Sitcom star Michael Crawford says he nearly died in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em sand stunt



From dangling hundreds of feet above the English Channel from a car’s exhaust pipe to roller-skating beneath a moving lorry, Michael Crawford ’s death-­defying stunts in Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em are TV legend.

But now, on the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of the much-loved sitcom, the star has revealed that one feat very nearly killed him.

Michael, who devised and performed all of hapless character Frank Spencer’s stunts himself, was almost suffocated by a pile of sand – just a few seconds longer and he would have been a goner, he admits.

Speaking from his home in New Zealand, the star, 81, says the plan was to end an episode with Frank standing behind a truck when it dumps its load of sand, burying him so just his beret is left on top.

The BBC crew didn’t rehearse because it would have taken so long to move the sand back onto the lorry, so they did it in one take – with near-disastrous results.

Sitcom star Michael Crawford
Sitcom star Michael Crawford is now 81 and lives in New Zealand ( WireImage)
Michael Crawford reprising his Frank Spencer role for a Sport Relief special in 2016
Michael Crawford reprising his Frank Spencer role for a Sport Relief special in 2016 ( PA)

Michael recalls: “I was supposed to lift up my arm as it tipped so that I could wave through the sand to get help if I couldn’t get out when the camera stopped rolling. But the sand was so heavy I could barely lift my arm. The sand was squashing my rib cage and I was unable to breathe.

“I was holding my breath for about 30 seconds and panicking. I eventually managed to push my hand through but had to wait until the credits had rolled because the audience would see my arm.

“Then I was waving like mad, frantically waving. They pulled me clear and cleared my mouth but another 15 seconds I would have been a goner. I was gasping for breath. That was close. It was pretty bad. That was the one I thought I might have gone too far this time but there was no health and safety in those days.”

Frank Spencer hangs from an exhaust pipe in classic sitcom scene
Frank Spencer hangs from an exhaust pipe in classic sitcom scene

Despite that close call, Michael got a buzz out of performing the stunts during his five years playing the accident-prone husband. His favourite was when Frank, sitting his driving test for the 10th time, steers off a pier.

He says: “That was filmed in Sheppey where I grew up and so many people came out to watch, loads of people I knew.” The scene where his character roller skates under a real lorry took a lot of prep, he reveals.

“I loved roller-skating as a kid, so I was determined to do a stunt because I was actually pretty good at it. We flagged down a passing lorry driver, off the A3 I think, and offered him £30 to drive in a straight line really slowly.

“We put boards on his side windows so he couldn’t see me coming at him from the side because he would have braked automatically and I would have been crushed under the wheels.

“I was bending and swerving all over the place and there was a camera on each side of the lorry to get the money shot. By the time we’d rehearsed it many times the lorry driver was getting fed up, so we had to give him £50.”

Frank Spencer rollerskating behind a bus in Some Mother Do 'Ave 'Em clip
Frank Spencer rollerskating behind a bus in Some Mother Do 'Ave 'Em clip

The daredevil tricks were more than a thrill, the actor and tenor believes.

He adds: “I felt like we were really achieving something, that what we were doing was daring and modern. I always liked this kind of physical comedy, like Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton. I was Frank with my whole body. As an actor you want your audience to love what you do and they loved the stunts.”

Following its first broadcast on February 15, 1973, Some Mothers was soon attracting 25 million viewers keen to watch Frank lurch from disaster to disaster as he tried – and failed – to hold down a job to support his ever-patient wife Betty and tot Jessica.

Now, it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role – but Michael was cast after both Norman Wisdom and Ronnie Barker turned it down. The star laughs: “Luckily for me! I admired both of them but I don’t think they saw in the writing what I did. I saw a chance to make Frank my own.”

Real-life daughters Emma and Lucy, seven and nine when filming began, were the perfect inspiration for the character.

“The fidgeting and wide-eyed wonder, their responses to things you say, the way you can see in their faces their minds ticking over,” he says. “I wanted him to be an innocent, like a child, yet I wanted him to be married. It was important that he had the right wife, someone who would love him and be able to tolerate his failings.”

He describes Michele Dotrice as “perfect” as Betty and the reason the show was such a success, adding: “It really wouldn’t have been without her.”

The great friends, who speak on the phone weekly, reprised their roles in 2016 for a one-off special for Sport Relief – with some milder stunts.

Michelle Dotrice and Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
Michelle Dotrice and Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em - they're still pals today ( BBC)

While live theatre is Michael’s first love – he won awards for roles in Phantom of the Opera and Barnum – he is forever grateful to Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em for boosting his success.

He says: “After Frank finished I had gained a whole new audience. Some 25 million used to tune in and many of those people came to see me on stage afterwards.

“I took Frank’s fans with me back to the theatre and I will always be grateful to him for that. He was wonderful and I will always feel very lucky to have played him.”

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