(by Peter Tatchell, from LAUGH MAGAZINE #24, 2005)
He was a loud-mouthed racist, a sexist, a coward, an ill-informed social misfit and probably the most controversial sitcom character ever produced by British television. Alf Garnett divided a nation … his thoughts and expressions were soon embraced by the very people being satirized and four decades later he is still being pilloried by the self-appointed champions of political correctness who have quite simply missed the point.
Till Death Us Do Part was the brainchild of Johnny Speight, who had emerged from a poverty-stricken upbringing in the East End of London to become one of Britain’s leading comedy writers by the late 1950s (in company with Milligan, Sykes, Galton and Simpson at Associated London Scripts). From 1957, Speight’s words had helped Arthur Haynes conquer commercial television, and when colleague Eric Sykes launched his long-running sitcom in 1960 he turned to Johnny to provided the scripts for that opening season. He also wrote some of Frankie Howerd’s most notable material.
For ten years The Arthur Haynes Show offered cleverly written sketches that relied more on character examination than jokes, with the star often taking the part of opinionated tramps or frustrated breadwinners bemoaning society’s ills. Haynes was an extremely talented performer now largely forgotten and (with many recordings still in existence) his programme certainly warrants exposure to present day audiences.
Apart from Haynes, the 1965 season of Comedy Playhouse, a B.B.C. presentation of one-off scripts that had launched Steptoe And Son four years earlier, saw a further Speight creation … the bickering Ramsey family in their “two up, two down and one out the back” abode in delapidated Wapping. Starring respected multi-voiced character actor Warren Mitchell as the main protagonist, the episode was a humorously insightful examination of class, bigotry and the generation gap.
A year later, Arthur Haynes was dead from a sudden heart attack and his writer was asked to expand the Playhouse episode into a fully fledged series. Till Death Us Do Part debuted in June 1966 with two major changes … Alf’s longsuffering wife Else (originally played by a mousy Gretchen Franklin) was now portrayed by the more amply proportioned Dandy Nichols. And the family had been rechristened Garnett, to avoid any confusion with 1960s soccer identity Alf Ramsey. As the younger generation, sharing the household and the arguments, were Una Stubbs as the Garnett’s married daughter Rita and Anthony Booth as her longhaired layabout husband Mike.
The seven part series created a furore with its blatant use of invectives and previously untouched subject matter. Not uncommon in the kitchen-sink dramas of the period, it was a reality not seen in the cosy world of the sitcom (apart from an occasional Steptoe episode) .
Britain was in the midst of “the swinging sixties” and with pop culture sexual attitudes and a progressive new Labour government, conflict between the age groups was inevitable. The ultra conservative Alf and his trendy left wing son-in-law engaged in heated debates about everything from religion to politics, with the post war influx of coloured immigrants a topic of repeated interest.
Speight used words like “coons” and “sambos” in his scripts to highlight and satirize the ignorance of people like Alf in their blanket bigotry against the thousands of West Indians and Pakistanis then settling in Britain. Unfortunately, many took exception to the racist language, not understanding the satire.
Despite the complaints, the B.B.C. commissioned a second series which aired a short five months later, attracting viewers in some eight million homes making it one of the ten most watched programmes on air. By the third eason (in early 1968), Till Death Us Do Part managed to actually top the ratings.
Popularity breeds merchandising and Pan books was quick to capitalize on the quarreling Garnetts, releasing a paperback adapting storylines from a dozen episodes. Pye Records also jumped on the bandwagon, issuing two LPs and an EP of actual soundtrack segments. And Warren Mitchell toured the clubs in far off Australia in the guise of his loud-mouthed alter ego (he also appeared in a 30-minute TV special in 1969).
Being largely verbal in content, it’s a shame the B.B.C. didn’t produce a radio adaptation (as for Whack-O!, Steptoe And Son and later, Dad’s Army) with amateur off-air soundtracks all that survive of most of these groundbreaking black and white editions.
Till Death Us Do Part did switch mediums, though, jumping to the cinema screen with a feature film which traced the wartime experiences of Alf and Else before evolving into the present day era of the series. The movie made enough money to spawn a sequel a couple of years later (though this time, neither Booth nor Stubbs was involved).
Then in 1972 it was back to the B.B.C. for a fourth season, this time in colour. And following on from the film, Alf is now a grandfather (though still residing in his original semi-detached Wapping home). Two months into the run, the cast also appeared at that year’s Royal Command Performance in a specially written segment.
The programme returned for another season in early 1974, after which Dandy Nichols decided to leave the show (for reasons of either ill-health or an ongoing personality clash , depending on your source). She appears in pre-filmed footage in the first two episodes of series 6, to show Else jetting off to Australia to care for her sister Maud.
In her place (as next door neighbour Min) comedy veteran Patricia Hayes joined the cast, along with Alfie Bass as her husband, Bert. Other well-known comedy faces Roy Kinnear, Joan Sims, Pat Coombs and Hugh Lloyd also make appearances throughout the colour editions.
By the end of 1975 (and over fifty editions), the B.B.C. decided Alf Garnett had had his day and Till Death Us Do Part was cancelled. But Johnny Speight’s controversial creation was far from dead and buried. In 1977 Warren Mitchell performed a one-man stage show called The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf at London’s Criterian Theatre and also took his character on a cabaret tour of Australia.
In 1981, A.T.V. decided to reunite Alf and Else on commercial television for a series called Till Death … Filmed without a studio audience, it saw the Garnetts and newly-widowed Min sharing their retirement in a house at the seaside resort of Eastbourne. Una Stubbs also appeared in several episodes as Rita, in company with Alf’s punk teenage grandson. But after only six programmes, the cast again went their separate ways.
Four years later, the B.B.C. brought the Garnetts back for a third incarnation, this time called In Sickness And In Health. Though now somewhat frail, Dandy Nichols agreed to appear as a wheelchair bound Else living in London with her loudmouthed (and no less cantankerous) other half. Back in his most famous role, Warren Mitchell would appear in six more seasons as the character, totalling nearly as many episodes as in the original run.
Initially, the stories centred on Alf having to care for his now disabled wife but at the end of the first series, Dandy Nichols died. Speight’s scripts then saw Alf coping with life as a widower and beginning an antagonistic relationship with the widow in the upstairs flat, Mrs. Hollingbery (played by Carmel McSharry). Their off-again on-again romance almost led to marriage, with Alf partial to her cooking and apparent financial prospects.
Supporting characters included Alf’s drinking friend Arthur (Arthur English), his neighbours the Johnsons (Ken Campbell and Eileen Kennally), a gay West Indian social worker supplied by the council, Winston (Eamonn Walker) and the local milkman (Harry Fowler). Una Stubbs also appeared (particularly throughout the second season), as did Patricia Hayes (in company with Irene Handl as her character Min’s sister) and Spike Milligan was seen in a third guestshot (this time without blackface).
The latter part of the fourth season was a co-production with the A.B.C. which saw the major players jetting off to Australia, where John Bluthal and Noelene Brown appeared as Mrs. Hollingbery’s family members in Sydney.
The series eventually wrapped up a healthy run in 1992, but Mitchell continued to revive Alf in several other one-man ventures until Johnny Speight’s death six years later.
Alf Garnett was Speight’s greatest creation … without his exceptional writing Alf was finally lost for words.
TILL DEATH US DO PART
BBC1 July 22 1965 (25 min)
4/8 Till Death Us Do Part
BBC1 June 6 to August 1 1966 (not July 11) (7 x 30 min)
1/1 Arguments, Arguments …
Alf and Mike argue politics but reconcile in the pub before returning home to a row with the womenfolk.
1/2 Hair Raising
Alf doesn’t realize Mike has drawn a face on his bald head while he was asleep and wanders off to the pub.
1/3 A House With Love In It
To celebrate Alf and Else’s silver wedding anniversary, Rita and Mike arrange a night out at an exclusive restaurant.
Alf’s racist outbursts lead to his receiving a black eye at a cup final match in Scotland.
1/5 Two Toilets … That’s Posh!
To raise the deposit money for a home for himself and Rita, Mike tries to sell the Garnett house.
1/6 From Liverpool With Love
Mike’s Irish parents are staying with the Garnetts, much to Alf’s annoyance.
The Garnetts drive to the west of England for a holiday in an isolated old cottage.
BBC1 December 26 1966 to February 27 1967 (10 x 30 min)
2/1 Peace And Goodwill
Christmas dinner at the Garnett’s is not so much peaceful as argumentative.
2/2 Sex Before Marriage
Alf and the family discuss the a TV documentary on free love while wallpapering the parlour.
2/3 I Can Give It Up Any Time I Like
Mike challenges Alf to see who can give up smoking the longest.
2/4 The Bulldog Breed
Charity appeals and an argument about the Vietnam war are interrupted by a driver parking his lorry outside.
2/5 Caviar On The Dole
Mike has been getting increased dole money by making out that Alf is a heartless money-grabbing landlord.
2/6 A Woman’s Place Is In The Home
Alf arrives home to an empty house and burnt supper and tries to use the local phone box to remedy the situation.
2/7 A Wapping Mythology (The Workers’ King)
Alf claims Edward the 8th was a friend of his father who used to attend the local football matches.
2/8 In Sickness And In Health
Alf’s gets no sympathy for his stomach pains, which eventually lead to an operation in hospital.
2/9 State Visit
Alf has forthright opinions about the impending visit of the Russian premier.
2/10 Alf’s Dilemma
Alf has a nasty attack of gastro-enteritis just when the toilet is in need of a plumber.
BBC1 March 27 1967 (40 min)
Till Closing Time Us Do Part
The Garnetts meet several television personalities during an evening at the pub.
BBC1 January 5 to February 16 1968 (7 x 30 min)
3/1 The Phone
Alf misses winning a £17 racing bet because the local call box is occupied so he decides to have a phone installed.
3/2 The Blood Donor
Alf’s prejudiced views on transplant surgery provoke Mike to goad him into donating blood.
It’s a lonely night for Alf when the family desert him for a New Year’s Eve party across the street.
3/4 The Funeral
When the elderly lady across the road dies, Alf takes it upon himself to organise the “send off”.
Alf’s football expertise is put to the test when the vicar asks him to coach the local junior team.
3/6 The Dog
Alf buys a mongrel pup in the pub and it soon becomes an unwelcome addition to the Garnett household.
3/7 Aunt Maud
With Else ill in bed upstairs, her sister Maud comes to help out.
(telerecordings survive of 1/1, 1/3, 1/4, 2/1, 2/8, 2/9, 2/10, Till Closing Time Us Do Part, 3/1, 3/2 and 3/7 (3/1 and 3/7 are from domestic video recordings).
In addition to the sound extracts issued on commercial LPs, amateur off-air soundtracks also exist for all but 3/5 )
GTV9 June 7 1969 (30 min)
recording of a Sydney nightclub appearance by Warren Mitchell, with Rod Hull
BBC1 June 18 1970 (20 min)
Up The Polls
BBC1 December 25 1971
Christmas Night With The Stars
BBC1 September 13 to October 25 1972 (6 x 30 min)
4/1 To Garnett A Grandson
Alf visits the hospital to see his grandson for the first time
4/2 Pigeon Fancier
Alf makes a bet with a neighbour who races pigeons
4/3 Holiday In Bournemouth
The Garnetts are off to the seaside for their holiday, but the train journey is a portent of things to come
4/4 Dock Pilfering (If We Want A Proper Democracy We’ve Got To Start Shooting A Few People …)
After an argument over the breakfast table, Alf goes off to work with an empty lunchbox
4/5 Alf Takes The Baby (Up The Hammers)
Rita doesn’t know Alf and Mike haven taken the baby to the football
4/6 Alf’s Broken Leg
Being wheelchair bound with his leg in plaster doesn’t stop Alf from going up the pub
BBC1 November 5 1972 (15 min)
Royal Variety Performance
The Garnetts spend a night in front of the telly watching the Royal Variety show
BBC1 December 26 1972 (45 min)
The Garnetts go “up west” to see Jesus Christ Superstar
BBC1 January 2 to February 13 (not Jan 16 or Feb 6), February 19 and 28 1974 (7 x 30 min)
5/1 T.V. Licence
Alf doesn’t feel he needs a licence if he only watches commercial TV
5/2 The Royal Wedding
The wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips inspires Alf to stage a street party
5/3 Strikes And Blackouts
The Garnett’s game of Monopoly is disrupted by a blackout
5/4 The Demon Drink (aka Party Night)
Alf’s hangover isn’t helped by the champagne-inspired revelry of the rest of the household
5/5 Else’s Three Day Week
Influenced by the prevailing political climate, Else decides to cut back her labour
5/6 Gran’s Watch
With Gran apparently at death’s door, Alf feels she would want him to have her valuable watch
5/7 Paki Paddy
Alf meets his new neighbour in the pub … an Irish Pakistani
BBC1 December 31 1974 and January 8 to February 12 1975 (7 x 30 min)
6/1 Else has decided to go and care for her sister in Australia
6/2 Alf makes a long distance call to Else
6/3 Alf gets involved when next door neighbours Min and Bert have a row
6/4 Min and Bert take part in the usual Garnett living room discussion about politics and foreigners
6/5 Alf’s enjoyment of the Ali – Foreman fight on TV is spoilt by a phone call from Else
6/6 Alf has been made treasurer of the Christmas Savings Club
6/7 Else has written to Rita suggesting she, Mike and the baby join her in Australia
BBC1 November 5 to December 17 1975 (not Dec 10) (6 x 30 min)
7/1 The attraction of Min’s cooking lures Alf to move next door
7/2 Min has been engaged to do the housework and prepare Alf’s meals
7/3 Alf has been charged with being drunk in charge of a bicycle
7/4 Alf is trapped on an upstairs ledge whilst window cleaning
7/5 Alf may be a novice at golf but he delights in the tradition of a “hole in one”
7/6 Alf has been made redundant and arrives home to surprise birthday party
ATV December 26 1980 (30 min)
The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf – At Christmas
TILL DEATH …
ATV May 17 to June 21 1981 (London: May 22 to July 3 1981, not Jun 26)
1 Alf, Else and Min brave the icy conditions on Eastbourne pier before taking drinks in the lounge at the Royal
2 Alf isn’t a fan of the punks, either on the street or in the form of his grandson who is visiting with Rita
3 Arriving home after a drunken afternoon at the football, Alf argues home economics
4 Alf’s £50 motor bike irritates the neighbours and causes Rita and his grandson to miss their train
5 With the television out of order, Alf and Min wager money on a game of pontoon
6 Alf’s drinking finally causes him to be hospitalized with liver problems
IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
Series 1: BBC1 September 1 to October 13 1985 (not Sep 22) (6 x 30 min)
1 Else now has rheumatoid arthritis but Alf isn’t keen on having to push her wheelchair
2 Else and her wheelchair go missing from the street corner where Alf left her
3 When a succession of home help walk out because of Alf, a gay West Indian takes the job
4 Alf uses a neighbour’s phone to call Rita in Liverpool
5 When Rita visits, Winston throws her a party
6 Alf thinks life would be easier if Else had a motorized wheelchair
*** BBC1 December 26 1985
Alf wants the free Christmas dinners provided at the church hall and the pub
Series 2: BBC1 September 4 to October 9 1986 (6 x 30 min)
1 Else has died and Alf is host to Rita and the neighbours for her sendoff
2 Mrs. Hollingbery upstairs has locked Alf out after a night at the pub
3 Alf finds himself the recipient of Else’s betting arrangement with the milkman
4 Alf has to cook his own Sunday dinner
5 Alf uses Else’s wheelchair in a couple of schemes for his own benefit
6 Alf has a surprise visit from Min and her equally dotty sister Gwenneth (Irene Handl)
*** BBC1 December 23 1986
Alf’s is sacked as a store Santa but his spirits lift when Rita wins a Christmas trip for two to sunny Spain
Series 3: BBC1 October 22 to November 26 1987 (6 x 30 min)
1 Rita wants to get a divorce and move in with the local doctor
2 A government health pamphlet inspires a Garnett outburst on the permissive society
3 Rita’s new doctor boyfriend gives Alf a cordless telephone
4 Min and Gwenneth drop by and conduct a seance
5 Alf’s row with Fancy Fred (Spike Milligan) at a tea dance doesn’t help things when he’s trapped window cleaning
6 Alf fantasizes about batting for England at Lord’s
*** BBC1 December 25 1987
Alf needs hip replacement surgery
Series 4: BBC1 September 7 to October 19 1989 (7 x 30 min)
1 Arthur convinces Alf that marriage to Mrs. Hollingbery would be finacially beneficial
2 Mrs. Hollingbery decides to consider Alf’s proposal
3 Alf lashes out for a celebratory dinner when Arthur’s numbers come up in the pools
4 Alf is nervous on the eve of the long flight to Australia to meet Mrs. Hollingbery’s relatives
5 Alf, Arthur and Mrs. Hollingbery fly to Sydney and stay with Ricky and Railene
6 The visiters spend a day sightseeing round Sydney Harbour
7 Alf discovers Ricky’s real reason for financing the wedding trip
*** BBC1 December 25 1989
Rebuffed by the Salvation Army, Alf hopes the vicar will offer him some Christmas charity
Series 5: BBC1 September 1 to November 3 1990 (10 x 30 min)
1 Alf has to put up with power cuts at home and in the pub
2 Missing out on hot dinners because of Mrs. Hollingbery’s part time job, Alf contemplates ending it all
3 A pub discussion on wife murderers leads Alf to think Mrs. Hollingbery has poisoned him
4 Alf’s part time job filling in for a window cleaner inadvertently leads to benefits from the local milkman
5 Before taking up a part time job walking dogs, Alf and Arthur reminisce in the pub about their halcyon days
6 Alf feels honored to have been selected for jury duty
7 Alf worries as a juror he might be in danger of reciprocation from the accused
8 Alf and a group of pensioners take over a London bus for a day’s outing
9 Mrs. Hollingbery finds the secret hiding place where Alf has hidden his money
10 After a chat with the local priest and a stag party in the pub, Alf is ready for his marriage to Mrs. Hollingbery
*** BBC1 December 30 1990 (35 min)
Following the disastrous wedding day, Alf and Mrs. Hollingbery aren’t in a very festive mood
Series 6: BBC1 February 21 to April 3 1992 (7 x 30 min)
1 Alf’s Irish drinking companion Michael invites himself to lunch but a car alarm interrupts the meal
2 When Alf starts a business venture delivering newspapers, he lands in a swimming pool
3 The pub is agog at news that Mrs. Johnson has run off with another woman
4 When Mrs. Hollingbery is unable to cook because of her bad leg, Alf takes out his frustration on the doctor
5 Alf finds a stash of banknotes when he agrees to move an old wardrobe
6 Alf finds there are problems being rich in his crime-ridden neighbourhood
7 Alf’s new found wealth results in surprise visits from Min and the tax man
LWT April 5 1997 (60 min)
An Audience With Alf Garnett
UK Gold various timeslots between November 30 1997 and June 12 2000 (18 x 10 min)
A Word With Alf
THE THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN ALF
LWT September 23 to November 4 1998 (6 x 30 min)
Till Death Us Do Part
(103 min, released January 12 1969)
with Liam Redmond, Bill Maynard, Brian Blessed, Sam Kydd, Frank Thornton
The Alf Garnett Saga
(93 min, released September 10 1972)
with Adrienne Posta, Paul Angelis, John Le Mesurier, John Bird, Roy Kinnear, Joan Sims, Julie Edge, Eric Sykes, Kenny Lynch, Max Bygraves, Arthur Askey, Roy Hudd
Till Death Us Do Part
adapted by John Burke from the Johnny Speight scripts (Pan paperback, 1967)
features novelisations of:
Two Toilets – That’s Posh
Alf On Politics*
A House With Love In It
Alf On Royalty*
From Liverpool With Love
Sex Before Marriage
Alf On Wogs*
I Can Give It Up Any Time I Like
A Woman’s Place Is In The Home
Alf On Sport*
(* extracts from episodes)
Till Death Us Do Part Scripts
by Johnny Speight (Woburn Press, 1973)
The Bird Fancier
I Can Give It Up Anytime I Like
Sex Before Marriage
Women’s Lib And Bournemouth
If We Want A Proper Democracy We’ve Got To Start Shooting A Few People
Royal Variety Performance 1972
The World Of Alf Garnett
no author credit (Shelbourne Press magazine, c.1972)
The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf
by Johnny Speight (Robson, 1973)
The Garnett Chronicles – The Life And Times Of Alf Garnett Esq.
by Johnny Speight (Robson, 1986)
The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf
by Johnny Speight (Macmillan/Boxtree, 1998)
Family at War – The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Till Death Us Do Part
by Mark Ward (Telos Publishing, 2007)
Till Death Us Do Part
(Pye LP NPL 18154)
Arguments, Arguments, Arguments (from 1/1)
Stalin The American Spy (from 1/5)
Swearing (from 1/6)
The Wedding Anniversary (from 1/3)
(Pye EP nep 24283)
Intolerance (from 1/4)
Sex And Other Thoughts
(Pye LP 18192)
Sex Before Marriage (from 2/2)
Smoking (from 2/3)
T.V. Filth (from 2/10)
My Dad’s Royal Mate (from 2/7)
* the above extracts were also re-released as …
Till Death Us Do Part
(Pye/Marble Arch LP MAL 1112)
The Wedding Anniversary
Golden Hour Of Till Death Us Do Part
(Pye/Golden Hour LP GH 550)
My Dad’s Royal Mate
Sex Before Marriage
Stalin, The American Spy
dialogue extracts and instrumental tracks are featured on the following disc …
Till Death Us Do Part (movie soundtrack)
Polydor LP 583 717
Warren Mitchell appears as Alf on the following studio vocals …
The Writing On The Wall /
Her Heart’s In The Right Place, Innit
(C.B.S. single CBS 2824)
Songs Of World War 1
(Pickwick/Allegro LP ALL 840)
Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty
Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning
Here’s To Good Old Beer
There’s A Long, Long Trail A-Winding
Pack Up Your Troubles
It’s A Long, Long Way To Tipperary
Keep The Home Fires Burning
Goodbye Dolly Gray
For Me And My Gal
Alf Garnett’s Music Hall
(Pickwick/Allegro LP ALL 850, Pickwick CD PWK 127)
At Trinity Church
The Old Rustic Bridge By The Mill
I Live In Trafalgar Square + Gilbert The Filbert + Down The Road + Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home
In The Twi-Twi-Twilight
If It Wasn’t For The ‘Ouses In Between
It’s A Great Big Shame
Every Little While
When Father Papered The Parlour + Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy + Let’s All Go Down The Strand
The Honeysuckle And The Bee
My Grandfather’s Clock
Warren Mitchell appears as Alf on the following releases taken from stage appearances …
The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf
Warner Bros. LP K 56425
a one-man show, recorded at London’s Criterion Theatre in 1977
The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball
(Virgin CD CDV 2459)
an appearance at the 1987 Amnesty fundraiser
(* this segment is not included on the video or dvd releases of the concert)
Videos and DVDs
Till Death Us Do Part
(BBC Video BBCV 4318)
includes Strikes And Blackouts (January 23 1974)
January 8 1975
January 15 1975
Till Death Us Do Part – To Garnett A Grandson
(B.B.C./BFS Video Canada DVD 30278-D)
includes To Garnett A Grandson
Holiday In Bournmouth
Till Death Us Do Part – Dock Pilfering
(B.B.C./BFS Video Canada DVD 30279-D)
includes Dock Pilfering
Up The Hammers
Alf’s Broken Leg
Jesus Christ Superstar
Till Death Us Do Part – The Complete 1972 Series
reissue of the above two dvds
Till Death Us Do Part – The Complete 1974 Series
(BBC 2DVD 7952175)
includes TV Licence
The Royal Wedding
Strikes And Blackouts
Three Day Week
plus bonus items:
Comedy Playhouse (2 min extract)
Royal Variety Performance
The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf
(BMG Video 1994)
In Sickness and in Health – series 1
In Sickness and in Health – the Christmas specials