Sometimes from the smallest seed of a comedic idea a mighty sitcom can grow. In the case of Some Mother's Do 'Ave Em, the simple idea was the genesis for one of Britain's most endearingly loved and enduring comedy characters, the perennially hapless, but well-meaning man-child, Frank Spencer.
The beret headed, trench coated figure of Frank was quite literally presented as an accident waiting to happen. A total innocent whose every deed was doomed to backfire to hilarious and devastatingly destructive effect, from acts of charity to household DIY, chaos and catastrophe were his constant, unwanted and unwelcome companions as was his trademarked wide-eyed innocence and often bewildered deep indignation at the understandable abuse heaped upon him by his multitude of victims. Series creator Raymond Allen wrote the scripts for each episode but it was the input of its star, Michael Crawford (his constant ad-libbing caused Allen to remark at one stage, "It's nice of him to use some of my words") and his interpretation that laid the foundation for the show's phenomenal success.
That success hinged on the viewing audiences whole-hearted acceptance and empathy with the disaster prone tribulations of Frank as he perpetually strove, despite his singular lack of ability and emotional development, to fit in to an adult world which he neither fully understood nor was equipped to deal with, and prove his worth as a provider for at first his gentle and long suffering wife, Betty (the excellent and sympathetic Michelle Dotrice, wife of Edward Woodward), and later in the series their infant daughter, Jessica. It would be near impossible to envisage anyone else in the role but Michael Crawford, although some may be surprised to dicover that he was in fact not the first, or the second, but the third choice to play the lead behind Norman Wisdom and Ronnie Barker, both of who turned the part down.
Another aspect of the show's appeal lay in the spectacularly imaginative and often dangerous stunt set pieces, many of them inspired by the audacious scenes from the silent comedies of pre talkie Hollywood, belonging to such accomplished physical comedians as Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, which were given added impact for the viewers by the fact that Crawford himself insisted on performing them without the aid of a stunt double, such as the memorable and often repeated scene depicting Frank on roller skates, clinging onto the back of a moving double decker bus before passing underneath an articulated lorry and then crashing head first through a shop window.
Although he had been an established actor since childhood, appearing in such series as ITC's Sir Francis Drake, and perhaps most famously co-starring alongside both Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau in the film version of the Broadway musical Hello Dolly, it was undoubtedly the success of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em which cemented Crawford's claim to genuine television stardom delighting British viewers to the tune of some 15-20 million per week. Such was the character's memorable impact that Frank's best-known exclamations and catch phrases became an indelible part of everyday language.
Simple, heartfelt, innocent and adored by millions, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is not only a quintessential example of expertly produced British comedy at its finest, but also a lasting monument to Michael Crawford's creation of a comedy icon which rivals the very best produced during the glory days of silent comedy.
Published on January 31st, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH (2000) for Television Heaven.