Actor John Inman, best known for his role as campy shop assistant Mr. Humphries in the long-running BBC comedy “Are You Being Served?” died Thursday. He was 71.
Inman, who later became a pantomime regular, was one of the sitcom’s most memorable cast members and his catchphrase “I’m free” became part of popular culture.
In 1976, he was voted “Funniest Man on Television” by readers of TV Times magazine and was also named BBC TV’s “Personality of the Year.”
Inman died at St. Mary’s Hospital in London after a lengthy illness, his manager, Phil Dale, said in a statement.
“John, through his character Mr. Humphries of ‘Are You Being Served?’ was known and loved throughout the world,” Dale said.
“He was one of the best and finest pantomime dames working to capacity audiences throughout Britain. 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 U.S.A.”
Inman’s long-term partner, Ron Lynch, was “devastated” at the news, the BBC said.
Actress Wendy Richard, who played Miss Brahms in “Are You Being Served?,” said she had been regularly visiting Inman, who had been ill with Hepatitis A.
“You just have to regard it as being an end to his suffering,” a tearful Richard told BBC radio.
“I think John was one of the wittiest and most inventive actors I have ever worked with. He was a brilliant, brilliant pantomime dame. He was a very good all-round actor, really.”
Inman’s character Mr. Humphries attracted criticism from gay rights groups upset by what they saw as his portrayal of an over-the-top homosexual.
“He never ever said Mr. Humphries was gay,” Richard said. ”He was just a young man who was very, very good to his mother.”