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Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973–1978) was a BBC situation comedy, written by Raymond Allen and starring Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice.

The series followed the accident-prone Frank Spencer and his tolerant wife Betty through Frank's various attempts to hold down a job, which frequently end in disaster.

Noted for its stuntwork, as well as featuring various well-remembered catchphrases, the series was voted #22 in the BBC's poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom".

Plot

Each episode saw the well-meaning and optimistic, but naïve, clueless, accident-prone tank top and beret-wearing character, Frank Spencer (Michael Crawford), and his very tolerant but often frustrated wife, Betty (Michele Dotrice), getting into situations that usually spiralled ridiculously out of control, frequently resulting in someone else's nervous breakdown or some unlikely destructive catastrophe. Frequently the viewer would see a scene in which a character who is familiar with Spencer would warn another about him, although he was usually harder to work with than they had feared.Episodes usually included stunt work performed by Crawford himself, often highly physical, that even today would be unusual in an inexpensive half-hour comedy. With such a denouement in mind, typical plot lines would involve picnics on high cliffs, driving lessons by the sea, household repairs, or a wide variety of new jobs such as motorcycle courier or high-rise window cleaner. The latter stunt really did go wrong when the rigging equipment being used jammed, necessitating a rescue by the Fire Service. The 1978 Christmas special saw Michael Crawford hanging from the outside of a small aeroplane.

The character of Frank

The wimp smiling Frank, sporting his trademark beret and trench coat, was married to (apparently normal) Betty (Michele Dotrice) and in later series they had a baby daughter, Jessica, which offered scope for even more slapstick humour. Frank was a gift for impersonators, and for a time it became a cliché that every half-decent impersonator was doing him, particularly his main catchphrase "Ooh Betty", which, although assumed in many references in popular culture, he never actually said.

This was not Frank's only catchphrase of the series. Others included a quavering "Oooh...", usually uttered with his forefinger to his mouth as he stood amidst the chaos of some disaster he had just caused (and which he himself had invariably escaped unscathed). He would also sometimes complain about being "ha-RASSed!", or occasionally, "I've had a lot of ha-RASSments lately" (perhaps surprisingly, most people now use this pronunciation, but this is probably more because of American influence). Other recurring catchphrases included references to "a bit of trouble", which usually implied some sort of undisclosed digestive disorder, and reference to the cat having done a "whoopsie" (on one occasion in Spencer's beret).

Despite his unfailing ability to infuriate people, Frank was essentially a very sympathetic character, who inspired as much affection from his audience as from his ever-loving and patient wife, Betty. The ability to convey this lovable aspect of his character - which meant that, crucially, the audience was always on Frank's 'side' - was a notable achievement of the writer and main actors. For all his extraordinary faults, we never doubted that Frank adored Betty and would do anything for her, and in their own way they were blissfully happy together. He also adored the memory of his late mother and - in later episodes - also worshipped his daughter, Jessica (named after his mother). Indeed, at times in the series there were some remarkably poignant moments amid the chaos, as for example the scene in which he serenades his young baby with a lullaby to send her to sleep.

For the final series, made five years after the previous one (although there had been two Christmas specials inbetween), Frank's character changed markedly. He became more self-aware, and keen to make himself appear more educated and well-spoken. He developed an air of pomposity which was always best demonstrated when someone would approach and enquire 'Mr Spencer?' to which he would always reply 'I am he'. He also became more self assured and whereas in the past when shouted at for doing something wrong he would have gone to pieces he would now argue back and more often than not win an argument though usually because he would leave his opponets dumbfounded by the bizzarness of what he would say.

Crawford himself has talked of how he based many of Frank's reactions on those of a young child. Crawford also found it difficult to break out of the public association with the role, despite his later career as a hugely successful musical performer on the West Endmarker and Broadwaymarker stage, in popular shows such as Barnum and Phantom of the Opera.

Casting

Ronnie Barker and Norman Wisdom were the BBC's first and second choices for the role of Frank. However the choice of Crawford proved effective, as many of Frank's mannerisms and turns of phrase were invented by Crawford, and his stunt-performing and singing skills were undoubtedly useful.

In addition to Frank and Betty, every episode would introduce at least one other character (a doctor, a neighbour, an employer etc) who would be seen to gradually suffer the inevitably chaotic consequences of Frank's fleeting presence in their lives. These characters were often played by some of the great recognisable character actors of the 1970s British sit-com era, and indeed spotting these famous faces - and enjoying their reactions to the torture of Frank's hapless influence - is one of the joys of watching the series. Examples of actors appearing in one episode only included Fulton Mackay, Glynn Edwards, George A. Cooper, James Cossins, Richard Wilson, Bernard Hepton and Christopher Timothy.

Theme tune

The theme tune by Ronnie Hazlehurst features a piccolo spelling out the title in Morse code, excluding the apostrophes.

... --- -- . -- --- - .... . .-. ... -.. --- .- ...- . . -- .-.-.-S   o   m  e/m  o   t h    e r   s  /d   o  /a  v    e/e m /(full stop)


Episodes

Series One (1973)

Title Airdate Description Notes
Getting a Job (aka The Job Interview) 15 February 1973 Frank's off for the latest in a long line of job interviews. Once he is freed from a stuck lift, surely it should be plain sailing. He just has to follow Betty's advice and remember to smile.
George's House 22 February 1973 Betty's brother has fitted his house with the latest in electronic wizardry. Frank's not impressed. Having jammed the unjammable doors and blocked the unblockable sink, he's now lost a pair of slippers down the toilet.
Love Thy Neighbour 1 March 1973 Betty's mother has had one of her funny turns and it's up to Frank to call a doctor. With the phone box out of order since the last time he used it, Betty suggests he pay a visit to their new neighbour.
Have a Break, Take a Husband 8 March 1973 Frank and Betty are off on their second honeymoon, When the lino in their hotel room gets ripped, Frank decides a few minor adjustments will soon cover the crime.
The Hospital Visit 15 March 1973 Frank's been fending for himself with Betty in hospital, and has just had a spot of bother with a Steak and Kidney pudding. It blew up! Now he's off to visit her, but is the recovery ward ready for him?
The Psychiatrist 22 March 1973 Convinced he's a failure, Frank has decided to seek expert help. The psychiatrist sets out to prove that he is not really a failure, but only thinks he is. Surely Frank can't prove otherwise?
The Employment Exchange 29 March 1973 In desperation the new manager at the employment exchange finally gives Frank a job himself. A bit of trouble with a tea urn and a computer soon has him regretting his decision.


Series Two (1973)

Title Airdate Description Notes
Cliffhanger 22 November 1973 Frank's latest job includes a company car which he and Betty use to go on a picnic. Things start out well enough until Frank manages to reverse the car halfway over the edge of the cliff.
The RAF Reunion 29 November 1973 Frank attends his annual RAF reunion and reflects on his past RAF experiences.
The Public Relations Course 6 December 1973 Having lost yet another job Betty suggests Frank try out a course in Public Relations training. Frank heads off to the school run by Mr Watson a very self confident experienced Public Relations expert who is confident he can make Frank a success but Frank proves too much even for him.
Frank and Marvin 13 December 1973 Frank discovers he is going to be a father and determines to make a success of his new job at a holiday camp as an entertainer. His act includes a very poor ventriloquist act, bad jokes about kangaroos, an interesting rendition of Early One Morning and a human volcano act which he manages to set off by accident.
Fathers' Clinic 20 December 1973 In preparation for parenthood Betty has been looking after two young children from the neighbourhood and she convinces Frank to come along on one of their outings. The girls seem wary of Frank at first but his accident prone ways which they find hilarious soon wins them over. This episode involves the most famous stunt of the series when Frank who is roller skating at a rink manages to burst through the fire exit and on a hellish but hilarious journey through the streets dodging buses and cars, ducking under lorries and crashing into a baby shop.
The Baby Arrives 27 December 1973 Frank is worrying about his impending fatherhood and is starting to annoy the hospital staff with his constant false alarms. The doctors tell the Spencers that they have another week to go but that night baby Spencer has other ideas. With their doctor on holiday another one is drafted in, the same one whose car Frank reversed into earlier that day. Birth of Jessica.


1974 and 1975 Christmas specials

Title Airdate Description Notes
Jessica's First Christmas 25 December 1974
Learning to Drive 25 December 1975


Series Three (1978)

Title Airdate Description Notes
Moving House 11 November 1978 The Spencers' move gets off to a bad start when Frank manages to fall out of the moving van into a barrel of tar and take half the furniture with him. Things get worse when within hours of arriving he not only gets on the wrong side of Mr Lewis from next door but half destroys his bedroom ceiling. In this episode, Frank sings a lullaby to his daughter Jessica. First appearance of Frank's bad tempered neighbour Mr Lewis.
Wendy House 18 November 1978 Frank is being kept very busy at woodwork classes especially when the insurance company value his entire collection of furniture at £40. To speed things along he has started using super glue which unfortunately manages to stick him, an old lady and a bus conductor to a chair. In addition to new furniture, Frank is building a Wendy House for Jessica, a very LARGE Wendy House which proves too big to get through the workshop door. Features One Foot in the Grave star Richard Wilson as the insurance man. First appearance of Columbo, Frank's dog.
Scottish Dancing 25 November 1978 Frank and Betty have taken up Scottish country dancing and Frank has decided to go into Politics and with a gala dinner for his party's parliamentary candidate approaching the rest of the committee are determined not to let Frank cause an embarrassment.
Men as Women 2 December 1978 Frank receives a letter from Grandad Spencer in Australia inviting him and Betty to join him and help run his farm. Meanwhile Dr Mender appears to be very depressed and preoccupied and for once Frank is not responsible. This episode marks the first appearance of Dr Mender as the Spencer's GP. This marks a continuity error as Dr Mender claims to have been Frank's GP for years and to still have Frank's chimney brush up his chimney when this was in fact Dr Smedley.
King of the Road (aka Demon King) 9 December 1978 Frank's new job as a motorbike courier lands him in trouble with the law and up before the magistrates. Frank defends himself in the only way he knows how.
Australia House 16 December 1978 Frank is taking elocution lessons in preparation for his flying lessons. Meanwhile a letter arrives from Australia House asking the Spencers to come discuss their possible emigration to Australia. By the end of the interview Mr Lawrence tells Frank he can go just to get rid of him.


1978 Christmas special

Title Airdate Description Notes
Learning to Fly 25 December 1978 Frank begins his flying lessons at the local school but things take a bit of a bad turn when Frank manages to cause his instructor to pass out in mid flight.


Frank and Betty Spencer (Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice)


Repeats

The BBC has repeated Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em several times since the series was produced in the 1970s. The programme has been shown in Catalanmarker public television, Nigeria on the NTA in the 1980s and 1990s and in Australia on the Seven Network channel Great Comedy Classics in 2006-2007. British Channel G.O.L.D. and BBC Prime took over repeats of the programme in 2007.

References in popular culture

  • In the song "You Probably Couldn't See For the Lights But You Were Staring Straight at Me" by the Arctic Monkeys, a lyric is "Could all go a bit Frank Spencer".
  • The song The Ballad of Frank Spencer by The Barron Knights
  • The song "Kylie Said to Jason" by the KLF contains the lyric "Trapped in a rerun / Of a seventies sitcom soap / Some Mothers Do Have Them [sic] / Or The Archie Bunker Show"
  • Walter Plinge in Terry Pratchett's novel Maskerade is a nervous Frank Spencer-ish type who also wears a beret. The novel is a parody of The Phantom of the Opera, which in 1986 was made into a musical, in which Michael Crawford played the titular role.
  • The song "Mimic Man" by British pop group Black Lace contains a verse "mimicking" Frank Spencer.
  • One of the few impressions David Brent performs on The Office which succeeds in making his colleagues laugh is one of Frank Spencer.
  • On Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge the radio series, Alan insists a young impersonator does his Frank Spencer twice despite the fact that he doesn't normally impersonate Frank Spencer.
  • In the sitcom I'm Alan Partridge, during a dream scene, Alan says to two IRA terrorists that their berets are also worn by Saddam Hussein, Frank Spencer, and the French.
  • On the Ali G: Bling Bling DVD. Borat is reporting on his 'Borat's Guide to Britain' during the Edinburgh festival and says: "When you hear the word 'England', you probably think of the country with the most talented actors in the world; Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and Frank Spencer 'ooh Betsy, the cat done a shit! That man can do nothing right and two things wrong"
  • In The Now Show, Prince Edward is usually portrayed as Frank Spencer by Hugh Dennis.
  • The show was even mentioned once in the British House of Commonsmarker, when Labour Party leader John Smith taunted Prime Minister John Major in a speech in 1993, by saying recent government mishaps would be considered 'too far-fetched' if submitted to the show's producers by script-writers.
  • In one episode of The Royle Family, Nana tells the family that her doctor's name is Michael Crawford, before laughing and repeatedly imitating Frank Spencer's famous catchphrase 'Oooh, Betty.'
  • The comic Russell Brand, incorporated some of Frank Spencer's mannerism in his weekly radio shows on Radio 2, most notably "Cat done a whoopsie on the carpet."
  • In one episode of One Foot In The Grave, Victor Meldrew tells a garden centre that the delivery man who delivered a plant must have been named Frank Spencer, because they planted the plant in to the toilet.


References



External links




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