Johnny Speight

Johnny Speight (2 June 1920 – 5 July 1998) was an English television scriptwriter of many classic British sitcoms.

Johnny Speight
Cropped still by Lewis Morley, 1962, © Lewis Morley Archive
Born(1920-06-02)2 June 1920
Canning Town, London, England
Died5 July 1998(1998-07-05) (aged 78)
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, England
Notable worksTill Death Us Do Part (1965–75)
Curry & Chips (1969)
In Sickness and in Health (1985–92)
Connie Barrett
(m. 1956; his death 1998)

He emerged in the mid-1950s. He wrote for radio comics Frankie Howerd, Vic Oliver, Arthur Askey, and Cyril Fletcher. For television he wrote for Morecambe & Wise, and Peter Sellers, as well as The Arthur Haynes Show.[1] Later, he began to write Till Death Us Do Part, which included his most famous creation, the controversial bigot Alf Garnett.[2] His shows often explored the themes of racism and sexism through satire.[3]

Life and career

John Speight was born into an Irish Catholic family at 57 Chester Rd Canning Town,[4] West Ham, Essex (now Greater London).[5] He left school at 14, and after a series of odd jobs, tried his hand at writing, looking to George Bernard Shaw as inspiration.[5]He began contributing scripts to comedy shows in 1955, starting with Great Scott - It's Maynard![2] He later contributed to Sykes and a... (1960–65), which starred Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques and Richard Wattis.[6] Speight was one of many writing talents on that series which also included the star Sykes, John Antrobus and Spike Milligan. He created the iconic working class tramp figure played by Arthur Haynes in the latter's long-running and top-rating ATV comedy series.[7] Haynes died in 1966.[2]

In 1965, Speight wrote a BBC TV pilot which became the 1966 series Till Death Us Do Part featuring Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, a reactionary Conservative-voting working class man with a chip on his shoulder and an angry word on everything.[8] Garnett became one of the most memorable characters in British TV history.[9] The 1971 US sitcom All in the Family was based on this series.[10]

Speight's later series Curry and Chips (1969), was a more controversial sitcom from LWT for the ITV channel, soon cancelled on the instructions of the Independent Broadcasting Authority.[11] His next comedy was For Richer...For Poorer (1975), a one-off pilot which featured Harry H. Corbett as a left-wing answer to Alf Garnett.[12] After a brief return of Till Death Us Do Part on ITV in 1981 as Till Death..., Alf Garnett returned with a vengeance on the BBC's In Sickness and in Health which ran from 1985 to 1992.[8][9]

Speight's work brought him great success, but despite driving a Rolls-Royce, he remained a life-long socialist.[5]

He was a subject of the television programme This Is Your Life in May 1970 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.[13]


In 1998, Speight died of pancreatic cancer, aged 78 at his home in Chorleywood.[14] LWT put forward a series of specials featuring Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, giving his thoughts on a variety of subjects.[3] The programmes were originally shelved by ITV controller David Liddiment.

TV writing credits

  • Great Scott - It's Maynard! (1955)
  • Evans Abode (1956)
  • Frankie Howerd (1956)
  • The Dickie Valentine Show (1956)
  • Two's Company (1956)
  • Early to Braden (1957)
  • That's Life, Says Max Wall (1957)
  • The Arthur Haynes Show (1957)
  • Frankie Howerd In... (1958)
  • The Show of 8 April (Seven Days Early) (1958)
  • The Cyril Fletcher Show (1959)
  • Ladies and Gentle-Men (1960)
  • Sykes and a... (1960)
  • The Compartment (1961)
  • That Was the Week That Was (1962)
  • Shamrot (1963)
  • The Graham Stark Show (1964)
  • Till Death Us Do Part (1965)
  • To Lucifer – A Son (1967)
  • If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have to Invent Them (1968)
  • Curry and Chips (1969)
  • Spate of Speight (1969)
  • All in the Family (1971)
  • Them (1972)
  • Frankie Howerd in Ulster (1973)
  • Francis Howerd in Concert (1974)
  • Marty Back Together Again (1974)
  • For Richer...For Poorer (1975)
  • The Mike Reid Show (1976)
  • Spooner's Patch (with Ray Galton 1979)
  • The Tea Ladies (with Ray Galton 1979)
  • The Thoughts of chairman Alf at Christmas (1980)
  • Till Death... (1981)
  • The Lady Is A Tramp (1983)
  • In Sickness and in Health (1985)
  • Carrott Confidential (1987)
  • The Nineteenth Hole (1989)
  • A Word With Alf (1997)
  • An Audience With Alf Garnett (1997)
  • The Thoughts of chairman Alf (1998)


  1. Dust jacket, For Richer, For Poorer, Johnny Speight; ISBN 0-563-36269-3
  2. Profile, Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  3. "Speight of the nation". The Independent. 1 August 1998.
  4. "Johnny Speight". BFI.
  5. "BBC News | Entertainment | Alf Garnett's creator dies".
  6. "BFI Screenonline: Sykes and a... (1960-65)".
  7. "BFI Screenonline: Haynes, Arthur (1914-1966) Biography".
  8. "BFI Screenonline: Till Death Us Do Part (1966-75)".
  9. "Actor Warren Mitchell dies aged 89". 14 November 2015 via
  10. "6 American Sitcoms Based on British Originals". BBC America. 5 January 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  11. "BFI Screenonline: Curry and Chips (1969)".
  12. "BBC - Comedy Guide - For Richer...For Poorer". 26 March 2005.
  13. "Johnny Speight".
  14. Johnny Speight, the writer who created Alf Garnett, dies of cancer aged 78. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
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