“ Genre: Television - In Sickness and In Health / Theatrical Release: 1985 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Actors: Warren Mitchell, Dandy Nichols, Eamonn Walker, Una Stubbs ... / DVD released 2008-06-09 at 2 Entertain Video / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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Following on from Till Death Do Us Part (1966-1975) and the brief Till Death... (1981), which portrayed the Garnetts living in Eastbourne, In Sickness and in Health (1985-1992) continues the saga of the Garnetts - who are now back in London and living in an East End flat. Else Garnett is now largely wheelchair bound and has to rely on Alf to push her around, much to Alf's chagrin! Much of the rest of the time, Alf resorts to insulting all and sundry, regardless of age, sex, colour and creed - although those who are black and homosexual tend to receive the most criticism. However, his perhaps cruelest rants are reserved for the new home help - Winston - who happens to be both black and gay. Thankfully Winston knows exactly how to deal with Alf Garnett - and daughter Rita, who visits once from Liverpool, also manages to put him in his place occasionally.
Ranting against people that Alf sees as different doesn't sound like a particularly fun idea for a sitcom. And at times, it certainly does push the boundaries of decency - I'm certain it would not be allowed these days. However, political correctness aside, there are certainly plenty of funny moments - and often because Alf has been shown up as the obnoxious idiot that he is. Played by Warren Mitchell, Alf is even more curmudgeonly than Victor Meldrew, if that is possible. He hates everyone around him, or so it would seem, and certainly thinks nothing of running complete strangers down in public. He treats his wife with disdain - to the extent that the fact she stays with him is an absolute miracle. Alf Garnett is a portrayal of just how a person shouldn't behave in society and, although he is truly horrific, this does make for some great comedy.
Of the two main characters, I much prefer Dandy Nicholls as Else Garnett. She is long-suffering and, being confined to a wheelchair, often has to put up with Alf's rants and is frequently referred to as a silly moo. Thankfully, she has a hearing aid that she can turn down when he becomes too mouthy. Although she doesn't speak anywhere near as much as Alf does, she does have a wonderful way of putting her husband down with just a few words. Dandy Nicholls looked very frail during the course of this series, and sadly was to die before the beginning of the second series - such a great shame, because I can't imagine the show without her. Una Stubbs appears in one episode as Rita and is absolutely fabulous as a daughter trying to stand up for her mother. I just wish she had been a more permanent fixture.
Eamonn Walker comes into the series during the course of this series. He plays Winston, the home help. Winston is a massive stereotype of a gay man - although it has to be said he puts much of it on to annoy Alf. Nevertheless, the manner in which he treats Alf, which is largely to attack back, is priceless and it really is a joy to watch the two of them together. Winston loves Else Garnett and treats her like a princess, which only serves to annoy Alf even more. During the course of the series, however, Alf does come to accept Winston's presence, even if it doesn't stop him from bursting into rants. Another character who it was a pleasure to see, even if his role was brief, was Arthur English, who plays a drinking buddy of Alf's. I remember him from The Ghosts of Motley Hall and Are You Being Served.
Written and created by Johnny Speight, there are some excellent lines during the course of the series, although the comedy comes largely from the interaction between the characters rather than what is actually said. There are some superbly funny scenes as well. One scene involves Alf making a car wait by a crossing as he deliberately wanders slowly across with Else in her wheelchair and then turns round and goes back the other way. The face and comments of the driver are priceless. In another scene, Alf annoys his neighbours by asking to use their phone to call his daughter, then calling her neighbour from about two streets away, who then has to go and fetch Rita in the pouring rain. His neighbours, worried about the phone bill, are incandescent with rage, but Alf either doesn't notice, or doesn't care!
There are just six episodes in this series, which is fairly average for a British sitcom, although I would have preferred a couple more episodes for good measure, especially because each one is only thirty minutes. Then again, it is probably not a good idea to watch more than a couple of episodes in one go, just because the storylines are quite similar to each other and there is only so much ranting from Alf that most people can take in one go. There are no extras with the DVD at all, which is a real shame, particularly as there was a Christmas special just a couple of months after the first series ended. At the very most, I would have thought an interview with Warren Mitchell or Una Stubbs could have been unearthed, just to add a bit of value to the DVD.
I think there is going to be a fairly limited audience for this DVD. Although it was shown in 1985, it seems incredibly old-fashioned - perhaps because it is largely a show about older people. Even so, the fashions and decor look very out of touch. Then there is the mention of political figures like Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher - obviously anyone of my age (40) and above will remember the situation back then very clearly, but younger people won't and may not even be interested. Finally, the racist, homophobic and generally unpolitically correct attitude on the part of Alf could well drive a lot of people away - I can appreciate that people had those attitudes twenty or so years ago (and some still have), but even so, I don't always want to listen to it.
Despite the failings, this is still a sitcom worth a glance if you have the chance - just be aware of the rants and the fact that it is based on a way of life that one would hope has largely disappeared. There certainly are plenty of politically incorrect laughs to be had and the characters are larger than life. I would, however, recommend taking it easy by only watching an episode or two in one go - too much and you could be ready to throw a chair at your television. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5.99.
Classification: 12 (for some bad language and racist and homophobic references)
Running time: 174 minutes