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Trailblazing gay
actor John Inman dies

Trailblazing gay
actor John Inman dies

Actor John Inman, popular for his memorably camp role as Mr. Humphries in the '70s sitcom Are You Being Served?, died Thursday in London. He was 71.

Inman died in St Mary's Hospital in Paddington after suffering a hepatitis A infection.

His character's catchphrase, "I'm free," and suggestive sexual humor made Inman a star, and he starred in more than 40 pantos--traditional Yuletide family entertainments that include double entendres and male and female drag as well as lots of jokes for the kiddies.

Named BBC personality of the year and "Funniest Man on Television" by TV Times in 1976, Inman remained popular long after the show ended in 1985. He went on to star in an Australian version of the show in the early 1980s and also appeared on BBC's 2004 series Revolver.

Are You Being Served?, about a stuffy department store staffed by lovable eccentrics, reached the United States in the late 1980s, where it became a cult hit.

When publicly questioned about his sexuality, Inman remained coy for many years, but admitted that he could be bisexual.

However, in late 2005, Inman made his sexual orientation public when he entered into a civil partnership with his partner of 33 years, Ron Lynch. Lynch is said to be "devastated" by Inman's death.

Although Mr. Humphries was widely criticized as a gay stereotype, actress Rula Lenska, who worked with Inman, defended the gay undertones of the character.

"It was suggestive, but never in-your-face or aggressive. It had an innocent quality that you rarely find today," she told the BBC.

Inman "was a joy to work with, and even after an exhausting day in pantomime he would have time for the fans who crowded round the stage door," Lenska said.

Wendy Richard, who played shop assistant Miss Brahms in the series, told BBC Radio 4's Today program: "John was one of the wittiest and most inventive actors I've ever worked with. He was a brilliant, brilliant pantomime dame, and he was a very good all-round actor, really. He was a true professional."

Inman's manager, Phil Dale, said, "John was known and loved throughout the world. 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 USA."

George Broadhead, secretary of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, told Gay.com that at the time of the show, "Inman became a bit of a bete noire for the gay community for promoting stereotypes of gay men as effeminate."

However, he said, "The gay community has grown up since then and has come to appreciate its trailblazers. Inman fits into the same mold as Larry Grayson and Frankie Howard. We can actually see reruns of Are You Being Served? and appreciate their zaniness now rather than cringing at stereotypes." (Hassan Mirza, Gay.com/U.K.)

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