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
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
OccupationRadio scriptwriter, TV screenwriter
Notable worksTill Death Us Do Part (1965–75)
Curry & Chips (1969)
In Sickness and in Health (1985–92)
Connie Barrett
(m. 1956)

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 careerEdit

John Speight was born into an Irish Catholic family in Canning Town,[4][5] West Ham, Essex (now Greater London).[6] He left school at 14, and after a series of odd jobs, tried his hand at writing, looking to George Bernard Shaw as inspiration.[6] 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.[7] Speight was one of many writers on that series which also included 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.[8] 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.[9] Garnett became one of the most memorable characters in British TV history.[10] The 1971 US sitcom All in the Family was based on this series.[11] Also in 1965, he did uncredited screenplay work for the film You Must be Joking. Speight also played "Barmey Harry" in the second film spin-off, The Alf Garnett Saga, in 1972 .

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[9][10] In 1985, he wrote the unbroadcast pilot "Jewel in the Crown" starring Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes, with Milligan wearing blackface and making racially charged jokes, while adopting a Pakistani accent.[14]

In 1988 Speight wrote a set of special short sketches for inclusion in London's Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) in a feature called "Ask Alf". Using random access video visitors were invited to ask Alf Garnet his thoughts on a variety of subjects including museums. Warren Mitchell recorded the short sketches free of charge for MOMI while on tour in Australia.

Speight's work brought him success, but despite driving a Rolls-Royce, he remained a life-long socialist.[6]

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


In 1998, Speight died of pancreatic cancer, aged 78 at his home in Chorleywood.[15] 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 creditsEdit


  1. ^ Dust jacket, For Richer, For Poorer, Johnny Speight; ISBN 0-563-36269-3
  2. ^ a b c Profile, Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Speight of the nation". The Independent. 1 August 1998. Archived from the original on 14 June 2022.
  4. ^ "Speight, John [Johnny] (1920–1998)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70207. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ "Johnny Speight". BFI.
  6. ^ a b c "BBC News | Entertainment | Alf Garnett's creator dies".
  7. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Sykes and a... (1960-65)".
  8. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Haynes, Arthur (1914-1966) Biography".
  9. ^ a b "BFI Screenonline: Till Death Us Do Part (1966-75)".
  10. ^ a b "Actor Warren Mitchell dies aged 89". BBC News. 14 November 2015.
  11. ^ "6 American Sitcoms Based on British Originals". BBC America. 5 January 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  12. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Curry and Chips (1969)".
  13. ^ "BBC - Comedy Guide - For Richer...For Poorer". 26 March 2005. Archived from the original on 26 March 2005.
  14. ^ "Eric Sykes & Spike Milligan in The Jewel in the Crown by Johnny Speight!date=1 November 2019". YouTube. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021.
  15. ^ Johnny Speight, the writer who created Alf Garnett, dies of cancer aged 78. Retrieved 29 October 2016.

External linksEdit