Are You Being Served?'s James Hayter

Tea Time Tidbit for the week of December 19, 2016

Tea Time Tidbit

James Hayter, as Mr. Tebbs

Most of the actors in Are You Being Served? were with the series from beginning to end. The continuity lasted for five seasons, when producer David Croft found himself in a bit of a predicament. After the death of his wife of 50 years, actor Arthur Brough, who played Ernest Grainger, decide to quit acting and within two months, he too had died. Seeing as the character he played was a one of a kind, Croft decided not to replace him, but instead created a new character, with a completely different personality, to run the Men’s counter.

Actor James Hayter, who joined the cast of AYBS? in 1978 as Percival Tebbs, was already familiar to British television viewers, having starred in a popular Sunday night series, The Onedin Line, a few years earlier. His acting credits went back several decades, beginning in 1936, when he first appeared on the London stage. He had also enjoyed a very successful stage career, which was put on hold during World War II in order for him to serve in the Royal Armoured Corps. After the war ended, Hayter returned to acting.

Tea Time Tidbit

In various roles, clockwise from top left: Mr. Pickwick, Alfred Doolittle,
Friar Tuck, in Oliver!, in 39 Steps, in The Blue Lagoon

 

For five years he played Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady in London’s West End and on tour, and in 1951, he appeared on Broadway in Romeo & Juliet, as Friar Laurence, opposite Olivia de Havilland as Juliet. Hayter would also eventually rack up more than 90 film credits, which included Friar Tuck in The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men and Mr. Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers.

At the time he was cast in AYBS?, Hayter, who was born in India in 1907, but raised from the age of 7 in Scotland, had also for some years been known on commercial television as the voice of Mr. Kipling’s Cakes; "Mr. Kipling does make exceedingly good cakes!", became a well-known catch phrase. As soon as the company who manufactured the cakes saw his interpretation of Mr. Tebbs, however, they complained and requested he quit the series. They apparently felt Tebbs was such an unpleasant character that people would be dissuaded from buying their cakes!

Hayter stood his ground and refused to leave the show. In response, Kipling’s made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – they would pay him three times the salary of what the BBC were paying him to not do AYBS?! Hayter reportedly responded, “if they will pay me three times as much not to do...it, then I won't do it -- at my time of life I have no more ambition!" The cast were all sorry to see the talented and popular Hayter leave, especially after such a short time - just six weeks - but they completely understood.

“Who can blame an actor in his seventies for accepting money for staying at home? I, now 78, would jump at the chance!” wrote Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) in a letter to one of Hayter’s eight children after her father’s death at his home in Spain in 1983.

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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