Despite it’s name there was no Betty Witherspoon, the character, if there ever was one, never appaeared as either a real person or indeed a character. It appears the idea for the title was a parody of the Simon Dee show, very popular around the time this series was recorded.
All this aside The Betty Witherspoon Show was a BBC Radio series, the idea of BBC Radio producer David Hatch. Having seen Williams an Ray work together before on Carry On Teacher in 1959 and Frost On Sunday in 1968 it was felt that there may have been a chemistry between the two comics.
A pilot show was made on 25th June 1972 at the Playhouse Theatre, and lead to a full series, originally scheduled for thirteen, but subequently the number was edited down to ten episodes, the first of which 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 mornings were not the best time of the week to find an enthusiastic audience!
Whatever the chemistry present between Williams and Ray in their previous appearences together, it was not present in The Betty Witherspoon Show. Whilst both were clearly 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 programme.
The problem seemed to come in the comedy. The Betty Wetherspoon Show required a straight man like many comedy double acts. Unfortunately there were two huge comedy stars: Kenneth Williams, whose comedy usually came from the contrast of his outrageous characters and a figure of authority (such as in Round the Horne (with the respectible Kenneth Horne at the helm). Or in Hancock’s Half Hour, with the pompous Tony Hancock and the snide character), and in the Betty Witherspoon Show this figure was absent. Then there was Ted Ray a top comedian who 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.
Subsequently Ted Ray complained about his lack of funny lines. The balence of the show was changed to give Ted Ray more gags. Kenneth Williams wascsaid to have wrote in his diary that he considered the show to be a write off, but although he said this about practically everything he was in for any length of time, especially stage productions, he had hit the nail on the head with this.
The show was not the success producers might have hoped for but it limped on. By the 27th November 1972, new writers were being sought, and after the last show of the series was recorded on 22nd January 1973, no more were made. There would be a gap of a year between the recording and broadcast of the series.
Thirteen recording sessions were made for the series which would concur with the plan for thirteen episodes. However cuts were made to bring the episode count to ten.
Ted Ray and Kenneth Williams give us their take on famous characters and films alongside performing sketches and songs
Channel: BBC Radio 2
Created By: David Hatch
Written By: Michael Wale and Joe Steeples
Produced By: Simon Brett
Original Transmission Dates: 27th April – 29th June 1974