Sunday Larf – Alf Garnet

Humour based on race, or racist humour, or alternatively simple character observation ?

With each year that passes the memories of a time when it was “the norm” to have “special” names for people from different racial groups fade into the mire of what is viewed as a less enlightened time and its worth reminding that the likes of “Till Death Us Do Part” and “In Sickness And In Health” were not minority programming for the UK branch of the Ku Klux Klan but were flagship BBC programs shown at prime time TV slots.

Whilst it would take a very brave program controller to commission a series like it these days there is nothing controversial about humour based on racial differences, the writer of the Alf Garnet based series, Johnny Speight, was always pointing out the fact that the opinions expressed by his central character were always viewed by the support characters as being extremist and inevitably he got his comeuppance in every program, Warren Mitchell who played Alf Garnet was also very supportive of the format and had suffered prejudice as a Jewish citizen of London and it was at his insistence that Speight wrote into the very first 1960s series of “Till Death” various rants against the Jews as well as the black population.

Personally I prefered the 1980s “In SIckness” series, the first made while Dandy Nicholls (Alf’s wife Else) was ill (in real life) and confined to a wheelchair, the jokes then being about racial stereotyping AND disablement, the second series being made after Dandy Nicholls had died and Alf lived on his own, being sent in the first episode a home help from the council, Winston, named “Marigold” by Alf in a move that would then be labelled as homophobic – see how Johnny Speight squeezes all the  prejudices into  each episode, wonderful writing.

This second series introduced the character of “Min” played by Patricia Hayes and in the clip below her sister played by Irene Handl in a scene that could only be played by her.

Racist humour or humour based on racism ?

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