Are You Being Served?

"Happy Christmas, Mr. Grainger"

The Players:

Young Mr. Grace                   Mr. Cuthbert Rumbold
Cpt. Stephen Peacock             Mr. Ernest Grainger
Mr. Percival Tebbs                 Mrs. Betty Slocombe
Mr. W.C. Humphries              Mr. Dick Lucas
Miss Shirley Brahms               Mr. Mash
Miss Bakewell                        Nurse
Woman Customer

Notes for non-British readers:a zebra (pronounced "zebb-ra") is alternately an African beast and a striped pedestrian-crossing area in the road;
Richard Attenborough is the host of TV wildlife specials.

Scene 1

The Salesfloor

Several customers are still shopping as the closing bell rings.  The floorwalker consults his watch.

Peacock:    Ah.  The store is closing, ladies and gentlemen.  We will be
                  open again tomorrow, Christmas Eve, until two o'clock.
                  Thank you for shopping at Grace Brothers.  And happy holidays,
                  of course.  Heh-heh.

The customers move toward the lifts. At the Ladies' counter, Mrs. Slocombe — her hair is green — is handing a bag to a middle-aged woman

Slocombe:     Thank you for your custom, madam.  And if your aunt doesn't care
                      for the sweater, she can always bring it back for an exchange.

Customer:     Oh, good.  I'm afraid she's something of a perfectionist.

Slocombe:     Oh, yes, I know the type.

Customer:     You can just imagine what the holidays do to her!  Just this
                      morning, she said "Christmas is going to kill me this year!"

Slocombe:    Well then I should put a little card on the parcel that says "Open me

The woman nods in consideration and heads for the lift.

Slocombe:    Oh!  Thank goodness this day is over.  My feet are killing me.

Brahms:       Mine, and all, but I don't care.  I made enough commission today to
                    buy one o' them electric foot massagers.

Slocombe:    Oh, I'm not complainin' about the commission, just about me

Slocombe sits down on a chair and takes her shoes off as Peacock comes over to the counter

Peacock:     Well done, Mrs. Slocombe.  You and Miss Brahms did yeoman's
                    work today.

Slocombe:   (rubbing her feet) The yeoman can ‘ave it!

Peacock:     All the same, well done.  Our sales figures are running far ahead of
                   last year.

Brahms:      Can we stay home tomorrow, then?

Peacock:     Of course not.  As you well know, Miss Brahms, for whatever
                    reason, many people wait until the last minute to do their holiday
                    shopping.  And it is our job to be here to serve them.

Slocombe:  Oh, I'd like to serve them — to the lions.

Peacock:     Ahem.  At any rate, I must ask you ladies to stay behind a moment,
                   if you please.  (starts to leave)

Slocombe:   Cpt. Peacock!  It has been a long, debilitatious day, and I am
                    unanimous in that!  Whatever business there is can wait until

Peacock:      Hardly, Mrs. Slocombe.  It's time to choose up for staff gifts.

Brahms:       Ooh, that'll be fun.  Come along, Mrs. Slocombe.

Peacock:      Yes.  It will only take a moment, so please join us when you're free.

Slocombe:    Ugh.  Thank goodness there's only one more day of shoppin' left.
                    This last week has been murder on my pussy!  By the time I get
                    home, I've barely enough energy to stroke the poor old thing.

Brahms nods in sympathy

Men's Counter

Humphries and Lucas are consulting their salesbooks

Humphries:   Whew!  It gets worse every year.

Lucas:         Aye, what a mob! Everybody rushin' about to spend money they
                     don't have, on presents they're not sure about, for people they don't
                     like.  (nods toward Humphries' salesbook) You got a bit of it today,
                     I noticed.

Humphries:   My sensibilities revolt at the crass commercialism of Christmas, Mr.
                     Lucas.  But I'm glad some of it's comin' my way.  (nods toward
                     Lucas' salesbook) You made a few sales yourself today.

Lucas:          Hah.  It was less than meets the eye. Just like it's been all month:
                    A belt here, a handkerchief there. You and Grainger were gettin' the
                    big spenders — I was gettin' the stocking stuffers.

Humphries:  Didn't I see your last customer trying on that big gold watch that sells
                    for £250?

Lucas:        Yes, but he said it made his hands look too small.

Humphries:  Hmmm.  For that price you could have thrown in a couple pairs of

Lucas:        I'll remember that next time.

Humphries puts his salesbook into a drawer and takes out the counter dust covers

Humphries:  So tell me, how are your plans working out for tomorrow?

Lucas:          (putting salesbook away and helping with the dust covers) Oh, very
                    well, indeed!  After the party, I'm takin' Miss Brahms to that holiday
                    show that the prince is throwin' this year.  And after that, who
                    knows?  Heh-heh.

Humphries:  Well, don't count your presents until they're unwrapped.

Lucas:          Just as you say, Mr. Humphries.  So what are your plans, then?

Humphries:  Well, every Christmas Eve I get together with a few of my old mates
                     from St. Swithin's Mixed Boys Choir.  It's sort of a reunion, you
                     see.  We like to get together for a sing-song and a bit of Christmas

Lucas:           Hmmm.  Don't you lot eat anything, as well?

Humphries:  Tsk!  It's too close to Christmas to be cheeky, Mr. Lucas.  You
                    don't want to look into your Christmas stocking.

Lucas:          Will you ask Father Christmas to bring me a lump of coal, then?

Humphries:  Well, you've got the "lump" bit right.

Grainger comes over

Grainger:     Mr. Humphries, Mr. Lucas, are you free?

Humphries and Lucas look at Grainger, at each other, then left, then right, then back at Grainger

Both:          We're free.

Grainger:     Oh, good.  I've just been talking with Cpt. Peacock, and he told me
                    our seasonal sales figures are very good indeed, especially compared
                    to last year.  And he added that we may expect a substantial bonus!

Humphries:  Well done, Mr. Grainger.

Lucas:        Yes, well done. Will we all be gettin' the same bonus, then?

Grainger:     Er, no, it will be based on individual sales, of course.

Humphries:  Oh, good.  It's bound to be a vast improvement over last year.

Lucas:        Or, in my case, half-vast.

Grainger:     Hmpf.  Er, Cpt. Peacock also asked me to remind you to kindly stay
                    behind a moment.

Humphries:  Yes, for the gift choose-up.  I've just got the slips ready, Mr.
                    Grainger, with everyone's name written on them.  (produces several
                    slips of paper from his pocket)

Grainger:     Oh, good.

Lucas:        Cor, they could have given us more time to shop, couldn't they?  I
                    mean, we have to exchange them at the party tomorrow.

Grainger:     Yes, well, that can't be helped.  (sighs) In any event, I'm afraid I
                    shan't be going to the party tomorrow.

Humphries:  Oh, dear.  Why not, Mr. Grainger?

Grainger:     Well, my wife always insists we spend Christmas with her sister's
                    family in St. Albans.  But it seems everybody will be traveling
                    tomorrow, and we've only been able to book on the 2:20 train.

Humphries:   Tsk.  And the party starts at two.

Lucas:         Oh, well.  I'm sure you'll have a good time in St. Albans, once you
                     get there.

Grainger:       I rather doubt it.  My wife's sister is a nettling chatterbox, and after
                     a few hours listening to her, I get a crick in my neck from all that
                     nodding.  And her husband always drinks too much and spends all
                     evening at the piano.

Lucas:           Ah.  Leading the sing-song?

Grainger:      No, passed out.  And my two nephews always start arguing.

Humphries:  Well, at least that could be interesting.  What do they argue about?

Grainger:      Chartered accountancy.  (sighs)  Just one year I'd like to spend
                    Christmas with Mrs. Grainger.  And perhaps some people I don't

Rumbold strides out, wearing his coat and hat, tying on his muffler

Rumbold:     Ah!  I thought you'd all be gone by now.

Lucas:        We've stayed behind to choose up gifts for the Christmas party.

Humphries:  Yes, and we couldn't start without you, Mr. Rumbold.

Rumbold:     (smugly) Ah.  Because of my executive abilities.

Humphries:   No, because of your executive bowler.  (removes Rumbold's hat
                     and dumps slips of paper into it)  We're ready, Cpt. Peacock!

Rumbold frowns.  Peacock and the ladies join the others at the Men's counter

Slocombe:    Next year, let's not wait ‘til the last minute to do this.  Me feet have
                    been through enough today.

Lucas:         Yes, you want to be in top form for your traditional cancan at the
                    Christmas party tomorrow, Mrs. Slocombe.

Slocombe:   If you are inferring to last year's Christmas party, Mr. Lucas, it was
                    not a cancan, it was a tango.

Lucas:        Not after your third gin and tonic, it wasn't.

Slocombe glares at Lucas

Brahms:    Why's the Christmas party so flamin' close to Christmas this year,

Rumbold:  (frowns) To answer your rather inelegant query, Miss Brahms, that
                  was explained in my interdepartmental memo of 3 December, which
                  was prominently posted on the notice board.

Peacock:     Indeed it was.  It stated that in view—

Rumbold:    (interrupts) Ahem!  To reiterate, in view of previous Christmas
                    parties which were deemed overly long and, shall we say, rather
                    indecorous, it was decided -- at Board Room level (looks up) -- that
                    holding it on Christmas Eve would encourage people to stay only
                    briefly, as most of us have other plans later on, with family, and so

Peacock:      That's correct.  And, if I understood your memo correctly, sir,
                    making it an afternoon affair is an effort to encourage more, shall we
                    say, moderate behavior.

Brahms:      Oh, that's very reassuring.  (looks knowingly at Peacock) Will there
                   be blow-ticklers this year, Mr. Rumbold?

Rumbold looks puzzled

Peacock:     (looking uncomfortable) Er, there was no mention of that in the
                    memo, Miss Brahms.  Come along now, let's get this over with.

They begin to choose names from the hat as the scene fades

Onward to Scene 2


(c)1998 John F. Crowley