Born in 1935, Inman made his stage debut aged 13. He worked in retail in London as a young adult and after four years left to earn his Equity Card. 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 camp 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. In his later years, Inman became a well known pantomime dame. He died of hepatitis in 2007, aged 71.
Inman was born in 1935 in Preston, Lancashire, and was often said to be a cousin of actress Josephine Tewson, though she has denied the relationship. 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 two 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 made his television debut in the sitcom Two in Clover in 1970. In 1972, he was asked by David Croft to play a part in a Comedy Playhouse pilot called Are You Being Served?. This was a sitcom set in a department store, written by Croft with Jeremy Lloyd, and based on the latter's experiences working at Simpson's in Piccadilly Circus. Playing a minor role with only a few lines, he was soon asked to "camp it up", despite initial reluctance from the BBC to include such a camp character. The pilot was broadcast in September 1972. The broadcast was followed by the five episodes of the first series in early 1973. The first series showing opposite Coronation Street on ITV attracted little attention, but repeats later that year were very successful.
Inman played the camp 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. Inman's portrayal of Mr Humphries won him the BBC TV Personality of the Year in 1976 and he was voted the funniest man on television by TV Times readers.
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.
During the 69-episode, 13-year run of Are You Being Served?, Inman also appeared in the 1977 film of the series, in which the characters visited the fictional Spanish holiday resort of "Costa Plonka"; Odd Man Out, his own sitcom in 1977, playing the owner of a fish and chip shop who inherits half of a rock factory; and Take a Letter, Mr. Jones, a 1981 sitcom where Inman played Graham Jones, who is secretary to Rula Lenska's character Joan Warner. Inman also toured with his own shows, and he released several records, including Are You Being Served, Sir?, which reached number 39 in the UK singles charts. This came from an LP of the same name, and was followed by two further albums: I'm Free in 1977 and With a Bit of Brass in 1978, both were released by DJM Records.
He made a cameo appearance in the film The Tall Guy in 1989, and was one of five of the Are You Being Served? cast to be reunited in character for the sitcom Grace & Favour (titled Are You Being Served? Again! in the United States), which ran for twelve episodes in 1992 and 1993. In 1999, he appeared in a French and Saunders Christmas special. He appeared as Father Chinwag in the 2000 film The Mumbo Jumbo.
John Inman was a proficient golfer, with a handicap of 3. After the end of Are You Being Served?, Inman became one of the nation's best known pantomime dames and appeared in over 40 pantomimes across the United Kingdom. He also toured to Australia to star in a number of productions including Bedside Manners (2003) and a revival of Are You Being Served? (2001) as a stage show at Twelfth Night Theatre, Brisbane. In 2004, Inman made additional television appearances in Doctors and Revolver.
Inman suffered from poor health in his later years. He was hospitalised with bronchitis in 1993, and collapsed on the 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 suffering from a hepatitis A infection, which he had contracted from contaminated food. Following this, he never worked again and he suffered complications from the infection for the rest of his life. Inman died early in the morning of 8 March 2007, aged 71, in St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London, of the infection. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium after a funeral on 23 March 2007.
It was reported in July 2007 that Inman had left nearly his entire estate, including more than £2.8m, to his partner Ron Lynch. The only other portion of his estate given to someone else was a £5,000 bequest to the Entertainment Artistes Benevolent Fund. The Daily Mail newspaper said at the time that Inman's "estate is believed to be the highest profile will of a gay man in a civil partnership since the ceremonies became legal in 2005".
John Inman, a few years ago, came to San Francisco and hosted a High Tea at the Fairmount Hotel where he gave a very witty little talk and then engaged all of us in a Q&A. One politicized person tried to force John to say outright that his "Mr. Humphries" was gay. John would only say, "Mr. Humphries was raised by women." Getting him off the hook of that insistent activist, I asked John one question which made him sparkle with the joke: "Mr. Inman, Would you please answer the phone?" He shifted his face and body and lifted a pretend phone and announced, deeply:" Men's Wear." He brought down the house. What a fine guy he was, and what a good actor. --Jack FritscherFurther Readings:
Are You Being Served?: The Movie (2009)
Actors: Wendy Richard, Frank Thornton, Arthur English, John Inman, Arthur Brough
Directors: Bob Kellett
Studio: Lions Gate
DVD Release Date: January 13, 2009
Run Time: 96 minutes
Amazon: Are You Being Served?: The Movie (2009)
John Inman, Mollie Sugden, Frank Thornton. The classic BBC sitcom takes a shot at the big screen-where it gets a lot cheekier and outrageous! Here, the Grace Brothers department store is being remodeled, and the staff enjoys a dizzying, romp-filled holiday in Costa Plonka. 1977/color/96 min/NR/widescreen.
More Real Life Romances at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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