Warren Mitchell, best known for his controversial role as Alf Garnett, a working-class bigot in the TV series Till Death Us Do Part, died early Saturday at the age of 89. Mitchell, who served in the Royal Air Force and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, jumped at the chance to portray the ‘likable bigot’. “The script had been turned down by four actors and I leapt at the chance of playing such an awful man,” he said.
The ground-breaking British series, upon which the American version, All in the Family was based, centered around the East End lives of Alf Garnett and family was a original carbon copy of it’s American cousin. Garnett, much like Archie Bunker, was a white working-class man who held racist and anti-socialist views. His long-suffering wife, Else, daughter Rita and son-in-law, Mike, did their best to point out how wrong these old guard views were and represent the views of a new generation of thinking.
Rita, the British Gloria Stivic, played by Una Stubbs, a.k.a. Mrs. Hudson on Sherlock, represented a new generation. Together with her ‘meat head’ husband, Mike, they supported all aspects of the new era such as relaxed sexual mores, fashions and music. To Alf, they represented everything that was wrong with the younger generation and the liberal attitudes they embraced.
As with All in the Family in the States, the UK series was a huge hit from an audience perspective, running for 7 series from 1965 to 1975 on BBC1, as it was as much of a commentary on British life as it was a comedy. It addressed racial and political issues at a difficult time in British society, issues that were not only changing but not openly talked about.
Like All in the Family, Till Death Us Do Part used its fair share of language or catchphrases that were considered unacceptable for television in the 1960s. It was one of the earliest mainstream programs to feature the British swear word ‘bloody’. The show was also one of many held up by Mary Whitehouse, the English social activist known for her strong opposition to social liberalism and the mainstream British media, as a prime example of the BBC’s moral laxity.
In addition to his BAFTA award-winning performance in Till Death Us Do Part, Mitchell also received critical acclaim for other roles. He won Olivier Awards for his stage performances in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in 1979 and The Price in 2004.
Comedian Ricky Gervais sent this tweet upon learning of Mitchell’s death. R.I.P. Warren Mitchell.