TWO long-lost episodes of Johnny Speight’s classic BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part have been recovered with the help of classic TV organisation Kaleidoscope.
The show, transmitted between 1965 and 1975, was one of the most important in television history. Conceived as a rival to Coronation Street, Till Death Us Do Part introduced the world to the monstrous, bigoted, right wing Alf Garnett, played brilliantly by Warren Mitchell; his vegetating wife Else (Dandy Nichols); the equally obnoxious left wing son-in-law Mike (Anthony Booth, Tony Blair’s father-in-law); and the giggly, charming daughter Rita (played by Una Stubbs). Despite endless controversy, most famously involving Mrs Mary Whitehouse, Till Death was consistently top of the viewing figures during its ten year run.
Sadly, the majority of the show’s 26 episodes from the first three series, broadcast in black and white between 1965-68, no longer exist. They were junked following transmission because storage costs of videotape were prohibitive. The recovery of two intact episodes, both from the second season of the show screened in early 1967, is therefore an extremely exciting event.
“In Sickness and In Health”, first shown on February 13th, 1967, features Alf, the worlds worst patient, undergoing treatment on the NHS. Highlights include Alf cleaning his pipe with a scalpel and a hypodermic needle, a classic kiss between Alf and Else, and a hilarious hospital visit by Alf’s family. Guests stars include sitcom stalwarts Graham Stark, Anthony Sharp, Tommy Godfrey, and Mark Eden, most famous for his role in Coronation Street as the murderous Alan Bradley.
“State Visit”, transmitted the following week, was inspired by a front page of The Daily Mirror (Alf’s “bloody Labour rag”), which was covering the state visit of the Soviet premier to London. Alf rails at the deviousness of politicians, from his bête noire Harold Wilson to Peter Mandelson’s grandfather Herbert Morrison, and from cheating chancellors to false expense claims in a period of nationwide recession. Just to make it even more eerily topical, the Deputy Prime Minister that most arouses Alf’s wrath is another Mr Brown – George Brown.
The episodes came to light after former BBC film editor Graham Walker got in touch with Kaleidoscope via its website http://www.lostshows.com. Discovering the shows to be missing, he offered the not-for-profit TV heritage organisation his 16mm film prints. These included a third Till Death episode, “Peace and Goodwill”, that already existed in the BBC archives, albeit in an edited form. There are hopes that the excised footage found in Mr Walker’s copy can be restored to the original BBC print.
Mark Ward, author of A Family At War: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Till Death Us Do Part, is delighted with the recoveries. He said:
“This is an astonishing find of major importance to British television history, one which we will all maybe (to use Alf Garnett’s charming phrase) “bloody learn somefink”.
“Neither episode has been seen in public for forty years, and both demonstrate the series ability to be funny, topical and utterly shocking despite the passing of time. “
Film collector Graham Walker, who has enjoyed watching the episodes over the years with his family, said: “These early episodes are just wonderful. Not only do they boast superb performances from all the main characters, but also the mixture of hilarious humour and pathos has never been bettered in British TV.
“They are indeed timeless and fantastic pieces of social history. It’s amazing how much is still relevant today. The sentiments behind the wonderfully funny dialogue between Alf and Mike at the beginning of “State Visit” about Britain’s role as a declining world power could so easily be transposed to events of now.”
All the episodes have now been returned by Kaleidoscope to the BBC for restoration and transfer to high-quality digibeta video. One edition will be screened at Kaleidoscope’s forthcoming career retrospective and tribute to comedian’s comedian Bob Monkhouse – “Bob’s Full House” – which is to be held at the prestigious BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) headquarters, Piccadilly, on Saturday, October 24th.
Kaleidoscope’s Chris Perry said: “This is a find of enormous cultural significance. We are very grateful to Graham Walker for letting Kaleidoscope screen this episode at our forthcoming ‘Bob’s Full House’ event and return them all to the BBC for future generations to enjoy”.
- Click here for a Q and A with Graham Walker about the previously missing episodes.