Are You Being Served? is the latest in a growing number of TV shows to get a ‘reboot.
It’s been confirmed that the classic 70s sitcom is returning with a one-off special - set in 1988 and picking up where the series left off, following the misadventures of the retail staff in the fictional London department store Grace Brothers.
Originally a comedy series by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, it first aired in 1972 and ran for 13 years on BBC One. With 22 million viewers, John Inman became a household name with his “I’m free” catchphrase, while Wendy Richard would later go on to even greater fame, as Pauline Fowler in Eastenders.
The revived show is part of BBC One’s “landmark comedy season,” made to celebrate the TV sitcom format’s 60th anniversary.
The cast for the new incarnation will include Mathew Horne as young Mr. Grace, Jason Watkins as Mr. Humphries, John Challis as Captain Peacock, Niky Wardley as Miss Brahms, and Sherrie Hewson as Mrs. Slocombe. There are also two new characters added - Miss Croft, played by Jorgie Porter, and Kayode Ewumi in the role of Mr. Conway.
But it’s fast becoming easier to list the British comedy series that haven’t been given a makeover, than those that have.
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, starring the irreplaceable and much-missed Leonard Rossiter, was one of the first to get a reboot with Martin Clunes in the title role of the remodelled Reggie Perrin.
Since then we’ve seen Yes, Minister revised as a stage play and Still Open All Hours, a sequel to Open All Hours with David Jason returning as Granville to take over Arkwright’s corner shop, among a slew of others that have popped up on our screens recently.
But it doesn’t stop there. The BBC is planning to remake a number of classic sitcoms to mark 60 years since Hancock’s Half Hour became the first sitcom on British TV.
This follows hot on the heels of Dad’s Army - arguably the greatest British sitcom ever written - which has enjoyed a Hollywood makeover, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bill Nighy and Sir Michael Gambon.
One of the attractions about remakes for TV bosses is the fact they come with a ready-made audience. But the downside is this kind of formula makes for safe, some might say boring, telly.
Sitcoms aren’t the only programmes deemed ripe for new audiences, a glut of former children’s shows have been revived in recent years including The Wombles, Danger Mouse, The Clangers and even the Teletubbies.
But not everyone has been impressed. Speaking last year, the Teletubbies co-creator Anne Wood, who also co-produced In The Night Garden, said she was disappointed that so many old shows were now being remade.
Wood, who was once head of children’s television at Yorkshire Television in Leeds, said: “I’m a bit sad. It comes down to the times we’re in. People feel safer remaking hits of the past rather than investing in something new.”
It’s a moot point and one that Tom Bromley, author of All in the Best Possible Taste: Growing Up Watching Telly in the Eighties, echoes.
He describes a lot of remakes as “cultural comfort food” and claims it’s not always the best programmes that are given a makeover. “It’s interesting that Are You Being Served? is getting remade at the same time that BBC Three, which was set up to create new programmes like Gavin and Stacey, has been moved online,” he says.
The re-imagining of classic TV shows and films taps into that innate human desire to hark back to our childhood when the world was a supposedly simpler place.
Bromley points to the success of the latest Star Wars film The Force Awakens to show how nostalgia can work on both young and older audiences. “One of the clever things they did was bring back characters from the original films because that appealed as much to those people who grew up watching the films the first time around, as to young kids watching today.”
Dad’s Army is another example of a family favourite that is wrapped up in our collective memory. “The original Dad’s Army was a nostalgic look back to the Second World War and the new film harks back to the TV show, which has become a British institution itself, so you end up with a double dose of nostalgia.”
It is, of course, a risky business trying to recapture the past and hell hath no fury like childhood memories scorned, as George Lucas discovered with his inferior Star Wars prequels.
Perhaps, like most good things in life, nostalgia is best enjoyed in smaller measures.