Saturday, August 6, 2016

Beane's of Boston Should Have Been A Series!

Garry Marshall was known as a comedy genius. He was a writer on The Dick Van Dyke ShowThe Joey Bishop ShowThe Danny Thomas Show and The Lucy Show. Marshall was a prolific filmmaker with such films as Young Doctors In LoveThe Flamingo KidBeaches and of course Pretty Woman. He created some of our favorite TV series such as Happy DaysLaverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy. Marshall was a funny guy and was a powerhouse in Hollywood. For this site, it may seem odd to pay tribute to someone who is not British or was a part of a British television series. Yet, for Garry Marshall, he was close enough and many of us have never seen it.

It’s probably odd to pay tribute to someone who has had such a distinguished career making some of the best film and television ever to look at a failed television pilot from 1979. Yet, that is precisely what I am going to do. One of the “holy grail” for Are You Being Served? fans is a chance to look at the only attempt at making the series in the US. This series was called Beane’s of Boston.

Beane’s of Boston Pilot TX: 5/5/79

“Remember our motto: if at first you don’t succeed, you’re out on your butt!”

I am not going to pretend to know really what transpired to create this pilot or even what discussions took place to get it made to go on the air. A number of years ago, I wrote to Garry Marshall’s people in a few different places he was associated with to see if he could talk to me at all about this pilot. This man was directing some of the great comedy films of the time and for some reason I thought he would respond to me and talk about a pilot for a show that didn’t make it in 1979. That beings said, I felt that he always came across so down to Earth that if he did respond, I wouldn’t have been surprised. He came across as someone who was accessible to everyone. I remember watching a Happy Days reunion special where all the cast were in director chairs on the set of Arnold’s and Scott Baio was sitting at the end of the row. Garry Marshall was moderating the interview with the cast and when he got around to addressing Baio, he looks at him and says, “Scott, why don’t you move your chair a little closer to us. You are so far away you are on the set of Charles in Charge!” I don’t know why but I always found this really funny!

Original TV Guide Listing from 1979
It was on a Saturday night in May 1979 that CBS did a one-time airing of this pilot episode. If you watched any of the series Garry Marshall created and produced from the 1970s, Beane’s of Boston has that same feel. It was shot on film and made before a live studio audience. The series starts off with a song that is sung by old Mr. Beane. Of course this is not to be confused for Young Mr. Beane who is affectively the replacement of Mr. Rumbold in this series or even confused for Mr. Bean played by Rowan Atkinson. The elderly Mr. Beane is played by Tom Poston. He does the “younger man dressed as an old man” for the series yet plays it a lot better than Kenneth Waller played Old Mr. Grace in the BBC series. Back to the theme music, there is something sweet about the theme with nuances of the theme played throughout the entire episode.
Original TV Guide Listing from 1979
Beane’s of Boston is just like Are You Being Served?, a department store that is set in its old-fashioned ways while the rest of the world around it is changing. This is, in fact, depicted in the opening credits for Beane’s of Boston. As Mr. Beane sings his song, we see paintings of the exterior of the store from 1888 when it opened to present and the last few paintings show all the skyscrapers growing up around the store.

Tom Poston as Mr. Beane
Where we have Mr. Rumbold from the BBC series managing the Men’s and Ladies department, we have Mr. Beane’s nephew Franklyn running it….apparently into the ground. Ever since he took over the department, sales have been plummeting. Literally. The revenue chart shows such as downward spiral that old Mr. Beane says the sales figures for October are probably under the rug! Luckily, Franklyn has a plan. Even luckier for the elder Mr. Beane, he has a new secretary Ingrid who is very German. Unluckily for Ingrid, Mr. Beane is a dirty old man.

Larry Bishop as Mr. Lucas and Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Slocombe
We get to the ladies and gentlemen floor and it is immediately recognizable to what we are used to in the BBC series. We have the entire cast and although it is surreal to see these iconic characters played as Americans and by different people, at least to me, it is mostly right. Captain Peacock becomes Mr. Peacock and is played by John Hillerman. Mr. Peacock does not seem particularly pretentious like Captain Peacock could be in the series. In fact, he kind of reminds of the Captain Peacock we get by the end of the BBC series. One who is no longer “drinking the Kool-Aid” and now has no problem saying what’s on his mind. I really enjoy what Hillerman brought to the episode. Mrs. Slocombe is played by Charlotte Rae. This is an inspired choice. Rae has great range and has the right look to play the part of a senior person in the ladies department. It is Miss Brahms’ first day and after Mr. Peacock introduces Brahms to Mrs. Slocombe, Slocombe says to Mr. Peacock, “She is wearing better clothes than I am” to which Mr. Peacock responds, “No, she just wears them better.”

It’s interesting to see the series started with Miss Brahms’ first day and it feels like to me that the series would have probably focused more on Franklyn and his struggles to try and keep his department afloat as a young executive. I really think that the series would have moved to a stronger relationship between Miss Brahms and Franklyn.  Alas, we will never know…..unless we start writing fanfic.

"Men's Wear!" Alan Sues as Mr. Humphries
I bring up this fact because when the BBC series started as an episode of Comedy Playhouse in 1972, the “star” of the show at that point would have been Trevor Bannister as Mr. Lucas. It soon became apparent that for the British original, that the cast could not be contained as just an ensemble and eventually Mollie Sugden and John Inman would come out as the leads. Here Larry Bishop plays Mr. Lucas as a true blue Bostonian but really has very little to do in the episode. Of course, what about Mr. Humphries? This is truly an iconic character made famous by John Inman. Here the role is played by Alan Sues most famously known from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. It’s interesting to watch Sues’ take on Mr. Humphries because Sues is a bigger man than Inman. I think this is an important distinction. Inman seemed like he could be blown away by the wind. Sues seems taller and bulkier but they kept in a lot of the gay innuendo. He has a deeper voice than Inman which makes some of the gags not work as well such as Mr. Humphries going on about something to Mr. Grainger or Lucas as the phone rings. Humphries then answers the phone with the famous lower voice, “Men’s wear.” Because of Sues’ voice, the gag just doesn’t work here. I think Sues almost plays it a little heavy handed where Inman did innuendo really well. Granted it was a pilot so it is a little unfair for comparison and the cast could have changed if the series went to air. It would have been interesting to see how far they would have taken it with Sues playing the role. 

John Hillerman has very little authority as Mr. Peacock in his German gear
It’s also interesting if Inman was ever considered for the role for the US series. It’s highly doubtful that was even a thought but there is precedent for it since Inman went over to Australia for 2 series of their version of Are You Being Served? in 1980 & 1982. Plus, as the story goes, John Hillerman was late for the reading of Mr. Peacock so Jeremy Lloyd read for the part and was offered the role by Garry Marshall. Lloyd was talked out of doing it by David Croft which is also interesting as Croft also did the same thing to Jimmy Perry while they were casting for Dad’s Army. Perry wrote the character of Private Walker for himself but Croft talked him out of that too. I wonder if the choice of Alan Sues was in any way suggested by Jeremy Lloyd as the two of them were both on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In? 

Miss Brahms was played by Lorna Patterson. Even though she plays it a little ditsy, I don’t feel that’s how the character would have progressed. If Lorna looks familiar to you, she appeared in Airplane! and Airplane II as the woman who would play the guitar to the kid who was sick and would accidentally suffocate the child by sitting on her tube of oxygen, etc. We even get a Mr. Harman like character in the form of Mr. Johnson played most splendidly by Don Bexley. Mr. Grainger is played by Morgan Farley and Franklyn Beane is played by George O’Hanlon Jr. 

It's German week at Beane's
So, what is this great plan of Franklyn’s to save his department? Well, have you ever seen the Are You Being Served? episode German Week? Well, it’s a little like that. Ok, I lied. It is exactly like that. This is where things become interesting as I always thought that idea of a department store selling just one country’s goods was a strange idea but I thought maybe that sort of thing was done in the UK but seeing that script translate over in the US is even odder. It is clear that they remade this episode for the very same reason the Dad’s Army US adaptation, The Rear Guard, remade The Deadly Attachment. It’s a good script, visually funny and was a famous episode from the series. 

Why are Mr. Humphries' eyes watering?
The problem is that I think what made German Week from the British series so good may have been lacking a little here. In the UK, there was a strong anti-German feeling still lingering from World War II to certain generations of the population. The characters from the series would have all been affected by the war in some way, whether seeing combat or just the fear of bombing, rationing or evacuation. Remember there is a melancholy sort of reminiscence to the war near the end of Camping In. This was still fresh in their minds and very close. This is not to say no one in the US had horrible struggles while fighting during the war but as a country, we really didn’t live under the constant threat of being invaded which is where the difference lies.

“I’m not selling German sex panties!”

From this point on, the episode takes on a very similar tone to the BBC version. There is the exchange between the cast about the funny names of German goods, the idea of dressing Mr. Peacock as Hitler, even the exchange of Mrs. Slocombe being flat on her back during the war but in the US version it was caused by the French and she was in the WAC (Women’s Army Corp)!  When Franklyn says he wants the store to have a more German atmosphere after a day of horrible sales numbers, Mr. Peacock responds very deadpan, “Well, there must be some barbed wire in the Hardware department.”

It was supposed to be a light tap!
The end of the episode results in a song and dance number very much like the British version with Peacock and Slocombe getting into a fight about how hard they should slap each other. This time it ends in more chaos as the drunken Slocombe hits Franklyn instead of Peacock accidentally but hard enough for him to get knocked into a table where the whole thing falls down. At that point Mr. Humphries looks at old Mr. Beane and asks, “How do you like it so far?” That was a laugh out moment for me. Of course as with the UK version, the dance number takes place with the cast not facing the customers who are on the floor in the store watching this but to us the viewers. So the customers and Old Mr. Beane would have just seen their backs during the whole dance number. What saves Franklyn from being fired is that although it was a disaster, Ingrid (Mr. Beane’s secretary) loved it which means Mr. Beane loved it!

Instead of Mr. Harman, we get Mr. Johnson
The bottom line to this episode is that it is funny. A lot funnier than I would have thought. By the time the episode was over, I was quite sad. I knew there was no more made after this and I would never see this “alternate universe” Are You Being Served? again. I obviously don’t know why it was never picked up by CBS. I don’t know if a decision was made to not pick it up before it was aired. It seems to me that if it was going to be picked up that it would have done so with a whole set of episodes in motion. Showing something like this in May is a really strange time to do something like that. Perhaps the humor itself had something to do with it? The humor in this episode has a lot of sexual innuendo to it. It has a dirty old man in it in the form of old Mr. Beane.

Mr. Beane: “I’m going to the club.”
Franklyn: “Oh, the bridge club.”
Mr. Beane: “No, the strip club….its amateur night!

It may have been a little “naughty” but it was harmless comedy. It was probably on par with something like Three’s Company. They did try to use the “Mr. Peacock, are you free?” line but like the “menswear” line, it fell flat. I would have loved to see a full series of episodes of this series. I think it would have been very funny; I felt the cast was already gelling together. That being said, how long would they have based the series on scripts of Are You Being Served? or would the series have gone a different direction? It lists David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd as writers and producers of Beane’s of Boston in the credits, would they have stayed on? Like I said above, I could easily see them developing a possible romantic storyline between Franklyn and Miss Brahms. She was the only one who showed him any kindness and believed in him but, it was just her first day.

The German dance makes Ingrid very happy which bodes well for Mr. Beane!
We were robbed that this pilot did not going to series. We missed out on them all coming back together years later for a reunion series. They could have called it Beane’s of Boston….Again! or maybe they retire to a pig farm and called it Beane’s & Bacon or something. Alright, I’ll get me coat!

To me, this is one of Garry Marshall’s forgotten masterpieces.

I would like to thank Mark Little for hunting the TV Guide listing for Beane’s of Boston from 1979. He runs a Facebook group where he shares TV Guide listings from his massive collection and also has a podcast devoted to TV Theme music called Tube Tunes and you can listen to that here:

Next time: I will take an unpublished article I wrote from 2011 talking about a Nigel Kneale story starring Bernard Lee concerning a witch. We will look at Against the Crowd: Murrain.

Have a great week!

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Unknown said...

Is there any way to see the pilot? I've looked all over and would love to see it! I only this week found the Australian version and would be interested in the American take.

Anonymous said...

I just watched Beane's of Boston -Gotta say it was absolutely dreadful. The cast looked great on paper, but they clearly had no sense of their characters -and neither did the audience. Both of the Mr. Beane's were woefully inadequate. The rest of the cast had the potential to grow into their roles, but needed clearer direction and a much better script. All in all, one of the worst pilots I've ever seen.

Sam said...

Hard to watch. Not great. But they tried. Bless the little pumpkins. πŸ™‚πŸ™„πŸ˜✌️

hapajgv said...

In case you missed it! IT WAS broadcast on May 5, 1979.
Here's the complete show of an unsold pilot called "Beane's of Boston," about the goings-on at a small department store in that city, that aired over WBBM Channel 2. On air taped episode including commercials.