When Joe Pasquale returns to Lighthouse to star as the hapless Frank Spencer in the stage adaptation of classic British TV sitcom Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em (3 – 7 March), memories are sure to turn to one of the show’s most famous episodes filmed on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.

More than 15 million people tuned in for the first of the second series when it was broadcast on 22 November 1973. In the episode Cliffhanger Frank (played by Michael Crawford) celebrates getting a company car with his new job on a chicken farm by taking his long-suffering wife Betty for a picnic.

It all starts well enough but, being Frank, it’s not long before he has managed to reverse the Morris Minor half off the cliff somehow ending up see-sawing on the cliff edge as he hangs from the exhaust pipe and tries to climb to safety.

In a series that was noted for its heart-stopping stunts – all of which Crawford performed himself – the Cliffhanger sequence still stands out as particularly perilous.

The scene was filmed on Seacombe Cliffs, near Dancing Ledge at Langton Matravers and was remembered in a BBC Radio Solent documentary broadcast on Christmas Day 2015.

“We had to dig a hole for two railway sleepers and then fasten the car with some hinges,” retired stunt co-ordinator Stuart Fell told presenter Richard Latto. “Watch for when Michael appears to transfer his grip from the bumper to the exhaust pipe – it's not an exhaust pipe.

“We had to weld a huge great big metal pipe which was secure and able to move and look precarious as he held on to it.”

The coastguard received a series of calls from passing ships to report a car stuck on the cliff and someone hanging off the back.

In his autobiography, Michael Crawford described the stunt as “one of my all-time favourites”.

“I had enormous trust in and respect for our wonderful team of stunt advisors. We were meticulous in how we rehearsed our stunts for the show. Success is all in the planning, the control and knowing how to hang on like grim death!”

The episode ends with a passing rugby team – played by members of Swanage and Wareham RFC – pulling Frank to safety.

Published 25 February 2020