Obituary: Tony Booth
As the opinionated, left-wing “Scouse git” son-in-law to Warren Mitchell’s Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part, Tony Booth was the latest – and possibly the loudest – personification of a signature trope of British television in the late 1960s: young, straight-talking northern characters locking antlers with their elders.
Born in Liverpool, the son of a merchant seaman father, Booth’s own politics were rooted in his Catholic, working-class background and not that far removed from the role he remained associated with throughout his life. Educated by the Christian Brothers and forced into employment on the city’s docks after an industrial injury to his father, with no formal training he became an actor after national service.
He found early work in the West End in Ira Levin’s No Time for Sergeants at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1957 and in regional reps, notably with the Liverpool Playhouse and at Theatre Royal Stratford East in William Saroyan’s Sam, the Highest Jumper of Them All in 1960.
When cast as Una Stubbs’ husband Mike Rawlins in Till Death Us Do Part in 1966 (a part its writer Johnny Speight had wanted Michael Caine to play) he was already a seasoned film and television actor. Remaining with the show until 1975, it led to opportunities in regional and London theatres, including Kenneth Tynan’s controversial, headline-grabbing Oh! Calcutta! at the Roundhouse in 1970.
In 1972, he was seen in Felicity Douglas’ musical version of Alice in Wonderland with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford.
His later theatre credits included national tours, fringe theatre and regional reps, ranging from the Restoration comedies The Rivals (Gateway Theatre, Chester, 1989) and The Relapse (Birmingham Rep, 1990) to the contemporary dramas of Jimmy Murphy’s Brothers of the Bush (Liverpool Playhouse, 1997) and Jim Cartwright’s Prize Night (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1999).
Film appearances included five of the popular 1970s sex-comedy Confessions of… films, Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (1973) and the John Wayne crime thriller Brannigan (1975).
Other small-screen appearances included Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Albion Market, Jack of Hearts, Holby City and Jimmy McGovern’s Moving On – his final television role in 2010.
An active member of Equity, he played a prominent part in the campaign against reform of the union that forced the resignation of then president Freddie Pyne in 1996. Ironically, given Booth had dismissed Pyne’s proposed changes as a New Labour make-over, he became the father-in-law of prime minister-in-waiting Tony Blair, when the politician married his daughter by the actor Gale Howard, Cherie (now a QC). But as in art, so in life: Booth’s relationships with authority figures were consistently problematic and often pugnacious, his politics remaining solidly on the left and suspicious of the middle-ground.
He published two autobiographies: Stroll On (1989; reissued as Labour of Love in 1997) and, characteristically provocative to the last, What’s Left? (2002).
Anthony ‘Tony’ George Booth was born on October 9, 1931. He experienced bankruptcy, four marriages and, in 1979, self-immolation while drunk before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004 and suffering a stroke in 2010. He died on September 25, aged 85, and is survived by his fourth wife and eight daughters.