The actor is best remembered by British audiences for his comic role in the innuendo-laden hit sitcom, which ran from the 1970s to 1985. He played a mustachioed, pompous floor manager who oversaw his fellow shop workers in a department store.
Born in Dulwich, south London, Thornton had worked in insurance after leaving school but took evening classes to become an actor.
He soon took up stage acting and played in London’s West End, before serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II. In the 1950s, while still doing theater, he began to branch into television comedy. He appeared on “The Benny Hill Show” and other comedy programs, and also took a small role in the movie “Carry On Screaming.”
In the 1970s — with the success of “Are You Being Served?” — Thornton became a household name in Britain.
“He was a great friend and consummate performer who was the glue who really held ‘Are You Being Served?’ together,” said the show’s co-creator, Jeremy Lloyd. “He will continue to give people enjoyment.”
Later Thornton also became known for his part in another long-running television comedy series, “Last of the Summer Wine.”
He has made appearances in dozens of movies, including “No Sex Please, We’re British” and more recently “Gosford Park.”
Thornton is survived by his wife Beryl, daughter Jane, and three grandchildren.