6 June 2004 | jamesraeburn2003
"A milestone in TV history."
A bigoted docker from East London, Alf Garnett, is always getting his family into trouble with his ramblings about race, religion and politics.
This long running and extremely successful TV sitcom series created by writer Johnny Speight was also very controversial. Alf's racist and bigoted views often ensured that there was many complaints from angry viewers. Even though a lot of people find the show objectionable, it is still a milestone in British TV history because it changed the face of television in the way it said things and how it said them. The show rarely ever strayed beyond the tiny set of Alf's living room in Wapping (the walls used to wobble whenever Alf banged his fist against them in anger) and it was very weakly plotted but it ran for ten years and Alf Garnett was superbly portrayed by Warren Mitchell and Dandy Nichols was fine as his long suffering wife, Else, whom Alf referred too as the "silly moo". Anthony Booth (Tony Blair's father in law) played his son-in-law, Mike, a Labour supporter whom Alf called various names including "Shirley Temple" among other things because of his long hair. Una Stubbs played the daughter, Rita, who detested her father's bigoted ways, but at the same time retained an affection for him. Alf was a Tory and often conflicted with his son-in-law over the two different parties and they both supported different football teams, Alf was for West Ham and Mike for Liverpool. Everything that his family stood for, Alf was nearly always against.
Dandy Nichols left before the last series and the storyline suggested that she had gone to live with her sister in Australia because she could no longer cope with her husband. Meanwhile, Patricia Hayes and Alfie Bass were brought in as his new neighbours, Bert and Min, Bert was Alf's drinking buddie and a fellow West Ham supporter, while Min was always poking her nose into Alf's business. The series ended in 1975, but a spin-off series entitled "Till Death" surfaced in 1981 with Alf and Else retiring to Eastbourne with Mike and Rita trying to keep him out of trouble. In 1985, another spin-off series entitled, "In Sickness And In Health" emerged with Alf and Elsie as OAP's, Mike and Rita have both left home, so it was up to Alf to care for his wheelchair bound wife and do battle with social security. This series ran until 1992, but within a year Nichols had died after years of ill health and Carmel McSharry took over as his new lodger, Mrs Hollingberry, whom Alf only respected for her cooking. After the series ended there have been occasional TV specials such as "In Thoughts Of Chairman Alf" and "An Evening With Alf Garnett". Johnny Speight died in 1998.
In 1969, British Lion released a big screen spin-off of the series. It was occasionally funny and there were highlights such as Alf during the 1964 election and at the 1966 World Cup final. However, the script was sometimes unrepresentative of the show and it seemed comparatively tame compared to the original. The original cast was retained and it had a better crew behind the camera than one would normally expect of TV sitcom spin-offs. In 1972, a sequel entitled THE ALF GARNETT SAGA came out, but it was even more crude and out of character with only Mitchell and Nichols retained from the original cast.