Comedy Rewind

...And Mother Makes laughter

...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows left to right: Peter Harrison (David Parfitt), Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig). Credit: Thames Television

...And Mother Makes Three started in 1971 on ITV as a comedy vehicle for actress Wendy Craig. It ran for 26 episodes, plus a short special, totalling four series until 1973 and then morphed into the sequel ...And Mother Makes Five, for a further four series and 26 episodes, from 1974 to 1976.

The sitcom's premise was that Craig's character, Sally Harrison, had been newly widowed and was bringing up two teenage sons, with her Auntie, played by Valerie Lush, on hand to help with the home and the boys. Sally is well-meaning, a loving mother and kind but terribly disorganised and is one of those people who just seem to have things happen to her. While trying to juggle domestic life with her boys, Simon (played by Robin Davies) and Peter (David Parfitt), she also works as a receptionist at a local vet.

Wendy Craig had enjoyed a highly successful sitcom on the BBC from 1967 to 1970 called Not In Front Of The Children. It was this show that made her a household name after years spent in the theatre and appearing in a few small film parts. She was so popular playing the role of the middle-class housewife in the series that she won the 1969 BAFTA for Best Actress. Written by Richard Waring, who had earlier success on the BBC with the sitcom Marriage Lines and went on to write other popular comedies including My Wife Next Door and Rings On Their Fingers, he took inspiration from Not In Front Of The Children and Craig's comic performance to sculpt ...And Mother Makes Three, this time working alongside writers Peter Robinson and Peter Buchanan on some episodes.

...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows from L to R: Simon Harrison (Robin Davies), Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig), Peter Harrison (David Parfitt). Copyright: Thames Television
...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows from L to R: Simon Harrison (Robin Davies), Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig), Peter Harrison (David Parfitt). Copyright: Thames Television

The character of Sally wasn't dissimilar to the part Craig had played in that earlier BBC series: she exhibited a distinctly scatter-brained nature, mixed with some physical comedy and lots of misunderstandings. This wild-eyed haphazardness was very much in the mould of the great American TV comic Lucille Ball and made Wendy and the characters she played endearing to the British public.

The comedy is very gentle in style, centering around Craig's character: mildly harassed and slightly hopeless with home and work life. Her teenage sons aren't tear-aways but they are demanding. This is early 1970s Britain where mum still makes all the meals, does the washing and ironing and keeps the home, widowed or not. Auntie is there to help but Sally seems pulled in every direction, which is evident right at the start in the first episode. After being up half the night fussing over her eldest son Simon, who was camping in the garden as a practice for a school trip, Sally misses the bus and arrives late for work dripping wet, spraying her boss, Mr. Campbell, with rainwater. She's not been there long when Auntie calls to say Simon is ill in bed with a chill and Sally duly runs back home to take care of him.

It's never discussed in the show if Sally needs to work to support her family after the death of her husband, but the fact she tries to hold down a job despite the demands of home life would imply the presumably fairly low pay of a receptionist is at least considerably helpful. Working mothers, especially middle-class ones, were rare in 1970s Britain; there was no flexible working, childcare vouchers, family credit or statutory allowances made by employers for childcare responsibilities. However, in that first episode, her employer is very reasonable when she does leave, and she takes some letters home with her to type up. In that respect ...And Mother Makes Three is disarmingly modern, heralding the beginnings of women juggling career, home and family.

...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows left to right: Peter Harrison (David Parfitt), Simon Harrison (Robin Davies), Auntie (Valerie Lush), Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig). Credit: Thames Television
...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows left to right: Peter Harrison (David Parfitt), Simon Harrison (Robin Davies), Auntie (Valerie Lush), Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig). Credit: Thames Television

Sally is working to support her clan but is alone and a worrier, fussing over her sons and running around after their every whim. Auntie says she can manage when Simon is poorly but Sally insists she wants to come home. Children in the 1970s weren't used to mothers working and the boys are very demanding of Sally's time and energy. No wonder she struggles to hold down her job with the chaos of family life and her disorganised way of trying to please everyone: but this is where the comedy comes from, all the mishaps and trials of life.

Despite Sally being a modern woman she still holds some deeply traditional values. At the start of Series 3, she laments that there's no man about the house to deal with domestic crises such as a dispute with the neighbours. After she calls the neighbour to complain about bricks from building work coming into her garden she worries she had been harsh on the phone:

I wasn't very feminine, was I? This is one of these times when one does miss a man about the house, you know. They have a firm, masculine approach, instead of the hysterical female one.

This does feel distinctly like dialogue a man has written for a woman, although it could just be something we're no longer used to hearing women express, whether in reality or in fiction. Writer Richard Waring has said that his writing was drawn from quotes from his family and used these to develop his comedy.

In this episode Sally first meets David Redway, played by Richard Coleman, who becomes her employer and eventually her husband. By the end of Series 3 they are engaged and by the middle of Series 4 they are married. The last few episodes of ...And Mother Makes Three deal with the very early teething troubles of two families living in one house together. At this point, David's daughter Jane, played by Miriam Mann, is often away at boarding school so it retains the feel of the dynamic established in Series 1.

...And Mother Makes Five. Image shows from L to R: Peter Redway (David Parfitt), Simon Redway (Robin Davies), Sally Redway (Wendy Craig), David Redway (Richard Coleman), Jane Redway (Maxine Gordon)
...And Mother Makes Five. Image shows from L to R: Peter Redway (David Parfitt), Simon Redway (Robin Davies), Sally Redway (Wendy Craig), David Redway (Richard Coleman), Jane Redway (Maxine Gordon)

However, to denote this change in the family circumstances and with a new actress, Maxine Gordon, playing Jane, the sitcom was reborn as ...And Mother Makes Five in 1974. Jane Redway is no longer sent to boarding school and a permanent fixture in the home, with this incarnation of the comedy focusing on the five-strong clan getting on with domestic and family life, work and school. Not a great deal changed from the preceding series: there's still trouble around the home and teenage children facing their own dilemmas; it's just that the central unit are what we would now call a 'blended family'. With Sally as scatter-brained as always, she simply has more to cope with.

Five begins with the Redways borrowing a friend's caravan for a holiday and excitedly packing and making plans, only to discover that it's pokey, falling to bits and the stove has exploded. A farcical situation soon unfolds as they try to think of excuses for not taking it away after all. Sally comes up with the idea of hiding the caravan around the corner, only for David to report it stolen. It's a humourous mix of real life, slapstick and exaggerated comic situations that gets slightly out of hand.

Meanwhile the two teenage sons don't want to leave behind the TV, and the eldest, Simon, would like to delay the trip by a day so he can go to a pop concert. This is the starting pistol of the (now three) children growing up and breaking away from step-/mum and step-/dad. As the four series progress all three grow increasingly interested in the opposite sex, want to go to parties and eventually start their own lives.

...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows left to right: Simon Harrison (Robin Davies), David Redway (Richard Coleman), Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig), Peter Harrison (David Parfitt), Jane Redway (Miriam Mann). Credit: Thames Television
...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows left to right: Simon Harrison (Robin Davies), David Redway (Richard Coleman), Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig), Peter Harrison (David Parfitt), Jane Redway (Miriam Mann). Credit: Thames Television

Richard Waring remained the creator and chief writer of the series throughout Five's lifespan, although now he was joined by a few staff writers from producers Thames Television who would contribute or pen single episodes. This was one of the many sitcoms in which writers such as Brian Cooke, Johnnie Mortimer and Carla Lane made valuable contributions, and indeed where Carla and Wendy Craig, who went on to work together on Butterflies, first met.

However, the biggest and most notable change in the writing was that Craig wrote 13 episodes herself, using the pseudonym 'Jonathan Marr'. In interviews such as this, with actors directory Spotlight, she has explained that she penned them with her husband, musician, journalist and scriptwriter Jack Bentley, and in doing so she got 'the bug' for writing. Eventually, he would go on to co-write the series Laura And Disorder for her. She used the singular male alias for this work as she didn't want producers to think she was 'just another actress who thinks she can write'.

Both ...And Mother Makes Three and ...And Mother Makes Five were produced and directed by Peter Frazer-Jones, who was known for working on some of Thames's biggest comedy shows. By the time he came to these series, he'd already worked with Frankie Howerd, Dickie Henderson and David Nixon, and would go on to other classic sitcoms including Man About The House, George And Mildred and Robin's Nest.

...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows left to right: Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig), David Redway (Richard Coleman). Credit: Thames Television
...And Mother Makes Three. Image shows left to right: Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig), David Redway (Richard Coleman). Credit: Thames Television

Although largely overlooked today in favour of titles such as those mentioned above, both incarnations of ...And Mother Makes were big hits for ITV broadcaster Thames. Three was the 11th most-watched show of the year in 1973 and Five attained 9th position in 1974. This kind of light comedy had long proved very attractive to audiences and Wendy Craig was a hugely popular figure herself, winning the Variety Club ITV TV Personality of the Year in 1973, and The TV Times Award for Funniest Woman on TV in 1972, 73 and 74.

Later on in the decade, and into the 1980s, Craig would become synonymous with another frustrated housewife role: Ria in Carla Lane's Butterflies. This was a much meatier part and subject matter, and originally the public was surprised by the transition, as they were so used to seeing her play a more carefree, light character. But it is a testament to Wendy Craig's charm and skill as a comedic actress and how the ...And Mother Makes scripts were crafted, that, although rarely repeated, they are still held with much affection now.


Where to start?

...And Mother Makes Three. Sally Harrison (Wendy Craig). Credit: Thames Television

Series 3, Episode 1 - Gather Ye Mushrooms While Ye May

When Sally tries to start a mushroom farm in her back garden the neighbours building work disrupts her plans, and needs a massive amount of straw. When she telephones the neighbour to complain she has no idea that she is speaking to someone who will turn out to be a major factor in her working and home life in the future.

And Mother Makes... Three & Five - The Complete Series

This duo of sparkling Thames comedies provided an early hit for BAFTA-winning comedienne Wendy Craig (Butterflies), showcasing her talents as a harassed, well-meaning but scatterbrained young widow doing her best to bring up two rambunctious sons.

...And Mother Makes Three sees Sally Harrison not only keeping an eye on sons Simon and Peter but also conducting an on-off romance with antiquarian bookseller David Redway.

...And Mother Makes Five hilariously charts Sally's continuing tribulations, as she and the boys adapt to sharing their life with David and his rather reserved daughter, Jane.

The combined casts include Tony Britton, Patricia Routledge and future Oscar winner David Parfitt, with several episodes written by Wendy Craig; both series are produced and directed by distinguished sitcom veteran Peter Frazer-Jones.

This set brings together both complete series for the first time.

First released: Monday 26th November 2012

  • Distributor: Network
  • Region: 2
  • Discs: 8
  • Minutes: 1,300
  • Catalogue: 7953789

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