There Isn’t a Spanking Scene in… A Girl Called Jo

… but you could be forgiven for thinking there is, if you only had the evidence of this photograph from the opening scene:

Girl Called Jo

A Girl Called Jo was a 1955 musical based on Louisa May Alcott’s American classic, Little Women, written by Peter Myers, Alec Grahame and David Climie. What you’re looking at is an embarrassing moment when Jo March is meeting her boyfriend-to-be, Theodore Laurence, known as Laurie. It’s based on a passing reference in Chapter 3 of the book, when Jo explains, ‘I have a bad trick of standing before the fire, and so I burn my frocks.’

And that’s what happens to her on stage: the back of her crinoline catches fire. ‘Already Laurie has her over his knee,’ says the stage direction, ‘and is beating out the smouldering – although it does look as though he’s spanking her.’ And yes, that is the maid Hannah (Gwen Nelson) you can see, drawing the wrong conclusion:

HANNAH: Well! And what’s going on here?

JO (from her undignified position): I caught fire, and Mr Laurence is kindly putting me out.

HANNAH: Then he should do it in a more proper manner.

JO: I didn’t catch fire in a proper place.

The play was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain on November 18, 1955, and Denis Carey’s production previewed for three weeks at the Manchester Opera House from November 22 before opening at London’s Piccadilly Theatre on December 15. It ran for 141 performances, with Denis Quilley in the role of Laurie and Joan Heal as Jo, and closed in April.

In case you’re struggling to remember, we’ve met Denis Carey before: he directed the 1954 Old Vic production of The Taming of the Shrew in which Ann Todd was spanked. And we’ll be meeting Denis Quilley again, in another musical from later in 1956. It will, quite coincidentally, reunite him with Joan Heal, seen here…


Don’t worry, dear: the play will feature action involving his knee and his hand – but not your bottom!

Update (July 2022): An extract from the play, apparently including the opening scene, was broadcast by the BBC from the Piccadilly Theatre on the evening of January 24, 1956. So the non-spanking that looks remarkably like a spanking reached an even wider audience…

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