The death of actor Tony Booth inevitably brought back memories of Till Death Us Do Part, the legendary sitcom of the late 1960s and early 1970s set mostly in an East End living room. Booth played Mike Rawlins, the Liverpudlian, left-wing layabout son-in-law of the show’s central character Alf Garnett, an archetypal working-class Tory, royalist and Powellite, vividly portrayed by Warren Mitchell.
Johnny Speight’s scripts captured and reflected the various strains and divisions of British society at that time, including as played out in the cockney quarter of the capital, where the docks were still a staple source of employment. The show was controversial at the time for its swearing – Alf’s frequent use of the word “bloody”, especially on the BBC, was shocking to many – but less so for Alf’s virulent racism, which would be unacceptable on TV today, even in the service of satire.
The point of the show was to ridicule Alf as a loud-mouthed bigot and an impotent tyrant, including within his own four walls, although, as Canning Town-born Speight would regretfully acknowledge, some, perhaps many, viewers embraced Alf as hilariously forgivable or even a heroic reactionary.
Till Death Us Do Part’s core cast was completed by the brilliant Dandy Nichols as Else, Alf’s much-abused but dryly resilient wife, and Una Stubbs as their daughter Rita. Stubbs, a distinguished actor over many decades, will be familiar to younger readers as housekeeper Mrs Hudson in a more contemporary London-based TV show, Sherlock.
Episodes of the Till Death available on You Tube. Here are a couple. The first, Dock Pilfering, begins with a subject of perennial interest to Londoners – house prices.
The second, Strikes and Blackouts, features power cuts, Monopoly, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, austerity and a black TV repair man. Remember, the joke is on Alf.
Tony Booth’s daughter Cherie is, of course, married to a man called Tony Blair.