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Sunday, July 5, 1998 Published at 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK


Alf Garnett's creator dies

Johnny Speight and Warren Mitchell, who played Alf Garnett

The creator of the BBC's Alf Garnett and Till Death Us Do Part, Johnny Speight, has died aged 78.

He had been ill with cancer for some months.

Born into an Irish Catholic family in London's East End, Johnny Speight was renowned for inventing controversial and outspoken characters in his screenplays.

[ image: Johnny Speight]
Johnny Speight
He left school at age 14 to begin a string of odd jobs before turning his hand to writing. He looked to the works of George Bernard Shaw, he said, for inspiration.

Johnny Speight became a very successful screenwriter and drove a Rolls Royce but he never lost touch with his working-class roots and was a life-long socialist.

His most famous character, Alf Garnett, by contrast, was a bigoted volcano of right-wing outrage.

[ image: Alf Garnett in full flow]
Alf Garnett in full flow
Till Death Us Do Part, which introduced the Garnett character, began broadcasting in 1964 and its sequel, In Sickness and In Health, was on British screens until 1992.

When asked on the Terry Wogan show whether he was comfortable writing racist gibes for the character, Mr Speight said he was not, but added: "If you do the character correctly, he just typifies what you hear - not only in pubs but in golf clubs around the country."

"To make him truthful he's got to say those things, and they are nasty things. But I always feel as a writer that they should be out in the open so we can see how daft these comparisons are."

Tributes from world of comedy

Paul Jackson, Controller of Entertainment for the BBC, said: "There are very few writers who can claim to have created a character who embodied a spirit of a generation."

"Johnny Speight did this with Alf Garnett. He will always be remembered as the man who created a comic icon for the age."

Geoffrey Perkins, Head of Comedy for the BBC, said: "Johnny Speight was a wonderfully funny writer."

"A distinctive voice and one of the foremost comedy writers Britain has produced over the years."

Comedian Bernard Manning said he would be "sadly missed" by all in showbusiness. "He was a fantastic writer," he said.

"He was a genius at his kind of comedy - he was very clever."

He leaves a widow, Connie, and three children.

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