SOME MOTHERS DO 'AVE 'EM

British Comedy Series

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em was a hugely popular British comedy series, broadcast by the BBC in the 1970s. Initially considered unlikely to succeed, the series triumphed through the central performance of Michael Crawford as the hapless Frank Spencer and became one of the most popular comedy series of the decade, attracting a massive family audience.

Frank Spencer was the ultimate "loser", unemployable, unable to cope with even the simplest technology, and the victim of his surroundings. Every well-meaning attempt that he made to come to terms with the world ended in disaster, be it learning to drive, getting a job, or realizing some long-cherished dream. What saved him, and kept the story comic, was his innocence, his dogged persistence, and his outrage at the injustices he felt he had suffered.

The theme of the naive innocent comically struggling in an unforgiving world dates back centuries, but in this incarnation the most obvious antecedents for the slapstick Spencer character were such silent movie clowns as Charlie Chaplin's tramp and, some three decades later, British cinema's Norman Wisdom. Writer of the series Raymond Allen insisted, however, that he based the character on himself and quoted as his qualifications as the original Frank Spencer his outdated dress sense, complete lack of self-confidence, and overwhelming inability to do anything right. As proof of the character's origins, Allen recalled how he had bought himself a full-length raincoat to wear to the first rehearsals of the series in London--and was dismayed to see Crawford acquire one virtually the same as the perfect costume to play the role. The mac, together with the beret and the ill-fitting tanktop jumper, quickly became visual trademarks of the character.

It was Michael Crawford (really Michael Dumble Smith), complete with funny voice and bewildered expression, who turned Frank Spencer into a legend of British television comedy, employing the whole battery of his considerable comic skills. Disaster-prone but defiant, the little man at odds with a society judging people solely by their competence and ability to "fit in", he turned sets into battlefields as he fell foul of domestic appliances, motor vehicles, officials, in-laws, and just about anyone or anything else that had the misfortune to come into his vicinity.

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em was essentially a one-joke escapade, with situations being set up chiefly to be exploited for the admittedly often inventive mayhem that could be contrived from them. What kept the series engaging, however, was the pathos that Crawford engendered in the character, making him human and, for all the silliness of many episodes, endearing. In this Crawford was ably abetted by Michelle Dotrice, who played Frank Spencer's immensely long-suffering but steadfastly loyal (if occasionally despairing) girlfriend, and later wife, Betty.

In the tradition of the silent movie stars, Crawford insisted on performing many of the hair-raising and life-threatening stunts himself, teetering in a car over lofty cliffs, dangling underneath a helicopter, and risking destruction under the wheels of a moving train in a way that would not have been tolerated by television companies and their insurers a few years later. The professionalism that he displayed in pulling off these stunts impressed even those who baulked at the show's childish humour and overt sentimentalism and it is not perhaps so surprising that Crawford himself, after six years in the role, was able to escape the stereotype that threatened to obscure his talent and to establish himself as a leading West End and Broadway musical star.

-David Pickering

 


Some Mothers do 'ave' em
Photo courtesy of BBC

CAST

Frank Spencer.................................... Michael Crawford
Betty ....................................................Michele Dotrice

PRODUCER Michael Mills

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 19 Half Hour Episodes; 3 Fifty-Minute Specials

BBC
Febuary 1973-March 1973                             7 Episodes
November 1973-December 1973                     6 Episodes
25 December 1974                              Christmas Special
25 December 1975                              Christmas Special
October 1978-December 1978                        6 Episodes
25 December 1978                              Christmas Special

 

See also British Programming