Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em stars reunited 50 years on from first episode

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Michael Crawford on the hit
Michael Crawford on the hit '70s show (Image: BBC)

Michael Crawford clearly recalls heading to the BBC bar fresh from filming Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and noticing the comedian Mike Yarwood across the room, scrutinising his every move.

He soon understood why. The next week Mike was on the telly doing his best Frank Spencer impression. At the time, Yarwood was not alone. Comics from Les Dennis to Lenny Henry and later Joe Pasquale wore beige macs and berets on stage and did the same.

Frank and his long-suffering wife Betty stumbled onto our screens 50 years ago in 1973. The slapstick, stunt-filled sitcom Some Mothers became so beloved few could resist an “Oooh Betty”. Audiences at a peak of 25 million tuned into hear hapless Frank’s catchphrase. But it is only now Michael and co-star Michele Dotrice have reunited on screen for the first time to discuss the show’s success, in a new BBC Four documentary, Michael Crawford And Michele Dotrice Remember... Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

Michele, 74, says: “You became a recluse, I remember so many of our impersonators of the day were going ‘Oooh Betty’. You couldn’t go out.” Michael, 81, laughs, explaining at the time he was separated from his wife and living “quietly” in a council flat in ­Kensington, London. Or trying to.

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em stars reunited 50 years on from first episode erideuiqtqiqdrinvMichael and Michele in new documentary (DAILY EXPRESS)

He says: “Suddenly I became a someone. In the launderette I couldn’t do my washing, I had to do it in the sink. That’s success. I couldn’t go in a pub. But it was ­wonderful, I’m not moaning.” Chuckling together at their antics on set, Michael and Michele agree the two series they made in the mid-70s and a third in 1978 were huge fun.

EastEnders' Jake Wood's snap of son has fans pointing out the pair's likenessEastEnders' Jake Wood's snap of son has fans pointing out the pair's likeness

Many of the crazy situations Frank ended up in, including driving lessons beneath landing aeroplanes and hanging on for dear life at the back of London buses, Michael did the stunts for. The actors loved to hear the laughter they generated in the studio. Michael adds: “When you heard it you would whoop with joy, at the end you were punching the air like you had won the FA Cup.”

The script was by Raymond Allen, an aspiring writer who lived on the Isle of Wight with his parents and scribbled in a shed at the end of the garden. He was very close to Frank’s character, Michael recalls fondly. Some Mothers was his first accepted script, and he was working as a cinema cleaner when he got the news. He would phone it in from a call box.

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em stars reunited 50 years on from first episodeMichael and Michele as Frank and Betty (BBC)
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em stars reunited 50 years on from first episodeFrank's madcap performance delighted viewers (BBC)

A film and theatre star, Michael was fresh from the stage farce No Sex Please, We’re British, when asked to play Frank. He admits he was third in line, adding: “It had been turned down by Ronnie Barker, then it was offered to Norman Wisdom, he didn’t find it too amusing, so I was then offered it.”

Michael knew Frank needed to have a wife, so Betty was written in, but it took a while to find her. Michele auditioned after a line of young actresses. She had appeared on TV and in film, but it was Some Mothers which would make her a household name. Michael says: “It was not until the last person walked in the door I knew. As you walked in we just looked at each other and we started to giggle. We didn’t read, there was a script but we didn’t touch it because we just talked and laughed.”

Director Michael Mills, replaced by Sydney Lotterby in 1975, fell asleep as they chatted so long. Michael tells how he took much of his inspiration for the role from silent movies, and physical comedy stars such as Buster Keaton, who he’d previously worked with, and Laurel and Hardy.

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em stars reunited 50 years on from first episodeMike Yarwood impersonating Frank (DAILY MIRROR)

He agrees he would not be allowed to do the stunts today. He never got ­seriously hurt. But he recalls a horse standing on his foot in a scene where Frank meets Betty, adding: “I couldn’t walk for a week.” There was pressure on Michael to get his adored character right.

Michele recalls: “I remember you before a show, you would be so worked up I couldn’t approach you. You would be walking up and down, in a zone, I couldn’t even wish you luck, you were so in there.” Michael says he knew it was time to leave Frank behind when the show’s director changed.

Lotterby brought a different approach, one that the star believes revolved more around words than physical comedy. Michael felt Frank had lost some of his innocence. He adds: “We decided between us we would not take it any further. I felt I was not the ­innocent and honest character I had started out as.”

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em stars reunited 50 years on from first episodeJoe Pasquale as Frank (Publicity pic)
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em stars reunited 50 years on from first episodeThe real thing: Michael Crawford (Getty Images Europe)

While pigeon-holing was inevitable for Michael, a career in film, plays and the West End followed . His lead in The Phantom of the Opera won him Olivier and Tony awards. But Michele admits Betty left her typecast for some time. She says: “For me it was a bit hard. Betty was a bit of a noose, I was offered all those kinds of characters for a long while.”

Theatre remains her greatest love, and Michael’s too. It is perhaps ­understandable, given how large Frank still looms, he avoids doing impressions. But he makes one exception. With kids. At the height of his fame, he chose to work with sick children’s charities. His interactions captured the power of Frank, and comedy. Michael adds: “It’s hard to talk about. That power of communication that makes people laugh. It’s precious, it’s what we work for.”

Bird charity banned from Twitter for repeatedly posting woodcock photosBird charity banned from Twitter for repeatedly posting woodcock photos

* Michael Crawford And Michele Dotrice Remember… Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is on BBC iPlayer.

Emily Retter

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