Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Warren Mitchell Passes On

Warren Mitchell, who may be best known for playing the bigoted Alf Garnett in the British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, died on November 14 2015 at the age of 89.

Warren Mitchell was born Warren Misell on January 14 1926 in Stoke Newington, London. His father's family were English Jews who could trace their family back to the Restoration. His mother's family had immigrated from Russia and operated a chip shop in Stoke, Newington, London. His father was a glass and china merchant. Warren Mitchell took an interest in acting while still very young. He attended the  Academy of Dramatic Arts in Walthamstow, London, as well as Southgate County School. He studied physical chemistry at University College, Oxford while a member and was a member of the University Air Squadron. In 1944 he joined the Royal Air Force where he served as a navigator.

It was while Warren Mitchell was at Oxford that he met Richard Burton, who inspired him to go into the acting profession. He studied at RADA for two years, while spending his evenings performing at the Unity Theatre in London. He made his professional debut in  at Finsbury Park Open Air Theatre in 1950.

Warren Mitchell made his film debut in an uncredited role in Five Days (1954). He made his television debut in an episode of The Children of the New Forest in 1955. In the Fifties he had recurring roles in the TV shows Drake's Progress, Three Tough Guys, Big Guns, and Hancock's Half-Hour. He also appeared on the TV shows Dick and the Duchess, The Larkins, Glencannon, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, William Tell, Interpol Calling, The Four Just Men, Man from Interpol, and Danger Man. He appeared in the films Manuela (1957), Barnacle Bill (1957), The Trollenberg Terror (1958), Girls at Sea (1958), Tommy the Toreador (1959), The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's (1960), The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960), and Surprise Package (1960).

It was in 1966 that Warren Mitchell was cast in the lead role of racist bigot Alf Garnett on the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. The series proved to be wildly successful, sometimes drawing as many as 20 million viewers. The show was adapted in the United States as the equally successful All in the Family. Till Death Us Do Part lasted until 1975. Warren Mitchell reprised the role on the subsequent shows Till Death..., In Sickness and in Health, and The Thoughts of Chairman Alf, as well as the feature films Till Death Us Do Part (1969) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). 

In the Sixties Warren Mitchell also appeared on such TV shows as ITV Playhouse, Colonel Trumper's Private War, Maigret, Z Cars, The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, Ghost Squad, The Saint, Love Story, Gaslight Theatre, Danger Man, The Avengers, and Armchair Theatre. He appeared in such feature films as The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), We Joined the Navy (1962),  Unearthly Stranger (1963), Carry on Cleo (1964), The Intelligence Men (1965), Help! (1965), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Sandwich Man (1966), Drop Dead Darling (1966), The Joker (1967), Diamonds for Breakfast (1968), The Assassination Bureau (1969), Moon Zero Two (1969), and All the Way Up (1970).

In the Seventies Warren Mitchell continued to appear on Till Death Us Do Part. He starred in the TV show Men of Affairs. He appeared on the TV shows Black and Blue, It's Lulu, The Sweeney, The Ernie Sigley Show, and Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game. He appeared in the films Innocent Bystanders (1972), What Changed Charley Farthing? (1976), Jabberwocky (1977), Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers (1977), and Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979).

In the Eighties Warren Mitchell reprised his role as Alf Garnett in the TV shows Till Death... and In Sickness and in Health. He appeared on the TV show The Main Attraction, Waterfront, and Ticket for the Titanic, Acropolis Now, He appeared in the films Norman Loves Rose (1982), The Chain (1984), Foreign Body (1986), Knights & Emeralds (1986), and Kokoda Crescent (1989).

In the Nineties Warren Mitchell continued to appear on In Sickness and in Health and reprised his role as Alf Garnett again in The Thoughts of Chairman Alf. He appeared on the programmes So You Think You've Got Troubles, Lovejoy, Kavanagh QC, Ain't Misbehavin', Gormenghast, and Monsignor Renard. He appeared in the film Crackers (1998).

In the Naughts Warren Mitchell appeared on the shows Last of the Summer Wine, Waking the Dead, and The Shark Net. He appeared in the film The 10th Man (2006).

There can be little doubt that Warren Mitchell will be best remembered as the bigoted cockney Alf Garnett. He not only played the character in his most successful show (Till Death Us Do Part), but throughout four decades (The Thoughts of Chairman Alf aired in 1998). Despite this, it would be a mistake to think he was only capable of playing Alf Garnett. On Men of Affairs he played the womanising government minister Sir William Mainwaring-Brown, a role about as far from Alf as one could get.  In Gormenghast he played Barquentine, the cantankerous but powerful Master of Ritual of the castle Gormenghast. In three episodes of The Saint he played Italian taxi cab driver  Marco de Cesari. Warren Mitchell played many roles through his career, quite a few of which were far removed from Alf Garnett. He was a versatile and talented actor.

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