Raymond Allen, who has died aged 82, was a television script writer who accumulated nothing but rejection slips before he struck comedy gold with Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, the sitcom starring Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice that attracted 26 million viewers at its peak in the 1970s.
Allen never set out to write comedy, but after the BBC rejected his 40th serious drama script he decided to have a go. At first it seemed he would be no more successful, one rejection letter informing him that it was important to have “a sense of humour, an ear for dialogue and some writing talent. Having read your script you don’t appear to have any of these.”
But in the early 1970s he hit on the idea of creating a sitcom based on himself. “I am accident-prone,” he told an interviewer. “I tend to drop trays and break things and I’m always walking into things that have just been painted.”
The fictional alter-ego Allen created was the hapless Frank Spencer, a clumsy, childlike but well-meaning character who wreaked devastation wherever he went, watched or sometimes accompanied by his long-suffering wife Betty.
Allen’s working title (after the KitKat ad) was “Have A Break, Take A Husband”, and to begin with Betty was going to be the main character: “She was going to be the strong one and Frank would trudge along behind her. But once I started writing, Frank took over.”
Ronnie Barker, Jim Dale and Norman Wisdom were all considered for the role of Frank (Norman Wisdom turned it down because he did not find the script funny) before Michael Crawford got the part and Michele Dotrice was cast as Frank’s loyal wife.
Up to 20 million viewers regularly tuned in to Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, which ran for 22 episodes on BBC1 from 1973, ending on Christmas Day 1978.
What made it work was the genius of Michael Crawford who famously performed all his own stunts, with his character tumbling down stairs or his house falling down around him, or grappling with planes, trains and automobiles for risky laughs. His flair for physical comedy, together with Frank’s mismatched ensemble of tanktop, belted mac and beret, his malapropisms and “Oooh Betty” catchphrase, made Crawford a household name.
Allen had originally conceived a fairly traditional domestic sitcom but Crawford’s outlandish stunts soon began to overshadow the script. By the end of the third series Allen was happy to consign Frank and Betty to history: “When the first two series finished it was like a bereavement; I suddenly began thinking: ‘I’ll never see Frank again.’ But by the end I was just relieved that we’d got through it.”
Raymond John Allen was born at Ryde, on the Isle of Wight on March 15 1940 to Les Allen, a railway supervisor, and the former Ivy Ayley. He left secondary modern school aged 16 to work as a reporter on the local paper but only lasted 18 months. While attempting to sell his scripts he worked, variously, as a shop assistant, as an RAF accounts clerk, as a hotel dishwasher, then as a cleaner at the Regal Cinema, Shanklin, though he continued to be supported by his parents: “Not surprisingly, I was very depressed.”
Allen enjoyed a comfortable income from repeat fees from Some Mothers, but never had another hit. “I sold a few one-off scripts but none that led to a series” he told the Daily Express in 2016. “My scripts would be rejected by people saying, ‘It’s quite funny but it’s not as good as Some Mothers…’ And often when I tried creating characters they kept turning into Frank.”
In 2017 Allen married Nancy Williams who survives him with a stepson.
Raymond Allen, born March 15 1940, died October 2 2022