Norman Cohen (director)
Network on Air (studio)
28 January 2019 (released)
21 February 2019
It was inevitable that there simply had to be a big screen version of Johnny Speight's smash-hit sitcom from the mid 60's. How could there not have been? TILL DEATH US DO PART was probably the most popular and controversial TV series of all time! Yet it seems incredible that the nowadays oh so politically correct BBC could have screened such a series… was it really that long ago?
Here we are talking about the 1969 movie version (don't worry, we have one of the old TV shows bunged in as bonus) and director Norman Cohen does a pretty good job of taking over where TV-director Dennis Main Wilson left off. One can only imagine there are a number of incidents in the film that are culled from the old TV scripts. Here we have a potted history of the Garnetts – a family based in the East London district oft Wapping. The film chronicles their daily lives (and arguments) from 1939 to 1968 – meaning that WW2 is imminent when the story starts. At the beginning we glimpse at a much younger Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell) making his way home along the dismal two-up two-down terraced house where he and his long suffering wife Else (Dandy Nichols), usually referred to as the 'Silly moo', live. Btw Mitchell was then in his 43rd year and Nichols around 19 years his senior!
Just in case anyone is still unaware of it, perhaps it should be noted that Alf Garnett is narrow-minded, cowardly, hypocritical, sexist, racist, homophobic, a rabid monarchist, a working class Conservative, patriotic to the core, overbearing and well, the list goes on. And yet: most found the old stinker irresistible! Also, we shouldn't forget his love for West Ham United (“Up the 'ammers”). We can thank Warren Mitchell's 'honed to perfection' characterisation for this. Alf even stands to attention in the tin tub (in the kitchen) whenever the National Anthem is played. He can always have a good chat about “how things are going” in the outside loo (hence the term 'freezing yer bollocks off') with his next-door neighbour Bert (Bill Maynard), back to back as it was. Writer Johnny Speight's own boyhood home probably was the same, with only a wall to divide them. Naturally Alf does not believe that the Germans would declare war on Great Britain (well, he was... er, right there). Quite often Alf's absurd equations tie up - is this testimony to Johnny Speights genius?
Then come the Anderson shelters, taking refuge in the Underground stations, rationing (particularly hard on Alf who loves a pint, a whisky chaser and a nice fag). In Alf's street (which gets bombed) we have an unsympathetic Sergeant in the shape of Brian Blessed - there to fight the enemy with a big gun. Meanwhile his saucy female neighbour Kate Williams (her hubby is of fighting) is there to taunt him, seeing how the defenders of the realm got their ration of food and fags. Alf nearly has a coronary when he gets his own call up papers, claiming that “Course it’s a mistake, innit.” Somehow Else finds herself pregnant, although neither of them can work out when the actual occurrence took place. Just how old is Else supposed to be? As the war draws to a close we have a quick street party (oh, those were the days) and fast forward to 1966 where Alf and Elses’ mini-skirted daughter Rita (Una Stubbs) announces her marriage to Mike (Anthony Booth). Rita is a staunch Labour supporter but in the parents place we still see the photos of Alf's hero Winston Churchill and “Er royal 'ighness” on the wall. Worst of all, Rita's husband to be is a long haired, die-hard 'out of work' Socialist Liverpudlian from an Irish Catholic background! You can imagine how the wedding ceremony goes at the miniscule Garnett household… At one point a inebriated Alf (a state he's often in) espies a young black woman (Cleo Sylvestrie) putting his arm round her when she exclaims: “t's alright Mr Garnett, it doesn't come off'. Alf's loud retort: “Blimey, the Coon's got a sense of humour” (a line which, in nowadays pc climate, couldn’t even be uttered in a comedy show).
Fortunately Alf and Mike do have least two things in common: booze and football (what is a man without a team?). Thank goodness for that AND it’s 1966! Eventually the Garnett's home is demolished along with everything else including the pub and they are moved to a hideous tower block in Essex (it’s now 1968), much to Alf's dismay and stubbornness. Clearly, Alf's prayers in the local church don't get answered. Poor old Alf doesn't even get a quarter back of what he paid for the house.
For many in this day and age (particularly those under 40) Johnny Speight's near immortal 'likable monster’ will not be acceptable on any terms, unlike for the elders who may not necessarily see themselves as bad or politically naive (because they still laugh at Benny Hill). Those not easily offended will find this film offers plenty of laughs as well as enjoying a trip down their own parent's memory lane. Speight's work STILL deserves to be seen. Like it or hate it.