Saturday, 14 November 2015
RIP Warren Mitchell
Terribly sad to hear that Warren Mitchell has died today aged 89. He was one of my favourite actors and his iconic performance as Johnny Speight's monstrous comic creation Alf Garnett Til Death Us Do Part and In Sickness and In Health secures his status as a comic legend. I still regularly watch Alf and find Mitchell's performances so carefully layered, so vividly brought to life and so hilarious. He will live on in our memories for that role alone.
But it's worth remembering that Mitchell wasn't just Alf Garnett. In a career that stretched decades he showed great versatility and an immense talent, securing two Olivier awards for bringing Arthur Miller characters to life; Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman in 1979, and Gregory Solomon in The Price in 2004. He was also a talented Shakespearean actor playing King Lear on the stage and, of course, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in the BBC's adaptation from 1980.
Born in Stoke Newington as Warren Misell in 1926 to an English father and a Russian mother, the Jewish Mitchell and lifelong Spurs fan quickly became an atheist when he elected to play a game of football on the sabbath. When no lightning bolt struck him down dead, he realised there could be no God. He took a place at Oxford to study physical chemistry, where he met Richard Burton who encouraged his interest in acting and, in 1944, the pair joined the RAF for the final year of the war. After demob, Mitchell gave up his Oxford studies to focus on his acting instead and joined RADA, performing with the left wing Unity theatre, where he met his wife Connie. He changed his name from Misell to Mitchell when he stood in for DJ Pete Murray on Radio Luxembourg and began to carve out a niche playing swarthy villainous roles on film and TV, most notably in the likes of The Avengers and The Saint, before Speight's bigoted creation came a calling.
He will be much missed. As his great nephew, breaking the news on Twitter, said, he was "the last of his generation" What a generation it was, and what a great talent Mitchell was.