What was the earliest spanking to be shown on television?
Well, 1951 saw I Love Lucy kick in, which is pretty early, right? Lucille Ball got the first of the show’s four spankings on January 21, 1952:
We know that, around the same time, The Dennis James Show (1952-54) featured a flirtatious relationship between James and his co-host Julia Meade,
which occasionally saw her getting spanked across his knee. We also know, in vague terms, about spanking scenes in early crime series such as Martin Kane, Private Eye (1949-54) and Rocky King, Detective (1950-54), both of which were running before I Love Lucy.
But neither Lucy nor these other dimly remembered, slenderly documented scenes can claim to be a television first. They’re all in the wrong decade, and, incidentally, on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
The fact is that spanking in television drama is literally as old as television drama itself. The first ever play specifically written for television was Felicity’s First Season, scripted by Charles Terrot (1915-84) and produced for the BBC by the future Royal Television Society award-winner George More O’Ferrall (1907-82). Originally entitled These Our Daughters, it was a one-hour comedy that was performed live on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 13, 1938, and again the following Saturday evening, September 17, probably to a somewhat larger audience. The title role of Felicity Graie, ‘one of the most beautiful debutantes of the year’, was taken by Joan White, who was best known for playing Phoebe in Laurence Olivier’s film version of As You Like It in 1936.
And she was the first person ever to be spanked on television!
There is no surviving recording of Felicity’s First Season, not least for the simple reason that the technology to record television broadcasts didn’t exist until the late 1940s. However, we do know one thing about the program that will help us envisage what it would have been like to watch it: each of the five scenes was shot using only one camera. So there were no close-ups or clever angles: what you saw was the whole set with the actors moving about in it. It would have been like watching a stage play, only on a little 12-inch screen…
Except there were a couple tricks in Felicity’s First Season that you wouldn’t see in the theater. For one thing, the second scene takes place in the very same room as the first, a novelist’s study, but completely transformed as it has been taken over for a dinner party. We might take that for granted because it’s so easily done on film: you shoot the first scene, then redress the set, shoot the second scene and have the film editor splice the two together. But without an interval, it’s impossible to do in the theater because you can’t change the set instantaneously. They managed it on live television – by building two versions of the same set at opposite sides of the studio, and shooting them with different cameras. So this was a low-key piece of television ‘magic’, though not one that was much remarked upon by early reviewers, who were more impressed by the effect used to transition from London to Scotland between the third and fourth scenes: an inserted film sequence.
As the play begins, Felicity, daughter of the thriller novelist Raymond Graie (Eric Maturin) and his wife Cynthia, is expected home from Paris, but has not arrived. It turns out that she missed her early morning flight but accepted a ride in a private plane belonging to Dicky Travers whom she finds ‘moderately amusing in small doses’, but whose reputation is that of a Don Juan, ‘a thorough cad and a bounder’. When she gets home, she encounters reporter ‘Scoop’ Hayson, who is trying to get quotes from Raymond about what it’s like to be a deb’s father. Romance develops and ‘Scoop’ asks her to marry him – but because her parents will disapprove, she proposes that they elope. They only have to spend three weeks living in Scotland and then they can be married at Gretna Green – so she walks out of her own coming-out ball to catch the train for Scotland, leaving an apologetic note behind:
‘Darling Daddy, I’m eloping with Scoop. Awfully sorry if it’s a bore. Break the news to Mummie. Love, Felicity.’
The disappearance of a prominent debutante is a major news story, driving the European crisis off the front pages. Since her parents have not let on about the note, the popular theory is that she has wandered off suffering from amnesia. In fact, she and Scoop are living in a a cottage on a lonely Scottish moor, enduring unappetizing Caledonian food – a gluey omelette and tea that tastes like iodine – and with only the gramophone for entertainment. So Felicity is disgruntled and bored.
Together they play a make-believe game, pretending they are living the high life as they wait out their three weeks. But this turns into an argument, and Scoop calls her a silly little girl. She retaliates by throwing a lump of omelette at his head, whereupon he dashes the spoon out of her hand – and things get serious.
FELICITY (in outraged tones): Scoop, you struck me!
(Jumps up and runs to gramophone)
SCOOP: And unless you behave yourself I’ll strike you again… only next time it’ll be on your little —
(As she seizes record and prepares to fling it at him)
SCOOP: No, not that one! It’s one of my favourites.
(The record whizzes past his head and breaks against the wall. Felicity seizes another record. Scoop rushes across to her and attempts to wrest it from her, they struggle, knocking over aspidistra stand. She eventually smashes record across his head.)
SCOOP: Now, you young wildcat, I’ll give you a lesson.
(Felicity wriggles free, turns back to table, seizes whole dish of omelette, and as Scoop is about to grasp her, pushes it in his face. The omelette sticks.)
FELICITY (while he is gasping and trying to get omelette out of his eyes): That’s my lesson to you, you young cub.
SCOOP: Just you wait!
(But Felicity doesn’t. She retreats back, seizes coal-brush from fireplace and sticks it in his face as he comes after her; the coal-dust adheres to the omelette, so his face is blackened. She drops brush, moves to gramophone and flings three records at him in quick succession.
Sound of a car driving up outside cottage, but neither of the combatants appear to notice it.
Before Scoop has had time to recover from the shower of records, Felicity lowers her now tousled head and charges him straight in the wind, causing him to overbalance. He falls against the table, which is knocked completely over. He is up again in a second, grasps Felicity in the middle, sits on chair, hauls her across his knees, and gives her a spanking.)
FELICITY (crying with rage as she is being spanked): You brute! You brute! Thank Heavens I’ve discovered what you’re really like before it’s too late! And to think I was going to marry a wife-beater! What an escape!
SCOOP: The escape is entirely mine – to think I was going to marry a husband-beater!
(Lets her go)
That car drawing up contained Raymond and Cynthia Graie, who enter just too late to witness their daughter being spanked, though it sounds as if her mother wouldn’t have been too put out if he had seen it. ‘You’re a very, very naughty girl,’ she tells Felicity, ‘and deserve to be punished most severely, but it seems as though you’ve learnt your lesson, so we’re going to try and forget about it.’ She then asks what Scoop has done to her. ‘He has just beaten me,’ replies Felicity, and is sent upstairs to pack her things. While she’s out of the room, Cynthia tells Scoop what’s going to happen now: the Graies are going to stick to the amnesia story, and Scoop is going to keep his mouth shut.
And that seems to be that. Felicity and her luggage are driven away, leaving Scoop at the cottage. But there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the car, so Raymond had to stay behind with Scoop. This results in a scene of embarrassed English small-talk about the weather and the fishing, until the conversation turns to the little matter of the spanking Felicity has just received:
RAYMOND: I say, how did you get your face so dirty?
SCOOP: Felicity dusted it with the coal brush.
RAYMOND: Was that why you spanked her?
SCOOP: That and other things,
SCOOP: She parked an omelette in my face, flung a few records at me, and ended up by knocking me down.
RAYMOND: In that case I don’t blame you for spanking her – I’ve often wanted to spank her myself.
SCOOP (bitterly): However, there’ll be no further opportunity of her repeating her assault.
… whereupon Raymond and Scoop become friends, and the first hurdle is overcome.
Later on, Felicity comes to regret breaking off their engagement: ‘I behaved in a pretty stinking way to him and we had a row. I was frightfully hungry at the time and I didn’t realize how much he meant to me until I’d eaten a mixed grill,’ she tells Dicky Travers, who’s present at a social occasion chez Graie and would rather like to slip into the fiancé vacancy himself. Felicity turns him down, and he gives her a ‘brotherly’ kiss – just as Scoop arrives, sent by his paper to cover the event. A fight follows, and Dicky knocks Scoop out, which reinforces Felicity’s feelings. She says how much she adores Scoop and tries to wake him up – but when he does, he dazedly thinks he’s still in Scotland having the fight that led up to the spanking. She throws water over him, he admits that he heard what she said – and true love conquers all!