Unfortunately the world is full of Alf Garnetts
The son of an East End dockworker, Johnny Speight was expected to follow his father into the same line of work. Instead, he entered a very different world: TV and radio comedy writing. Speight wrote for many of the stars of post-war British comedy: Bill Maynard, Frankie Howerd, Eric Sykes, Spike Milligan and Arthur Haynes.
When Haynes died in 1966, Speight wrote a pilot for a new sitcom, Till Death Us Do Part. It became his biggest success. It made a star of its lead actor, Warren Mitchell and a household name of its main character, the foul-mouthing ageing bigot, Alf Garnett.
Speight and Mitchell said that the aim was for Garnett’s controversial outbursts about politics and race to be regarded as laughable and absurd – it was not an endorsement of those views. Yet when the character returned in a sequel, In Sickness and in Health in the 1980s, the initial impact had been lost and it was not such comfortable viewing, despite Speight’s good intentions.
On Speight’s death, Paul Jackson, BBC Controller of Entertainment said: “ He will always be remembered as the man who created a comic icon for the age.”