Yesterday was one of those days where I just didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I had a post rolling around in the spacious area between my ears…but instead, I decided to zone out in front of the TV with reruns (Wagon Train, Run For Your Life) and an Sundance On Demand showing of Auto Focus (2002), Paul Schrader’s somewhat chilling take on the flesh-crawling sexaholic/comedic actor Bob Crane (marvelously played by Greg Kinnear).
But I also received in the mail last week In Sickness and In Health: Series 3—another half-a-dozen installments of the BBC sitcom spin-off to Till Death Us Do Part, created by Johnny Speight and starring Warren Mitchell as old-age pensioner and unrepentant bigot Alf Garnett. As always, there are some real mirth-making episodes contained on the DVD, particularly in the fourth episode where Alf’s former Eastbourne neighbor Min Reed (Patricia Hayes) and her dotty sister Gwyneth (Irene Handl) make a return visit. This time they convince Alf to hold a séance in the house he shares with Mrs. Hollingbery (Carmel McSharry), with some rib-tickling results. Sadly, this would be the last appearance from Hayes and Handl; Handl (a British comedy institution best remembered for playing the title role in the long-running For the Love of Ada) would pass away that same year (1987), her last television role being that of an old-age pensioner in a sitcom entitled Never Say Die…which co-starred Arthur English, Alf’s drinking buddy on Health.
Una Stubbs, who made several appearances on Health reprising her Till Death role as Rita, Alf’s daughter, doesn’t make any visits in this series…but oddly enough, figures in a subplot in several episodes in which the audience learns that she’s divorced her husband Michael (played by Anthony Booth on Till Death) and has now shacked up with a doctor. While Alf is pleased to be finally rid of “that randy scouse git,” Rita’s new lifestyle doesn’t exactly have him kicking his heels in glee. About the closest the audience gets to “seeing” Rita is in the first episode, in which a woman’s legs can be detected underneath those of a man’s (the doctor and his girlfriend are having a bit o’slap and tickle in his examination room).
Winston (Eamonn Walker) manages to talk Alf into letting him move into his spare room in this series (the one Rita usually stays in on her visits), paying him rent underneath the table, which allows the series a few more opportunities to mine laughs out of this Odd Couple-type relationship. Unfortunately, the third series would see Winston’s departure (never explaining why the character moves on) which was quite a setback, since the relationship between the racist Alf and gay Winston was one of the funniest attributes of the show.
The funniest outing in this series of Health go-rounds is episode five, which finds Alf and his buddy Arthur at a pensioners’ tea dance. The installment starts off on a melancholy note, as Arthur wistfully reminisces about a sexual experience he once had with a woman who’s at the dance (played by Pamela Cundell, who Britcom fans might remember as Mrs. Fox in the classic Dad’s Army). Arthur then asks Alf if he’s planning to trip the light fantastic while they are there and when Alf starts to brag about how great a dancer he was back in Wapping he gets an opportunity to prove his stuff:
If the tall man with the Charles Ferrell-like moustache looks familiar, it’s because he’s one of the Lord High Priests of British Comedy…Spike Milligan hizzownself. Later on, he has another run-in with Alf:
Working with Speight must have seemed like old home week for Milligan; he was the star of Speight’s post-Till Death sitcom, 1969’s Curry and Chips—in which he played a blue-collar laborer named Kevin O’Grady who, because he claimed to have an Irish mother and a Pakistani father, was dubbed “Paki-Paddy” by his fellow workers. Milligan revived this character on an episode of Till Death (in 1974) and also appeared in an earlier episode in 1972 (“
Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t have any more clips from this episode, which in its second half features Alf in an embarrassing situation: having agreed to wash Mrs. Hollingbery’s windows (in exchange for her cooking him a meat pudding) he finds himself stuck sitting on the ledge (the window has closed down on his thighs and Winston, Arthur, et al. are unable to budge it) with the predicted complications (“I have to go to the lavvy!” Alf wails.) Winston manages to get a van to park near the house, and getting on top, slides a board under Alf’s buttocks with the intention of prying him loose from the window. As you’ve guessed, the driver is once again Milligan, who’ll have no part in assisting Alf and drives off, leaving Winston stranded on top. Alf, in the meantime, slides down the plank and seemingly onto the concrete below…but providence arrives in the form of a passing brewery truck, which allows Alf to land gently among its cargo. From the window, Mrs. Hollingbery shakes her head and shouts: “I always said you was lucky!” Alf cackles as the truck continues on and tells her: “Don’t wait up for me!”