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2 June 1920|
Canning Town, Greater London, England
|Died||5 July 1998
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, England
|Notable works||Till Death Us Do Part (1965–75)
Curry & Chips (1969)
In Sickness and in Health (1985–92)
He emerged in the mid-1950s. He wrote for radio comics Frankie Howerd, Vic Oliver, Arthur Askey, and Cyril Fletcher. For television he wrote for The Arthur Haynes Show, Morecambe & Wise, and Peter Sellers. Then he began to write Till Death Us Do Part, which included his most famous creation, the controversial bigot Alf Garnett. His shows often explored the themes of racism and sexism through satire, and many are regarded as classics.
Life and career
John Speight was born at 57 Chester Rd Canning Town, West Ham, Essex (now Greater London), and began contributing scripts to comedy shows in 1955, starting with Great Scott - It's Maynard!. He later contributed to Sykes And A... (1960-65), which starred Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques and Richard Wattis. Speight was one of many writing talents on that series which also included the star Sykes, John Antrobus and Spike Milligan.
In 1965, Speight wrote a BBC TV pilot which became the 1966 series Till Death Us Do Part featuring Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, a reactionary Conservative-voting working class man with a chip on his shoulder and an angry word on everything. Garnett became one of the most memorable characters in British TV history, despite being such an appalling figure. The series also starred Dandy Nichols, as his long-suffering wife Elsie. The 1971 US sitcom All in the Family was based on this series.
It was during the production of Till Death Us Do Part that a BBC bureaucrat, according to legend, attempted to talk Speight into ameliorating his script by bargaining the number of occurrences of "damn", "bloody" and other words held to be offensive. The incident became the basis for a satirical sketch performed by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, with Cook as the bureaucrat and Moore as a scriptwriter named "Johnny".
Speight's later series Curry and Chips (1969), was a more controversial sitcom from LWT for the ITV channel, soon cancelled on the instructions of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Despite the apparent racial insensitivity, Speight's intention—like in Till Death Us Do Part—was to highlight discrimination, not promote it. It was a cast of stereotypes, featuring a blacked-up Spike Milligan as Kevin O'Grady (who was supposed to be half Irish, half Pakistani), Eric Sykes as a liberal, Kenny Lynch as a black man who was prejudiced against Asians, and Norman Rossington and Geoffrey Hughes as racist Liverpudlians.
In 1998, Speight died of pancreatic cancer, aged 78, and LWT put forward a series of specials featuring Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, giving his thoughts on a variety of subjects. The programmes were originally shelved by ITV controller David Liddiment.
TV writing credits
- Great Scott - It's Maynard! (1955)
- Evans Abode (1956)
- Frankie Howerd (1956)
- The Dickie Valentine Show (1956)
- Two's Company (1956)
- Early to Braden (1957)
- That's Life, Says Max Wall (1957)
- The Arthur Haynes Show (1957)
- Frankie Howerd In... (1958)
- The April 8th Show (Seven Days Early) (1958)
- The Cyril Fletcher Show (1959)
- Ladies and Gentle-Men (1960)
- Sykes and A... (1960)
- That Was the Week That Was (1962)
- Shamrot (1963)
- The Graham Stark Show (1964)
- Till Death Us Do Part (1965)
- To Lucifer - A Son (1967)
- If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have to Invent Them (1968)
- Curry And Chips (1969)
- Spate Of Speight (1969)
- All in the Family (1971)
- Them (1972)
- Frankie Howerd In Ulster (1973)
- Francis Howerd In Concert (1974)
- Marty Back Together Again (1974)
- For Richer...For Poorer (1975)
- The Mike Reid Show (1976)
- Spooner's Patch (with Ray Galton 1979)
- The Tea Ladies (with Ray Galton 1979)
- The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf At Christmas (1980)
- Till Death... (1981)
- The Lady Is A Tramp (1983)
- In Sickness And In Health (1985)
- Carrott Confidential (1987)
- The Nineteenth Hole (1989)
- A Word With Alf (1997)
- An Audience With Alf Garnett (1997)
- The Thoughts Of Chairman Alf (1998)
- Dust jacket, For Richer, For Poorer, Johnny Speight ISBN 0-563-36269-3
- "BFI Screenonline: Speight, Johnny (1920-1998) Biography". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-08-12.
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