Warren Mitchell

Warren Mitchell (born Warren Misell; 14 January 1926 – 14 November 2015) was an English actor. He was a BAFTA TV Award winner and twice a Laurence Olivier Award winner.

Warren Mitchell
Mitchell in 1978
Warren Misell

(1926-01-14)14 January 1926
Died14 November 2015(2015-11-14) (aged 89)
Highgate, London, England
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Years active1951–2015
Notable work
See below
Constance Wake
(m. 1951; his death 2015)

In the 1950s, Mitchell appeared on the radio programmes Educating Archie and Hancock's Half Hour. He also performed minor roles in several movies. In the 1960s, he rose to prominence in the role of bigoted cockney Alf Garnett in the BBC television sitcom Till Death Us Do Part (1965–1975), created by Johnny Speight, which won him a Best TV Actor BAFTA in 1967. He reprised the role in the TV sequels Till Death... (ATV, 1981) and In Sickness and in Health (BBC, 1985–1992), and in the films Till Death Us Do Part (1969) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). His other film appearances include Three Crooked Men (1958), Carry On Cleo (1964), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Assassination Bureau (1969) and Norman Loves Rose (1982). He held both British and Australian citizenship[1] and enjoyed considerable success in stage performances in both countries, winning Olivier Awards in 1979 for Death of a Salesman and in 2004 for The Price.

Early life

Mitchell was born in Stoke Newington, London. His father was a glass and china merchant. His family were Russian Jews[2] (originally surnamed "Misell"[3]). He was interested in acting from an early age and attended Gladys Gordon's Academy of Dramatic Arts in Walthamstow from the age of seven. He did well at Southgate County School (now Southgate School),[4] a state grammar school at Palmers Green, Middlesex. He then studied physical chemistry at University College, Oxford as an RAF cadet student [5] on a six-month university short course which the armed services sponsored for potential officers.[6] There he met his contemporary, Richard Burton, and together they joined the Royal Air Force in October 1944.[7] He completed his navigator training in Canada just as the Second World War ended.[8]


Richard Burton's description of the acting profession had convinced him that it would be better than completing his chemistry degree and so Mitchell attended RADA for two years, performing in the evening with London's Unity Theatre. After a short stint as a DJ on Radio Luxembourg, in 1951, Mitchell became a versatile professional actor with straight and comedy roles on stage, radio, film and television. His first broadcast was as a regular on the radio show Educating Archie, and this led to appearances in both the radio and television versions of Hancock's Half Hour. By the late 1950s, he regularly appeared on television: as Sean Connery's trainer in boxing drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1957), with Charlie Drake in the sitcom Drake's Progress (BBC, 1957) and a title role in Three 'Tough' Guys (ITV, 1957), in which he played a bungling criminal. He also appeared in several episodes of Armchair Theatre. During the first of these, Underground (1958), one of the lead actors died during the live performance.[9] He also had roles in The Avengers in addition to many ITC drama series including: William Tell, The Four Just Men, Sir Francis Drake, Danger Man and as a recurrent guest in The Saint, as the second episode of the first season, "The Latin Touch" in 1962, depicting an Italian taxi driver.[8]

His cinema début was in Guy Hamilton's Manuela (1957), and he began a career of minor roles as sinister foreign agents, assisted by his premature baldness and facility with Eastern European accents. He appeared in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), the Hammer horror The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Carry On Cleo (1964), Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (Gerry Levy, 1964), and Help! (Richard Lester, 1965) and played leads in All the Way Up (James MacTaggart, 1970), The Chain (Jack Gold, 1984), The Dunera Boys (Ben Lewin, 1985) and Foreign Body (Ronald Neame, 1986).[8]

In 1965, Mitchell was cast in the role for which he became best known, as the Conservative-voting, bigoted cockney West Ham United supporter Alf Garnett in a play for the BBC Comedy Playhouse series, broadcast on 22 July 1965. This was the pilot edition of the long-running series Till Death Us Do Part, with Gretchen Franklin, Una Stubbs and Antony Booth. The part of Mum, played by Franklin, was recast with Dandy Nichols in the role when the programme was commissioned as a series.[10] Mitchell's real life persona was different from Alf Garnett, being Jewish, Labour-voting and a staunch supporter of Tottenham Hotspur. The show ran from 1966 to 1975, in seven series, making a total of 53 30-minute episodes. While the series aimed to satirise racism, it actually also gained the support of many bigoted racists who perceived Alf as "the voice of reason".[11]

Mitchell had a long and distinguished career on stage and television. Other small screen roles included a 13-episode series, Men of Affairs with Brian Rix (ITV, 1973–74), based on the West End hit farce Don't Just Lie There, Say Something! There were also performances in 1975 in Play for Today (showing that he could play a serious character role in the episode, Moss [12]), as William Wardle, a crooked accountant in The Sweeney episode Big Spender (Thames Television for ITV, 1978), Lovejoy (BBC), Waking the Dead (BBC), Kavanagh QC (Central Television for ITV, he played a concentration camp survivor in the episode Ancient History),[13] as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (BBC, 1980) and Gormenghast (BBC, 2000). In 2001, he appeared in a Christmas Special episode of Last of the Summer Wine, "Potts in Pole Position".[14]

He was a subject of the television programme This Is Your Life in 1972 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.

On stage he received extensive critical acclaim for his performances as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman at the National Theatre directed by Michael Rudman (1979, being originally cast in the role by Stephen Barry at the Playhouse in Perth, Australia);[15] Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the National Theatre; Pinter's The Homecoming at London's Comedy Theatre (1991) and Miller's The Price at the Apollo Theatre in 2003.[16][17][18]

Mitchell had a number of musical roles in his lengthy career, beginning with the role of Theophile in the original London production of Can-Can and the small role of Crookfinger Jake in The Threepenny Opera. He also sang briefly in the film Till Death Do Us Part and played Alfred Doolittle on the studio album of My Fair Lady. Music Hall Songs , songs of the First World War , and other recordings , such as ' The Writings on the Wall ', from 1967 , on CBS , all in the Alf Garnett persona , were released in LP and 45 rpm Single form, too, in Britain and Australia.

Mitchell reprised the role of Alf Garnett in the films Till Death Us Do Part (1969) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972), in the ATV series Till Death... (1981), and in the BBC series In Sickness and in Health (1985–92). He also reprised his role as Alf Garnett in 1983 in the television series The Main Attraction where comedians recreated their famous acts from their past in front of a live and television audience (similar to An Audience with... that began in 1976). In 1997 he played the role in An Audience with Alf Garnett. The same year, ITV aired a series of mini-episodes called A Word With Alf, featuring Alf and his friends. All the TV shows and both films were written by Johnny Speight. When Speight died in 1998, the character of Alf Garnett was retired at Mitchell's request.

In 2008, at the age of 82, Mitchell was performing alongside Ross Gardiner at the Trafalgar Studios, in London's West End, as a retired dry-cleaner in Jeff Baron's portrait of Jewish-American life Visiting Mr. Green.[19][20]


In 1976, his one-man show The Thoughts of Chairman Alf won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for best comedy in London's West End.[21] In 1982, he received an Australian Film Institute Award for best supporting actor in the film Norman Loves Rose.[22] He received two Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards—for playing Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (National Theatre, 1979) and as best supporting actor in a 2003 performance of The Price, also by Miller.[1][8] His role in Death of a Salesman also won him an Evening Standard Theatre Award and was highly praised by Peter Hall. Miller reportedly described Mitchell's performance as "one of the best interpretations of the part he had ever seen."[20]

Year Award Category Work Result
1967 BAFTA TV Award Best Actor Till Death Us Do Part Won
1979 Olivier Award Actor of the Year in a Revival Death of a Salesman Won
1982 AACTA Award (AFI) Best Supporting Actor Norman Loves Rose Won
2004 Olivier Award Best Supporting Performance The Price Won

Personal life and death

Mitchell described himself in an interview as an atheist, but also stated that he "enjoy[ed] being Jewish".[23] He was a patron of the British Humanist Association.[24] In 1951 he married Constance Wake,[25] an actress who appeared in early 1960s television dramas such as Maigret. They had three children.[19][26]

For over twenty years, Mitchell suffered pain from nerve damage, caused by transverse myelitis,[27] and was a supporter of the Neuropathy Trust.[28] He suffered a mild stroke in August 2004. He was back onstage a week later, reprising his lauded role as a cantankerous old Jew in Arthur Miller's The Price.[29]

Mitchell died in Highgate, London, on 14 November 2015 after a long illness, two months before his 90th birthday.[30]



  1. Warren Mitchell is a winner ABC TV 7.30 Report interview with Kerry O'Brien, 24 February 2004
  2. "Variety Club – Jewish Chronicle colour supplement "350 years"". The Jewish Chronicle. 15 December 2006. pp. 28–29.
  3. Davis, Barry. "From the BBC with Love", The International Jerusalem Post, 2–8 January 2015, p. 10.
  4. Southgate School notable pupils: Warren Misell Retrieved 14 November 2015
  5. https://www.univ.ox.ac.uk/news/rip-warren-mitchell/
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/nov/14/warren-mitchell
  7. https://www.facebook.com/BBCArchive/videos/662833444215017/UzpfSTEwMDg2NTA5Njk1MzE5Njo4NjAxMTY2NDc2OTQ3MDA/
  8. BFI screen online biography accessed 27 June 2007
  9. Matthew Sweet "Do Not Adjust Your Set By Kate Dunn", The Independent, 20 July 2003
  10. Moncrieff, Chris (16 November 2015). "Alf Garnett star Warren Mitchell dies". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  11. Clark, Anthony. Till Death Us Do Part (1966–75) accessed 11 April 2016
  12. Play for Today: Moss at IMDb
  13. "Kavanagh QC" Ancient History (1997) at IMDb website. Accessed 13 June 2012
  14. Potts In Pole Position at Digiguide.tv
  15. "A man of many cantankerous parts". The Sydney Morning Herald Arts section, 4 February 2004. Accessed 11 April 2016
  16. Lawson, Mark (14 November 2015). "Warren Mitchell: there was more to him than Cockney foghorn Chairman Alf". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  17. Emma Brockes (10 September 2003). "Emma Brockes talks to Warren Mitchell". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  18. Philip Fisher. "Theatre review: The Price at Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue". Britishtheatreguide.info. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  19. "Warren Mitchell obituary: Alf Garnett and much more". BBC News. 14 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  20. Bowie-Sell, Daisy (14 November 2015). "Actor Warren Mitchell dies". WhatsOnStage.com. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  21. Keenan, Catherine What's it all about, Alfie? Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2005
  22. Awards for Norman Loves Rose (1982) at The Internet Movie Database
  23. Deveney, Catherine (10 October 2007). "The pride of prejudice". Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 20 July 2007.
  24. British Humanist Association website
  25. BMD Register – General Register Office. Warren Missel / Constance M Wake 2nd quarter 1951, St Pancras Middlesex. Volume 2 Page 776.
  26. "Warren Mitchell, Alf Garnett actor, dies aged 89". The Daily Telegraph. 14 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  27. "I know I'm mean: I refused to let my wife have a new dustbin", Daily Mail, 14 August 1998.
  28. Neuropathy Trust accessed 27 June 2007 Archived 29 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  29. Keenan, Catherine "What's it all about, Alfie?" The Sydney Morning Herald Arts section, 21 January 2005.
  30. Thorpe, Vanessa (14 November 2015). "Warren Mitchell dies aged 89". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
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