Warren Mitchell

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This article is about the English actor. For the U.S. college basketball coach, see Warren Mitchell (basketball).
Warren Mitchell
Warren Mitchell.jpg
Born Warren Misell
(1926-01-14) 14 January 1926 (age 88)
Stoke Newington, London, England, UK
Nationality British
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–present
Notable work(s) See below
Religion None (atheist and humanist)
Spouse(s) Constance M. Wake (m. 1951)
Children 3

Warren Mitchell (born Warren Misell; 14 January 1926) is an English actor. He is a BAFTA TV Award winner and two-time Olivier Award winner.

In the 1950s, Mitchell appeared on the radio programmes Educating Archie and Hancock's Half Hour. In the 1960s, he rose to prominence in the role of bigoted cockney Alf Garnett in the BBC television sitcom Till Death Us Do Part (1965–75), which won him a Best TV Actor BAFTA in 1967. He reprised the role in the TV sequels Till Death... (ATV, 1981) and In Sickness and in Health (BBC, 1985–92), and in the films Till Death Us Do Part (1969) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). All three series and both films were written by Johnny Speight. His other film appearances include Three Crooked Men (1958), Carry on Cleo (1964), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Assassination Bureau (1969) and Norman Loves Rose (1982). He holds both British and Australian citizenship[1] and has enjoyed considerable success in stage performances in both countries, winning Olivier Awards in 1979 for Death of a Salesman and 2004 for The Price.

Early life[edit]

Mitchell was born in Stoke Newington, London. His father was a glass and china merchant. He is of Russian Jewish descent,[2] and describes himself in interviews as an atheist who sometimes believes in God.[3] He was interested in acting from an early age, and attended the Gladys Gordon's Academy of Dramatic Arts in Walthamstow from the age of seven. He did well at school and read physical chemistry at University College, Oxford, for six months. There he met his contemporary Richard Burton, and together they joined the RAF in 1944. He completed his navigator training in Canada just as the war ended.[4]

Career[edit]

Richard Burton's description of the acting profession had convinced him that it would be better than completing his chemistry degree and so Mitchell attended RADA for two years, performing in the evening with London's Unity Theatre. After a short stint as a DJ on Radio Luxembourg, in 1951, Mitchell became a versatile professional actor with straight and comedy roles on stage, radio, film and television. His first broadcast was as a regular on the radio show Educating Archie, and this led to appearances on Hancock's Half Hour. By the late '50s, he regularly appeared on television: as Sean Connery's trainer in boxing drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1957), with Charlie Drake in the sitcom Drake's Progress (BBC, 1957) and a title role in Three 'Tough' Guys (ITV, 1957), in which he played a bungling criminal. He also appeared in several episodes of Armchair Theatre (during the first of these in 1958, Underground, one of the lead actors died during the live performance)[5] and The Avengers in addition to many ITC drama series including: William Tell, The Four Just Men, Sir Francis Drake, Danger Man and as a recurrent guest in The Saint.[4]

His cinema début came in 1957 in Guy Hamilton's Manuela, and he began a career of minor roles as sinister foreign agents, assisted by his premature baldness and facility with Eastern European accents. He appeared in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (José Quintero, 1961), Carry On Cleo (1964) and Help! (Richard Lester, 1965) and played leads in All the Way Up (James MacTaggart, 1970), The Chain (Jack Gold, 1984), The Dunera Boys (Ben Lewin, 1985) and Foreign Body (Ronald Neame, 1986).[4]

In 1965, Mitchell was cast in the role for which he may be best known, as the bigoted cockney West Ham United supporter Alf Garnett in a play for the BBC Comedy Playhouse series, broadcast on 22 July 1965. This was the pilot edition of the long-running series Till Death Us Do Part, with Gretchen Franklin, Una Stubbs and Anthony Booth. The part of Mum, played by Gretchen Franklin, was taken by Dandy Nichols when the programme was commissioned as a series.

Mitchell's real life persona is quite different from Alf Garnett, being a left-winger, Jewish, and a staunch supporter of Tottenham Hotspur. The show ran from 1966 to 1975, in seven series, making a total of 53 30-minute episodes.[6]

Mitchell has had a long and distinguished career on stage and television. Other small screen roles include a 13 episode series, Men of Affairs, with Brian Rix (ITV, 1973-74), based on the West End hit farce Don't Just Lie There Say Something. There were also performances in The Sweeney (Thames Television for ITV, 1978), Lovejoy (BBC), Waking the Dead (BBC), Kavanagh QC (Carlton Television for ITV, he played a concentration camp survivor in the episode Ancient History),[7] as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (BBC, 1980) and Gormenghast. In 2001, he appeared in a Christmas Special episode of Last of the Summer Wine, "Potts in Pole Position".[8]

On stage he received extensive critical acclaim for his performances as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1979, after first being cast in the role by Stephen Barry at Perth's Playhouse); and Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the National Theatre; and Pinter's The Homecoming and Miller's The Price in the West End, also appearing in Visiting Mr. Green in 2007 and 2008.

After the cancellation of the Alf Garnett sequel series In Sickness and in Health, Mitchell returned to the role of Alf on a number of occasions. ITV aired a series of mini-episodes called A Word With Alf featuring Alf and his friends. When Johnny Speight died in 1998, the series was cancelled at Mitchell's request.

Awards[edit]

In 1976, his one-man show The Thoughts of Chairman Alf won the Evening Standard award for best comedy in London's West End.[9] In 1982, he received an Australian Film Institute Award for best supporting actor in the film Norman Loves Rose.[10] He has received two Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards—for playing Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (National Theatre, 1979) and as best supporting actor in a 2003 performance of The Price, also by Miller.[1][4]

Year Award Category Work Result
1967 BAFTA TV Award Best Actor Till Death Us Do Part Won
1979 Olivier Award Actor of the Year in a Revival Death of a Salesman Won
1982 AACTA Award (AFI) Best Supporting Actor Norman Loves Rose Won
2004 Olivier Award Best Supporting Performance The Price Won

Personal life[edit]

Mitchell is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. He has been married since 1951 [11] to Connie (Constance M. Wake), an actress who appeared in early 1960s television dramas such as Maigret. They have three children: Rebecca, Daniel (also an actor) and Anna (also known as Georgia Mitchell). For over twenty years, Mitchell has suffered pain from nerve damage, caused by transverse myelitis,[12] and is a supporter of the Neuropathy Trust.[13] He suffered a mild stroke in August 2004. He was back onstage a week later, reprising his lauded role as a cantankerous old Jew in Arthur Miller's The Price.[14]

Selected filmography[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Warren Mitchell is a winner ABC TV 7.30 Report interview with Kerry O'Brien, 24 Feb 2004
  2. ^ "Variety Club – Jewish Chronicle colour supplement "350 years"". The Jewish Chronicle. 15 December 2006. pp. 28–29. 
  3. ^ Deveney, Catherine (10 October 2007). "The pride of prejudice". Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 20 July 2007. 
  4. ^ a b c d BFI screen online biography accessed 27 Jun 2007
  5. ^ Matthew Sweet "Do Not Adjust Your Set By Kate Dunn", The Independent, 20 July 2003
  6. ^ Till Death Us Do Part (1966–75) accessed 27 Jun 2007
  7. ^ "Kavanagh QC" Ancient History (1997) at IMDb website. Accessed 13 June 2012
  8. ^ Potts In Pole Position at Digiguide.tv
  9. ^ Keenan, Catherine What's it all about, Alfie? Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Jan 2005
  10. ^ Awards for Norman Loves Rose (1982) at The Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ BMD Register - General Register Office. Warren Missel / Constance M Wake 2nd quarter 1951, St Pancras Middlesex. Volume 2 Page 776.
  12. ^ Daily Mail, 14 August 1998, I know I'm mean: I refused to let my wife have a new dustbin
  13. ^ Neuropathy Trust accessed 27 Jun 2007 Archived January 29, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Keenan, Catherine What's it all about, Alfie? The Sydney Morning Herald Arts section, 21 January 2005

External links[edit]