The Betty Witherspoon Show

This show was the idea of David Hatch, with production by Simon Brett, but this wasn’t the first time that Williams and Ray had paired up. In 1959 they had both appeared in Carry on Teacher, Ray as the Headmaster of the School, and Williams as the English Teacher. A decade later in 1968, they appeared together on LWTs interview show, Frost on Sunday – a peculiar edition as there was a technician’s strike, so the show was recorded by the management. Whilst there was a certain chemistry both times, the working relationship was not the same in The Betty Witherspoon Show.

Parody of the Simon Dee Show

The title of the show was a one joke parody of the Simon Dee show, so popular at the time, but Betty didn’t appear, either as a person or a character, instead being introduced every week, only to have Ray start his monologue. A pilot show was made on 25th June 1972 at the Playhouse Theatre, and lead to the series of, originally thirteen, subsequently edited down to ten episodes, of which the first was recorded on Monday 16th October 1972. The series was recorded on a Monday Morning at the Paris in Lower Regent Street, with Nigel Rees, and Miriam Margolyes in support, but this is perhaps where the rot set in, as Monday morning recording sessions are not the best time of the week to find an enthusiastic audience! Whilst Williams and Ray were able to play characters within a film, and even share the limelight on a chat show, there were tensions about sharing the star billing of a radio program. William’s comedy usually came from the contrast of his outrageous characters and a figure of authority (such as in Round the Horne, with the respectable Kenneth Horne at the helm against Chou En Ginsberg or Julian and Sandy, or in Hancock’s Half Hour, with the pompous Tony Hancock and the snide character), and in BWS this figure was absent. Ray was more at home telling gags or fronting his own show (Joker’s Wild, Does the Team Think, and Ray’s a Laugh) and was uncomfortable in the role of a straight man. This obviously led to complaints from Ted about the lack of funny lines, and the balance of the show was subsequently changed. Williams, characteristically, wrote in his diary that he considered the show to be a write off, but although he said this about everything he was in for any length of time, especially stage productions, he had hit the nail on the head with this.

Although the show limped on, by the 27th of November, new writers were being sought, and after the last show was recorded on 22nd January 1973, no more were made, and there was a gap of a year between the recording and broadcast of the series. There was a total of thirteen recording sessions for the series, confirming the original plan for the 13-episode run, but we can only wonder at what was cut to make the show acceptable. None of the shows were originally retained by the BBC archive, but following the Treasure Hunt campaign, nine editions of the show were returned and have now been broadcast on BBC7, whilst the other edition has also been found and offered to the BBC but is not in broadcast quality.