Alf Garnett


Alf Garnett

Infobox character
colour =
colour text =
name = Alf Garnett
series = "Till Death Us Do Part"


caption =
first = "Pilot" ("Comedy Playhouse", 1965)
last = "The Thoughts of Chairman Alf" (1998)
cause =
creator = Johnny Speight
portrayer = Warren Mitchell
episode =
born =
death =
occupation =
spouse = Else Garnett
children = Rita Rawlins
relatives =
residence =
religion =
nationality = British
imdb_id = 0021626

Alf Garnett is a fictional character in the British sitcoms "Till Death Us Do Part", "Till Death..." and "In Sickness and in Health", and chat show "The Thoughts of Chairman Alf". He was played by Warren Mitchell.

The character

Alf was reactionary, mean-spirited, selfish, bigoted, racist, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic. Warren Mitchell himself is in fact Jewish. In "In Sickness and in Health" he also displays homophobia, largely because he gets a gay black man whom he calls "Marigold" as his home help. The home help calls him "bwana". Generally Alf blamed his problems on everybody else. His family was the usual target of his anger and frustration. On the show, Garnett was regularly ridiculed for his illogical views and hypocrisy by his family, but he stubbornly refused to admit he was wrong.

To add entertainment to the show, Alf was outraged when his daughter, Rita played by Una Stubbs, decided to marry Michael, her long-haired, unemployed boyfriend played by Anthony Booth. Michael was from Liverpool and a Catholic of Irish descent; precisely the type of person Alf most hated. He often called him the "Randy Scouse Git". This terminology was later picked up by the American pop group The Monkees for their song, "Randy Scouse Git", included on their 1967 album "Headquarters". Alf and Michael had different political views and much of the programme was centred around their heated debates about politics.

Alf was a working class man, forever complaining that he worked and worked and yet lived somewhere near the poverty line, and was a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party, although he didn't support one-time leader Margaret Thatcher, because he believed that a woman's place was at home "chained to the bloody kitchen sink!" and blamed Thatcher's husband Denis for not telling her "to keep her place". His biggest reason for being a Conservative was not that he loved and admired the party, but that he fully rejected the policy of the Labour Party, believing them to "pretend" to represent the working classes, whilst all they would do when in power is feather their own nests. He was also an admirer of the Queen and the Royal Family. This however, did not stop him from criticising them when he thought they deserved it. His biggest passion in life though, was his local Football team West Ham United [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ilove/years/1966/tv3.shtml BBC - Cult - I Love Til Death Us Do Part ] ] .

The British public loved Alf Garnett - since everyone knew such a reactionary figure within their own locality - although the television show was heavily criticised for the character's prejudices. Writer Johnny Speight often commented that the character was supposed to be a figure of ridicule, but admits that not all viewers saw the satiric elements of the character. [ [http://www.trashfiction.co.uk/till_death_us_do_part.html "Till Death Us Do Part" by John Burke at TrashFiction.com] ] [http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/T/htmlT/tilldeathus/tilldeathus.htm Till Death Us Do Part at The Museum of Broadcast Communications] ] Speight defended the Alf Garnett character, saying: "If you do the character correctly, he just typifies what you hear - not only in pubs but in golf clubs around the country. To make him truthful he's got to say those things, and they are nasty things. But I feel as a writer that they should be out in the open so we can see how daft these comparisons are." [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/breakfast/2380565.stm BBC News: "Tribute to Alf Garnett's creator"] ]

It has been suggested that the selection of Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett was due to him looking very similar to Rudyard Kipling, who has also been perceived as a paternalistic racist; however this theory falls flat on two counts. Firstly, Mitchell was not the first choice of producer Dennis Main Wilson for the part. It was initially offered to Peter Cook, Leo McKern and Lionel Jeffries, but they all turned it down or were unavailable. Secondly, few members of public would have realised what Kipling looked like.

Mitchell left the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with a trained actors voice. A life-long, committed socialist, he sold Socialist newspapers on street corners, shouting his wares in his beautifully trained voice. It was only when he realised why people weren't buying his newspapers that he developed Alf's voice, to appear more "working class".

Johnny Speight had initially avoided antisemitism in Alf Garnett's rants for fear of offending Warren Mitchell, who was Jewish. However, Mitchell pointed out that such a bigoted character would almost certainly be anti-Semitic, and so Garnett became as vocal about Jews as any other minority group, for example, frequently mentioning "the Jews up at Spurs," in reference to fans of Tottenham Hotspur, a rival football team to Garnett's beloved West Ham, whose fanbase was perceived to be largely Jewish, including Warren Mitchell himself.

Mitchell has stated that he has got tired of always being associated with Alf Garnett, but enjoyed playing the part and appreciates the debt he owes to the character.

In the late 1980s, the Museum of the Moving Image in London staged an Alf Garnett exhibition where visitors pressed buttons representing particular social problems and were presented with Alf giving his opinions on the subject.

Alf Garnett was the direct inspiration for Archie Bunker in the American sitcom "All in the Family" which in turn was inspiration for Eric Cartman of South Park'.

References to Alf Garnett in politics

The character's name has become a standard description of anyone ranting at the world in general, and has even found its way into politics, Oswald Mosley dismissing Enoch Powell after his Rivers of Blood speech as "a Middle Class Alf Garnett", Denis Healey accusing Margaret Thatcher of possessing "the diplomacy of Alf Garnett" [Britain Since the Seventies, Jeremy Black, Reaktion Books 2004] and more recently has been used in criticism of politicians such as Ken Livingstone, [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1802248,00.html "Alf Garnett at the city hall" by Hugh Muir, The Guardian, 21 June 2006] ] and John Reid. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/6424377.stm BBC News: "Reid targets illegal immigrants", 7 March, 2007] ]

References


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