Me pay for Alf Garnett's dinner? Not on yer nelly!

HARD to imagine Alf Garnett an octogenarian. Warren Mitchell, the actor who convulsed us as the appalling Alf Garnett, is now 83 and happily, despite a stroke, still busy in the theatre. Folks in that business must get used to being seen in everyday life

HARD to imagine Alf Garnett an octogenarian.

Warren Mitchell, the actor who convulsed us as the appalling Alf Garnett, is now 83 and happily, despite a stroke, still busy in the theatre.

Folks in that business must get used to being seen in everyday life as the characters they're famous for, rather than their true selves. If nothing else, the misconception is a measure of the convincing job they've done.

I smile now at how naively surprised I was over the difference between Warren and Alf, the one time our paths crossed. But I'd scant experience of actors.


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The one I might have claimed slight acquaintance with, Ilford's own Vic Maddern, always seemed in person much like the people he played in films, a "wont-let-you-down, good-to-have-on-your-side" kind of guy.

Vic used to drop by the Recorder between pictures to see the paper's film and entertainment scribbler, a long-time mate, and was always ready to chat.

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In those days, in the early 50s, we were in the old Recorder building opposite the town hall. Dickensian was the right word for our upstairs newsroom, with its one long table.

Alf Perry, ex-Merchant Navy, came in nightly to fight a losing battle trying to keep us clean and tidy, and I remember Vic laughing on one visit that if they ever made another Oliver Twist, our room needed no makeover to be a perfect Fagin's loft.

What really threw me about Mitchell was that he was in Alf Garnett role when I first clapped eyes on him on the day in question.

West Ham were on the way home after a game at Liverpool.

Travelling with them, I followed an established routine of nipping off their coach at the entrance to Lime Street Station to grab an armful of Liverpool Echo classifieds to dish out among the players.

Sometimes, if the papers were late and I had to hang about, I'd get jittery the 18.10 London express would go without me. On this occasion, however, I had time to make the train.

I was going along the corridor to the West Ham dining car, the train yet to depart, when I heard a familiar voice raucously and loudly bellowing: "Sod yer, sod yer."

A few feet away, glaring out of an open door, was Alf Garnett. Besides trademark hat and raincoat, he had a West Ham scarf round his neck and a wooden rattle in one hand. He was still shouting as the train eased out. If he'd been at the day's game, it had escaped me.

I continued on to rejoin West Ham, hand round the papers, and tell them Alf was on board. It cut typically little ice with them, though somebody grinned and asked: "Is that Una Stubbs with the long legs with him?"

I sat with kit man Albert Walker who, conservative by nature, lost no time telling me Alf's show was one that Mrs Walker and he never looked at.

So, it was sod's law when a few minutes later, a steward ushered in an immaculately suited Warren Mitchell and another man, and seated them opposite us. The other man I recognised as Johnny Speight, writer of the Till Death Do Us Part show.

It was disconcerting trying to equate the Alf I'd seen and heard in full, uncouth flow only a few minutes before, with the man now sat opposite, speaking refined Oxford English. Not that he had very much to say, once the normal pleasantries were over. It seemed they'd been anxious to escape inevitable attention in the restaurant car.

In that they were lucky. For once, British Rail had met West Ham's request to put their dining car next to the guard's van, so there was no excuse for fans to keep walking through. It made for a quiet trip.

Albert cleared off elsewhere in the carriage after dinner. I might have been tempted to do the same, but for Speight.

He took no notice of his companion's silence and chatted cheerfully away about everything.

When we got round to football, though, Mitchell suddenly interjected that he followed Spurs. Johnny's eyes twinkled across the table as he saw me, momentarily wrong-footed, again striving to separate real life from showbiz.

When the pair later returned to their own carriage, Albert came to advise, straight-faced, that the club's manager said I was to pay for their dinners, since they'd sat with me. I had a ready answer.

"Johnny Speight OK, Al, but not Warren Mitchell ... he's a Spur!"

Alf would have agreed with that, I'm sure.

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