Network on Air (studio)
1166min approx (length)
12 December 2016 (released)
31 December 2016
Welcome to the world of highly opinionated and out and out bigoted racist moron Alf Garnett, the man everyone loves to hate! This much-loved sitcom, created by Johnny Speight, ran from 1965 to 1975 and centres on an East End working class family lead by foul-mouthed patriarch Alf.
Alf Garnett (it must be said brilliantly played by Warren Mitchell who made the part totally his own) is a reactionary white man with anti-socialist and deeply racist views and that is just the tip of the Garnett iceberg! Alf is also a raving monarchist, a Conservative, and devout Christian (forever in denial of his father being a Jew). Obviously he is sexist (but the word was only invented after the series started) and has practically no understanding of the word ‘democracy’. The list of his shortcomings goes on and on. Yet Speight has obviously based Alf on an amalgam of 'working class cock-eyed philosophers' he'd no doubt encountered in local pubs since childhood. Too much of Alf can go a long or should I say a little way. Alf's great loves in life when not ranting is his beloved football team West Ham United (The Hammers) and 'goin dahn the pub'. The awful thing is that as odious and as pathetic as the central character is, he is not by any means unfunny. Having said that, one could not imagine a hardcore early 70's feminist giving a series like that two minutes of their time before accusing Speight of 'wallowing in it' and that is a fair point indeed.
However, we do have a juxtaposition and counterbalance with his long-haired Liverpudlian, left-wing layabout son-in-law Mike (a nicely rounded performance from Cherie Blair's dad, Anthony Booth) who is as intelligent as Alf is stupid. However, Alf - being the overbearing odious berk that he is - totally dominates! His long suffering (was anyone ever more so?) and chain-smoking wife Else (an ideally cast Dandy Nicholls) – usually referred to by Alf as ‘Silly Moo’ - puts up with his continuous idiotic ranting like water off a duck's back, occasionally hitting back with an inane retort that’s not always lacking in subtlety. Son-in-law Mike is invariably abetted by Garnett’s daughter Rita (Una Stubbs) who may sometimes disagree with his inherent sexism. But that is men for you.
Here are a few examples of Alf's philosophy of life taken at random from one of the earlier b/w episodes although the set features all of the later color episodes. ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ would have made British philosopher Bertrand Russell proud. Alf: “What's the coon doin' 'ere?” Mike: “Giving blood the same as us.” Alf: “What do ya mean? Coon blood is coon blood; only fit for coons. You start bunging that into white people you don't know what's going to happen, do you? We could all go all go black!” This was written in the mid-60's. Quite frankly it was shocking and to call it offensive is an understatement of considerable magnitude. Things were still the same ten years later. The creators love their creations as horrible as they are and it goes deeper but this is not a philosophical essay. Speight ‘came a serious cropper’ with the even more offensive 1969 Curry and Chips starring Spike Milligan doing his pathetic Pakistani character.
Other ‘highlights’ include the episode in which Rita and Mike arrange to take Alf and Else to a posh West End restaurant to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary and it goes without saying that Alf makes a spectacle of himself within minutes of his delayed arrival (“L’esgarcot”?) while Else seems disgruntled the menu doesn’t feature jellied eels! Rarely has conservative working-class culture been so hilariously lampooned than in this episode! In another episode Else complains about the Christmas turkey being too big to fit in the oven and seems generally fed-up always having to do the housework over the festive period, while a ‘family outing’ to see the West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the Palace Theatre is sidesplittingly funny (especially when, after the show, Alf happens to meet main actor Paul Nicholas in a pub and embarks on a lively ‘conversation’…).
Are there really people like Alf still about? The awful answer is yes! God knows what Speight would be saying with the current political climate. Anything? Or nothing out of fear that a possible Fatwa might be issued, given the current Islamic topic. Things are not not funny anymore and in this our oh so politically correct times (yaaawn) to create a current version of ‘Alf Garnett’ is pretty much unimaginable. There was nothing quite like it and most likely never will be again. Speight would defend his politics by saying he was showing 'racism' for what it is.
In many respects Speight, responsible for this unbelievably popular and controversial TV series, was quite unique inasmuch as he was a totally working class boy without a proper education from one of the most deprived areas in London. It would most likely be true to say that a middle class person could never have written a TV series like this. You'd have to have lived the life although Canning Town (Speight's birthplace) is only about 6 miles west of Westminster though it could just as well be 6000!).
It may not always easy to get all the references, especially if you belong to a younger-generation audience but nonetheless TILL DEATH DO US PART is a riot to watch for all the wrong (and occasionally right) reasons!