The British phrase some mothers do have ’em and variants such as don’t some mothers have ’em are used to express exasperation, derision, etc., at a person’s perceived clumsy, erratic or idiotic actions or behaviour.
The following remarks are from A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day (Lanham, Maryland: Scarborough House, 1992), by the New-Zealand born lexicographer Eric Partridge (1894-1979) and by Paul Beale:
The implication is that some children are either idiotic or thoroughly intolerable. But it also, e.g. among workmen, furnishes a jeer at clumsiness and among schoolboys and youths when someone has blundered.
It is generally said that this phrase:
– originated in Lancashire, a county of north-western England,
– and was popularised as don’t some mothers have ’em by James Robertson ‘Jimmy’ Clitheroe (1921-1973), a comic entertainer born and bred in Lancashire, in his BBC radio programme The Clitheroe Kid, which ran from 1958 to 1972.
However, I have found an early occurrence of some mothers do have ’em that is associated neither with Lancashire nor with Jimmy Clitheroe; it is from the column written, under the pseudonym of Cassandra, by the English journalist William Neil Connor (1909-1967), published in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Monday 17th February 1941:
At this time of international disagreement it is entertaining if not instructive to survey the horrid scene and contemplate on the large number of persons who are distasteful to us. The bill of fare is vast—and it is quite free except for a slight item of something over ten million pounds a day which is the cost of the war.
At the top of the menu comes, of course, the grisly creature who infests Berchtesgaden1. As a target for hate he wins easily, though it is reliably reported that several million Germanic louts regard him as a very fine fellow indeed, thereby once more re-establishing the proposition that there’s no accounting for taste—or some mothers do have ’em.
(1 “The grisly creature who infests Berchtesgaden” designates of course the Austrian-born Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945.)
The facts that the phrase is not in quotation marks and that William Connor introduces it (together with “there’s no accounting for taste”) with “once more re-establishing the proposition that” seem to indicate that some mothers do have ’em was already in current usage when he was writing, in February 1941.
Now, William Connor was a Londoner, and Jimmy Clitheroe (who in February 1941 had just turned nineteen years old and had only begun his acting career) was described in 1955 as having “never strayed far from his beloved” Lancashire (cf. below the extracts from the Lancashire Evening Post).
Perhaps, therefore, some mothers do have ’em did not in fact originate in Lancashire.
However, it does appear that it was Jimmy Clitheroe who popularised the phrase as don’t some mothers have ’em, and that it was associated with Lancashire.
In particular, the second-earliest occurrence of the phrase that I have found is from a portrait of Jimmy Clitheroe by Arthur Firth, published in the Lancashire Evening Post (Preston, Lancashire, England) of Wednesday 5th October 1955:
He has just finished his first TV series; begins next month his first radio series “Call Boy” and lined up ahead is a film contract. But Jimmy, a Lancashire lad who has never strayed far from his beloved county just says “I feel a little wary . . .”
Jimmy has had to make in talent what he lacked in inches and he has done it. You had only to see him on TV with his old pal Norman Evans to see that, or see him at the Central Pier, Blackpool2, where he has had them bouncing in their seats all summer with his talk about the “Little yeller ’un” and “Don’t some mothers have ’em.”
He was born in Clitheroe, lived there a few weeks, then moved to Blacko village, near Nelson. He lived for a time in Preston—but never moved out of Lancashire.
(2 Blackpool is a seaside resort in Lancashire.)
The phrase then reoccurs in 1957 and 1958 as the title of a touring theatrical production featuring Jimmy Clitheroe. The following for example is from Calls for next week, published in The Stage (London, England) of Thursday 28th March 1957:
GERARD HEATH AGENCY
HUDDERSFIELD PALACE (re. 11). — “Don’t Some Mothers ’ave ’em.” — Jimmy Clitheroe, Dynamites, Peggy Cavell, Kay and Kimberley, Phyllis Mellor, Tommy Trafford, Bert Lindon.
MACNAGHTEN CIRCUIT LTD.
HUDDERSFIELD PALACE (re. 12). — “Don’t Some Mothers ’ave ’em.” — Jimmy Clitheroe, Six Dynamites, Tommy Trafford, Peggy Cavell, Phyllis Mellor, Kay and Kimberley, Bert Lindon.
The phrase then occurs in relation to Lancashire in Lines from Lancs, published in The Stage (London, England) of Thursday 21st August 1958:
Some Mothers ’Ave ’Em
Handling children on the stage is an art in which Blackpool’s “uncles” Charlie Parsons, Peter Webster, and Joe Crosbie, generally excel. Just the same, on occasion, responses they get from young competitors in their daily talent contests are, to say the least, disconcerting.
Each contestant on introduction is expected to declare his/her name, home town, and age.
Uncle Charlie at the North Pier Arcade the other morning discovered that the third entrant was called Albert and he was four years old.
“Where do you come from, Albert?” he inquired.
“I dunno—mum’s down there” (indicated auditorium), “but she won’t tell me. You’d better ask her,” advised the boy.
Uncle Peter at the Central Pier found a formidable adversary in Terry from Burnley.
“How old are you?”
“Are you married?”
“Are you working?”
“No. Are you?”
It was a six-year-old girl named Millicent who made a proper Charley of Joe Crosbie at South Pier last Tuesday morning.
“What are you going to sing for your Uncle Joe, luv?”
“I ain’t got an Uncle Joe; and I want to see who you’re going to give me before I sing anything,” replied Millicent.
The phrase gained further currency as the title of the BBC television comedy series Some Mothers do ’ave ’Em (1973-78), in which the English comedian Michael Crawford (Michael Patrick Smith – born 1942) starred as the clumsy, accident-prone Frank Spencer.
This photograph of Jimmy Clitheroe was published in The Coventry Evening Telegraph (Coventry, Warwickshire, England) of Friday 17th December 1965:
2 thoughts on “notes on the British phrase ‘some mothers do have ’em’”
Hard not to think of the “grisly creature who infests “the White House … “though it is reliably reported that several million louts regard him as a very fine fellow.”
There’s no accounting…and some mothers do have ’em!
Great post. Good to be reminded of Cassandra and of The Clitheroe Kid.