Death of Tony Booth, the thorn in Alf Garnett’s side

Dandy Nichols, Warren Mitchell, Tony Booth, Una Stubbs, Dandy Nichols, and Warren Mitchell on the set of the BBC comedy Till Death Us Do Part.
Dandy Nichols, Warren Mitchell, Tony Booth, Una Stubbs, Dandy Nichols, and Warren Mitchell on the set of the BBC comedy Till Death Us Do Part.
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HE was the argumentative son-in-law whose riling of television’s Alf Garnett made the phrase “Scouse git” a national byword for belligerence.

But it was in the role of father-in-law, to the Prime Minister, no less, that the actor Tony Booth was to face his most critical audience.

Mayor-making at Todmorden Town Hall. New Mayor of Todmorden Steph Booth with consort Tony Booth.

Mayor-making at Todmorden Town Hall. New Mayor of Todmorden Steph Booth with consort Tony Booth.

Mr Booth, who died today at 85, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004 and also suffering from heart problems, was a Labour activist before he was an actor, and made an indelible mark on both arenas.

He became a national figure in the 1960s as the thorn in Alf Garnett’s side in the BBC’s Till Death Us Do Part, and spent the rest of his life railing against political foes, both real and imagined.

Three decades after his first fame, he was making headlines for attacking what he called “androids” at Labour’s headquarters, and accused Tony Blair, who had married Cherie, one of his eight daughters, of stuffing the House of Lords with “Tony’s Cronies”.

He also criticised the Blairs for choosing to send their eldest son to the selective and grant-maintained London Oratory School.

Cherie Booth with her father Tony Booth

Cherie Booth with her father Tony Booth

The gripes did not end there, with Mr Booth accusing the Blair government of “ruthlessly” squashing the pay demands of striking firefighters and being “prepared to throw away billions” on the Iraq war rather than spending the money on pensioners.

He also risked the wrath of the Blairs when he lifted the lid on life in Downing Street in his autobiography, What’s Left?

But despite the political differences, he remained close to his daughter, and was with her and Mr Blair at his constituency count at the 2005 election.

His earlier fame came courtesy of the writer Johnny Speight, who, having worked with Mr Booth on ITV’s Arthur Haynes Show, cast him as foil to Garnett, the working class Cockney bigot played by a fulminating Warren Mitchell.

The show’s racial and political dialogue was hugely controversial for its day and the series soon aroused the ire of “clean up TV” campaigners like Mary Whitehouse, who was appalled at its gratuitous use of insults like “silly moo” and “Scouse git”.

Mr Booth was indeed a Liverpudlian, born into a working-class family in Jubilee Road. His father was a merchant seaman and his injury in an industrial accident ended the young Booth’s hopes of going to university. Instead, he had to leave school and take a job to feed the family.

During his National Service he discovered a talent for acting, entertaining his fellow conscripts in amateur productions.

His scripted performances had nothing on his real-life dramas. He was made bankrupt and prosecuted for drunkenness and in 1979 almost burned himself to death in his flat.

Mr Booth married four times, most famously to the actress Pat Phoenix - Coronation Street’s Elsie Tanner - who died of cancer a week after their 1986 wedding.

His last marriage, in 1998, was to Steph Buckley, a town councillor and former mayor of Todmorden.

A statement issued yesterday on her behalf said: “It is with sadness we announce the death of Antony Booth, actor and political campaigner.”