Warren Mitchell

This article is about the English actor. For the U.S. college basketball coach, see Warren Mitchell (basketball).
Warren Mitchell

Mitchell in 1978
Born Warren Misell
(1926-01-14)14 January 1926
Stoke Newington, London, England
Died 14 November 2015(2015-11-14) (aged 89)
London, England
Nationality British
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–2015
Notable work See below
Spouse(s) Constance M. Wake (m. 1951–2015, his death)
Children 3

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.

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 (1965–75), 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, 1985–92), 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. He was of Russian Jewish descent[2] (originally surnamed "Misell"[3]) and described himself in an interview as an atheist, but also stated that he "enjoy[ed] being Jewish".[4] 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),[5] a state grammar school at Palmers Green, Middlesex. He then studied physical chemistry at University College, Oxford, for six months. There he met his contemporary, Richard Burton, and together they joined the Royal Air Force in 1944. He completed his navigator training in Canada just as World War II ended.[6]


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 '50s, 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.[7] 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.[6]

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 (José Quintero, 1961), Carry On Cleo (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).[6]

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.[8] 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".[9]

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 [10]), The Sweeney (Thames Television for ITV, 1978), Lovejoy (BBC), Waking the Dead (BBC), Kavanagh QC (Carlton Television for ITV, he played a concentration camp survivor in the episode Ancient History),[11] as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (BBC, 1980) and Gormenghast. In 2001, he appeared in a Christmas Special episode of Last of the Summer Wine, "Potts in Pole Position".[12]

In the early 1970s, Mitchell appeared as a team captain on the television comedy panel game show Jokers Wild, opposite Les Dawson.[13]

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);[14] 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.[15][16][17]

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 series was cancelled 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.[18][19]


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.[20] In 1982, he received an Australian Film Institute Award for best supporting actor in the film Norman Loves Rose.[21] He has 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][6] 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."[19]

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 was a patron of the British Humanist Association.[22] He had been married since 1951[23] to Connie (Constance M. Wake), an actress who appeared in early 1960s television dramas such as Maigret.

For over twenty years, Mitchell suffered pain from nerve damage, caused by transverse myelitis,[24] and was a supporter of the Neuropathy Trust.[25] 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.[26]

Mitchell died in London on 14 November 2015 after a long illness, two months before his 90th birthday.[27] He is survived by his wife Connie and their three children: Rebecca, Daniel and Anna.[18][28]



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