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Olden Life

Features | October 2017

What was a floorwalker?

Frank Thornton’s Captain Peacock, in the long-running (1972-85) sitcom Are You Being Served?, was the epitome of the floorwalker – haughty, high-handed, staring, chatting up and leering at women. The role of floorwalker should be viewed in the context of the way retailing was conducted in those pre-supermarket days. Stocks of merchandise were kept ‘behind counter’, as were the sales assistants, who were generally referred to as counter staff. They were not encouraged to stray beyond the confines of their designated counter, unless commanded to do so by the floorwalker. In spite of the shabby way they were treated by their employers, employees in department stores, for some inexplicable reason, often considered themselves to be a cut above the ‘ordinary’ shop assistants.  The flicking and wagging of fingers were familiar gestures of summons to the counter staff. This in-store audio/semaphore was often accompanied by such verbal commands as ‘Forward, Miss...

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