John Inman has died at the age of 71:
"John was known for his comedy plays and farces which were enjoyed from London's West End throughout the country and as far as Australia, Canada and the USA." Inman's Are You Being Served? co-star Wendy Richard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "John was one of the wittiest and most inventive actors I've ever worked with. "He was a brilliant, brilliant pantomime dame and he was a very good all-round actor, really. He was a true professional."
There are currently ten pages or so of tributes left by BBC readers, so he was certainly well loved. However, Alex Needham asks in the Guardian's TV and Radio blog if Inman was really that good a gay icon:
Mr Humphries undoubtedly perpetuated all the stereotypes of what gays (like me) are supposed to be. Mr Humphries is mincing and predatory, simultaneously pathetic - he lives with his mother - and a source of some fear (at the end of Are You Being Served the song he's trapped the customer in the changing room with goes: "I'm sorry that this fitting room is rather dark and chilly/Just try these on and mind that zip, in case you catch your..." "Sportswear!"). The writers Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft did their best to post-rationalise Humphries in the face of justifiable anger by gay activists, by saying that Humphries was never meant to be gay but just a mother's boy (as if). I seem to remember that Inman also cited the BBC as once ordering Croft to "get rid of the poof", to which Croft replied "if the poof goes, I go" - perhaps he was making the argument that Mr Humphries was at least improving gay visibility. Although was this the kind of representation the still-fledgling gay rights movement could have done without?
There's an interesting discussion going on in the comments as to what else Inman could possibly have done and if he is a better role model than the "trully [sic] vile" Graham Norton.
Time for the Beeb to dust off that awful Are You Being Served? movie...