In Sickness and in Health is a BBC television sitcom which ran between 1985 and 1992. It was a sequel to the highly successful Till Death Us Do Part, which ran between 1966 and 1975, and Till Death…, which ran for one series of six episodes in 1981.
The series had 47 episodes, and unlike its predecessor, all the episodes have survived and are available on DVD.
Although the final show was broadcast in 1992, Warren Mitchell would continue to perform as Alf Garnett on special occasions; this meant on stage in front of a live audience, and similarly to an invited audience consisting largely of celebrities and public figures.
In 1997, a number of special shows were arranged for Granada Television, in which Alf would be in his front room in the company of Mrs Hollingbery or in the pub with a drinking partner. The material was written by Johnny Speight and Alf now grumbles about the Labour Party being returned to power under Tony Blair.
After Johnny Speight’s death in 1998, Warren Mitchell decided that he no longer wanted to play Alf.
In 1991 a Dutch version of the series, In voor en tegenspoed (“In good times and in bad”), debuted on Dutch TV. According to the end credits only the first 12 episodes were based on Speight’s original scripts. Two more series of episodes were written by Paul-Jan Nelissen and Marc Nelissen. The Dutch Alf Garnett is called Fred Schuit (played by Rijk de Gooyer). He lives in Amsterdam, supports AFC Ajax, drinks jenever for medicinal reasons, and doesn’t trust a TV-set unless it’s made in Eindhoven. The series was awarded two Awards of the Dutch Academy.
The American counterpart to this series was Archie Bunker’s Place, which preceded In Sickness and in Health by six years.
- Warren Mitchell as Alfred ‘Alf’ Garnett
- Dandy Nichols as Else Garnett (Series 1)
- Una Stubbs as Rita Rawlins (Series 1-2)
- Arthur English as Arthur (Series 1-5)
- Eamonn Walker as Winston (‘Marigold’) (Series 1-3)
- Ken Campbell as Fred Johnson
- Eileen Kenally as Mrs Johnson (Series 1-3)
- Tricia Kelly as Mrs Johnson (Series 4-5)
- Yvonne D’Alpra as Mrs Johnson (Series 6)
- Harry Fowler as Harry the milkman
- Arnold Diamond as Mr Rabinsky (Series 1-4)
- Carmel McSharry as Camille Hollingbery (Series 1-6)
- Patricia Hayes as Min Reed (Series 2-5)
- Irene Handl as Gwenneth (Series 2-3)
- Renu Setna as Mr Kittel (Series 2-3)
- Fanny Carby as The Barmaid (Series 3-5)
- Vas Blackwood as Pele (Series 4)
- Hugh Lloyd as Harry Carey (Series 4-6)
- Pat Coombs as Mrs Carey (Series 4-6)
- James Ellis as Michael (Series 6)
This comedy series debuted in 1985 and took the former Till Death Us Do Part characters Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell) and his wife Else (Dandy Nichols) from their Wapping house to a lower-class one-level flat in West Ham. Else now uses a wheelchair due to Nichols’ real-life ill health.
The council sends a black, gay man named Winston (Eamonn Walker), to do the housework and help care for Else. Despite Alf’s dual prejudices against Winston, eventually the two become used to one another, and Winston takes Alf to watch his beloved West Ham United. Nevertheless, Alf gives Winston the nickname “Marigold”.
Alf and Else’s daughter Rita (Una Stubbs) now lives with her husband Mike in his hometown of Liverpool and often visits her parents, although Mike does not appear (as Antony Booth had no interest in reprising the role). Usually, Alf is seen drinking with his friend Arthur (Arthur English) in the local pub.
Although his beloved Conservative Party has returned to power, Alf is not happy with Margaret Thatcher being Prime Minister because, according to him, “a woman’s place is in the home”. He’s also unhappy about Else needing to use a wheelchair and the fact he has to push her around everywhere and that, after a lifetime of hard work and paying contributions to the Welfare State, he has to fight the social security system for a decent living allowance.
Across the road lives Fred Johnson (Ken Campbell), a man stubborn like Alf, with whom he rarely gets along. When angry, Johnson bumps his head on the wall. His wife (first played by Eileen Kennally, from Series 1 to 3, then by Tricia Kelly in Series 4 and 5, and Yvonne D’Alpra in Series 6) is an odd woman who suffers from nerves. Much of the comedy surrounding the Johnsons is based on Mrs. Johnson’s sympathy towards Alf, often letting him walk all over them and much to the anger of Mr. Johnson.
The first series ended on 13 October 1985 and was very popular in the ratings. On Boxing Day a Christmas special was aired, which was also successful. On 6 February 1986 Dandy Nichols died, aged 78.
When Dandy Nichols died, the decision was taken to continue the series, as the ratings and audience appreciation had been excellent. By the first episode of series two, her character has died of natural causes. Left alone after all the other mourners have gone home, Alf, the belligerent old curmudgeon who always treated his wife appallingly, gently touches the handle of her (now empty) wheelchair and sobs “Silly old moo!”.
In series two, Carmel McSharry became a permanent member of the cast playing Mrs Hollingbery, a gossipy, Catholic pensioner who lives in the flat upstairs. She did make an appearance in the first series but this was very low-key, and she had not been named as Mrs Hollingbery either yet. Alf and Mrs Hollingbery don’t get on at first but later become close. The roles of the Johnsons increased, and several recurring characters were added including Mr Rabinsky (a tightfisted Jew), Mr Kittel (Renu Setna) a Muslim shopkeeper, Winston’s cousin, and the milkman.
During the third series, Rita divorces Mike and moves back to London to marry a doctor (although Una Stubbs did not appear in the show after series two). Eamonn Walker also left at the end of series three. Three characters from the 1970s Till Death Us Do Part also made a comeback – Mrs. Carey and her henpecked husband Wally (Pat Coombs and Hugh Lloyd, although Wally was now named Harry) and Alf’s crazy former neighbour Min Reed (Patricia Hayes).
Alf got a new lodger, Pele, and Mrs Hollingbery starts to get closer to Alf. Eventually, Alf begins courting her, and in the fourth series, they travel to the Outback to meet her long-lost brother and to get married; however, Alf gets jilted and moves back to London.
Series five was broadcast in 1990. These episodes focused on the build-up to Alf and Mrs.Hollingbery’s big day which would end in disaster when the pair fall out at the altar over the revised terms and conditions of the ceremony. Alf objecting to the removal of the “I obey” clause by the wife. Just as she rejects and abandons him in the church, Alf is reminded by Fred that he has had a “lucky escape”, to which Alf angrily replies, “What do you mean? I could have watched the bloody football!!”.
In 1992, after 18 months off the air, the sitcom returned for the sixth and final series of seven episodes in which Alf discovers a ton of banknotes and becomes very rich. During the final series, Arthur did not appear due to Arthur English suffering from ill health, and so Alf gained a new friend, the Irishman Michael (played by James Ellis). Tricia Kelly departed, so Mrs. Johnson runs off with another woman. The character did briefly appear in this series, but was portrayed by Yvonne D’Alpra (the third person to play the role). The last episode aired on 3 April 1992.
The theme tune to the programme was written and performed by Chas & Dave, although they changed the lyrics when the character of Else died and Alf was left alone. The lyrics were changed again for the episodes set in Australia during the Fourth series.