SPEIGHT, JOHNNY

British Writer-Producer

Johnny Speight is the creator of the BBC series Till Death Us Do Part, upon which the U.S. series All in the Family (CBS) was based. As controversial in its time and place as was All in the Family, Speight's creation spawned a generation of relevant, hard-hitting sitcoms both in the United States and England.

A former factory worker and jazz musician, Speight began writing for television in 1956. In 1966, after serving as head writer for the Arthur Haynes Show, Speight launched Till Death Us Do Part. The series revolved around the different values and beliefs held by blue-collar bigot Alf Garnett and his liberal son-in-law Mike. Originally committed to shows about the family itself, Speight maneuvered Till Death to more relevant social issues. Norman Lear, who was working in feature films at the time, saw the series, and with partner Bud Yorkin, he optioned the series for their company Tandem Productions. The resulting hit was All in the Family, which debuted on CBS in 1970.

Speight's more controversial episodes prompted the Conservative Central Office to ask for advance copies of the Till Death scripts. When Speight refused, the matter was soon dropped. In 1968, Speight produced a BBC movie version of the series, and, in 1972, he also penned a short-run revival of the series. During that run, the series reached 24 million viewers, making it the most popular show in Britain.

Speight has written several plays, including If There Were'nt Any Blacks You Would Have to Invent Them, which was produced in seventeen countries. He has also won numerous awards.

-Michael B. Kassel

JOHNNY SPEIGHT. Born in Canning Town, London, England, 2 June 1920. Attended St Helen's Roman Catholic School, London. Married: Constance Beatrice Barrett in 1956; children: one daughter and two sons. Worked in a factory, then as a jazz drummer and insurance salesman; writer, BBC radio and television, from 1956; created the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. Recipient: Screenwriters Guild Award, 1962, 1966, 1967, 1968; Prague Festival Award, 1969; Evening Standard Award, 1977; Pye Award, for television writing, 1983. Address: Fouracres, Heronsgate, Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, England.

TELEVISION SERIES

1960-66 Arthur Haynes Show
1966-75 Till Death Us Do Part
1969 Curry and Chips
1972 Them
1973 Speight of Marty
1979 The Tea Ladies (with Ray Galton)
1980 Spooner's Patch (with Ray Galton)
1982 The Lady Is a Tramp
1985 In Sickness and in Health
1989 The 19th Hole

 

TELEVISION SPECIALS

1961 The Compartment
1962 Playmates
1963 Shamrot
1965 If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have to Invent         Them
1967 To Lucifer a Sun
1970 The Salesman
1975 For Richer...For Poorer

FILMS (writer)

French Dressing, 1964; Privilege, 1967; Till Death Us Do Part, 1968; The Alf Garnett Saga, 1972; The Secret Policeman's Third Ball, 1987.

FILMS (actor)

The Plank, 1967; The Undertakers, 1969; Rhubarb, 1970.

RADIO (writer)

The Edmondo Ross Show, 1956-58; The Morecambe and Wise Show, 1956-58; The Frankie Howerd Show, 1956-58; Early to Braden, 1957-58; The Deadly Game of Chess, 1958; The April 8th Show (Seven Days Early), 1958; The Eric Sykes Show, 1960-61.

STAGE (writer)

Mr Venus, 1958; The Art of Living (with others), 1960; The Compartment, 1965; The Knacker's Yard, 1962; Playmates, 1971; If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have to Invent Them, 1965; The Picture (with others), 1967; The Salesman, 1970; Till Death Us Do Part, 1973; The Thoughts of Chairman Alf, 1983.

PUBLICATIONS

It Stands to Reason: A Kind of Autobiography. Walton-on-Thames: M. &. J. Hobbs, 1973.

The Thoughts of Chairman Alf: Alf Garnett's Little Blue Book; or, Where England Went Wrong: An Open Letter to the People of Britain. London: Robsson Books, 1973.

Pieces of Speight. London, 1974.

The Garnett Chronicles: The Life and Times of Alf Garnett, Esq. London, 1986.

 

See also Till Death Us Do Part