MIX, July 1977
Customers look on curiously: "What's
happening? Is there a fight?" Within a few moments a large numbr of
people are standing around a saleswoman in the department store who's
raging against a female customer.
She doesn't move a muscle as she casts a disdainful look at the rude girl and then walks away without saying a word. "I am not satisfied with this," is the only thing the customers hear from her. They continue to crowd around the angry saleswoman. An older gentleman laughs and says to her: "Well, miss, take it easy. You look like Miss Brahms..." And there's even more laughter from the customers.
Only one woman from the bunch has seen what really happened. "No," she says, "that saleswoman wasn't Miss Brahms, but the lady who just walked away was!" But of course there is nobody who believes her. Yet it is indeed the same "Miss Brahams", the smart saleswoman from the television series Are You Being Served? who has just left the department store in a fury.
"I can't stand it at all when sales assistants in a department store are rude to me," says actress Wendy Richard, who plays the role of Miss Brahms. "As a result of that incident, I immediately sent a letter to the management of the store. What happened to that saleswoman I never knew, and I'm not interested either. But I know I will never go there again. Too bad, actually, because it was quite a nice store."
The funny thing is that "Miss Brahms" owes her fame not only to the fact that she plays a saleswoman in the TV series, but also knows everything about selling in real life! Almost every big store in London has employed her once. And what Wendy did would never occur to Miss Brahms to do!
"Even after I had already gained some fame as an actress, I often worked in stores," says Wendy. In England there is a fairly high unemployment rate among actors and they are obliged from time to time to provide for themselves in other ways. "I didn't go to the W.W. [sic], but rather took temporary jobs in department stores," she explains.
Just like Grace Brothers, the department store from Are You Being Served?, Wendy laughed a lot in those stores.
"One of my nicest jobs was when I worked in the shop window for two weeks," she says. "I had to lie in bed and pretend to be a mannequin. I will never forget that woman who looked at me the moment I moved my arm. She immediately fainted..."
"Boy, what a situation that was," she continues. "Passers-by thought it was a stunt and left strollers with babies in the window. They then asked me to keep an eye on the little ones."
When she first left school, her first job was in a very expensive boutique. She earned no more than forty guilders a week, but had to deal with dresses that cost four thousand guilders each. "One day," she remembers, "I tried to dress a mannequin. But I fell and it wouldn't have mattered much if I tumbled through the show window together with my colleague. But if I had damaged that dress ... well, I believe I would still be paying it off now!"
She stayed for a much briefer time in another department store. Wendy: "After a day and a half I had sold forty guilders of clothing, while the other salesclerks put away hundreds of guilders. No wonder: I was far too honest. If something attracted the customers and I thought they looked horrible in it, then I told them that too. The others then shouted: it looks great, but I couldn't bear it. Well, I was fired there..."
The first marriage for "Miss Brahms" was of hardly any longer a duration. It lasted for only five months. "That was a big mistake," Wendy confesses. "At the time I was running my mother's hotel. My mother died and I couldn't stand being alone. So I got married. But it was soon over."
Now she has found a new life companion, with whom she has been married since June. "I never thought I could trust a man enough to commit myself to him," she sighs. "But then I met Will."
Will Thorp, a copywriter for advertisements, gave Wendy new strength. He had had a difficult time just like Wendy. He had been married and had two children from the union. The maintenance for them cost him almost all the money he earned after his divorce.
Despite their respective unpleasant experiences, they decided to take the plunge, after living together for almost half a year. "He helped me a lot," says Wendy Richard. "We'll work it out together. Even if I have to stand in a store for a while..."