John Inman born 28 June 1935 (d. 2007)
Frederick John Inman was an English actor who was best known for his role as Mr Humphries in the British sitcom Are You Being Served? in the 1970s and 1980s. Inman was also well known in the United Kingdom as a pantomime dame.
Inman was born in 1935 in Preston, Lancashire, and was a cousin of actress Josephine Tewson. 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. 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 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. 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 and former partner Barry Howard.
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 scriptwriters David Croft and 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 catch phrase, 'I'm free!', which soon entered popular culture. Although the catch phrase and the character were popular, Inman came under attack by some gay rights groups for what they perceived to be his stereotypical portrayal of a homosexual. However, both Inman and David Croft stated that the character was 'just a mother's boy' and his sexual orientation was never explicitly stated. Yeah, right.
Are You Being Served? ran for ten series until it finished in 1985. At its height, in the late 1970s, it regularly attracted British audiences of up to 20 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. From 1980 to 1981, Inman also played Mr Humphries in the Australian version of Are You Being Served?, set in a store named Bone Brothers to avoid problems with a real business named Grace Brothers. The series also became popular in the United States, where Inman became a gay cultural icon.
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'; in 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 a male secretary. 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.
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, which ran for twelve episodes from 1992 and 1993. In 1999, he appeared in a French & Saunders Christmas special.
After the end of Are You Being Served?, Inman became one of the nation's best known pantomime dames and appeared in over 40 pantomime productions across the country. In 2004, Inman made additional television appearances in Doctors and Revolver.
He lived in a mews house in Little Venice for 30 years. On 23 December 2005, Inman entered in a civil partnership at Westminster Register Office with his partner of 35 years, Ron Lynch.
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. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium after a funeral on the 23 March 2007.
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