Throughout the 1970s, no impressionist's act, from Mike Yarwood and Lenny Henry to countless lesser-known performers, was complete without a Frank Spencer. A brown raincoat, black beret tugged down to one side, and a fey "Ooh, Betty..." was about all that was needed to invoke Raymond Allen's iconic comic creation.
When the BBC started development work on Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, their first choice for the role - perhaps thinking back to his 'gump' persona - was Norman Wisdom; second to him was Ronnie Barker. When both actors turned down the part, the corporation plumped for Michael Crawford, at the time a relative unknown. Crawford's hands-on approach to the script, character and, famously, stunts came together to create a series that spanned five years and 22 episodes, becoming a major feature of the '70s television landscape.
Perfectly introduced by Ronnie Hazelhurst's down-at-heel piccolo theme (for which he earned £30), Frank Spencer was a character very much of his time, with loftier aspirations than Reg Varney's jack-the-lad Stan Butler in On the Buses (ITV, 1969-73), and not yet of an age where politics could define a layabout like Wolfie in Citizen Smith (BBC, 1977-80). Frank was a man adrift: unemployed, unemployable, as ineffectual in his efforts as a handyman as in his manliness, driving everyone he meets towards a nervous breakdown with his incompetence, naivety, trivial asides and tedious references to his (deceased) mother. Spencer was an unlikely comic icon, but whether attempting to mend a leaking pipe or build sets for a nativity play, the chaos that ensued from introducing the character into an everyday situation had audiences convulsed with laughter.
While most sitcoms of the period were largely enclosed, Frank's misadventures frequently took him outside the studio, involving brilliantly choreographed stunts that largely hold up today. Many, like his manic roller-skate ride through the streets, are burned into the memory of a generation.
To the surprise of many, at the end of the second series Frank's wife, Betty, gives birth to a daughter, Jessica. Aside from indicating a maturing of the characters, this introduced a musical element to 1978's third series, in which Frank sings a lullaby to his daughter. This both showed a more sympathetic side to Spencer and highlighted Crawford's undoubted vocal abilities, pointing to his second wave of fame as a star of stage musicals such as Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.