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MIX, 16-18 April 1980
(Thanks to Anneloes for the translation from the original Dutch!)
" Were you ever to become unemployed, you can always join us," a head of personnel at a big London department store wrote in a letter to Wendy Richards [sic], who plays the sharp assistant of Mrs. Slocombe in Are You Being Served? "We are always willing to make a place for you in the lingerie department."
Apart from the fact that Wendy Richards is not contemplating at all quitting her career as an actress, she knows one thing for sure: getting behind a counter in real life? Never again.
"Before I attended stage school, I worked in a department store for a couple of weeks," she remembers. "And I now know for sure; that is not for me. Besides: the people at the department store agreed, because within a week I was fired."
After that Wendy (who is not married, but is happy to have a steady boyfriend) tried once more to earn her living as a salesperson. This time she lasted for two days.
"That job was even worse than the first one," she says, horrified. "The first time I was in the cosmetics department. That was absolute rubbish. Thankfully I had a good reason to disappear after two days, although they were furious that I left so soon."
But anybody would have done the same. Because precisely after those two days, she got a message that said she could join the stage school after all. "I had tried five times to get into that school," she says. "But every time they turned me down. Well, when you then hear that they want you after all, of course you go.
"What should I have done? I could have said: 'Sorry, but I'm having too much fun selling lipstick?' That would have been crazy. Besides, I didn't want to sell. I didn't want to keep that job."
That clarifies why Wendy Richards will never return behind the counter. Even though she had a rough start in "the trade". She cooperated on an LP, played a few unknown characters, and she had to wait a long time before her name started to appear in the credits. That only happened on Please Sir and On the Buses. These series reached Dutch TV-screens as well.
One of the smaller roles in a series like that was reason enough for David Croft to ask her for Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served? And from that moment, in 1972, she belongs to the small group of English actors who have regular employment.
"I can't complain," she knows. "This series gives me enough money to live and I am far luckier than most actors, who are unemployed all the time." On the other hand it would not be strange if the character of Miss Brahms would bore Wendy Richards terribly after eight years. But nothing is further from the truth.
"I still love playing in this series," she says. "And you shouldn't forget that I only work on Are You Being Served? for a small amount of time per year. We get together eight weeks a year and record all the episodes for the series. That is too short a time to get bored or to get into fights with colleagues. It is quite the opposite. Everyone who plays in Are You Being Served? looks forward to those two months. Because up till now it was good fun every time."
The only downside of such a long running series is that Wendy missed out on other projects. "It happened a couple of times that I went after a choice role, but then they told me: 'Sorry, but we can't take you. Everyone knows you as the girl from the comedy.' " Because that is of course the downside. If you are successful, you are in danger of the public seeing you and the character as one and the same. "If you are told that, it makes you feel angry, but thankfully I do get to play a couple of guest characters. Next to that I do a couple of children's' shows and quizzes [game shows]. All in all it isn't nearly enough to keep working the whole year, but then again... seventy percent of all actors in this country have hardly any work at all."
For how long Are You Being Served? will continue to run, is unknown to Wendy. "I can't predict that," she says. "When Arthur Brough, who played Mister Grainger, died, we all thought that would be it. The series was a whole lot less popular after that. And then James Hayter, who came in after Arthur Brough, became ill as well... But then Alfie Bass joined and all is fine.
"Ah well, you know how it is. If the series ends, and I would really become unemployed, I'll want to take on something else. As long as it is not behind a counter..."