Anthony Marriott (1931-2014), the co-author of the hotel-based farce No Room for Love, was a prolific television writer of the 1960s, with credits ranging from The Avengers to Fireball XL5, but his best-known work was the 1971 stage play, No Sex Please, We’re British. His collaborator, Bob Grant (1932-2003), was a toothy actor who went on to play one of the gangsters in the 1978 revival of Kiss Me Kate, but is best remembered as the conductor in the down-market sitcom On the Buses. Their play premiered at Brighton’s Theatre Royal on May 19, 1975 – which was exactly four months before the start of a better known hotel-based farce, Fawlty Towers, on British television. But No Room for Love can boast one thing that Fawlty Towers never managed: a spanking scene!
The Lawns Hotel in provincial Kingstanton has seen better days. The farce that happens there turns on two hinges that abet mistaken identity. First, like many hotels, this one doesn’t have a Room 13: between Room 12 and Room 14 is Room 12a, which happens to be the bridal suite. On the night in question, the honeymoon couple booked in are Clifford and Julie Smith. But seedy hotels also have their share of unmarried couples called Mr and Mrs Smith, and such a pair are booked into Room 12. They’re really Garfield, a randy doctor, and his gorgeous receptionist, Michele Unsworth, having a clandestine weekend, and their claim on our attention is marginal. We’re going to be more interested in the genuine newlyweds, Clifford and Julie, the latter ‘pretty in a doll-like way’ according to the script. The classic farce situation arises when different hotel employees put both Mr and Mrs Smiths into the bridal suite.
Most of the ins and outs of the action need not concern us: suffice to say that for a while, thanks to comings and goings and an en suite bathroom, the two couples manage to occupy the same room without being aware of the others, and that the doctor’s wife has also arrived to add to the complications. But we do need to know one particular thing the demure Julie concealed from Clifford until after the wedding: she gets hiccups whenever anyone talks about sex.
Dr Garfield has got himself out of trouble by persuading his wife that Michele is not staying with him in the bridal suite: she has married another doctor and, for good measure, is pregnant. Then Mrs Garfield meets Clifford, discovers that he is the young man in Room 12a, that he has only just got married (to Michele, she imagines), and that he knows nothing of his bride’s interesting condition. Evidently his new wife played around before the wedding and has made him her patsy. So she has some advice for him: he must assert himself. ‘Put her over your knee and give her a sound spanking, preferably with a cricket bat. That’ll cure her. Your trouble is, you’ve spared the rod and she’s got the child.’
Julie has her own misunderstanding about Clifford when she encounters the lovely Michele coming out of Room 12a. When he returns, she confronts him, hiccuping, with the accusation that he is having an affair at an unconventionally early stage of their marriage. He angrily denies it, counter-accuses her of inventing the story to make a fool of him and brings up her surmised career of wild pre-marital promiscuity – which only makes the hiccups worse.
CLIFFORD: Although I have been shamefully deceived, I have married you for better or for worse, and things couldn’t be any worse.
JULIE: Hic. No, they couldn’t.
CLIFFORD: However, from now on, I am going to be firm, assert myself before it’s too late.
(He advances towards her.)
JULIE: Keep away from me. Hic, hic.
CLIFFORD: I’m going to put you over my knee and give you a good spanking!
JULIE: Hic, hic. Don’t touch me!
CLIFFORD: I’m going to show you who wears the trousers.
(He tries to get her over his knee, sitting on the bed. She struggles and they fall backwards onto the bed, still grappling with one another.)
And then the hotel porter arrives with a bottle of room service champagne – though there’s nothing to celebrate, because it appears the marriage is over before it has properly begun.
Obviously there is an ambiguity here concerning how far this actually goes before the porter interrupts. It has certainly been played like this…
… but the option is also there for the spanking to abort and turn into a mere wrestling match on the bed. Either way, the porter can draw the wrong conclusion.
We don’t know what they chose to do in the original production back in 1975, but the show has another claim to historical significance. The original actor playing Clifford was Barry Evans, best known for his role as a hapless doctor in a 1970s television sitcom (which incidentally had a spanko on the production team… but a closeted one, so the series never actually did anything in our line). Playing opposite him as Julie was Gay Soper:
And whether or not she got as far as being spanked in No Room for Love, that fate did befall her in her next job – several times! Because after No Room for Love closed, she went on to play Maisie in The Ups and Downs of a Handyman:
As is well known, Gay wasn’t the actress originally cast as Maisie. That was Hilary Pritchard…
… who also appeared in No Room for Love, playing Michele, the girl Mrs Garfield recommends for a spanking! Clearly the Handyman casting department were paying attention…
Although it’s technically challenging with a very complex set, the play remains popular with amateur groups throughout Europe, in various vernaculars; it’s known as Room 12a in German, for instance, and in Slovenia it’s Sorry, Wrong Room. Sometimes, as is often the way in amdram, the newlyweds are played by performers who are really too old for the parts.
But not always…
And sometimes, just occasionally, the spanking scene makes it onto a production video: