Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em was a British Sitcom that originally aired on The BBC from 1973 to 1978, starring Michael Crawford as the hapless, accident-prone Frank Spencer. It was written by Raymond Allen, based on his own experiences as a single man. However, upon seeing the first draft for the script, Michael Crawford insisted that Frank have a wife. Michele Dotrice was then cast as the long-suffering Betty.
The series saw the well-meaning but disaster-prone Frank Spencer get himself into sticky situations, often causing someone else to break down or causing an unintentional path of destruction. Usually the episodes contained a character who is familiar with Spencer warning another character about working with him, but Frank always proves to be more of a burden than initially feared.
The series also focussed on Frank's role as a family man. Hence, it featured a Story Arc where Betty becomes pregnant and eventually gives birth to a girl, Jessica.
Episodes generally include stunt work performed by Crawford himself, often highly physical, that today would be unusual in an inexpensive half-hour Sitcom. With such a denouement in mind, typical plot lines 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.
It returned for a sketch in 2016's Sports Relief telethon, with the 74 year old Crawford still doing his own stunts, as he attempted to get to the London Velodrome to see Jessica (now an adult) take part in a cycle race.
It was voted #22 in Britains Best Sitcom.
This series provides examples of:
- Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Frank uses "Ha-RASS-ed" instead of the traditionally British "HA-rassed". The effect of the joke has somewhat weakened in recent years due to the growing usage of the American pronunciation.
- Accidental Pun: In "The Job Interview":"I do try Betty... no-one can be more trying than me..."
- Badass Longcoat: Frank's trademark trenchcoat.
- Bedsheet Ladder: Frank's idea to escape the hotel room: "We can tie sheets together like in Colditz."
- Bilingual Bonus: For those who understand Morse Code, the rhythm of the theme tune spells out the show's title.
- Blatant Lies: "The Public Relations Course" opens with Frank losing yet another job, getting sacked from the water board after getting stuck down a sewer. Betty is clearly frustrated by his inability to remain employed, and seeing her upset makes him upset. She does a poor job of covering her disappointment:Frank: I've been a disappointment to you. I've brought you nothing but unhappiness.
Betty: [tensely] I'm not unhappy.
Frank: [looking at a photo of his mother-in-law] Your mother said I would. And I have.
Betty: [even more tensely] I'm NOT unhappy, Frank, I'm very happy! In fact, I've never been so happy!
- British Brevity: The entire series is composed of three seasons (Season 1 had seven episodes, the other two had six) and three Christmas specials - a grand total of 22 episodes.
- Captain Obvious: "Does he know what time it is?! The only reason I'm still awake is because I'm not asleep."
- The Cast Show Off: Michael Crawford performed all his own stunts in the show, also demonstrating his singing chops in "Frank and Marvin".
- Catchphrase: "Ooh Betty ..." is not Frank's only catchphrase of the series. Others include a quavering "Oooh ...", usually uttered with his forefinger to his mouth as he stands amidst the chaos of some disaster he has just caused (and which he himself has invariably escaped unscathed). He also sometimes complains about being "ha-RASSed!", or occasionally, "I've had a lot of ha-RASSments lately" (originally an American pronunciation). Other recurring catchphrases include references to "a bit of trouble", which usually implies some sort of undisclosed digestive disorder, and to the cat having "done a whoopsie" (presumably a euphemism for having defecated in an inappropriate place, on one occasion in Spencer's beret). If Frank is pleased (or confused) about something, he will often use the catchphrase "Mmmm nice!" or "Ohhh nice!"
- Character Development: Frank receives some in Season 3, becoming more self-aware and keen to make himself appear more educated and well-spoken. He develops an air of pomposity, best demonstrated when someone enquires for "Mr Spencer?" - to which he habitually replies "I am he". He also becomes more self-assured, and much more willing to argue back when criticised, sometimes winning arguments by leaving his opponents dumbfounded by the bizarre nature of his statements.
- Christmas Episode: "Jessica's First Christmas", "Learning to Drive" and "Learning to Fly" — although "Learning to Fly" has no Christmas theme and is deemed to be a Christmas special simply because it aired during the Christmas period.
- Christmas Special:
- "Jessica's First Christmas" - Frank plays an angel in the church's nativity, much to the vicar's chagrin. It goes about as well as you'd expect.
- "Learning to Drive" - After being fired from his job as a Christmas pixie, Frank receives a letter from The BBC inviting him to appear on Man about the Home. David Jacobs turns up and attempts to film but Frank's DIY disasters become apparent. Frank also takes his driving test for the tenth time.
- "Learning to Fly" - In the final episode of the series, Frank begins his flying lessons at the local school, but things take a bit of a bad turn when he manages to cause his instructor to pass out in mid flight.
- Computer Equals Tapedrive: Mr Bradshaw's beloved HARPO in "The Employment Exchange".
- Crash Course Landing: Frank is forced to make one after his instructor passes out mid-flight in "Learning to Fly".
- Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: A psychiatrist tries to convince Frank that he's not a failure. By the end of the episode, the psychiatrist is a nervous wreck, and Frank is delighted to have been proved right - he is a failure.
- Deus ex Machina: In "Cliffhanger", the rugby club's appearance was very timely.
- Disappeared Dad: Frank claimed he last saw his father at Paddington Station when he was only 18 months old.
- Disaster Dominoes: Every. Single. Time.
- In "George's House" from Series 1, Frank and Betty are staying with Betty's brother George, whose house is completely fitted with gadgets that work using motion sensors. While trying to use the toilet without triggering the sensor that opens the door, Frank accidentally sets off the automatic flush, which gets stuck in the "on" position. His attempts to find the cistern cause the toilet to become blocked, until water pours into the bathroom and ultimately into the house's main control room. The circuits short out and the gadgets go haywire, just as George's boss is trying to persuade an American client to sign a contract to build other houses like George's. As the episode ends, the American client has driven off in a rage, George's wife is stuck in a downstairs window, smoke is pouring out of one upstairs window, and a jet of water is shooting out of another upstairs window, while Frank asks Betty if she thinks anyone noticed anything.
- Perhaps the crowning example is the Series 1 episode "Have a Break, Take a Husband"; Frank and Betty go to a seaside B&B for a second honeymoon, but their room has twin beds rather than a double bed, and Frank, having already inadvertently led the proprietor to suspect that he and Betty are not really married, decides to push the beds together rather than asking for a different room. However, the bed snags on the cheap linoleum and tears a hole in it, which Frank tries to cover up. By the end of the episode, through a combination of his own ineptitude and the room's shoddy construction, he has torn a floor mat in half, broken several drawers apart, broken the door off the wardrobe, smashed a hole through the floor in the middle of the room, convinced a nervous fellow guest that his dead grandfather is trying to contact him, put two more holes in the floor under the bed, ripped the washbasin from the wall, and demolished the hotel bar as he and Betty make a midnight getaway.
- Doomed Supermarket Display: In "The Hospital Visit", Frank takes an orange from near the bottom of a stack. After he drives shop assistant Judy (Elisabeth Sladen) bonkers with endless negotiations over how many apples and grapes he can get for the small amount of change he has available, she gives him an assortment of fruit just to get rid of him, and as he leaves, he slams the shop door, causing the stack of oranges to collapse, leaving Judy ankle deep in them.
- Drives Like Crazy:
- In "Learning To Drive", when Frank takes his Driving Test (for the tenth time), he barrels along at high speed, goes through a level crossing mere seconds before a train goes past, and ends up driving the car off a pier into the sea.
- The famous motorbike sequence in "King of the Road". Frank's throttle gets stuck, so he goes on a wild ride through a building site, across a row of punts on a river, through a camping couple's tent, into a two-storey barn (somehow ending up on the upper storey), and into and out of the sea again.
- Enraged by Idiocy: Almost everyone who deals with Frank may be calm and collected to begin with, but his seemingly boundless dimness and ineptitude inevitably send them into fits of frothing rage of which they didn't even know themselves to be capable, sometimes followed by blubbering, gibbering insanity. Even people whose job is to remain calm in the face of chaos go to pieces when dealing with Frank. Just to give a few examples:
- The tone is set by the first episode, "The Job Interview", in which Frank's utter inability to give a meaningful answer to a basic question, follow simple directions, or rise to the occasion in any way during salesman/customer role-playing drives his prospective boss, Mr Lewis, into such violent anger that he lashes out at his staff, causing two of them to resign in protest, and when Frank leaves, oblivious to how much grief he has caused, Mr Lewis is slumped in his chair, sobbing with utter despair.
- The title character in "The Psychiatrist", Dr Webster, starts out trying to convince Frank that he isn't a failure, but after Frank falls asleep on his couch - twice - when told to relax and gives completely nonsensical answers to basic questions about his early life, Dr Webster is reduced first to purple-faced rage, then a quivering wreck. He gets rid of Frank by agreeing that yes, he is a failure; Frank, for his part, is delighted to be proved right, and reinforces it by unwittingly getting buried under a truckload of gravel when he misinterprets a worker's "Get out of the way!" gesture as him waving hello.
- In "The Public Relations Course", the title five-day course is led by PR guru Mr Watson, but on the first day, Frank quickly drives him mad with meaningless or irrelevant answers to basic questions. Things deteriorate further when he asks Frank to participate in a role-playing exercise as first a dissatisfied customer and then a PR representative dealing with a dissatisfied customer played by Eddie, a fellow student who has taken Frank under his wing. For the former, Frank simply fires off insults that he doesn't understand but heard from Lang, a militant who thinks public relations is pure hokum (and who thus deliberately aggravates Mr Watson almost as much as Frank does accidentally), and for the latter, he blithely agrees that the dissatisfied customer has grounds to sue his hypothetical employer. Mr Watson flies into a rage, and when Eddie intervenes and says Frank was only trying to help him, Mr Watson snarls, "He's not supposed to help you! He's a public relations officer!"... thereby convincing the entire group that Lang is right about PR being pure hokum and the course being an excuse to bilk them out of their money, leading them to storm out en masse.
- Epic Fail: Frank can turn even the simplest of tasks into a monumental disaster costing thousands in property damage. For example, in "George's House", he accidentally sets off the automatic flush on his brother-in-law's motion sensor-activated toilet, and when it won't turn off, he tries climbing into the ceiling to tinker with the cistern, only to rip out the ballcock and drop it into the toilet... followed by losing his slippers when he falls into the toilet feet first, and then the head of the toilet brush when he tries to use it to prise his slippers loose. His attempts to fix the cistern ultimately cause it to rupture, sending water pouring into the bathroom until it leaks into the central control system, causing it to short out so that the electronic gadgets it controls go berserk. By the end of the episode, George's wife is stuck in a downstairs window, smoke is pouring out of one upstairs window, and water is pouring out of another upstairs window.
- Episode on a Plane: The series finale, "Learning to Fly", sees Frank take flying lessons in preparation for assisting his grandfather on his sheep farm in Australia. Inevitably, his first lesson is a comedy of errors, culminating in him accidentally de-compressing the cockpit and knocking his instructor unconscious, so that he has to be guided down again by air traffic control.
- Expy: Frank has similar characteristics to Brian Runnicles from No Sex Please Were British, whom Crawford played on the London stage. In fact, this led to him getting the role.
- Foil: Betty is this to Frank's extreme bouts of clumsiness.
- Generation Xerox: In the Sports Relief special, Jessica has turned out just as hapless and klutzy as her father. When Betty congratulates her after her cycling race, she says that at least it only took her three laps before she realised she was cycling in the wrong direction around the track.
- Happily Married: Despite everything, Frank and Betty's marriage is steady and they both clearly adore each other and their daughter.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Over the course of the series, we learn that Frank's childhood may explain a lot about how he turned out as an adult. His father, evidently frustrated by having a son who is just as inept as his wife, left the family when Frank was a toddler, while in a Flashback in "The Psychiatrist", Frank's aunt tells Betty that his mother was ashamed of him and used to hide him under the stairs when the education officers visited the house, waiting until he was ten to send him to school - and, as he tells Mr Bradshaw in "The Employment Exchange", he only lasted a few months before being withdrawn again, as his mother didn't want him to pick up dirty habits from the other boys. He went back for a few weeks every summer, when the only other person in the school was the caretaker.
- Irish Priest: The Spencers' local Catholic priest is the long-suffering Father O'Hara, who got so sick of Frank spending endless hours in confession (after a while, he started taking sandwiches) that he forcibly rationed his time in the booth. The title character in "The Psychiatrist" reveals that at one point, Frank asked him about joining the priesthood (reasoning that as it was the Christmas season, they might need extra priests the same way they need extra postal workers and shop assistants).
- The Jinx: Frank Spencer embodies this trope.
- The Klutz: Frank. If there's something to trip over, fall into, or get stuck halfway in, he'll do just that. If he's carrying something breakable, he'll drop and break it, probably beyond repair. For example, in "The Employment Exchange", he gets a job as a furniture mover and ends up leaving a long trail of broken furniture and valuables behind him - literally so when he gets in the van, accidentally throws it into reverse, and backs over the array of household objects lined up behind it.
- Literal Cliffhanger: This is the subject of the episode "Cliffhanger", where Frank accidentally reverses the company car of his latest job halfway over the edge of a cliff while on a picnic with Betty.
- Long List: In "The Employment Exchange", new manager Mr Bradshaw looks at Frank's file and reads off the very long list of previous jobs from which he has been fired: trainee hotel chef (he accidentally burned down the entire building), postman, plumber's mate, ticket collector, deckchair attendant, security guard (in a Flashback, we see the factory he was supposed to guard was robbed blind while he was chasing after his dog, Rex), barman, night porter, trainee journalist...
- Loser Son of Loser Dad: Loser mum in this case; Frank's reputation is made even worse by the fact his mother was as much of a Walking Disaster Area as he is.
- Malaproper: "I was ejaculated from my home" being the most famous example.
- Meet Cute: A flashback shows that Frank and Betty met at a horseriding school; Frank fell off his horse and Betty offered to help him find it.
- Manchild: Frank's behaviour, way of thinking and emotional vulnerability makes him one of these.
- Men Can't Keep House: Invoked in "The Job Interview" and in the flashbacks of "The Psychiatrist".
- Mistaken for Gay: Whenever anyone reaches for Frank, he protests, "I'm a married man!"
- Mooning: An unintentional example. At the very end of "Scottish Dancing", Frank's kilt suddenly falls down to reveal he is not wearing any underwear. Michael Crawford and the director of the episode initially rehearsed the scene with Crawford wearing Union Jack underwear to elicit the right reaction from the rest of the cast during filming.
- Moral Guardians: Mary Whitehouse was an outspoken critic of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, at one point calling Frank Spencer a "purveyor of pornography"... just because he alluded to some downstairs trouble in one episode.
- Frank does indeed (unknowingly) become a literal purveyor of pornography during his job as a motorbike carrier.
- Frank also quietly assumes this role in "Men as Women" when he discovers Dr Mender, in full drag, in his house.
- No Social Skills: Frank is bewildered by everyone around him.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Frank and Betty's mother do not get on. It doesn't help that she knew his mother and hated her too.
- Oh, Crap!:
- You can tell Frank knows he's in trouble when he places his index finger next to his mouth and gives a quavering "Ooh!"
- In the climax of "The Public Relations Course", Frank has driven the course director, Mr Watson, into white-hot anger with his usual cluelessness and incompetence, leading him to make a disastrous verbal gaffe as he snarls that Frank isn't supposed to help the dissatisfied customers; he's a public relations officer. His expression suggests he realises a split second too late just how costly this mistake will prove; sure enough, the rest of the class, already going sour on the very idea of PR after seeing Mr Watson fail to keep his cool in Frank's presence, immediately begin demanding refunds.
- One-Book Author: This was the only sitcom Raymond Allen ever created.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: When she appears in "The Hospital Visit", Elisabeth Sladen's Merseyside accent starts showing through the cockney one she affects.
- Panicky Expectant Father: Just before Jessica is born, Frank drives the local hospital staff completely insane with endless false alarms about Betty going into labour.
- Plank Gag: In "Jessica's First Christmas", Frank twice knocks his boss into a hole by accidentally clobbering him with a plank he's carrying over his shoulder.
- Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A stage adaptation, written and directed by Guy Unsworth based on the TV series began a UK tour at the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon in February 2018 starring Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer, with Sarah Earnshaw as Betty and Susie Blake as Mrs Fisher. Due to the success of the 2018 tour, the production began another tour in from February 2020, however due to the coronavirus pandemic many dates were cancelled.
- Series Continuity Error: The Season 3 episode "Men as Women" marks the first appearance of Dr Mender as the Spencers' GP. However, 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 in fact all happened to Dr Smedley.
- Signature Headgear: Frank's signature beret.
- Special Effect Failure: An in-universe example — Frank's performance in "Frank and Marvin", with his terrible ventriloquism act, bad jokes and his human "Vesuvius" effect which he sets off by accident.
- Smart House: In "George's House", Betty's brother George has designed a house filled floor to ceiling with electronic gadgets, most of them operated by motion sensors. Inevitably, when Betty and Frank are staying with him, it isn't long before Frank falls afoul of the electronics; when he struggles to use the toilet without accidentally activating the motion sensor that opens and closes the door, he ends up blocking the pipe, and the water overflows into the central control circuits, causing them to short out and go berserk.
- Sticky Situation: The main plot in "Wendy House". Frank has been using superglue to build furniture to replace the items that were destroyed when he and Betty moved to their new house, and is waiting for a bus with a chair he has just made. Also waiting for a bus are an elderly woman who is feeling a bit giddy and her son, who helps her into the chair before Frank can point out that it is made with superglue; inevitably, she gets stuck to it, then the son gets stuck to the bus stop sign after handling the tube of superglue. Frank tries to enlist the help of the conductor of the bus when it arrives, but soon they are both stuck to the chair. When all four of them are taken to Accident and Emergency, they find Frank's DIY instructor, who got superglued to the classroom telephone.
- Teetering on the Edge: In "Cliffhanger", 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. In his efforts to retrieve it, Frank ends up dangling off the rear bumper, over the edge of the cliff.
- There Was a Door: At the start of one episode, Frank has apparently removed his garden shed's door in order to replace a section of wall in his house, saying (if I remember correctly) something about gaining access inside as justification. His mother-in-law remarks something along the lines of, "There was a movable piece of wood there. It was called a door."
- Title Theme Tune: The theme tune is the show's title in Morse Code.
- Trash the Set: Practically in every episode, but this trope is the focal point of the episode "Have a Break, Take a Husband", where the hotel room starts with torn linoleum and ends up with several holes in the floor, most of the furniture destroyed, and finally the sink ripped off the wall.
- The Un-Smile: Frank's attempt at practising a polite smile in "The Job Interview" manages to knock an employee into the pipes display.
- Vandalism Backfire: The series used this trope several times in episodes where Frank accidentally provokes someone to a destructive but inaccurately targeted fit of anger.
- In "The Public Relations Course", while spending the night at the house at which the title course is being held, Frank sits on his hot water bottle, causing it to spring a leak. He leaves the room to take a phone call, leaving the hot water bottle on a chair next to the bed of Eddie, a coursemate who has taken Frank under his wing. When he comes back, he accidentally squirts water from the leak into the face of Lang, a militant coursemate. In revenge, Lang empties the bottle all over what he thinks is Frank's bed, ignoring Frank's protests as Eddie returns from the bathroom. As Frank sheepishly gets into his own bed and wishes Eddie good night, Eddie attacks Lang for soaking his bed.
- In the 1974 Christmas special, "Jessica's First Christmas", Frank gets a job at the same firm as his neighbour, Mr Jackson, who is already angry at Frank over the fact that his one-year-old daughter cries loudly every night. At one point, Frank finds Jackson's folded coat and thinks he sees something moving under it, so he puts a lit pipe under it to smoke out the "animal", setting fire to it, and then further ruining it by soaking it in water. When Jackson sees the damage done to his coat, he empties tea into the bag Frank is carrying... which turns out to be the head of the firm's bag.
- In "Australia House", an argument between Frank and his next-door neighbour, Mr Lewis, results in the two of them demanding the return of borrowed gardening implements, including a hoe Frank borrowed from Mr Lewis. After the argument escalates to the point that Frank accidentally knocks down the fence Mr Lewis put up between their gardens to keep the Spencers' dog from defecating in his garden, Mr Lewis grabs the hoe and saws it in half, not realising it is his own until Frank points it out. Enraged, Mr Lewis throws the pieces aside... straight through the glass of his greenhouse.
- Video Inside, Film Outside: In common with most British television series of the 1970s, all interior studio footage was shot on videotape, while all exterior location footage was shot on film. A few episodes feature interior location footage that is also shot on film (such as the hospital in "The Hospital Visit" and the roller rink in "Father's Clinic").
- Walking Disaster Area: Frank Spencer, again. Made even more apparent by the fact that Frank neither means any harm nor does he want to cause it.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Season 3 seems to have erased all mention and memory of Dr Smedley; as far as the scripts are concerned, the Spencers' GP has always been Dr Mender.
- Whole Episode Flashback:
- "The RAF Reunion" primarily revolves around a flashback to Frank's disastrous, abortive stint in the Royal Air Force.
- "The Psychiatrist" sees Frank seeking psychiatric counselling, and the stories he tells of his past failures (such as when he met Betty after a horse riding outing gone wrong, their chaotic first date at a bowling alley, and his destruction of her mother's oven when she mistook him for the gas man when they first met) are told as flashbacks.
- "The Employment Exchange" includes multiple flashbacks to Frank's misfortune-laden previous jobs.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: In "Men as Women", Frank's shock at his doctor dressed in drag subsides when he realises that both the doctor and his colleague were only playing dames in a local Cinderella pantomime. Upon hearing that one of the Ugly Sisters is ill, Frank even offers to fill in at the end of the episode.