Youth and Mrs Meredith, by the novelists Margerie Scott and Betty Burton, was a three-act generation-gap comedy about the merry old and the amoral young. The particular young person who interests us is Christina Meredith, daughter of the eponymous Mrs Rosa Meredith. She’s a girl who, said The Stage in its review of the first production, has ‘the idea firmly implanted in her small mind that she “must do something big, something really worth doing”, which takes the form of writing sexy books. Small wonder is it that her boy friend, an apparently normal and healthy young man, puts her across his knee and spanks her.’
The normal and healthy boyfriend is named Tony Forrester, and the measures he takes are signaled throughout the first act of the play. Early on, he tells Mrs Meredith that he wants to find ‘the real Christina’ underneath her waywardness. Mrs Meredith has a suggestion:
MRS MEREDITH: You might try giving her a good spanking. I’ve often longed to do it myself.
TONY (musingly): At least it would take her back to childhood, wouldn’t it?
Christina and her brother Dick prove to be youths of advanced ideas, on first-name terms with their mother and generally considered by members of the older generation to be a pain in what is, perhaps surprisingly, not an unmentionable place. Christina’s gets mentioned by her godmother, Caroline, who also has an idea about what should be done to it:
CAROLINE: I hate to say this, Rosa, but I think that girl of yours ought to have her bottom smacked.
MRS MEREDITH: I suggested it myself earlier in the evening. To Tony.
DICK: This is delicious. Do go on. I love these relics of barbarism. Godmothers and smacked bottoms. All very good arguments for the New Youth Movement.
Shortly afterwards, as we approach the end of the first act, Christina has an argument with Tony, and Caroline repeats her recommendation:
CAROLINE: Why don’t you spank her, Tony? I would.
Tony crosses to Christina.
TONY: Do you know, I think I will. (He catches hold of her.) Yes, I’m sure I will.
CHRISTINA: Let me go, you Victorian brute. Dick, make him let me go.
DICK (uncertainly): Let her go at once.
TONY: I think not. I think you’ve been asking for this all evening, and I think you’re going to get it.
CHRISTINA: You wouldn’t dare! Rosa, stop him.
MRS MEREDITH: Oh, I asked him to do it dear. I couldn’t stop him now. It will soon be over, and it won’t hurt much.
CHRISTINA: How dare you, how dare you. Let me go you brute, you fool.
Tony sits on chair, takes her over his knee, and spanks her. She screams and kicks, and then begins to cry. Dick hovers near them uncertainly, but doesn’t try to interfere. Mrs Meredith and Caroline are laughing.
TONY: I’ll let you go in a minute. Take that, my little sweetheart, and see if it does you any good. It hurts me more than it hurts you, but by God, I hope it’s hurting you.
Tony’s bold action wins him plaudits in the second act:
CAROLINE: I approve of that young man, and I did enjoy the spanking he gave our little darling last night.
MRS MEREDITH: She’ll never forgive him.
Caroline disagrees: she thinks it will make her love him all the more. But one effect it doesn’t achieve is Christina’s reformation. After she misbehaves herself at a disastrous party, the characters proceed to discuss what went wrong, and Dick asks, ‘Does this calm, judicial attitude mean that somebody is going to get another good old-fashioned spanking, Rosa, or are you pretending to be someone else?’ And he just can’t leave the subject alone. Later he discusses the matter with his girlfriend, Linda, assuring her that Christina has finished with Tony: ‘After all, he did turn her up and smack her before all of us.’ But Linda doesn’t agree: the thought of the spanking makes her wistful, and she remarks that it just goes to show that Tony cares for Christina.
And so the comedy winds on towards its conclusion. Christina isn’t finished with Tony after all, and she decides she wants him to take a job. As she rushes him out of the house, he tells her,
Christina, you utter little fool. When I get back I’m going to give you the thrashing of your life. You’ve no more common sense than a child. You’re next door to being a plain idiot. I’d almost as soon be married to a wild-cat. You wait here, and when I get back, I’m going to thrash you, do you understand that?
He hasn’t returned by the time the curtain falls, so we are left with the understanding that there’s going to be a second sound spanking in Christina’s near future, even if we won’t get to witness it.
The play was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain on May 18, 1938, and Wallace Geoffrey’s production opened five days later for a week’s run at the ‘Q’ Theatre in Kew, before transfering to the Wimbledon Theatre for another week from May 30. Tony was played by Australian heartthrob Frank Leighton, and Christina was 21-year-old Joyce Heron. In later life she often played battleaxes, notably including ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’, the wife of Rumpole of the Bailey in the comic John Mortimer series of that title. (She was the first of three actresses to take the role.) But here she is as a younger woman:
And the spanking scene was a hit. As The Stage told its readers: ‘Mr Frank Leighton distinguishes himself by the entirely satisfactory way in which he takes the girl across his knees and administers an old-fashioned and long-overdue spanking. This is the highlight of the comedy, and enforces its main point, which is the old and doubtful one that women and walnut trees respond beautifully to whipping.’