Ethel Painter has bitter memories of feeling the strap across her teenage bottom, so now that she is a mother she has forbidden her husband Henry to use corporal punishment on her own teenage daughters. That is the core situation of the 1960 comedy Family Crackers by the Bradford playwright Marion Baines. In consequence, as The Stage explained in its review of the first production, ‘The younger one is getting out of hand, knowing that there is no fear of being spanked.’ So it’s pretty obvious where this play is going to end up…
Barbara Painter’s indiscipline is demonstrated early on when she uses her sister Lesley’s make-up without permission. Annoyed by this, Lesley strikes her, offstage, so Barbara goes and complains to her parents, then retaliates when Lesley comes on. The stage direction specifies: ‘Barbara runs up to Lesley and slaps her bottom, hard.’ It seems that, despite Ethel’s opinions, there is some satisfaction in a smacked bottom after all.
Barbara is obviously a troubled teen, and her parents refer her to a psychiatrist, who tells them that she must be allowed ‘free expression’. This free expression supplies much of the comedy as Barbara then proceeds to run riot. What the Painters don’t know until much later is that the head-shrinker is a charlatan. Finally they consult a real psychiatrist, Dr Young, and he has a very different recommendation:
ETHEL: Do you honestly think that a spanking is the cure?
HENRY: I don’t think, I know! (He picks up a slipper.)
DR YOUNG: But with due reserve, Mr Painter.
HENRY: Barbara. Come here.
BARBARA: I won’t.
HENRY: Come right over here you dear little vixen…
BARBARA: I won’t. You can’t scare me!
Henry grabs her. She struggles but he finally puts her across his knees and gives her six of the best with his slipper. Barbara shouts and yells. He releases her and she is silent.
The Lord Chamberlain licensed the play on January 26, 1960, and it opened at the Prince’s Theatre, Bradford, on February 8 in a Court Players production directed by Doel Luscombe. (This was the same repertory company that had produced Friendly Relations in 1953 with the future Pat Phoenix.) Henry was played by the ubiquitous northerner George Malpas, and Barbara was brown-haired Irish actress Marie Seaborne, still playing a teenager at the age of 25. She was near the end of her professional stage career: she left acting to become a French teacher after she married in 1961, though she continued to appear in amateur Shakespeare productions in Southsea for many years. The play itself had an even shorter life on the stage: after its week’s outing at Bradford, it was never published and never revived. The Sixties were, after all, just beginning…