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EDITIONS
Breakfast Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 13:01 GMT
Tribute to Alf Garnett's creator
Johnny Speight
Johnny Speight wrote classic BBC comedies
Johnny Speight, who wrote the script for the controversial TV character Alf Garnett, has been credited as being in the same league as some of Britain's greatest ever playwrights.

Actor Warren Mitchell, famous for playing the bigoted, loudmouthed Alf Garnett, compared Speight to William Shakespeare, Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller.

He told BBC Breakfast: "They're all in the same basket as far as I'm concerned - great writers.

"If you're any good as an actor and you get a chance to play those lines - Speight's lines or Miller's lines - they're all wonderful."

'Silly moo'

Although Mitchell said he was tired of always being associated with Alf Garnett, he acknowledged he had enjoyed continuing to play the part on and off over the past 25 years.

Warren Mitchell and Dandy Nicholls in In Sickness and in Health
Warren Mitchell acted with Dandy Nicholls in Speight's In Sickness and in Health
He said: "I love it. Johnny Speight died two years ago and his stuff lives on."

He added: "I live in the house that Alf built and paid for - so I can't grumble."

Warren Mitchell has lived with Alf's character for nearly 40 years. He even invented his most famous catchphrase, "silly moo".

He told Breakfast: "It happened by accident. Johnny Speight had written 'you silly mare' but I couldn't remember it, so I said 'silly moo' instead."

Controversial characters

Johnny Speight died in 1998, after suffering from cancer for some months.


If you do the character correctly, he just typifies what you hear

Johnny Speight
He was renowned for the outspoken and controversial characters he invented in his screenplays.

Till Death Us Do Part, which introduced Alf Garnett's character, was first broadcast in 1964 and its sequel, In Sickness And In Health, was shown until 1992, when its outrageous characters became considered unfashionable, although it enjoyed a revival on ITV after Speight's death.

Speight once defended the right-wing, racist characters by saying: "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 feel as a writer that they should be out in the open so we can see how daft these comparisons are."

Latest role

Speight's classic BBC comedies helped to make Mitchell's name but he is also a highly respected actor on stage and screen.

Warren Mitchell interviewed live on Breakfast
Warren Mitchell came into the Breakfast studio
Now in his seventies, Mitchell says he has no plans to retire.

He quoted Roy Kinnear, the comedy actor who died in 1988: "You don't retire in our business - you just notice the phone hasn't rung for 10 years."

His latest role is as a 90-year-old furniture dealer in Arthur Miller's play, The Price.

He described it as "magic... It's a joy to be in such a great play."

"It's a part in a million for me - there aren't many 90-year-olds left for one to play."


  • Warren Mitchell stars in The Price at the Tricycle Theatre in North London until December 7 2002. 0207 328 1000
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