William G. Stewart (director)
Network on Air (studio)
04 February 2019 (released)
24 February 2019
This 1981 sitcom sees a change of channel and the Garnetts, that is to say retired docker and bigot Alf plus long-suffering wife Else, are now located by the Eastbourne seaside to live out their retirement.
Daughter Rita (Una Stubbs) and son-in-law Mike presumably have gone elsewhere and who can blame them? That said Rita still pays the occasional surprise visit though Mike does the wise thing and steers clear of Alf (Warren Mitchell). Instead, Alf and Else’s old next door neighbour Min (the redoubtable Patricia Hayes) has moved in with the couple following the death of her husband, to round it out a little. Not that Else (Dandy Nichols) would get much chance of saying much as Alf always did nearly all of the talking.
With the earlier series from 1966 (we are talking about 15 years) we had a situation were racist bigot Alf, a devout working class Tory, could have endless arguments with his work-shy 'Scouse git' of a son-in-law Mike, who represented some kind of 'voice of reason'… being an impoverished Socialist (as opposed to die-hard monarchist Alf). These encounters and discussions - sometimes bordering on the absurd - could be utterly hilarious!
However, in TILL DEATH… things can become only too one-sided as Alf doesn't really have that much to spar off. Else obviously doesn’t have to be quite as dense as before (not that Alf is bright, there is just no stopping him). In fact, she can no longer stand him (“Drunken pig”) and appears to be waiting for the old sod to snuff it. In contrast, little Min is quite a nice person and often gets the better of the ogre by default; her description of Alf as “like a child without his dummy” is pretty apt.
He is also an out and out racist, for example in one of the six episodes we witness a drunken (his usual state) Alf alighting from a train at Eastbourne, the old codger has been up to London to see his beloved 'ammers' (West Ham United F.C. football team). Of course he has trouble finding his ticket. He refers to the ticket collector as 'John-John' (an old East End term of abuse for a black man). A few minutes later he's on the beach shouting about “Bloody wogs” – another one of his fave phrases. Incredible now - but this was 1981, a million years ago by TV-standards. In another episode a black repairman arrives to fix the Garnetts TV and it evolves that he is the cousin of the man Alf gave a racist mouthful to earlier on. It should also be mentioned that as well as being a total hypocrite Alf is also a frightful coward and a massive exaggerator of the truth.
In another episode some young punk rockers (it is '81) offer to help Alf across the road (what?). Alf is soon on his knees begging: “Please don't hurt me, I'm an old man, I ain't got no money…” followed by him taking out his chequebook. The boys don't know what to do and run off, with Alf shouting that if they had hung around he would have done the lot of them; this is for the benefit of some latecomers. Alf reports the incident to the police as a suspected mugging! It later transpires that the boys do charity work for the local church and Alf is forced to make an apology. In the last episode Alf gets so drunk he ends up in the hospital at death’s door. Else seems quite pleased about this. The old swine never told her that he'd taken out a private insurance scheme. Rita hurries to the hospital grief-stricken and in tears: “But you must have loved him once, Mum” to which Else's replies: “I can't think when!” An anxious Else even has a piece of paper ready hoping that IF Alf does resume consciousness he'll have time to sign it in order to leave everything to her. Of course, he's not going to go is he? Not yet anyway.
Alf is a monster but few of us can bring ourselves to dislike him as much as Else does. Then again, we only see him when we want to. Why did she marry him in the first place? Is this ridiculous or what?
As a bonus we have a 25-min Special from 1980: The Thoughts of Chairman Alf at Christmas Time'. If someone coming in from the cold knew nothing about the character of Alf Garnett one cannot begin to imagine what he/she would make from this solo piece; quite frankly it goes a little beyond racism. Warren had scored considerable success with ‘The Thoughts of Chairman Alf’ in the mid 70's in the West End Theatre. My, how the times have changed…