Any scriptwriter is only too aware that the biggest hurdle in life is getting that big break. Irrespective of the pride and high regard they have for their own work, one can never determine what “the powers that be” think of it, hence the writing industry being often termed as ‘the industry of rejection’. The secret to the success of any writer is persistence and being able to be at the right place at the right time. In 2017, thanks in part to the existence of social media, nobody can be unreachable and networking with influential people is now easier than ever. Yet for writer Ray Allen, living in a small community such as Ryde on the Isle of Wight seemed a million miles away from the British showbiz mecca of London’s West End.
Press Play, below, to listen to the full interview
After leaving school, Ray became a cub reporter for The Isle of Wight Times which helped to sustain his passions in entertainment but he knew his aspirations would not be satisfied at such a local level. Ray’s next job would see him treading the boards in the theatre but possibly not quite what he imagined. As the toilet cleaner in a local theatre, Ray would often witness acts coming and going, only dreaming that one day he would have a part to play in a production. It was around this time that he began to send comedy scripts into the BBC in the hope of escaping the laborious world of toilet cleaning. After being rejected over forty times, Ray was determined to have a successful sitcom on his hands and in 1973 he did. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em followed the frequently alternative life of the hapless Frank Spencer and his ever supportive wife Betty as they coped with his regular spells of ineptitude.
The difficult task of portraying such a bizarre character was eventually left to musical theatre star Michael Crawford after the role was rejected by comedy heavyweights Ronnie Barker and Norman Wisdom. Crawford was able to add an authenticity to the character of Frank Spencer through his background in straight theatre which attempted to offer the role a three dimensional and fully rounded value. Over the three series. Ray and Michael became close and Ray even recalls an occasion when the star flew his private plane to Bembridge airport on the Isle of Wight for the weekend to visit. Yet all good things must come to an end and in 1978 the nation said a fond farewell to Frank and Betty as a result of Crawford’s commitments to the theatre. The show was still riding high in the ratings but Michael Crawford knew enough was enough and Ray Allen was forced to find another outlet for his talents.
Despite penning a handful of local plays on the Isle of Wight, Ray was never able to replicate the success of Some Mother’s… something which one finds it extremely difficult to fathom in light of the BBC’s dominance within the world of sitcom during this time. Despite this, Ray continued to write and has a handful of successful stage plays to his name which have been performed throughout the country. In 2016 Frank and Betty returned for a one-off special in aid of Sport Relief which saw Ray out of retirement to pen the dialogue of his best loved character. It was certainly an emotional reunion for the sitcom which still makes Britain laugh but for the cast and crew, it seemed like they’d never been apart. Today, Ray lives a quieter life, yet he is often a prime candidate to talk at theatrical events on the island and is never without a following of people wanting to know about the man behind the beret. It was a pleasure to spend the afternoon with Ray and may he have a long and enjoyable retirement with wife to be Nancy. It never ceases to amaze me just how many remarkable people you can have right on your doorstep!