Till Death Us Do Part
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|Till Death Us Do Part|
Original opening titles
|Created by||Johnny Speight|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||7|
|No. of episodes||54 (23 missing) + 3 shorts|
Till Death Us Do Part is a British television sitcom that aired on BBC1 from 1965 to 1975. First airing as a Comedy Playhouse pilot, the show aired in seven series until 1975. Six years later, ITV continued the sitcom, calling it Till Death.... From 1985 to 1992, the BBC produced a sequel In Sickness and in Health.
Created by Johnny Speight, Till Death Us Do Part centred on the East End Garnett family, led by patriarch Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell), a reactionary white working-class man who holds racist and anti-socialist views. His long-suffering wife Else was played by Dandy Nichols, and his daughter Rita by Una Stubbs. Rita's husband Mike Rawlins (Anthony Booth) is a socialist layabout. The character Alf Garnett became a well known character in British culture, and Mitchell played him on stage and television up until Speight's death in 1998.
In addition to the spin-off In Sickness and in Health, Till Death Us Do Part was re-made in many countries including Brazil, Germany (Ein Herz und eine Seele), the Netherlands (In Voor- En Tegenspoed), and is known to the United States as the show that inspired All in the Family.
Many episodes from the first three series are thought to no longer exist, having been wiped in the late 1960s and early '70s as was the policy at the time.
The series became an instant hit 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 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 risible, but some[who?]considered the series uncomfortable and disturbing. Some[who?] were oblivious to the fact that Johnny Speight was satirising racist attitudes. Ironically, many[who?] who held similar opinions to the character enjoyed the show, perhaps missing the point that Alf's opinions were considered offensive and that they were being ridiculed. Mitchell imbued the character of Alf Garnett with an earthy charm that served to humanise Alf and make him likable. According to interviews he gave, the fact that some viewers overlooked Alf's views and regarded him as a rough diamond disappointed Speight.
The show captured a key feature of Britain in the 1960s - the widening generation gap. Alf (and to a lesser degree his wife) represented the old guard, the traditional and conservative attitudes of the older generation. Alf's battles with his left-wing son-in-law were not just ideological but generational and cultural. His son-in-law and daughter represented the younger generation. They supported the aspects of the new era such as relaxed sexual mores, fashions, music, etc. The same things were anathema to Alf - and indicative of everything that was wrong with the younger generation and the liberal attitudes they embraced.
Alf was portrayed as the archetypal working-class Conservative. The subjects that excited him most were football and politics, though his actual knowledge of either was limited. He used language not considered acceptable for television in the 1960s. He often referred to racial minorities as "coons" and similar terms. He referred to his Liverpudlian son-in-law as "Shirley Temple" or a "randy Scouse git" (Randy Scouse Git, as a phrase, caught the ear of Micky Dolenz of The Monkees who heard it while on tour in the UK and used it as the title of the group's following single - though their record label renamed it 'Alternate Title' in the UK market to avoid controversy), and to his wife as a "silly [old] moo" (a substitute for 'cow' which was vetoed by the BBC's head of comedy Frank Muir). However, Michael Palin writes in his diary 16 July 1976 that Warren Mitchell told him that "silly moo" wasn't scripted, "It came out during a rehearsal when he forgot the line "Silly old mare"." Controversially, the show was one of the earliest mainstream programmes to feature the swear word 'bloody'. The show was one of many held up by Mary Whitehouse as an example of the BBC's moral laxity.
In a demonstration of Speight's satirical skills - after a successful libel action brought against Speight by Mary Whitehouse - he created an episode, first broadcast on 27 February 1967, in which Alf Garnett is depicted as an admirer of Whitehouse. Garnett was seen proudly reading her first book. "What are you reading?" his son-in-law asks. When he relates that it is Mary Whitehouse - his son-in-law sniggers. Alf's rejoinder is "She's concerned for the bleedin' moral fibre of the nation!" The episode ends with the book being burnt.
Ultimately "silly moo" became a comic catchphrase. Another Garnett phrase was "it stands to reason", usually before making some patently unreasonable comment. Alf was an admirer of Enoch Powell, a right-wing Conservative politician known particularly for strong opposition to the immigration of non-white races into the United Kingdom. Alf was also a supporter of West Ham United (a football club based in the East End) and known to make derogatory remarks about "the Jews up at Spurs" (referring to Tottenham Hotspur, a north London club with a sizeable Jewish following). This was a playful touch by Speight, knowing that in real life Mitchell was both Jewish and a Spurs supporter. In interviews, Speight explained he had originally based Alf on his father, an East End docker who was staunchly reactionary and held "unenlightened" attitudes toward black people. Speight made clear that he regretted his father held such attitudes - beliefs Speight regarded as reprehensible. Speight saw the show as a way of ridiculing such views and dealing with his complex feelings about his father.
The series switched to colour when it returned in 1972 and Rita had a baby son, Michael.
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 edited into the show. Eventually even this was too much and so in a later episode Else was seen leaving for Australia, to Alf's dismay. Patricia Hayes, who had been seen from time to time previously as next door neighbour Mrs. Reed, was given a first name Min and became a starring character along with her husband Bert, previously played by Bill Maynard and now by Alfie Bass. The show's rating began to suffer and in 1975, the series was dropped. The final episode saw Alf lose his job and receive a telegram from Else asking for a divorce.
As with most BBC sitcoms Till Death Us Do Part was recorded before a live studio audience. The programmes were recorded onto 2 inch Quadruplex videotape. From 1966 to 1968 the show was transmitted in black and white. When the series returned in 1972, it was transmitted in colour. The opening titles/end credits of the first colour episodes originally used the b/w sequence from the '60s tinted in red, as seen on UKTV Gold repeats in 2006.
The house seen in the opening and closing titles to the 1960s episodes was located on Garnet Street in Wapping (from where writer Johnny Speight took the Garnett family name) and this terrace was demolished in the 1980s. A terrace of newer multicoloured homes and an estate agents take their place. They are located on Garnet street in close proximity to the local Wallace James shop, St Peter's Primary School, Gastronomica bar, Docklands General Store and Crane Wharf.
Missing black and white episodes
Most of the show's 26 episodes from series 1-3 that were videotaped in black and white and broadcast 1965-68 no longer exist; they were wiped by the BBC during the late 1960s and early '70s. Currently, most material from twelve episodes still survives, with one episode on the original tape and the rest on film or domestic formats. The surviving 1960s B&W episodes are: "Arguments, Arguments"; "A House With Love In It"; "Peace & Goodwill"; "In Sickness and In Health"; "State Visit"; "Alf's Dilemma"; "Till Closing Time Do Us Part"; "The Phone"; "The Blood Donor"; and "Aunt Maud". Sequences exist from: the pilot episode; "Intolerance"; "Sex Before Marriage"; "The Bulldog Breed"; "A Wapping Mythology (The Workers' King)"; and "The Puppy".
The public appeal campaign the BBC Archive Treasure Hunt continues to search for lost episodes. In 1997 the long-lost episode "Alf's Dilemma" was found in a private collection on a 21-minute 16mm telerecording. This is the episode featuring Garnett reading Mary Whitehouse's first book. Some sources state that the episode is an edited version, others that it was just a short episode. The episode was rebroadcast in 1998 on UK Gold. In August 2009, two more black and white episodes, "In Sickness and in Health" and "State Visit", were returned by a film collector.
In 1980, the ITV company ATV picked up the series and produced a solo show starring Alf—titled The Thoughts of Chairman Alf at Christmas—transmitted on 26 December. The master copy had been wiped, however a home videorecording is currently available to view at the National Media Museum (Bradford)—at their television booths.
In 1981, ATV made six episodes under the title Till Death.... The series had Alf and Else sharing a bungalow with Min (Patricia Hayes) following the death of her husband Bert (Alfie Bass)in Eastbourne. Although Rita remained in the cast, Anthony Booth declined to return. Rita's son Michael was now a teenager and a punk rocker (even though he was born in 1972 and therefore should only have been about 9 or 10). The series was not a success and when Central Television were awarded the contract for the Midlands region from 1982, it was decided that Till Death... was not to return.
In 1985 Alf Garnett returned to the BBC for In Sickness and in Health. This took Alf and Else (who was now in a wheelchair) onward 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. Eventually Mike and Rita divorced and Rita began dating a doctor. After the first series Dandy Nichols died, and so subsequent episodes showed Alf having to deal with the greatest loss of his life, Else, whom he truly loved.
The loss of Else and Rita as regulars in the cast meant that new characters had to be brought in as antagonists for Alf. These notably included his home help, Winston (played by Eamonn Walker), who was both black and gay, and Alf's prim upstairs neighbour, Mrs Hollingberry (played by Carmel McSharry), who eventually agreed to marry Alf. In 1988, Speight was warned about the use of racist language - and after discussion it was decided that Garnett's offensive language was to be discontinued and the character of Winston was to be written out. With such characters helping update the basic concept, the "Sickness and Health" series ran until 1992.
Warren Mitchell also appeared solo on stage and TV as Alf Garnett, dispensing variations on Alf's homespun reactionary philosophy and singing old music hall songs. Most notable was the LWT show An Audience With Alf Garnett - which allowed Garnett to return to his racialist attitude.
Another 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".
- Warren Mitchell - Alfred 'Alf' Garnett
- Dandy Nichols - Elsie 'Else' Garnett
- Una Stubbs - Rita Rawlins, née Garnett
- Antony Booth - Mike Rawlins
- Joan Sims - Gran
- Patricia Hayes - Mrs. Min Reed
- Alfie Bass - Bert Reed
- Hugh Lloyd - Mr. Wally Carey
- Pat Coombs - Mrs. Carey
- Will Stampe - Fred the barman
In the Comedy Playhouse pilot Alf was Alf Ramsey, but the BBC changed his name to Garnett for the subsequent series, not wishing to use the same name as England's 1966 football World Cup winning manager.
Two feature films were made based on the series - the first was Till Death Us Do Part (1969), whose first half dealt with the younger Alf and Else during World War II, and whose second half dealt with all the Garnetts in the present day being moved from their East End slum to the new town of Hemel Hempstead, and the adjustments and changes that brought on the family. It gave a nuanced glimpse of British life at the time. The second film, The Alf Garnett Saga (1972) had Adrienne Posta playing the part of Rita and Paul Angelis playing Mike. It is notable for featuring Alf Garnett on an LSD trip.
In the UK, Network released the first two colour series on DVD (Series 4 and 5) but these releases are no longer being printed - the license has expired and rights have reverted to BBC Worldwide, who release their titles through 2 Entertain. Some fans have urged BBC DVD to release the series; however, In Sickness & In Health recently saw all Six-Series 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and the Christmas specials being released on DVD by 2|entertain.
The fourth series was available in the United States and Canada, having been released before the Network edition and featuring some title sequence variations. The 1969 movie is available in both the UK and the US, with the 1972 movie only available on DVD via bootlegs.
Differences from All in the Family
- Where All in the Family, Else′s counterpart Edith Bunker was a "dingbat", and loyal and loving wife, Else Garnett was a long-suffering woman who was bitter about her unhappy marriage and smoked heavily. She often lashed out at her husband (who called her a "silly old moo"). This divergence evolved over time; in the early days of All in the Family, Edith was more like her English counterpart, but her character evolved into her better-known form over the course of the series.
- On All in the Family, Mike Stivic and Archie Bunker were always at odds and rarely got along. In Till Death Us Do Part, Alf and Mike, while never agreeing with each other, were civil to each other for the most part and often went to the pub together. Alf and Mike also attended the World Cup together and Mike was protective of his father-in-law.
- Mike Rawlins was a full-on Trotskyite in Till Death Us Do Part. For All In The Family, CBS had softened this considerably; in the American show, Mike Stivic, though sympathetic to the leftist beliefs of the Students for a Democratic Society movement, was simply a liberal Democrat.
- Where the Bunkers were living in comfortable (if slightly shabby) surroundings in Queens, in New York City, despite their working class status, the Garnetts lived in a poor housing area in lower class Wapping.
- See for example her responses to an episode referred to as "Bird Fancier" (first transmitted on 20 September 1972), which features a discussion of the Virgin birth of Jesus, as detailed in Michael Tracey and David Morrison Whitehouse, London & Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1979, p.110-16. The episode is also known as "Pigeon Fancier", but the recording as broadcast contains no identifying caption.
- Mark Ward "A Family at War: Till Death Do Us Part", The Main Event (Kalaidoscope brochure) 1996
- Thompson Ban This Filth!: Letters From the Mary Whitehouse Archive, London: Faber, 2012, p.12
- Laughterlog - Detailed article and episode guide on Till Death Us Do Part and all other Alf Garnett spin-offs
- G. Schaffer ‘Till Death Us Do Part and the BBC: Racial Politics and the British Working Classes 1965–75’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 45(2), 454–477. ISSN 0022-0094. doi:10.1177/0022009409356914
- Lost Shows on Till Death Us Do Part
- Encyclopedia of Television
- BBC Treasure Hunt
- Till Death Us Do Part at British TV Comedy
- Till Death Us Do Part at the BFI's Screenonline
- Till Death Us Do Part at British Comedy Guide
- Till Death Us Do Part at the Internet Movie Database