Warren Mitchell, who played Alf Garnett, dies at 89

Warren Mitchell, in character as Alf Garnett. Picture: Contributed
Warren Mitchell, in character as Alf Garnett. Picture: Contributed
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ACTOR Warren Mitchell, best known for starring as Alf Garnett, has died aged 89.

A statement from the Till Death Us Do Part star’s family said: “Sadly we can confirm Warren Mitchell died in the early hours of Saturday 14 November surrounded by his family.

“He has been in poor health for some time, but was cracking jokes to the last.”

Family member Jerry Barnett tweeted: “Just got the news my great uncle Warren Mitchell (aka Alf Garnett) died last night. The last of his generation, wonderful and funny man RIP.”

Social media was flooded with tributes following the news of the TV star’s death.

Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted: “Alf Garnett was one of the most influential and important characters and performances in comedy history. RIP Warren Mitchell.”

Theatre director Rupert Goold wrote: “RIP Warren Mitchell. A deeply soulful and erudite man who genuinely loved the theatre.”

Mitchell’s role as Alf Garnett was his big break, and the controversial character came to be much-loved by the British public. Off-screen, Mitchell was an ardent Tottenham Hotspur supporter, but his character Garnett was a West Ham fan.

Even 40 years after this successful and racy BBC sitcom was running, Mitchell continued to be stopped in the street by people who thought he was the working-class, anti-Semitic Tory bigot he portrayed, even though he was Jewish.

The British public warmed to Alf Garnett, probably because he could be identified with the kind of reactionary and prejudiced figure found all over the country.

Sometimes the satire of the show was lost because people regarded Garnett as a loveable old rogue whose views were quite acceptable.

Even so, he once admitted he was “a bit” like Alf Garnett himself: “Opinionated male chauvinistic pig at times, I suppose. As my wife Connie once said to me, ‘You are like that awful Alf Garnett, only he’s funny and you’re not’.”

Warren Mitchell was born Warren Misell in Stoke Newington, north London, on 14 January, 1926. He served in the RAF and completed navigator training just as the war ended.

He had been reading physics at University College, Oxford, but quit that before completing the course, and became a professional actor in 1951 after two years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

But his big break did not come until 1965 – 14 years after he became a professional actor – with the role of Alf Garnett in a Comedy Playhouse play, which developed into the TV series.

Although Mitchell is identified almost exclusively with Alf Garnett, he played a wide variety of roles during his career. Other TV appearances came in Lovejoy, Waking The Dead, Kavanagh QC and Gormenghast.

On stage, he received extensive critical acclaim for his performances in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman and Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and The Homecoming.

Mitchell suffered a stroke in August 2004 but was back on stage a week later, performing in Miller’s The Price.

He was also a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association, saying that although he was Jewish, and proud to be one, he was an atheist as well.