The Royal Variety Performance 1975

Michael Crawford took time out during his West End stage show Billy to appear before the Queen and an invited audience on stage at the London Palladium on 10th November 1975 (a recording of the show was transmitted by ITV on the 16th). In fact, this was "Frank's" last ever appearance before the Some Mothers revival in 1978 as the 1975 Christmas special (q.v.) had been recorded some time beforehand.

Crawford appears in the guise of Frank, the incompetent new stagehand, during three of the links between the acts (totalling about 4½ minutes running time) partnered against host Bruce Forsyth. Spencer enters hanging from a rope by his leg and descends from the rafters to the stage and is helped free by Forsyth ("Get that noose off his ankle – I want to put it round his neck!") He then proceeds to argue with Forsyth over the lighting arrangements for the show – this ends when Forsyth is knocked off of the stage into the orchestra pit leaving Frank to introduce the next act. The next two links see the increasingly irritated Forsyth ordering Frank repeatedly from the stage (Frank: "Don't you point your hired sleeve at me – I've had enough harassments for one day!") Later during the show, Forsyth reports that Frank "has been exterminated".

Crawford also appears later in the show to sing a medley of songs from Billy and joins the rest of the show's cast (including the entire Dad's Army line-up) for the curtain-call at the end.

The material here is well greeted by the live audience (Crawford gets, by far, the biggest cheer at the end of the show) but is, on the whole, unremarkable. There is also a lingering suspicion that Bruce Forsyth accidentally misses out a number of his feed lines here and there.

Audio clips:

sound clip New stage manager Frank and host Bruce Forsyth argue (quality warning!)

To Be Perfectly Frank

To Be Perfectly Frank (tx: 11/4/77: 1945-2025), written and directed by James Fortune, is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the programme, with special emphasis on the Learning to Drive 1975 Christmas special, and including interviews with the cast and crew. In between detailed looks at the film sequences and stunt work for this episode, a somewhat serious Michael Crawford (interviewed in his dressing room for the stage show Billy) explains the background to the character and his approach to the work. The programme is interspersed with clips from the Some Mothers episodes, some of which are interestingly presented from their original filmed inserts, devoid of the laughter from the studio audience.

After many lonely years in the archives, this special was eventually revived as part of BBC2's Crash! Bang! Wallop! themed evening on slapstick, although at half its original running time and with some clips changed around (tx: 19/6/99: 2215-2235).

Audio clips:

(See the Introduction page, and under The Labour Exchange in Season One.)

White Powder Christmas

White Powder Christmas is the 1978 entry in a set of highly amusing and very unofficial Christmas compilation tapes put together by BBC engineers during the late seventies and early eighties. These tapes – not intended for transmission – included specially filmed songs and sketches shot in odd moments during the year together with the best of the year's bloopers rescued from the edit suites. Michael Crawford was at Television Centre shooting the third season of Some Mothers during the time the tape was compiled and was roped in to help out. Crawford appears in character as Spencer, complete with beret and wearing a striking jumper based on the BBC1 logo ("Hope you like the sweaters – 14 blind nuns sat up four nights knitting these"). The co-presenter is newsreader Kenneth Kendall, who is variously referred to as Mr Randall, Mr Sendall and Mr Bendall.

The pair provide five off-the-cuff links for the tape (totalling about 2½ minutes running time). Unfortunately a lot of the material consists of in-jokes not understandable by those outside the BBC's Videotape department!

This tape is also the "home" of the out-take described under Motorbike. Additionally, a brief out-take from the links for this tape appears on the following year's Christmas tape, Good King Memorex.

Audio clips:

sound clip One of the links.

sound clip The final link.

Texaco commercial

TV commercial for Texaco believed to hail from c.1979.

The ad shows Frank going along in the back seat of a Morris Minor struggling to hold on to a giant kite. Driving the car is Frank's Auntie Dingle, played by Patricia Hayes (one wonders if the driver was originally intended to be Michele Dotrice as Betty?) Despite Frank's warnings to his aunt to slow down, he is hoisted into the air (in a manner very reminiscent of the Christmas 1974 special). Watching the spectacle from a petrol station into which the car pulls is motorbike racer Barry Sheene (presumably some sort of figurehead for Texaco at the time) who tries to sell Auntie Dingle some oil for which she hasn't the money. Soaring aloft, Frank tries to check his pockets for some change, thus letting go of the kite and plunging downwards to earth.

The Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em Selection Box

Produced by Gabrielle Osrin, The Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em Selection Box (tx: 6/8/97: 2015-2050) was part of a series which each week celebrated a different classic BBC sitcom. The Some Mothers edition features an apparently random rag-bag collection of third-division star names offering up their thoughts on the show, including MEP Glenys Kinnock (why?), husky Scandinavian TV presenter Mariella Frostrup (why?), kids' TV presenter Keith Chegwin (why?), ex-Blue Peter presenter John Leslie (why?), Right Said Fred singer Richard Fairbrass (why?), agony aunt Claire Rayner (why?) and Bread actor Jonathon Morris (why?)

The remaining three guests have, marginally, more genuine credentials for being on the show: Christopher Biggins had actually been in two of the original episodes, impressionist Bobby Davro had been "doing" Frank Spencer for many years, and Australian comic Mark Little had been a lifelong fan ever since Some Mothers huge popularity down under during the seventies.

The interviews are interspersed with clips from the original episodes and the end of the show features the interviewees attempting to whistle or sing the Some Mothers theme tune!

Audio clips:

sound clip The contributors attempt to sing the Some Mothers theme.

(See also the Introduction page.)

Noel's House Party

Crawford reprised his Frank Spencer role for the first time in 20 years as part of the 14th November 1998 edition of Noel's House Party, appearing in a skit lasting about five minutes.

Halfway through the show, Crawford enters in his familiar mack and beret and proceeds to knock down various props in the mock-country-house studio set. The entire audience are dressed similarly, as are various mincing Frank Spencer impressionists on the stage. Then follows some brief dialogue with the show's host, Noel Edmonds, where we learn that Jessica is now 21 years old (whether by design or accident, this continuity more or less works compared against the 1978 season). Crawford then quickly discards the Spencer costume (and voice) and sings The Holy City as parts of the set continue to crash about his ears. He finishes with a subtle plug for his new CD.

Crawford reappears at the end of the show to accept an achievement award from a surprise guest. Michele Dotrice enters to make the presentation to the obviously gobsmacked and delighted Michael Crawford.

Audio clips:

sound clip Frank wants to sing a song.

A Celebration of a Comedy Classic

Radio documentary produced and presented by Richard Latto. Originally made by Radio Solent and broadcast locally at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day 2015, the show was later given a national outing on Radio 4X a few months later as a kind of prelude to the Sport Relief mini-episode (q.v.).

Though Michael Crawford is ever elusive (or unaffordable), the programme does manage new interviews with both Michele Dotrice (Betty) and Raymond Allen (writer). Making up for the absence of Crawford, the documentary uses some good material from a BBC-TV Parkinson chat-show appearance from 1973, as well as extracts from To Be Perfectly Frank (q.v.).

At 55-minutes long, the documentary can afford to take its time and the extracts from the original Some Mothers shows are refreshingly long enough to "breathe" properly and be funny in their own right all over again.

Audio clip:

sound clip The whole show

Sport Relief 2016

Frank has to travel by any means available across London to see his daughter Jessica (played by actress Gemma Arterton) compete in an indoor cycle race at the Lee Valley velodrome, watched by her mother Betty.

Starting out in his old light-blue Morris Minor (see the original series), Frank stops to buy Jessica some good-luck flowers but forgets to apply the handbrake, and the car begins to depart under its own steam. Catching up with the freewheeling car, Frank climbs astride a bicycle that the vehicle has (for some reason) strapped to its roof. Continuing on the bike, Frank happens across cycle-keen London Mayor, Boris Johnson, from whom he borrows a helmet. Subsequently, speeding along, Frank cuts up musician Paul McCartney and demolishes a statue being inaugurated by comedian David Walliams.

Frank then accidentally cycles into a fire station and emerges hanging onto the back end of a departing fire engine. Spying a pedestrian wearing roller skates, Frank borrows these and gets a speed boost on his journey by grabbing hold of the back of a bus (in a little homage to the original Father's Clinic episode). By now Jessica has competed in, and lost, her race. But a late Frank enters the velodrome on his skates and becomes embroiled in a subsequent race, circuiting the track hanging onto the back of a competitor's bike. After a couple of laps he lets go and crashes into the audience. Later the Spencers reflect on their day as they leave the venue.

A 13-minute revival mini-episode done for the BBC Sport Relief charity telethon on 18th March 2016.

It's nice to have the Spencers, including the grown-up Jessica, back for just a brief time, but one gets the feeling that this one little revisit is probably where any planned wholesale revival (which the BBC is considering, it has been suggested) should stop. In common with most of these for-charity mini-episodes, the special is O-K-A-Y but nothing more, really. As might be expected, Michael Craword's age is a bit of a shock at first but he soons settles into the role; Michele Dotrice, not so easily, perhaps. There are a couple of nods to the original series (the Morris Minor and the roller-skating) which are nice, but the strain of having to artificially shoehorn in the celebs, the sporting theme and several sporting stars (the names of whom escape me, I'm afraid) does tend to hamstring the piece a bit, although a self-aware Boris Johnson grinning inanely at the ridiculousness of his participation managed to have me grinning too.

The special was accompanied by chat-show appearances by both Michele Dotrice and Michael Crawford (for some reason looking younger in person than he does in the actual episode) (on Lorraine (tx: 5/3/16) and The One Show (tx: 15/3/16), respectively) and by a live studio appearance by Crawford (out of character) on the Sport Relief programme itself, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette shown later in the evening.