Mitchell in 1978
14 January 1926
|Died||14 November 2015 (aged 89)|
Highgate, London, England
|Alma mater||University College, Oxford |
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
(m. 1951; his death 2015)
In the 1950s, Mitchell appeared on the radio programmes Educating Archie and Hancock's Half Hour. He also performed minor roles in several movies. 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), created by Johnny Speight, 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). 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 held both British and Australian citizenship and enjoyed considerable success in stage performances in both countries, winning Olivier Awards in 1979 for Death of a Salesman and in 2004 for The Price.
Mitchell was born in Stoke Newington, London. His father was a glass and china merchant. His family were Russian Jews (originally surnamed "Misell"). He was interested in acting from an early age and attended Gladys Gordon's Academy of Dramatic Arts in Walthamstow from the age of seven. He did well at Southgate County School (now Southgate School), a state grammar school at Palmers Green, Middlesex. He then studied physical chemistry at University College, Oxford, for six months. There he met his contemporary, Richard Burton, and together they joined the Royal Air Force in 1944. He completed his navigator training in Canada just as the Second World War ended.
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 in both the radio and television versions of Hancock's Half Hour. By the late 1950s, 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, Underground (1958), one of the lead actors died during the live performance. He also had roles in 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.
His cinema début was in Guy Hamilton's Manuela (1957), 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 (1961), the Hammer horror The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Carry On Cleo (1964), Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (Gerry Levy, 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).
In 1965, Mitchell was cast in the role for which he became best known, as the Conservative-voting, 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 Antony Booth. The part of Mum, played by Franklin, was recast with Dandy Nichols in the role when the programme was commissioned as a series. Mitchell's real life persona was different from Alf Garnett, being Jewish, Labour-voting 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. While the series aimed to satirise racism, it actually also gained the support of many bigoted racists who perceived Alf as "the voice of reason".
Mitchell had a long and distinguished career on stage and television. Other small screen roles included 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 1975 in Play for Today (showing that he could play a serious character role in the episode, Moss ), as William Wardle, a crooked accountant in The Sweeney episode Big Spender (Thames Television for ITV, 1978), Lovejoy (BBC), Waking the Dead (BBC), Kavanagh QC (Central Television for ITV, he played a concentration camp survivor in the episode Ancient History), as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (BBC, 1980) and Gormenghast (BBC, 2000). In 2001, he appeared in a Christmas Special episode of Last of the Summer Wine, "Potts in Pole Position".
On stage he received extensive critical acclaim for his performances as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman at the National Theatre directed by Michael Rudman (1979, being originally cast in the role by Stephen Barry at the Playhouse in Perth, Australia); Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the National Theatre; Pinter's The Homecoming at London's Comedy Theatre (1991) and Miller's The Price at the Apollo Theatre in 2003.
Mitchell had a number of musical roles in his lengthy career, beginning with the role of Theophile in the original London production of Can-Can and the small role of Crookfinger Jake in The Threepenny Opera. He also sang briefly in the film Till Death Do Us Part and played Alfred Doolittle on the studio album of My Fair Lady.
Mitchell reprised the role of Alf Garnett in the films Till Death Us Do Part (1969) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972), in the ATV series Till Death... (1981), and in the BBC series In Sickness and in Health (1985–92). He also reprised his role as Alf Garnett in 1983 in the television series The Main Attraction where comedians recreated their famous acts from their past in front of a live and television audience (similar to An Audience with... that began in 1976). In 1997 he played the role in An Audience with Alf Garnett. The same year, ITV aired a series of mini-episodes called A Word With Alf, featuring Alf and his friends. All the TV shows and both films were written by Johnny Speight. When Speight died in 1998, the character of Alf Garnett was retired at Mitchell's request.
In 2008, at the age of 82, Mitchell was performing alongside Ross Gardiner at the Trafalgar Studios, in London's West End, as a retired dry-cleaner in Jeff Baron's portrait of Jewish-American life Visiting Mr. Green.
In 1976, his one-man show The Thoughts of Chairman Alf won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for best comedy in London's West End. In 1982, he received an Australian Film Institute Award for best supporting actor in the film Norman Loves Rose. He 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. His role in Death of a Salesman also won him an Evening Standard Theatre Award and was highly praised by Peter Hall. Miller reportedly described Mitchell's performance as "one of the best interpretations of the part he had ever seen."
|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 and death
Mitchell described himself in an interview as an atheist, but also stated that he "enjoy[ed] being Jewish". He was a patron of the British Humanist Association. In 1951 he married Constance Wake, an actress who appeared in early 1960s television dramas such as Maigret. They had three children.
For over twenty years, Mitchell suffered pain from nerve damage, caused by transverse myelitis, and was a supporter of the Neuropathy Trust. 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.
- Five Days (1954) as Laughing Man in Bar (uncredited)
- Passing Stranger (1954) (uncredited)
- Manuela (1957) as Moss
- Barnacle Bill (1957) as Artie White
- Girls at Sea (1958) as Arthur
- The Trollenberg Terror (1958) as Prof. Crevett
- Three Crooked Men (1959) as Walter Prinn
- The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) as Merchant (uncredited)
- Tommy the Toreador (1959) as Waiter
- Two-Way Stretch (1960) as Tailor
- Hell Is a City (1960) as Commercial Traveller
- Doctor in Love (1960) as Haystack Club Manager (uncredited)
- The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960) as Pedro
- Surprise Package (1960) as Klimatis
- The Pure Hell of St Trinian's (1960) as Tailor
- The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) as Pepe Valiente
- Don't Bother to Knock (1961) as Waiter
- The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) as Giorgio
- The Silent Invasion (1962) as Robert
- Postman's Knock (1962) as Rupert
- Operation Snatch (1962) as Contact Man
- Village of Daughters (1962) as Puccelli (A Father)
- The Main Attraction (1962) as Cafe Proprietor (uncredited)
- We Joined the Navy (1962) as 'Honest' Marcel
- Incident at Midnight (1963) as Chemist
- The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) as Lou Leeman
- Unearthly Stranger (1963) as Prof. Geoffrey D. Munro
- The Sicilians (1963) as O'Leary
- Calculated Risk (1963) as Simmie
- Seventy Deadly Pills (1964) as Lofty
- Carry On Cleo (1964) as Spencius
- Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (1964) as Emilio Dinelli, the Magician
- The Intelligence Men (1965) as Prozoroff
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) as Mr. Zanfrello
- San Ferry Ann (1965) as Maitre d'Hotel
- Help! (1965) as Abdul
- Promise Her Anything (1965) as Frank Focus / Panel Moderator
- Night Caller from Outer Space (1965) as Reg Lilburn
- The Sandwich Man (1966) as Gypsy Sid
- Drop Dead Darling (1966) as Conte de Rienz / Maximillian
- The Jokers (1967) as Lennie
- Diamonds for Breakfast (1968) as Popov
- Till Death Us Do Part (1969) as Alf Garnett
- The Assassination Bureau (1969) as Herr Weiss
- The Best House in London (1969) as Count Pandolfo
- Moon Zero Two (1969) as Hubbard
- All the Way Up (1970) as Fred Midway
- Innocent Bystanders (1972) as Omar
- The Alf Garnett Saga (1972) as Alf Garnett
- The Sweeney (1975, TV Series) as William Wardle
- What Changed Charley Farthing? (1976) as MacGregor
- Jabberwocky (1977) as Mr. Fishfinger
- Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers (1977) as Morris Morris
- Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979) as Gurdjieff's Father
- Norman Loves Rose (1982) as Morris
- The Plague Dogs (1982) as Tyson / Wag (voice)
- The Last Bastion (1984) as Franklin D Roosevelt
- Waterfront (1984) as Les
- The Chain (1984) as Bamber
- Man of Letters (1984) as Sir Dorton Serry
- The Dunera Boys (1985) as Mr. Baum
- Foreign Body (1986) as I.Q. Patel
- Knights and Emeralds (1986) as Mr. Kirkpatrick
- Kokoda Crescent (1988) as Stan
- Crackers (1998) as Albert Hall
- Warren Mitchell is a winner ABC TV 7.30 Report interview with Kerry O'Brien, 24 February 2004
- "Variety Club – Jewish Chronicle colour supplement "350 years"". The Jewish Chronicle. 15 December 2006. pp. 28–29.
- Davis, Barry. "From the BBC with Love", The International Jeruslalem Post, 2–8 January 2015, p. 10.
- Southgate School notable pupils: Warren Misell Retrieved 14 November 2015
- BFI screen online biography accessed 27 June 2007
- Matthew Sweet "Do Not Adjust Your Set By Kate Dunn", The Independent, 20 July 2003
- Moncrieff, Chris (16 November 2015). "Alf Garnett star Warren Mitchell dies". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- Clark, Anthony. Till Death Us Do Part (1966–75) accessed 11 April 2016
- Play for Today: Moss at IMDb
- "Kavanagh QC" Ancient History (1997) at IMDb website. Accessed 13 June 2012
- Potts In Pole Position at Digiguide.tv
- "A man of many cantankerous parts". The Sydney Morning Herald Arts section, 4 February 2004. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Lawson, Mark (14 November 2015). "Warren Mitchell: there was more to him than Cockney foghorn Chairman Alf". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- Emma Brockes (10 September 2003). "Emma Brockes talks to Warren Mitchell". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- Philip Fisher. "Theatre review: The Price at Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue". Britishtheatreguide.info. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- "Warren Mitchell obituary: Alf Garnett and much more". BBC News. 14 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
- Bowie-Sell, Daisy (14 November 2015). "Actor Warren Mitchell dies". WhatsOnStage.com. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- Keenan, Catherine What's it all about, Alfie? Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2005
- Awards for Norman Loves Rose (1982) at The Internet Movie Database
- Deveney, Catherine (10 October 2007). "The pride of prejudice". Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 20 July 2007.
- British Humanist Association website 
- BMD Register – General Register Office. Warren Missel / Constance M Wake 2nd quarter 1951, St Pancras Middlesex. Volume 2 Page 776.
- "Warren Mitchell, Alf Garnett actor, dies aged 89". The Daily Telegraph. 14 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
- "I know I'm mean: I refused to let my wife have a new dustbin", Daily Mail, 14 August 1998.
- Neuropathy Trust accessed 27 June 2007 Archived 29 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- Keenan, Catherine "What's it all about, Alfie?" The Sydney Morning Herald Arts section, 21 January 2005.
- Thorpe, Vanessa (14 November 2015). "Warren Mitchell dies aged 89". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2015.