Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Til Death Us Do Part
Til Death Us Do Part (also known as Till Death Us do Part)1 was a BBC television sitcom series written by Johnny Speight that ran from 1964 until 1974. The programme starred Warren Mitchell as the racist East End misogynist (and Rudyard Kipling lookalike) Alf Garnett. Also appearing in the series were Dandy Nichols as Alf's long-suffering wife, Else, Una Stubbs as his daughter and Anthony Booth as his layabout son-in-law, whose socialist leanings were the cue for many of Alf's more offensive outbursts. The series was remade in the United States as the enormously successful sitcom All in the Family (1971-1979) and in Germany (1973 - 1976) as Ein Herz und eine Seele ("One Heart and One Soul"). There was even a version in Israel, where the Alf character would spout bigoted remarks about the Arabs.
It became an instant hit, presumably because, although a comedy, in the context of its time it did deal with aspects of working-class life comparatively realistically. It addressed racial and political issues at a particularly difficult time in British society. The attitude of those who made the programme was that Alf's views were so clearly unacceptable that they were laughable, but some viewers consider the series an uncomfortable and disturbing series to watch because this was not always made sufficiently clear, and some racists enjoyed watching it ironically. In the opinion of one TV critic, Clive James, "Alf wasn't half as repulsive as his socialist son-in-law". Alf was the archetypal working-class Conservative. The two subjects that excited him most were football and politics. He used language that was not considered acceptable for broadcasting on television in the 1960s. He often referred to racial minorities as "coons" and similar terms. He normally referred to his son-in-law as a "randy Scouse git" (Randy Scouse Git was used as a song title by The Monkees - not all of whom knew what it meant) and to his wife as a "silly old moo" (a substitute for "cow" which was originally vetoed by the BBC's censors). Controversially, the show was one of the earliest mainstream programmes to feature the swear word "bloody". The show was one of several held up by Mary Whitehouse as an example of the BBC's immorality. Ultimately "silly old moo" became a comic catch phrase. Another phrase he used was "it stands to reason", usually before making some patently unreasonable or illogical comment. Alf was an admirer of Enoch Powell, a racist Conservative politician. He was a fanatical supporter of West Ham United (a football team based in the East End) and was known to make derogatory remarks about "the Jews up at Spurs" (referring to Tottenham Hotspur, a North London team with a large Jewish support). With some irony, in real life Mitchell is both Jewish and a Spurs supporter, and Anthony Booth was to become the father-in-law of British prime minister, Tony Blair. It is sad to note that Johnny Speight based Alf on his father, an East End docker who had very backward attitudes to black people.
Toward the end of the series Dandy Nichols fell ill and was unable to attend the live-audience recordings. The problem was solved by having her pre-record her lines which were then skilfully edited into the show. Eventually even this was too much of a strain, and so in a later episode Else was seen leaving for Australia, much to Alf's dismay.
In the late 1980s Alf Garnett returned to the BBC for In Sickness and in Health. This took Alf and Else (who was now in a wheelchair) onwards into old age, and some of Alf's more extreme opinions were found to have mellowed. Una Stubbs made some guest appearances but Anthony Booth apparently wasn't interested in reprising his role. After the first series Dandy Nichols died, and so subsequent episodes showed Alf having to deal with the greatest loss of his life - Else's pension.
Warren Mitchell has also appeared solo on stage and TV as Alf Garnett, dispensing his usual homespun philosophy and singing old music hall songs. One show was called It Stands To Reason - The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf; one reviewer concluded that "Speight and Mitchell are to be congratulated for understanding so well the mind of a man who they hate".
A number of indifferent feature films were made based on the series - Til Death Us Do Part (1969) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). The first of these dealt with the Garnett's being moved from their East End slum to the New town of Hemel Hempstead, and the adjustments and changes that brought on the family. While unremarkable as a film, it does give a fascinating glimpse of British life at the time.
1The BBC, who broadcast the series, refers to it differently in different locations. The 2004 DVD release uses two l's. Even the original creator referred to it differently on occasions. The name came from the traditional wedding vow, "'til death us do part."
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