut in the 1960s, and his television debut in an episode of A Slight Case of ... entitled "The Enemy Within" in 1965, next appearing in an episode of Two in Clover in 1970. After a successful pilot of Are You Being Served?, Inman played the campy Mr. Humphries in the sitcom from 1972 to 1985. This role made him a household name and won him awards, including BBC TV Personality of the Year.

Inman was born in Preston, Lancashire. At the age of 12, Inman moved with his parents to Blackpool where his mother ran a boarding house, while his father owned a hairdressing business. As a child, he enjoyed dressmaking. He was educated at Claridge House in Preston, and then a secondary modern. Inman always wanted to be an actor, and his parents paid for him to have elocution lessons at the local church hall. At the age of 13 he made his stage debut in the Pavilion on Blackpool's South Pier, in a melodrama entitled Freda. Aged 15, he took a job at the pier, making tea, clearing up and playing parts in plays.

After leaving school, Inman worked for 2 years at Fox's, a gentlemen's outfitters in Blackpool, specialising in window dressing. Aged 17, he moved to London to join retailer Austin Reed in Regent Street. Four years later, he left Austin Reed to become a scenic artist with Kenneth Kendall's touring company at a theatre in Crewe, so that he could earn his Equity Card, required at the time for professional actors.

Inman made his West End debut in the 1960s when he appeared in Ann Veronica at the Cambridge Theatre. He also played in Salad Days at the Windmill Theatre in 1975, and as Lord Fancourt Babberley in Charley's Aunt at the Adelphi Theatre in 1979. He also played in many summer shows, and established himself as a dame in pantomime, appearing regularly as one of the two ugly sisters alongside comedian Barry Howard. His other stage appearances included his own show Fancy Free and Pyjama Tops, My Fat Friend and Bedside Manners

Inman played the campy Mr. Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries and his earlier career in the clothes retail business was good preparation for this role in a menswear department. Inman developed a characteristic limp-wristed mincing walk, and a high-pitched catchphrase, "I'm free!," which soon entered popular culture. 

Inman reported that four or five members of the group Campaign for Homosexual Equality picketed one of his shows in protest as they believed his persona did not help their cause. Inman said that "they thought I was over exaggerating the gay character. But I don't think I do. In fact there are people far more camp than Mr. Humphries walking around this country. Anyway, I know for a fact that an enormous number of viewers like Mr. Humphries and don't really care whether he's camp or not. So far from doing harm to the homosexual image, I feel I might be doing some good."

Both Inman and David Croft stated that the character was "just a mother's boy," and that his sexual orientation was never explicitly stated. Inman continued to play in live shows after his success as Mr. Humphries, and began to incorporate camp mannerisms to those performances too, once saying "Even when I'm not playing Mr. Humphries, say at a summer season, I camp it up a bit. If I don't the audience are disappointed."

Are You Being Served? ran for 10 series until 1985. At its height, in the mid to late 1970s, it regularly attracted British audiences of up to 22 million viewers. The series also became popular in the United States, where Inman became a gay cultural icon. Once, in San Francisco, a passing cyclist spotted Inman and fell off his bicycle in surprise, crying "Mr. Humphries, I love you!"

From 1980 to 1981, Inman also played Mr. Humphries in the Australian version of Are You Being Served?, the only cast member of the original Are You Being Served? series to do so.

He lived in a mews house in Little Venice for 30 years. On December 23, 2005, Inman entered into a civil partnership at Westminster Register Office with his partner of 33 years, Ron Lynch (pictured at right with Inman).

Inman suffered from poor health in his later years. He was hospitalized with bronchitis in 1993, and collapsed on stage in 1995. He was admitted to Paddington's St Mary's Hospital in 2001 after suffering breathing difficulties and spent three days in intensive care.

In December 2004, Inman was forced to cancel an appearance in a pantomime as he was reportedly suffering from a hepatitis A infection, allegedly contracted from contaminated food. Following this, he never worked again and it was claimed that he suffered complications from this infection for the rest of his life.

Inman died early in the morning of March 8, 2007, at age 71, at St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London, of the infection.


Dov said...

I would always laugh a lot watching "Are you being Served?" because of John Inman and Mollie Sugden as Mrs. Slocombe They were a hoot!

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