Keep Calm and Watch British TV: When Colleagues Become Your Family.


Welcome to a new series: “Keep Calm and Watch British TV,” wherein we offer viewing suggestions for every concern, issue, or mood you have!

Today we discuss what to watch when you look around your workplace and discover that you really love your colleagues. This can be a bit of a double-edged blade, as it’s lovely to work with people you love (since we spend a lot of our lives at work) but it’s also a bit unnerving to realize you might be feeling closer to your colleagues than you do to your nearest and dearest. So today we look at a show meant to prove to you that it’s not a problem to enjoy your co-workers–and that situation, in fact, can lead to some very good TV.

One of the great classics of British TV, that shows its characters only AT work, is the long-running sitcom Are You Being Served? Anyone of any age who flipped past their PBS channel in the 1980s or 90s probably looked askance at this outdated-looking show (it aired in the U.K. for ten seasons in the 1970s and early 1980s, but did not show up on American public television until 1987 and were shown quite frequently through the 90s), but if you paused to watch it for just a minute chances were good that you were hooked. Set in the not-as-posh-as-it-aspired-to-be Grace Brothers department store, it featured a cast of truly eccentric colleagues who had to share the same floor while they hawked their wares in the ladies’ and gents’ departments, respectively. Because the show did first air in the 1970s, it was even more concerned with rank and class than a similar Britcom might be today. Each department had their senior salesperson, who got to wait on the (supposedly) richest customers, while the junior salespersons had to content themselves with the smaller sales, and they all had to pay attention when being addressed (or, more likely, ordered around) by the floorwalker, a former military man who insists that his co-workers address him as “Captain Peacock.”

The show was created by Jeremy Lloyd (who had worked in a similar department store himself before becoming a television writer) and David Croft, and stayed on the air for ten seasons (as well as inspiring a movie; remakes in other countries, including Australia; and a spin-off series, featuring the same characters trying to run a hotel together, called Grace and Favour). When you watch enough episodes of this show, particularly the ones from the later seasons, you start to feel that you know all of the characters and have worked with them for the better part of a decade yourself. I could describe all of them, but I’m going to do this instead:

Go forth and watch that episode (the second episode of the first season, titled, so you can get an idea of the show’s subtlety right away, “Dear Sexy Knickers”) and I think you’ll get what I’m saying. Every worker in Grace Bros. sometimes had harsh words for each and every one of their co-workers, but at the end of the day they all ended up knowing more and caring more about one another than you might have thought possible. Then again, waiting on not-as-posh-as-you-might-want-them customers is the sort of thing that’s bound to bring you closer to your colleagues.

If you’re at all bothered when you start to realize you know your co-workers better than some of your family members….Keep Calm and watch Are You Being Served?

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