Are You Being Served?'s Alfie Bass

Tea Time Tidbit for the week of November 21, 2016

Tea Time Tidbit

Alfie Bass as Mr. Goldberg

Alfie Bass, who plays Mr. Goldberg in one of our longest running Afternoon Tea series, Are You Being Served?, is our subject this week. The perpetually furrowed-browed actor was already a popular television personality when he joined Grace Brothers, having brought into the series to replace Mr. Tebbs, played by James Hayter.

Bass’s given name was Abraham Basalinsky, and he was born in 1916 in Bethnal Green in the East End of London to Russian immigrant parents. The youngest of ten children, Bass left school when he was 14 to work, first as a tailor’s apprentice, then as a messenger boy, a shop-window display fitter and a cabinet maker.

Bass began his theatre career in the 1930s, building sets at the Unity Theatre in London where in 1939 he made his stage debut appeared in a play about trade unionism alongside Paul Robeson. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Bass wanted to join the RAF, but was rejected and instead he worked in an engineering factory, while continuing to work at the Unity. When he was eventually called up, he joined the army as a dispatch rider, couriering orders and messages back and forth between military units. He kept up his acting skills by appearing in wartime film documentaries and after the war returned to the world of theatre.

Tea Time Tidbit

With Bill Frazier in Bootsie and Snudge


By 1948, Bass was acting in Stratford-upon-Avon at what was then the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, performing as a number of Shakespeare’s comedic characters alongside the likes of Claire Bloom, Anthony Quail and Paul Scofield. The 1950s found Bass back in London’s West End, as well as venturing into the world of feature films, where he was the go-to actor for the Cockney characters in such films as The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and A Tale of Two Cities (1958). By the time he was cast in a starring role in Alfie (1968), Bass had also forged out for himself a thriving television career, thanks to two long running series, The Army Game and the follow up to that series Bootsie and Snudge (Bass played Snudge). In 1968, Bass was back in the West End, taking over from Haim Topol the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

Bass must have barely paused for breath in the 1970s and ‘80s, he worked so much. In fact the UK-based author and poet Terence Pettigrew once said “there was a time when no British film seemed complete without Alfie Bass popping up in some guise of other. Basically playing the same character, he has hopped chirpily from drama to comedy and into costume pieces and back like an energized sparrow”.

Sadly, Bass died suddenly of a heart attack in the summer of 1987, leaving behind his wife Beryl and two children.

You can see Bass as Mr. Goldberg, in our current airings of Are You Being Served?, Monday through Friday at 2pm on Afternoon Tea.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

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