Monday, July 6, 2009

Mrs Slocombe’s pussy - more than just 9 lives!

Vale Mollie Sugden who left us at the respectable age of 86 last week. Hearing about it on the radio news I commented on her passing and my daughter asked ‘how come everyone is dying?’ An impression she had gained from the reported deaths of Farah, Michael, Karl Malden and Mollie within a few short days more than from the 140 or so casualties in rioting Xinjiang which have received rather less coverage.


I don’t know how many members of the show business world pass on in a typical week but it does seem like it’s been a bit of a bonanza for the eulogy writers lately! Of course these 4 celebs are not all from the deep end of the talent pool. It seems universally acknowledged that MJ was the ‘King’ of Pop and that Mr Malden put a few high quality performances on celluloid before paddling in the shallows with American Express and The Streets of San Francisco. Ms Fawcett seems to have been considered a ‘nice person’ who endured a lot of suffering with cancer but I can’t actually recall ever seeing her do any (good) acting.


Now, Mollie Sugden is a different phenomenon altogether. Graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama she may have been, but her cult status rested firmly and solely on her creation of Mrs Slocombe in "Are You Being Served?"



This joyously contrived, formulaic, smutty tour de force of stock characters enjoyed an initial seven year run and then countless re-runs and brought John Inman and Mollie Sugden adulation of the sort today enjoyed by the Little Britain artistes. Which is fitting as they further immortalised Mollie in a series of sketches where David Walliams (in drag) insists loudly in public on every possible occasion that she was Mollie Sugden’s bridesmaid. I believe there is an episode in which Mollie herself contradicts this. I will have to Google it.


Mrs Slocombe’s haughty demeanour, frequently fraying to expose some North Country vulgarity, her hair, bigger and more wisteria coloured than Dame Edna’s at the time, and her undying solicitousness for her ‘pussy’ were all hallmarks of the ultimate pantomime dame. But, as a real woman, rejoicing in projecting a self parodying persona, she won genuine affection from audiences.


Her ‘pussy’ will of course remain immortal – it is already enshrined in the title of Stuart Jeffries’ excellent book of reminiscences about British telly between the 60s and the 90s. Its plight, whether ‘frozen solid’, ‘soaking wet’ or ‘tearing at the walls’ because she is late home, will be referred to for years to come. See http://tvblips.dailyradar.com/video/mrs_slocombe_s_pussy/ for a compilation.

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