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28 October 2014

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Till Death Us Do Part

Cast of Till Death Us Do Part

Till Death gave us the world Alf Garnett and gave Britain a comedic way to understand the changes hitting it in the 1960s and 1970s. Seven series were produced from 1965-1975, and Alf Garnett became a legend.

Garnett was a character whom both writer Johnny Speight and actor Warren Mitchell loathed. Racist, hating everything around him, his tirades are funny because they cannot be taken seriously.

By allowing a hideous bigot to express his bigotry, Speight made fun of those who feared change.

Garnett hates communists, as embodied by his layabout son-in-law. He can't stand women getting above themselves, and continually shouts his daughter (Una Stubbs) down.

Dandy Nichols as Else Garnett

Most episodes give Garnett something he'll hate – Labour, a Scouser for a son-in-law, scroungers – and let him run with it in a series of continual arguments.

Catchphrases like 'it stands to reason' became commonplace as Garnett exploded onto the screen in 1965 like Enoch Powell's Golem.

Most people got it – that he was everything wrong with the nation in one man. A few diehard racists never got it, and thought he was just telling it like it was, much to Speight's despair.

A master satirist perhaps writing too well at times, Speight had a genius for making punches count – such as when he appropriated Mary Whitehouse, who had spoken out against the show, and made Garnett a big fan.

Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett

At the time, although shocking, Garnett was taken to the heart of the nation and even Royal approval, featuring on Royal Command Performances.

The series ended after seven seasons in the 1975 – when the mindset that Speight had railed against was changing – did Till Death Do Us Part, and Alf Garnett, began to lose their power.

Till Death is a hard watch now, not because it's dated, but because Speight's venom, produced deliberately to channel his own issues over his bigoted father, is hard to take – and you have to ask why.

Perhaps we're just more sensitive to the language of hate now – but more likely, the rants are just as relevant in a world that's as bigoted as before, but just better at glossing over it.

If Speight were still around, he'd make something of it all right; a true satirist, he was more interested in making the right people feel uncomfortable than providing easy laughs.


Spike Milligan
Warren Mitchell
Alf Garnett
Elsie 'Else' Garnett (pilot) Elsie 'Else' Garnett (pilot)
Elsie 'Else' Garnett (pilot)
Dandy Nichols
Elsie 'Else' Garnett
Una Stubbs
Rita Garnett
Anthony Booth
Patricia Hayes
Min Reed
Alfie Bass
Bert Reed
Joan Sims
John Junkin
Hugh Lloyd
Wally Carey
Pat Coombs
Mrs Carey
Roy Kinnear
other role


Johnny Speight
Douglas Argent
Dennis Main Wilson

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