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whoopsie

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em

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 naive, 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 dénouement 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. One episode saw Michael Crawford hanging from the outside of a small aeroplane.

The character of Frank

The wimpish 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 says.

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 also sometimes complain about being "ha-RASSed!", or occasionally, "I've had a lot of ha-RASSments lately" (surprisingly, most people now use this pronunciation). 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 3 years after the previous one, Frank's character changed markedly. He became more self-aware, and keen to make himself appear more educated and well-spoken.

Crawford himself has talked of how he based many of Frank's reactions on those of a young child, and of how he 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 End and Broadway 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, Glyn Edwards, George A. Cooper, James Cossins, Richard Wilson 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
George's House 22 February
Love Thy Neighbour 1 March
Have a Break, Take a Husband 8 March
The Hospital Visit 15 March
The Psychiatrist 22 March
The Employment Exchange 29 March

Series Two (1974)

Title Airdate Description Notes
Cliffhanger 22 November
The RAF Reunion 29 November
The Public Relations Course 6 December
Frank and Marvin 13 December
Fathers' Clinic'' 20 December
The Baby Arrives 27 December

1974 and 1975 Christmas specials

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

Series Three (1978)

Title Airdate Description Notes
Moving House 11 November
Wendy House 18 November
Scottish Dancing 25 November
Men as Women 2 December
King of the Road (aka Demon King) 9 December
Australia House 16 December

1978 Christmas special

Title Airdate Description Notes
Learning to Fly 25 December

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 Nigeria on the Nigeria Television Authority Network in the 1980s and 1990s and in Australia on the Seven Network channel Great Comedy Classics in 2006-2007. British Channel UKTV Gold 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 "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 only 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 Commons, 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.'

References

External links

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