Johnny Speight

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Interview Date(s): 
26 Nov 1990
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Interview notes

Johnny Speight gives a forthright interview complete with some strong language and political views, as well as his views on "class" and how it showed itself in the workings particularly of the BBC. He covers his East End upbringing, and how he got into radio writing as well as TV and stage drama. There is a great story about his encounter with the tramp that inspired the Arthur Haynes character, and of course he talks extensively about Till Death Us Do Part and its successor, as well as overseas versions.Though interviewed in 1990 much of what he says resonates down the years including the hate mail which both he and Warren Mitchell were subjected to.


BEHP 0167T Johnny Speight Transcript



Interviewed by Norman Swallow with Alan Lawson, recorded on
26 November 1990.

The copyright of this recording is vested in the ACTT History Project


Alan Lawson: First of all when and where were you born

Johnny Speight: Canning Town, and I'm trying to keep my age secret. The trouble is they've put me in Who's Who and they've got the correct age, so I have to lie about it now because in our strange society they seem to be very much against older people. 1920, as it is in the archives but not to be released while still I'm trying to work

Norman Swallow: Me too.

Alan Lawson: What about schooling

Johnny Speight: None that I can, I went to a place that was called a school, a broken down Academy in Canning Town which I left at 14 years old ,and I don't think I learned much there except that looking at the teachers and whatever, I wasn't interested, I came out of there not being, I looked on it more as a prison than any place to want to go to. I wondered.what I had done wrong that I had to be sent there like for these hours and it put me, it set my back against learning I think to some extent. And then in later life looking back, reading somet.ning Bernard Shaw said, that any child that escapes-his teachers was fortunate. So I suppose in that way it was a fortunate thing for me that I wasn't inculcated with their knowledge. Because they were all failures, you could see that. Even I as a child in Canning Town could see that they weren't, the teachers themselves weren' t making much out of learning, so it wasn't something I was interested in like. The local bookmaker was earning more

Norman Swallow: It was a Catholic school wasn't it John

Johnny Speight: A Catholic school yes. They were mainly concerned with a religious teaching, a very sort of basic level like. You obeyed the parish priest and got to church regular and went to communion regular and confessed your sins regular and put money in the plate regular, all that kind of thing. But there was no real, what I would call these days real theology taught there at all, like. Our music teacher was tone deaf, that would give you an example.

Alan Lawson: You left at 14

Johnny Speight: I left at 14. Not through choice, I had to, I mean after 14 you didn't fit the desk any more, you grew out of them, you grew out of the desk and I then went to work in factories

Alan Lawson: What kind of work was that

Johnny Speight: errible work. My father pulled a few strings for me in a certain factory, he knew the foreman and he used his influence, whatever, and after about 4 days I left, and found out when I went to the Labour Exchange that the firm was blacklisted by them. And so rightaway I realised my father's influence I could do without, he had no influence. I suppose whatever I've learnt I've learnt. I've sort of taught myself like.

Alan Lawson: Carry on, what else did you do after that

Johnny Speight: I went to these factories and I personally was determined, really I didn't want to spend my life working in these kind of things. I knew the horse had gone but I didn't want to replace it. And I remember my father saying years ago, that monkeys didn't talk because if they found out they could speak, they'd find them work to do and it was the kind of work I was doing. And I mean they were paying us the same what they would a monkey, peanuts. What I earned wouldn't have bought a bag of peanuts or much more than that.

So I went from factory to factory, I was either sacked or I left. And by that time I suppose, by the time I was getting near 17, 16½, 17, I heard jazz on the radio, Louis Armstrong and things, and this was a revelation to me. And also my early culture was the cinema. It really was the cinema. I didn't go to the theatre, I knew nothing about

the poets or Shakespeare, they had been mentioned in my school vaguely, but none of the teachers could have taught, understood or even seen a Shakespeare play probably themselves. So we weren't taught anything like that. So my culti.1re was going first of all from American cinema, not British unfortunately, because we avoided British films like the plague in those days. The word was is it American or Brit•ish, if they said it was English, oh no we're not going, we're not wasting money on that. And it was American films. And the big stars of those days were Clark Gable and all those. And looking back again some of those early American films were quite socialistic in their way. They had the bad guy in the black hats and the white hats, and they were very much, a lot of the good ones involved in a way having a message for society, like. A naive one, and they were well crafted, again looking back on them, they were crafted films, and written by some good writers of that period I've found out since, good directors.

Norman Swallow: We can see them on television all the time now.

Johnny Speight: That's right. They're very good films. And that's my culture, jazz, again that came from America. Then I decided I wanted to play jazz, be a drummer. And I was just starting trying to do that when the war broke out.

Alan Lawsqn: Did you get in

Johnny Speight: Yes, but by mistake. I was working in a factory and a friend, a guy I knew, we'd formed a little band and we were playing at dances, or trying to play at dances, we were mainly practising in each others' front rooms as long as the parents whose house it was, so we were moving a lot. And then one of them the guitar player said if we joined the Territorial Army we could be in the unit band. They hadn't got a band there. So I joined it and I hadn't been in it a week and the war broke out. So I was in the war practically from the very beginning. We were actually at a territorial camp when it was declared, I'll never forget, a Sunday afternoon it was and we were on parade when they said war and everything changed. What was kind of a civilian army suddenly became a more official one. They sharpened our broom sticks.

Norman Swallow: Did you go overseas in the war

Johnny Speight: No, not for a long time. I'd had to face Lp to the fact that I was a coward and I wasn't politically aware much in those days and my main thing was to survive it rather than, I didn't know much about the Germans then I suppose I had enough instinctive political knowledge to know that it wasn't our house Hitler was after if he was after anyone's, he was after bigger ones. I couldn't
i agin e him being after our two up two down outside toilet slum.

Norman Swallow: he docks of course.

Johnny Speight: The docks. I didn't want either, having to work in them was enough for me. He could have had the whole of Canning Town as far as I was concerned.

So I survived the war and then came out with more determination. Actually looking again with hindsight, the war was a very good thing for me. I was one of those that really profited from the war, because it was like going into a university, a very good one. Before that I was really in the narrow confines of Caning Town and that was all I knew. I hadn't even been up the West End I think by that time. And going into the army, meeting all different walks of life. In the barrack room there were, because it was a call up thing and people were just flooding in, in the barrack room there was people from universities and otheF professions all in the same barrack +oom with me this factory worker from Canning Town. And if you've big ears which I' ve got, you picked up things. It was like an education for me.


Norman Swallow: And then

Johnny Speight: And then the war finished and I came out and it was back to the factory for a while because I hadn't learned anything in the army, a greater awareness of things and=: was just


Johnny Speight: Where were we Norman Swallow: Just after the war

Johnny Speight: Well the war had ended

Norman Swallow: And how did you go on and what was your next job

Johnny Speight: I came out onto the factory circuit and was now trying hard to get a living by playing drums which was quite difficult. Jazz, I thought jazz, modern jazz was my main interest, I didn't like Dixieland around in those days, modern jazz and I thought it was just starting and found really it was just ending because it was a bit too far in front of the tone deaf British public. I found out later that Beecham thought the English were completely tone deaf, conf.r-rmed by turning the radio that they were the most unmusical nation around. And no good music has ever gone well here. You only have to listen to it on the radio, it's pretty awful. It's 4 cowboy chords and 3 of them are wrong. And that's a big huge success, like. Frank Sinatra and some of the big bands and some of the jazz, there is a following for it in this country but it wasn't enough for me to make a living out of I can assure you. The ones who could really play it better than me were finding it hard to make a living and it was during that time I was playing in nightclubs and odd gigs and that sort of thing,

Norman Swallow: Still in the East End area, Canning Town

Johnny Speight: No, I'd mov d up West a bit, there were no night clubs in Canning Town in those days. And a few pubs I played in in Canning Town in that area. And then I moved up and got a few gigs and things. I played with Freddie Ba llerini at Maidenhead and a few gigs and a couple of hunt balls and all those kind of things. The kind of work that the top musicians didn't want to do, too much travelling involved. They didn't want to go and play at a hunt ball down in Berkshire or somewhere. They had better sessions in the West End, like. So it was a sort of fringe work I was doing. And occasionally in some of the London clubs but nothing regular. But I used to give the comics, a couple of comics I gave them a couple of lines, that sort of thing, talk them through, they'd use them and got a laugh

Norman Swallow: So you began to write.

Johnny Speight: Not really, it wasn't what I' d call writing. It was just

Norman Swallow: Speaking

Johnny Speight: Talking, saying something, they say that's funny, and use it like. And it was Bernard Shaw was alive in those days and I thought he was, almost once or twice a week there was some comment of his in the newspapers, and
they made me laugh. And I thought he was a stand up comic.
I ♦
And I thought I must catch this guys act one day, because
he makes me laugh. And then I was in Canning Town public library one day and saw this shelf of books, and I thought Christ he writes as well, and started reading them.
Immaturity was the first one I think I read, the novels. And then I read The Unsocial Socialist, the next novel. And suddenly a lot of my half formed ideas and beliefs and that, I found an obviously intelligent man, because they printed what he had to say, was saying more or less the same things I was thinking, like, about religion, about living in, nd life in general

_ _ _ N.o rman Swallow : Soc ie ty in general

Johnny Speight: That's right. So I started to devour these books, and that was a really, I said the war was a university, this was a much higher education. I mean more than you'll get in any university anywhere in the world.
Because he was a big name dropper of other great thinkers and that so I found mys lf now getting out Schoppenhauer and Bergsen and Nietz9che and all the different philosophers and things, and Plato, and devouring those.
And I' d buy a dictionary, more expense. And that I suppose led to my, Shaw gave me the feeling that you could set out and be what you w-ant e d to be. He termed it that your brain was like a muscle, and if you developed it and worked on it, it was like an athlete's body, you build muscles on it. And that you could to a large extent mould your own, take your own destiny in your own hands if you have a go at things. And so I sold my drums and bought a typewriter.

Alan Lawson: When was that

Johnny Speight: That was around the 1950s, early 50s, a bit earlier still, yes about the 50s.

Norman Swallow: And then

Johnny Speight: Then I went to Unity Theatre, and rapidly became disgusted with that because it was very partisan and

the fact that unless you were writing about the noble working class they didn't want to know about it, you couldn't show their warts and all. The noble class at the Unity Theatre had to be presented as noble, noble people, noble people who had been much maligned by these awful capitalists.

Norman Swallow: Black and white

Johnny Speight: Completely black and white. Completely so. It wasn't until later on, I came across only a little while ago a Chekhov on about Tolstoy's noble peasant, he said he's a drunken wretch who beats his wife and kicks his dog. And I went through, I saw them and knew them and this offended people at Unity and I suppose I've continued to offend people, I can't blame Unity only for that, I've offended people all over the place, at the BBC and everywhere.

Norman Swallow: Johnny, does that mean you wrote a play and submitted it to Unity

Johnny Speight: Yes, I wrote plays, yes, and one was read there and read up in Newcastle and the report on it was he had a very cynical approach to people. And what was the other phrase they used, a negative approach to people. I wasn't 100% communist in my attitude, I wasn't taking the party lipe on people. And I would never take t9e party line on anything. If there is a party line, not only the communists had a party line, society had a party line. I found that out with, all my writing has always upset someone.

Norman Swallow: We'll come to that later, sorry go on

Johnny Speight: And then I met a guy who had played in that band in the army that I played in. My brother met him first and said he1 d met him. I thought Christ I didn't know he was alive because at that time, because we 1 d parted in the war, he1 d been shipped somewhere else. And so I arranged to meet him and we met at Stratford in the ABC Tea Rooms, remember the ABC Tea Rooms

Norman Swallow: They 1 re not there now

Johnny Speight: No. The Aerated Bread Company wasn't it. Tea rooms, and we met in this tea room and he said that he

knew Bonar Colleano and Frankie Howerd. He met them, he was working as a masseur then in Jermyn St Baths and he got me two introduction both to Bonar Colleano and Frankie Howerd. And I saw them both and Frank was the one, Frank was marvellous, I mean he helped me a lot, he really did, he introduced me to Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan. And then I started, I met them and they got me some work, it was writing a show for radio called Mr R ss And Mr Ray which was Edmondo Ross and Ray Ellington

Norman Swallow: Not Ted Ray

Johnny Speight: No Edmondo Ross and Ray Ellington. And the idea was, some bright spark at Aeolean Hall had devised a show that would end, would replace the Billy Cotton Band Show, which was like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday, wakey, wakey. We did 16 weeks while Billy had a holiday and then came back and went on forever. I mean anyone who thougjt they could replace that on Sunday lunchtime was mat obviously.

Norman Swallow: What did you contcibute to that

Johnny Speight: It was jokes or the conversation between Edmondo and Ray. They would play music and then have a little chat like, and the chat h?o to be humorous sort of thing. And from that I met Alastair Sco tt Johnson who was a producer and from that I went onto the rankie Howerd Show with 3 other writers and Alastair·:- was producing that. And he was a big help too, _Alastair I think it was the BBC Radio, for instance they used to give you pilots to do to keep you going. You'd get £30 for doing a pilot, and it was a lot of money in those days and it enabled me living in the East End still to have a kind of wage that vou could eke it out, till get another pilot. I think AlaMa knew that some of them wouldn't be shows. Because normally in those days they didn't do shows like that, they normally booked the star and then found writers for them. And so it was, then I worked I suppose for every comic going around then, because Alister got me onto all his shows. And it was like Vic Oliver, Arthur Askey,

Alan Lawson: Where aboutsare we in time now

Johnny Speight: The 50s still, about the 50s, the early middle 50s. Middle 50s. And then my work on radio was becoming known to the comedians and they were asking for me

as well like. Cyril Fletcher I did a lot with him and all those kind of people, And then television started

Norman Swallow: Television had started of course

Johnny Speight: No. It hadn't really started then, no it hadn't.

Norman Swallow: It began in 1946 after the war

Johnny Speight: But it wasn't a commercial, viable, nowhere for a writer to live on. It wasn't anything at all, it was something you knew some people watched. The first comedy shows I can recall on there was Bob Monkhouse and Dennis Goodwin kind of things. But it was nothing like, radio was still the big work place, where you worked, many more shows on radio than on television. I went, when I went to Shepherd's Bush, the tv part of it was just a small building, where the scene changing area, round the back there. And Duncan Wood was one of the first producers I met there and Duncan was in a caravan. I think the only person who had an office was Tom Sloan who was in charge o: it, and Eric Maschwitz, they were running it then. I didn't do much for the BBC, not in those days, because the Beeb I think was still going through the syndrome, I think their attitude was that anybody from the East End of London who leaves school at 14 couldn't really write good enough for television, not for them. ,

Norman Swallow: Snobbish lot

Johnny Speight: Radio.was less snobbish because radio used . all the comedians and things and some of the comedians came from the same kind of background as I did. But they were light entertainment, you weren't allowed into the serious part of radio because you weren't equipped for that in
their opinion. You had to have a very, very good voice to be on the Third, the Home ServicE*3nd all that. The light entertainment took all the rubbisL from the working class areas and that was mainly, getting the figures, and many of the top comics, like Arthur Askey, I know Frankie Howerd came from lowly beginnings and most of the comics I know had that kind of start in life. If they'd gone to
university they probably wouldn't have dreamed of becoming comedians, they would probably have sights set for something else like. And I remember Eric Maschwitz asking me couldn't you write something like Bilko. And I said I

* Tp_e_'!:hirdProgramme and Qle_!lol!!_ Service wer forerunn rs. 9f BBC Radio 3 and 4

didn't really want to, much as I admired Bilko I wanted to write something that I could write, English, although Bilko's a wonderful show. Then the ITA started

Norman Swallow: 1955

Johnny Speight: That's right and that was when I really got into television I would say because they were willing to employ it seemed the people who at the time the Beeb didn1 t seem too keen on. And I got to work there

Norman Swallow: Was this Rediffusion.
Johnny Speight: No, I'll tell you who it was. It was ATV, and it was George and Alfred Black were doing packaging, Jack Hilton was doing packaging too then also for the ITA. And they had found, Val Parnell had a show, Val Parnell Startime. And on that show they had found a comic who they wanted to make, they thought would be a big star and that was Clive Dunn. And the subsidiary star, like second, was Arthur Haynes, who had been with the Charlie Chester Gang Show like. And George Black asked me if I could write some sketches for this Arthur Haynes, and I wrote them and when the shows went out it was Arthur who attracted the public and not Clive in those days. And so then they wanted to give Arthur his own show and Arthur said he wanted Johnny to write it because we'd had this success with the other sketches. And that wps my first real contact with 1
tele visi on, doing the Arthur Haynes Shows. Before that I'd done, to be truthful, before that I'd got some work through Eric Sykes, he introduced me to Dicky LeemaJ and he was doing a show called The Winnie Atwell Show*from Wood Green Empire. And on it he had Morecambe and Wise who had just failed on the BBC with the most awful show, the worse show that had been done on television. But they were getting a second bite of the cherry and they were on this Winnie Atwell Show and I wrote for them on it and well Eric and Ernie said in their book that it changed their whole act
like. +
' BEHP interview 367
Norman Swallow: It this ATV again

Johnny Speight: ATV. That's right. And when that had finished, that show, it was supposed to be 8 and it was extended to 12. And when that finished, they wanted Peter Sellers to do, the Dicky Valentine Show was replacing the Winnie Atwell Show and Dicky Valentine was replacing it and
*proper the U:inifred Atwell Show

Peter Sellers was going to be the comedian in the Dicky Valentine Show and he asked them if they could get the same writer who had done the Morecambe and Wise because he'd liked some of the stuff in it. So I started writing the Peter Sellers stuff for the Dicky Valentine Show.

And then the Dicky Valentine Show ended but they wanted deter to go on with his own show then. So I carried on writing that. I suppose did when I look back I must have done 36 shows without stopping live from Wood Green Empire. And it was after that the Arthur Haynes thing happened and by that time I was getting more accomplished as a writer then and getting away from jokes and thinking of characters, whatever, and Arthur was the first comedian who had no character. I mean Frank had his own character already. And all the other comedians I worked for had their own character. The only one that didn't on radio that went along a lot with what I was doing was Cyril Fletcher who was very helpful to me. He liked, he said keep on writing this style of drawing characters from street, like. And Arthur liked it too, like, because he had no kind of persona at all like, so he started playing the obstreperous working class man, the plumber, the decorator and then the tramp came into it, And that became a really big character for him. And I met that tramp, that tramp was drawn straight off the street. By that time I wasn't doing too badly and I had a Rolls Royce. Yes.
Alan Lawson: Where are we now

Johnny Speight: Early 60s, very early 60s Norman Swallow: 1961, 1962 maybe
Johnny Speight: Not even probably as late as that, still 50s I think. And I had always liked Rolls Royces and I bought myself a Silver Dawn. And I remember I was driving into town and we came to the traffic lights at Hangar Lane, before the underpass there. And I stopped for the lights, and before I could do anything the door opened, and a tramp got in, he just opened the door and said Rolls Royce ain't it guv'nor. I said yeah, he said do me fine, do me fine, he said. And by that time the lights had turned green and I had to start moving and he was in. And I didn't stop and chuck him out because he was amusing me. Because he said I've been standing there half an hour, a lot of cars have come by, he said rubbish most of it, rubbish. I prefer to


ride in a Rolls Royce myself any time, he said. I thought one will be along in a minute and here you are. He said you got a radio. I said yes, if you turn that on. He said have you got a cocktail cabinet. I said no. He said that's unfortunate he said. And then he started saying that about where you're going. I said I'm going down into Kensington you know. So he said right when you get to the bottom by Shepherd's Bush, where you turn right for White City, left here. I said no, no, I'm going right. He said alright then, you better drop me off then, I've got to meet somebody.
I've got to get down to Southend for the wife and kids so if you can lend ne a fiver. I said a fiver. He said five shillings. I said what do you mean lend it to you. Well give it to me if you like. He said I tell you what, if you can give me another five shillings that's a lot cheaper than a fiver anyway, it's only 10 bob. So I said here you are. I gave him 10 shillings. I got in the office and I phoned up Arthur and I said, oh he found me this great character. And I was telling him on the phone, and Eric Sykes was falling about laughing, this marvellous, marvellous character

Norman Swallow: You never saw him again presumably

Johnny Speight: Never saw him again. No, never saw him again, but the British public saw a lot of him.

1 Norman Swallow: I wonder if he recognised himself.

Johnny Speight: Probably not. I don't know. But that is how the tramp was born.

Norman Swallow: Interesting. So we're now onto the tramp and Eric Sykes

Johnny Speight: That went on for quite a few years. We were doing, again

Norman Swall6w: We're at the BBC now Johnny Speight: No, ATV.
Norman Swallow: Still, sorry

Johnny Speight: We were doing 26 shows a year in batches of
13. 13 and another 13. When you think about it, it's a lot


of writing. And people still tell me those tramp characters were classics, some of those.

Norman Swallow: Yes, they were.

Johnny Speight: And then during that period I wanted to write more serious, because what I was finding was that writing for a comedian like Arthur was a limitation in a' sense that you had to be careful, you found, I was censoring myself, because any blame that came was attached to Arthur, like for instance if that tramp had said bloody wogs, it would have been Arthur Haynes saying them and not a character, not an actor saying them. So you had to balance, although he was a marvellous actor doing them, at the same time I was getting a bit frustrated because I wanted to write some plays anyway.

And I remember corning home one evening and saying to my wife that I'm always talking about writing, she was ironing at the time, I said all this about writing I think I'm one of those Chekhov characters who's always talking about what he's going to do, great plans for the future and nothing for today like. So she said oh write a play.
Anyway she went to bed and I started writing. I had a bit of an idea in my nead. And it's amazing, when I came too in the morning, it was the fire had gone out, it was daylight and a bottle of Remy Martin that I'd started that evening was empty and, I had about 30 pages. I thought well I don't know, it just seemed to flow. And I asked her to read it and she said she thought it was very good.

So I took them i to the office and I asked another writer John Adams to read them and he thought they were marvellous. So I was a bit, it was just about that period, what had got me going about a play, I had done four sketches for a review in the West End called The Art Of Living for Wolf Mankowitz, who had produced it based on the writings of American Art Buchwald, remember Art Buchwald, and they had based a review on his writings, they called it The Art Of Living. And out on the road they found out that some of the material wasn't working in the theatre and they wanted some more material, so I put in 4 sketches which they used. So this links up with that. I' d been talking to Wolf about, he said you should write for the theatre more. Your stuff is very good, because he was an impresario which had fired me up about this play business.


Anyway, that day after John Adams had read it, we went to lunch in the Fou Ton restaurant which was in High Street Kensington. Because their office was next door then, Cumberland House. And we were sitting having lunch and John was raving about this play when Peter Sellers came in with his wife Ann. And he come over to the table said I saw The Art Of Living last night, he said, and I think the only four things in it were yours. And I was on the floor laughing. And Ann said he was, it was embarrassing, he was rolling about the place laughing. Have you got anytting I can use. But I tell you what, the Americans are going mad to get me over there to do something for them1 I'm really looking for some material. So I said I' ve just written a play. He said can I see it. I said yes, sure.

I went straight back to the office and had it typed up properly and sent over to Peter, he was living in Chipperfield Manor then, a big house he had there. And I sent it over to him on the Friday and on the Saturday morning I was out in the garden pottering about and the wife called and shouted out Peter's on, Peter Seller's on
the telephone. I got on the phone and there was Peter Sellers crying with laughter, saying i t 1 s marvellous, it's one of the funniest things I've read, I want to buy it. I
said well, at that time Elvin Jones, I'd told him about what I was doing and he said he was going to sign me up to a 3 play contract with the BBC. And

Alan Lawson: He was involved in Z Cars wasn't he

Johnny Speight: That's right, Elwyn was and he was head of drama. So I aid to Peter I don't want to sell it because I want to do this contract with the BBC, I'd like this to be the first one, I wanted it to be seen in England. And Peter said I can't wor for the BBC. Because he'd had a big row with a show we'd done some time before, a spectacular when Tom Sloan had censored some of it, like. And as the credits went up, Peter wouldn't replace it so the show was under, he wouldn't replace any of the stuff that had been cut. And so as the credits were going up Peter was pointing to the credits and when Tom Sloan's name came up he said no, no, not these people, the man responsible for this is Tom Sloan and his damn lineament. And all this raving about Tom Sloan, and it was a live show so they could do sod all about it. But he made this terrible attack on the BBC and Tom Sloan in particular. And of course they weren't enjoying the best of company after that. I said well it's


BBC Drama, it's not light entertainment. He said OK then, he said come over to the house because this American, he called them herms is flying over. And this American wanted to buy it also and do it in the States and I kept on saying no I'd rather it be done in England. And Peter said you'll get much more money in America, I said no I want it here.
He said alright he'd do it in England.

That went on for about a year and each time he was going to do it another film came up and got in the way because the films were where the real money was. And I got a phone call from Elwyn Jones who had read it and said that we've got this play and it's got a clause in it saying it's for Peter Sellers but I don't think we'll get Peter, because for the money we can offer, but we want to do it and I've got a young director here who really wants to produce it called John McGrath and he's got a young actor, he said, and we won't cast him until you've see him read it but can you come in to the BBC at 4 o'clock this afternoon for a reading, where this actor will read this play. Well this actor was Michael Caine. And he only read 4 pages, after 4 pages I said that's it. Peter can't do it better than this, much as I admired Peter's comic genius, but he was so real and so marvellous, Michael Caine, that I thought this is it, let's go. And the play was called The Compartment and it was produced by John McGrath and it was a big success.
And then, I think it was the first probably, it was the
1 first real thing on television that M}chael had a chance to reallv reve3l what he could do. Because it was after that that Dennis 3elinger rang him up and said can I be your agent. And Michael said I' ve been trying to see you for weeks, months.

Norman Swallow: We're now in the early 60s Johnny Speight: Yes, very early 60s.
Norman Swallow: Terrific, and then what

Johnny Speight: I did The Playmates, another play that Michael Caine did. And about that time, I was up at the BBC then seeing Elvin Jones when that mad man Dennis Main Wilson came over to me, and said I want a Comedy Playhouse, I'm doing a Comedy Playhouse and I want you to write i't. So I said OK Dennis.

Norman Swallow: Had you met him before by the way.


Johnny Speight: I'd met him before, I' d met him on radio, in radio days when he was doing Hancock but I'd never worked with before. And Dennis said, I'll get you a commission he said, I want you to do write it. So I went home and I started to think. And I took him up about 4 pages to show him how it was going, working class situation comedy. And he just read those 4 pages and said that's it, that's it. He said marvellous, marvel lous, carry on. So that's how Ti l l Death Us Do Part began.

Norman Swallow: Go on from there, I was going to ask you how it all began.

Alan Lawson: That was again 196,··

Johnny Speight: 1964, the first Comedy Playhouse we t out. Norman Swallow: F rst on the air in 1964 Till Death.
Johnny Speight: A lot of things happened around that period. Just before that I'd done a play for the theatre, a
3 act play called Th e Knackers Yar d wr..i-:::h split the crities right down the middle, the ones who liked it loved it, and the ones who didn't like it hated t.

Norman Swallow: I always thing that's a good thing.
Jo hn ny Speight: Something Campbell who ran the Arts Theatre at the time after the first night said to me, you should be feeling very proud of yourself, you have done what very few writers, you have split the critics right down the middle and they really don't understand your play.

Norman Swallow: That was at the Arts Theatre

Johnny Speight: Umm. Bernard Levin said it was broken backed, broken spined, or something, it was a kind of a rave by him, I'd like to ask Johnny Speight why he writes this way. Tynan called it Pinterish and apologised to me afterwards, he said it was the worse mistake he'd made, there was nothing Pinterish at all. The fact that there were some similarities in the use of the language but nothing like Harold' at all.



Norman Swallow: We'll carry on with Till Death

Johnny Speight: The casting was inspired, mainly Dennis to be honest. The only person I suggested was Anthony Booth who wasn't the best, he was alright, he suited the show, very much. But•Dennis cast Warren, although he didn't go for Warren at first, he went for Peter Sellers. And Peter by then who was a big fan, and The Compartment and all that, read the script and said yes, I'll do it. I will do this definitely. So we were all· Cock-a-hoop.. I said to Dennis at the time, the same thing will happen as happened with The Compartment, but he said he loves it, I said he loved The Compartment he still does but the film, Peter needs money, big money, he spends a lot. And always a film will come in the way, and you can't blame him. A film means lots of money whereas doing this is BBC money which will hardly keep him in, his butler, wouldn't pay for his butler, like. Ty9ical manner of living and buying Rolls Royce cars by the dozen.

He then approached Leo McKern who said yes, but he was out on a boat somewhere and the Beeb had given his date and the date for a Comedy Playhouse couldn't be altered. The schedules took over like. So he approached Warren Mitchell and gave him this, Warren tells his side of the conversation, he fas out of work and Dennis said I have, this wonderful play, wonderful Comedy Playhouse. And Warren said don't say anymore, yes, yes, I'm out of work. No, you do not understand Warren, this is the most wonderful play. He said yes,- I' ll do it, I'm out of work. And anywa.y that was Warren casted. And then Dennis cast Una Stubbs and the other one cast who was in the Comedy Playhouse was, what' s her name, the lady, who's in now the East Enders, old lady in East Enders, she plays Ethel* n it. Anyway she was in the original Comedy Playhouse and when they decided to make a series she wasn't available. And they got, Dennis cast Dandy Nichols which was divine casting really, it was like the part was made in heaven.

Yes, Dennis's story of that, the Comedy Playhouse went out, it was well reviewed, Peter Black said don't do any more just continually repeat this. Most of the critics loved it except the Mirror whi ch said it was flogging a dead horse. And then the critic again apologised to me afterwards, he said his editor said he had to say that. Knocking the BBC,
* Gretchen Franklin_

can't praise the BBC, knock them, something like that. Anyway according to Dennis he went into the bar on the day afterwards, the little bar, the club,

Norman Swallow: Television Centre

Johnny Speight: That's right. And he said to T m, what do you think, is it going to be a series and Tom Sloan is supposed to, this is what Dennis said, supposed to have said over my dead body, and Dickie Attenborough, not Dickie Attenborough, David Attenborough who was then head of 2 said if you don't want it Tom, I'll have it. And then Tom said no I'm doing it

Norman Swallow: Torn Sloan was BBCl Johnny Speight: That's right.
Norman Swallow: And David Attenborough was 2

Johnny Speight: Was 2. And that's how we got the series and Tom never liked it to be truthful. He never liked it. He never came near us until the press had gone mad on the show and all the public, we were getting figures like I think 25, 26m and the papers were full of it and the fact it was clearing the streets when it was on, the traffic had all gone, all the pubs were empty, they were all at home watching i½. And that's when he made his appearan e. I remember it, I'll never forget it, he came on the floor and we were all surprised to see him. And he put his arm round my shoulder and said we've done it again, we' ve done it again.•

And then we got hauled over the coals when Tom, the show Sex Before Marriage went out and we were almost live in those days, we were recorded but we were right on the schedule. Like one was going out as we were making the next one. It was exciting, we were right among the headlines all the time. And I'd seen this show on television, some
bishops saying about, the conversation was sex before marriage you see. And I thought a wonderful thing for Alf, a conversation. And the show had gone out that night before, the papers, it was on the front page, all about sex before marriage, and when I got to, we were actually recording that day, and I got to the Centre, and Kenneth Adams had said dcn't use the public rooms because all the press are milling about the building, trying to get interviews and

all that kind of thing. You can use my office for your breaks and have our food sent up and dr nks, so you won't have to go down. Stay away because all the press are all over the place.

And then we had a message from Tom Sloan, would Dennis and me go up and see him. So I thought naively we were going to be praised for this huge success. And he said you have let me down, the pair of you. If I'd known what you were up to I would never have allowed the show to go on air. And I said you're mad Tom. He said it's disgusting, it's evil, it's nasty. And poor old Dennis, he was standing there, because he was Dennis's boss, he was my boss as well but I was freelance, but Dennis was a paid earner. So I said I'm sorry Tom, I think we done it the best we could do it. It's a good show and if you don't like it, well we can't just write for you, we have to write for the public. That night we were up in Ken Adams suite

Norman Swallow: What was Kenneth Adams job then

Johnny Speight: He was head of, managing director, I think Alan Lawson: Yes, managing director.
Johnny Speight: That's it. And he came into the room holding a telegram. And he said I have a telegram from
Carleton Greene

Norman Swallow: The director general

Johnny Speight: The director.general. I will read it out. And so he read it out and the telegram more or less said wonderful show, keep up the good work. I am 100% behind you. Signed Greene. And so as it said this, Dennis blurted out but Tom didn't like it. And Kenneth Adams went over, put his arm round Tom's shoulder and said Tom, you dear old fuddy duddy, you will never learn. And this is true. I saw this.

And then we found out afterwards via the grape vine that when the show was going out that Tom Sloan was in the middle of having a row with his daughter on the same subject. And she had oyfriend and were they having sex, they weren't married, and she was saying things like it is my life, it's my body and as she was saying them, the show was on and Alf was having the same argument. And Tom of

course went pop eyed and Alf was playing his part and this girl was doing Una, it almost echoed his own. And Dennis told me that he had the impression I had been eaves dropping, how could I when the show was going, but it upset him personally. And this I think was one of the things about Till Death, occasionally if something you believed
devoutly in and there was A•lf, this monster, and his family

arguing whatever offended

about this and making your views look silly or or ridiculing them. This is whv 0 quite often
certain people. And it was , Carleton Greene who said

that the show only offends those one buld wish to offend. Norman Swallow: Actually Carleton Greene or Hugh Greene Johnny Speight: Hugh Carleton Greene
Norman Swallow: He dropped the Carlton later in life, he must have been a great strength.

Johnny Speight: He was, it wasn't until later, a lot later that when I read his book, his autobiography that I realised how much he had been defending us against politicians and all sorts. Not just Mary Whitehouse but phone calls from various high up places like about the show, about wasn't it time we were taken of the air, because we were mentioning politicians by name, the show still does. No other show has mentioned by name like that. Mostly it was, Yes Minister wqs a fictional

Norman Swallow: No real names

Johnny Speight: No real names, and we were mentioning like Darling Harold, and Ted Heath that grammar school twit, and

olrl slr11l lh p ;:,,j

A nd I think we were responsible for getting

[Alec] Douglas-Home out of the premiership because Alf called him skullhead. And we had a big audience about 24m.

Norman Swallow: But to go back to the actual characters I remember John you saying before that you didn't create Alf

Johnny Speight: I always said society created him, I just reported but there was a series about it, there was a lot of creation in the fact

Norman Swallow: It is no coincidence it was based sort of in Canning Town

Johnny Speight: It was Wapping first of all, well very similar area

Norman Swallow: Not far away Johnny Speight: That's right, yes.
Norman Swallow: But the characters were they based on your own experience of real people. Did you pick them out of the area

Johnny Speight: Yes, I would say you had experience of that, how true it was when we did the documentary down there.

Norman Swallow: Sure

Johnny Speight: We found the real Garnetts in the street, you found one in my street where I used to live, the pigeon fancier

Norman Swallow: Lived next door to you.

Johnny Speight: What they were saying was very much Alf, and also the guy in the pub.

Norman Swallow: Yes. We'll come to that documentary later

Johnny Speigh' t: Yes, but when that documentary wentl out
some of the critics, Peter Patterson in particular said he'd always blamed me for this awful man, and now he realised it was just superb journalism, he actually existed and I was reporting, pure journalism on the Alf Garnetts of the world. There are many of them, not only in Canning Town, all over the place. Most women say to me he reminds them of their husband. Most children say he is like their dad or their granddad and that is the popularity of the thing, right deep down in xenophobic roots that are very much in evidence in this country still, being an is and. I think it is because we're an island 'we' ve never been invaded. And even today with this election, with the Maggie Thatcher thing, a lot of what brought her down, what caused it, was the xenophobic, her attitude, which I'm sure if they had a referendum, which she was going to do, the bulk of the public on the European question would go along with her about all these foreigners, And Ridley they would go along with all that he said about the Krauts and all the

rest of it. And they were the only thing that the British public had against her was the poll tax, but nothing on Europe she said offended anyone in Britain, they all felt the same thing. That tunnel, close it down before we all get rabies. We don't like foreigners, we never have done, I think a lot of it is due to, most nations have this kind of thin9 but being an island race and also a ig empire of the past, we have it more so the lot. The French are pretty,{?] they don't like us anyway in France, they're not keen on us at all, we don't like them.

Norman Swallow: On a personal level John, you must be blamed, I know you have been frequently for, the views of Alf Garnett are the views of Johnny Speight.

Johnny Speight: Very often

Norman Swallow: That's inevitable, I know they're not

Johnny Speight: Warren and I used to get lots of, at one time we started to get some very nasty mail, vicious mail from the National Front I think it was, calling me you Yid bastard. Now I'm not Jewish but if I was it wouldn't matter to me, it would just one of those accidents of birth. I mean I'm not but Warren is and there were letters like we will burn your house down, we know where you live you bastard, you Yiddish bastard and all that sort of thing.
And my pgent got very worried at one point, t ke them to Scotland Yard because they're nasty.

And I went up there and they said well it's only, most of them have been sent by a crank. I can remember saying well it was a crank who shot John Kennedy. It's cranks I'm worried about, it's not ordinary people. The Queen Mother when we did the Royal Command Performance, she told me in the line, when I met he r 1 she had been threatened, she had a threatening letter if she went to the show that night.
And she said to me you mustn't worry about it, she said all these people you can't let them worry you. And when she moved on, her aide de camp said to me, it's true she had a letter, but they wouldn't bother her, she's not a bit worried by them. And they expose themselves all the time. I mean if any real nut wanted to get one of the royals it wouldn't be too difficult because they don't know if they have armoured cars but they quite often sit in open coaches and ride through London. And she said not to worry about it.


Norman Swallow: The series still goes on under a different name

Johnny Speight: In Sickness And In Health

Norman Swallow: You've just finished another series Johnny Speight: That's right
Norman Swallow: You'll be getting some more. How is the audience now, 5 years later

Johnny Speight: As far as I can make out they all love him, they all love him. And there are people who still a e very uneasy about Alf. I think the main ones who criticise mainly are the feminist movement, and all the woolly headed liberals don't like Alf because they don't see the satire. They're as bad in their thinking as the people who actually take every word he says as gospel. They seem to do as well, and they underestimate the British public I think. I think the bulk of the public laugh at him as well, but as I said earlier they do have these xenophobic things.

Norman Swallow: In a sense that's why it's always been topical, it's a topical series. It reflects the age we live in.

Johnny Speight: Yes, he says a

'lot of the things that

people believe and think and also say, he says them and unfortunately this is true. But if you're going to write about a bigot yoJ have to show a bigot and try and show, we always do do that he is wrong or that his attitudes don't hold any weight, because how can you judge a man purely and simply by the colour of his skin. I mean if you want to go into a more intellectual discussion of it and say you don't like Islamics, or not Islamics in particular or certain traits in Islamic fundamentalism or even certain Christian fundamentalism, that is an argument you can argue. But you
cannot say just because the man is a black man that he is inferior, it is rubbish, ridiculous. ! can point out a lot of black people who are superior. Count Basie and Duke
Ellington were superior to a lot of the people I've met in every way.

Norman Swallow: I remember you saying in our film John because of your background and interest in jazz and they were all black.

Johnny Speight: I love jazz, I still do, and the only people who can play it right are Jews or blacks, and singers were Italian li•ke Frank Sinatra is Italian origin.
No r man Swallow: I'm surprised you and Warren were accused of being Yids because it just occurred to me because you remember that joke Alf told in one of your programmes sport at weekends and

Johnny Speight: Spurs being a Jewish side.

Norman Swallow: Can you tell it now, can you remember it.

Johnny Speight: Alf was saying about Spurs, it's a Jewish side, and they're playing, making them play on Saturday inhibits them, because it's their day of rest. If they play on Sunday of course that is, but you can't change the whole football league just to accommodate them, and they all play on Sunday, because we'll be breaking our Sabbath, if we play on a Sunday. And this is why a Jewish team like the Spurs is at a bit of a disadvantage because they have to play on their Sabbath which is not fair to them. And the fact is that Hitler was after them; when he bombed London, his planes were following )the floodlights, they come over Southend, that's Southend football club down there, they come along and here's West Ham, they come along a lot further and here's Leyton, Leyton Orient and now the next one, here that's Spurs, right drop them.

Norman Swallow: What is fundamentally true John I'm sure, and I believe it, your talent is to put it into words and all that, we've got to laugh at what we hate, haven't we

Johnny Speight: You have to laugh at what you believe in as well, you have to be able to, because if you can't laugh at it, if what you believe in can't stand laughter, can't stand up against laughter, it's not worth believing it anyway. What I laugh at mainly is myself' first, before I'm entitled to laugh at any one else, and our human frailties, our human nature which is our human frailties. I mean the best reasoned ideas of intellectuals are wonderful theories but when it comes to people actually practising them,

putting them into action, then the human element comes into it and that's when it gets ballsed up completely.

Norman Swallow: Apart from the storv you've told us earlier on about Tom Sloan and Hugh Carleton ;reene's telegram, did you have much, serious interference from BBC authority.

Johnny Speight: Yes, it was after Hugh Greene had gone, we had one show in particular, that they'd taken the script, we were rehearsing at this time and we got a message by motorbike that the script had been censored, I think Oliver Umpkin was then the BBC pardre and he had the bloody nerve to rewrite some of it in a more Christian flavour. And the cast all refused to carry on working unless the script was reinstated back to what it was.

So I had to go up to see ichael Mills who was head of comedy and Oliver Umpkirr?=] m d the BBC lawyer all in Michael's room. And the, we argued whatever, it was strange trying to argue with the Beeb at times, because they'd allowed me at one time which I think was absolutely ludicrous, farcical, they had allowed me 25 bloodies per show. Now my attitude was a simple East End boy, that once you said bloody once that was enough, you got the clout round the earhole and that was it. But they didn't say you can say it a few more times before we whack you if they didn't like you. Once you said it that was it. To ration it to 25 was ridiculous. And I had to go up to see Michael Mills about that as well, this was on another occasion. He said Johnny, you've gone over your allocation of bloodies, he said it is supposed to have been 25 you have actually, I've counted them and there are 36 in the show. He said I'm will ng to swap you those bloodies for one tit. I said look Michael, one tit is not an obscenity, it's a deformity.
Anyway Peter Cook and Dudley Moore wrote a sketch on that in Not Only But Also, where Dudley played me stammering and Peter played Michael Mills arguing about the bloodies.

But on this big censorship was the fact that Alf was in the pub and this routine came from Aldous HLxley who said he was in his father's study when it happe ed, with his father, on about where is god, is god everywhere. We had it in the pub, Aldous Huxley was doing it, he said he was a child, and he remembers it now, he was drinking a glass of lemonade and he said to his father is god everywhere, and his father said yes. And he said is god in our home, and he said yes he is everywhere. Is he in this room now, and his

father said yes. And Aldous upturned the glass and said got him. Now we had Alf do that in the pub with the young lad, that was censored. When I explained it had come from Aldous Huxley that didn't bring home any chickens either because I've a feeling they didn't think they thought much of him. He was a bit of an atheistic and kind of not a good ally, although well spoken and better educated than Michael Mills or Tom Sloan or Oliver Umpkin and a greater intellect

Norman Swallow: Or Johnny Speight

Johnny Speight: That one didn't cut any ice. And the other one was that the son in law had said to Alf that yo r god is awful, your god sounds worse than the devil, if you disobey your god it's a fork up your arse and you're on the fire. And he said he's worse than Hitler, your god is worse than Hitler. If he wants to punish you, if you say anything against him he'll put a fork up your arse and throw you on the fire. Now that was taken out because they said, I said who is going to complain about it, I don't think god watches the show, but anyway if he did, I think he's broadminded enough to realise it wasn't him, it was his disciples who put all those silly stories around about him. I said I don't think Hitler is going to complain wherever he is, he's not going to come back and sue you. And anyway they still stuck out and said those two bits had to come out of the show but the rest could go back in. And so I suppo e we went on recording it and it went put.

Norman Swallow: Not bad, not many problems considering. Another thing I wanted to talk to you next about is the overseas versions of it, which would be -interesting to hear about. I've seen one of the American ones myself, I've seen the German one

Johnny Speight: I haven't seen the German one Norman Swallow: He looks like Adolf Hitler Johnny Speight: I know that.
Norman Swallow: We had an extract in o r television series on the history of television

Johnny Speight: Yes, you did, that's right, I did see a glimpse of him

Norman Swallow: He looks like Hitler.

Johnny Speight: But not knowing German I couldn't understand a word he was saying.

Norman Swallow: The American one you know about Johnny Speight: Yes.
Norman Swallow: That was a big success wasn't it.

Johnny Speight: It was voted the biggest success on American television for 30 years which must be like the biggest success ever, it's in the archives out there. It has the furniture of the home is in the American Art Museum and whatever

Norman Swallow: What was the title

Johnny Speight: All In The Family. But they responded to it far bettE han the English establishment did. Because I've never rewmd for doing Alf here ever. But if they have, if they-- could have been knighted they would have all been knighted in America for it, so it probably is perhaps a more democratic country.

Norman Swallow: It's not on the air now, it came off a long time ago

Johnny Speight: It's on the air, in syndication all over Norman Swallow: Not new.ones.
Johnny Speight: No, but they ran out of scripts you see. They found out after they'd used up my scripts they went on a little while with the American thing but it seemed to come apart because the fire that was in Till Death wasn't really there, it wasn't being written with any kind of convictions and thing, like, they had lost the

Alan Lawson: They were writing their own scripts on the original

Johnny Speight: What they did is they bought all my scripts from the BBC, from mine, and then the first ones were all based on those scripts. And it really took off, and really big. And they ran out of my scripts because they were doing

26 a year you see, whereas we only did about 7 a year, so very soon they caught up and ran out of them. And then of course they fell into the other trap. It had become so commercial that they were then going along with all the various liberals to try and tone it down and keep it as it was, it lost it's, the wheels fell off. And that's mainly why it stopped.

Norman Swallow: I know you've told me you've recently been dealing with the Dutch, haven't you.

Johnny Speight: Yes, they're doing a version, a Dutch version, which will be interesting.

Norman Swallow: And that will be with Alf Garnett, I mean Alf Garnett will be the character.

Johnny Speight: I don't know what they're going to call him,

Norman Swallow: In the German version and the American version it wasn't Alf Garnett really

Johnny Speight: No, the American was called Archie Bunker and the German one was called xxxx"!I don't' know what the Dutch are calling him, but I told them to make it as Dutch as they want to, because if they're going to do it with their own actors and that, it should be about Holland and not about England. As the Americans did, make it about America

Norman Swallow: Who is it, NOS

Johnny Speight: I don't know the company, it' s a package. Belbo and think, Belbo is the company that is doing it.

Norman Swallow: Anyway John what have you been doing since. I know Till Death still goes on. What else, Th e 1 9 t h Ho l e for example.

Johnny Speight: Well The 1 9 t h Hol e , we did 7 of those, which got big figures for ITA

Norman Swallow: It was Central wasn't it

Johnny Speight: Central, but was attacked by critics again on the grounds of it was chauvinistic, it was anti feminist
*Ein Herz und eine Seele

and all the rest of it. Well if you're writing about a golf club truthfully that was the whole purpose of me writing it was to show that they are like that, and I' ve been a member of a golf club for a long, long time. And I don't argue with it, the thing goes on. A lot of it is innocuous but the undercurrent of it is women are treated so [inaudible]

Norman Swallow: The thing I remember about• The 19th Hole is the flag

Johnny Speight: The Nazi flag flying from the flag pole and everyone pointing to it. But we were criticised, how you write about people like this without showing them baffles me, because you have to show them. Anyway the public liked it. The people I thought I might have got complaints from, golf clubs, loved it , I mean they're still talking about it, and it got big figures but it was taken off. They said it was political, what that means I don't know.

Norman Swallow: You mean Central took it off.

Johnny Speight: Yes, they said they had to take it off, it was political

Norman Swallow: It may be a deep secret you don't have to answer it.

Johnny ppeight: Just recently the IBA, I thin it was the IBA, brought out a paper on what was the best of ITV that year and our show, The 19th Hole was one of the 2 top comedies.

Norman Swallow: Last year, wasn't it, 1989

Johnny Speight: That's right. It was one of the two top comedies, that and another show they thought were the only two shows worth doing. But it was taken off. In the old days of show business if you wrote a success that the public loved that was enough, but it seems now it's not just a question of pleasing the public, you have to please what they call in politics the grey suits that control things from behind the scenes, if you offend one of those, you are in deep trouble because they have the power to pull the plug on you.

Norman Swallow: I know you've had other ideas like the ones you and I talked about, with Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes maybe. Has it got anywhere yet.

Johnny Speight: No

Norman Swallow: Which, what interests me are your views on, and I speak as a viewer and fan of Till Death and so on, but I think that the general quality of situation comedy in British comedy is not as good as it was. That is my view as a viewer. Would you go along with that

Johnny Speight: Yes

Norman Swallow: What has happened and why.

Johnny Speight: I would go along further and say that we are going backwards, from Shakespeare, well from Shaw we've really gone backwards, Shaw I would say, and Wells, were on the Shakespeare theme of marvellous writing, digging in to find out what we are, where we're going. What's the whole thing about. Really great writing. Shaw, Wells, and a few around that. But since then we seem to have, the world seems to have reached old age with Shaw and Wells and that and now, and also the great jazz age of America, the great popular songs which were Irving Berlin, Gershwin, all those, you near anything coming near that class any more.
B ethoven, Mozart, nothing like that arqund. We are becoming more and more devoid of music and culture

Norman Swallow: That also affects comedy naturally.

Johnny Speight: If it's good comedy. Silly comedy still proliferates and silliness seems to be all we're capable of. I came across a notice today on Frankie Howerd On The Campus, did you see him. On Saturday night.

Norman Swallow: It was at Oxford University, wasn't it

Johnny Speight: And one critic said they loved, they laughed at all the old jokes and smut arcd that, and seemed to be refreshingly as low brow as the rest of us. So that means that our u iversities are coming down where I was trying to get up from, they're coming down to meet it rather than going on further, which is what it seemed to me, what I can figure out from it.

Norman Swallow: Does it mean there aren't the writers around to write these scripts

Johnny Speight: If there were, they wouldn't be allowed to

Norman Swallow: The organisations don't want them, or wouldn't be able to chose a good one from a bad one.

Johnny Speight: If there were, would they be allowed to is the point. The West End at the moment, I mean to have a success in the West End and make a lot of money doesn't mean it was the best play that was on in the West End; quite often the best play may last only a few weeks. It's looking at books, you try and find a decent book to read, a decent novel these days, and it seems to me the more intelligent you become, the less there is for you in our society. So really ignorance is bliss, if you can remain ignorant and stupid and be happy with that state, life is richer for you. Because there is much more stupidity around for you to enjoy. But we do not like, particularly in this country, for anyone to seem better than anyone else.

They've been through this thing, I'm a socialist, but I think it is probably to do with wrong thinking socialists who can't accept that all men are not equal, and they don't even get equal opportunities, because if you're bright you've naturally got an edge on the guy who's not. So you have to forget that. You're meant to make sure, as a socialist you're meant to make sure that no one suffers unduly because of their lack of ability. They should be looked after, otherwise you will allow a great barbarian race to grow up around you which will bring you down, will. bring down intelligence, always it will be the mob. It happened, I think the barbarians that brought down early Greece and that wasn't from outside, they were from inside. If you see around us now. Elements of our society are getting more barbaric than ever it was, I meant the inner cities are getting very barbaric and this is the danger.

Norman Swallow: What worries me about British television in the future, and god knows what is going to happen to it, is that many kinds of programmes, and I'm particularly concerned John because the kind of programmes I make which as you know are documentaries, social documentaries if you like, might well get the chop, because they don't get the biggest audiences and don't make the biggest profits


Johnny Speight: That's right

Norman Swallow: For some reason I don't see why that should necessarily affect comedy

Johnny Speight: It affects everything. By the nature of the beast, television despises audiences of 3 million, 3
million to a television company is not worth bothering
with. Now if you made a film that got a 3 million audience in this country you're onto a success. If you had a play that played to 3 million, it's a blockbusting success, but on television it's looked upon as not worth bothering with. You have to be 10, 12, 14 million, at one time you had to be higher, but that is it.

And also I think they underestimate the public, because although what I said earlier sounds depressing, you do meet people in the streets who will complain that there is nothing on television and ordinary people quite often are very, very bright. It is the rent seekers who are doing the damage I think, universities now are full of them who just want to earn their ren and that sort of thing, they're not really concerned with the higher things. When I first came into broadcasting through radio and early television, the people were broadcasters. They were more concerned about making programmes to broadcast than making money. The BBC, the idea of making money in the old days of radio wasn't on
the board, they ma e programmes. Now I didn't like some of
their programmes, and probably you didn't like some of them, but some others you did. But the point is that they were programme makers, they were broadcasters. Now they're coming in to make money and they don't know what wil} make the money. So they will only do what made money last year. Again this year again if they can, hoping to catch up and get onto that kind of bandwagon

Norman Swallow: There are some surprises, we mentioned the documentary you and I made, that was BBCl, I think we're right, didn't we get nearly 8 million

Johnny Speight: 8 million and we got marvellous notices and people were stopping me in the street and telling me how marvellous they thought it was an how they enjoyed it but did we get the chance to make another one.

Norman Swallow: No, we're still trying.

Johnny Speight: Yes, we're planning to go down and do more on that kind of thing, not only there but other areas like that. But we were never offered the chance.

Alan Lawson: Can you talk about that

Norman Swallow: John you talk about it, it was 1989 wasn1 t it.

Johnny Speight: Last year

Norman Swallow: r·t went out in July, we filmed it in June. Johnny Speight: 1988
Norman Swallow: No, 1989, honestly Johnny Speight: 1989, that's right. Yes
Norman Swallow: Do you want us to say anything about it

Alan Lawson: I think you should, because you haven't talked about it, let's have some details on it.

Johnny Speight: Well Norman phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to do a documentary, Norman Swallow,

Norman Swallow: Who' s he

Johnny Speight: And I said yes. And we discussed it, and then suddenly we got the offer that we could do it but we had to do it very fast or it would seem like probably not at all. So Norman said what do you think. I said let's go for it and we did and we started off with the attitude that we weren't going to look for anything, we were going to find out what was there but we weren't going to put words into people's mouths

Norman Swallow: It was located in Canni g Town

Johnny Speight: It was located in Canni g Town, where I was born and where I lived the early part of my life. And we were determined not to put words in their mouth, we wanted their view of it rather than our view of it, from the outside. It really was, because I've been away from it for a long time, it really would have been from the outside looking in. I really wanted to get their views on living

there now what it is like. And we unearthed a lot of things, I discovered that I hadn't realised before that it was a ghost town to a large extent. All the factories I'd known as a boy and a youth had all gone, the docks

Alan Lawson: What kind of factories were there
Johnny Speight: There were two mile•s of them, that road from Silvertown Way that led from Canning Town right up to North Woolwich, was lined by factories either side of the road. There was Tate and Lyle, there was Ranks the flour people, there was paint factories, there was the loads and loads of factories and warehouses and all sorts, that were all located there I suppose because of easy shopping and all various reasons. But when the docks closed they went also and so the people's work was taken away completely. I mean when I left school there was loads of work in that area, there were so many factories, you could move from one job into another one the next day, but not that any more.

The docks have closed down, they blame, the media blamed it onto the unions but it wasn't anything to do with the unions at all. The unions were bloody minded admittedly, but the point was that it was closed down purely because the water was too shallow for the bigger boats. Also aeroplanes had been coming into it, and they were in deep water harbours rather than, I can recall when I worked at
Harland & Wolff s, they took two days think it was to get
the Arithusa round the bend and that wasn't the biggest boat in the world but it was too large for those waters.

And the boats that my father worked on there were cargo boats, and they could put them in the dry docks and all that kind of thing. But when he was still working there I remember him moaning about the fact that a lot of the boats had stopped passing Tilbury because they couldn't get into the old areas because they were two large. So that really was what closed them down. And then containers came in

Norman Swallow: We found some interesting people with interesting views as you said earlier John, some like the views of Alf and others, women, the position of women and the views of the A level students and all that, it was quite surprising a lot of it. It was quite surprising.

Norman Swallow: What I was going to say John, on our documentary on Canning Town, nothing was censored, we had some 4 letter words a_nd we had nasty things said about Maggie Thatcher and that joke about the royal family, and many of this kind of thing, nothing was censored at all.

Johnny Speight: Nothing was censored at all. In fact we were worried about The two words in the pub that we thought might be censored

Norman Swallow: You mean the couple of fucks, let's say Johnny Speight: What was the name of the old fellow Norman Swallow: Snowy
Johnny Speight: No, not Snowy. Anyway, in fact he was restrained for, because when we weren't filming he was using fuck every other word but when we got the cameras on him he was restrained and only used it twice, out of pure emotion, I think, and we left them in there and it went up to the Beeb, higher up at the top and Paul Fox also said they stayed which was very good. He saw the point that they weren't put in there to titillate or to shock, they were natural, they came naturally out of the character

Norman Swallow: Spontaneous dialogu e

Johnny Speight: That's right, the way he speaks, it came naturally out of the character in a momen t, that's the way he spoke so they were left in, and we had no problems at all with it. In fact all we got from the Beeb was praise. Yes, completely

Alan Lawson: The one thing you haven' t said was what the name of the programme was

Norman Swallow: It was in a series called My Line and it was called Johnny And Alf Go Home. Alf Garnett did figure in it

Johnny Speight: We had some clips from Alf, we used some clips of Alf from the show like ranting and raving, but

mainly we were involved with the people who lived there still. And another thing we found out, why I wanted to go on further with it, that the new technology, Lime House, the new great big city was growing up there and there was no real work for the people of Canning Town because, one of the arguments, we met with one guy there who was a counsellor who was anti, he talked about foreigners coming
into Lime House, and • when he said foreigners he meant I
people from Birmingham and from Newcastle, and anyone from outside of Canning Town foreigners. A real Alf attitude.
And he said they promised us that it would be local.labour . And when I tried to explain to him that local labour perhaps wasn't good enough or varied enough for the things they wanted, like if you're building, they're building the tallest building in England there. Well you can't always rely on local people to do that. You need to bring in people who know how to build higher buildings and all that kind of thing, putting in cables for computers, computerising the whole thing. You need to draw, but the foreigners weren't coming from, they were coming from England, out of town in England which upset them.

And they tried to ban the airport which I think will bring them work. It will stay there I'm sure but the council tried to ban that. And he said to me this counsellor, he said to me the trouble with that one of them could crash. I said well they could crash over Heathrow, anywhere a plane could crash, but you dop't stop progress because one of them might fall down and crash. They're flying over water, he said, they have to fly over water from Europe. I said yes, they fly over water all over the world. This was strange for a counsellor, and this is the kind of people who are supposed to be running Canning Town. Why they vote for him I'll never know. He reminds me of something Shaw said, the cardinal vice of democracy is that the superior are chosen and elected by the inferior, and it certainly works in Canning Town, but the inferior are elected by the superior there I think.

Norman Swallow: And you did go into Canning Town library and discovered there was no Shaw on the shelves.

Johnny Speight: What was happening there also, was as people were moving out of the houses that I lived in, the terraced houses, the old ones that are still left there, the new ones they've built are now already slums, the old ones built years and years ago are still the best houses

there and what is happening is that the yuppies as they call them for use of a better name, all they meant by that is I think people who are earning perhaps a bit more than they are, they are moving into Wapping to work but they cannot afford the inflated prices that they are asking for the penthouses that, only politicians could afford those,
like David Owen and people can afford those, socialist politicians, those very aluable houses, David Leand and rJ
peopl e . So what they're doing, they were buying the house of the working, as people died or moved, they were buying their houses and tarting them all up like they do in Chelsea with lots of new doors put in and the bay windows taken out, the house flattened and potted plants by the door and coach lamps and all that. And it's becoming rather like Chelsea there. The Canning Town people are really being pushed out because they couldn't afford to live in their own town. It's been happening in England, in villages, for a long, long time with holiday homes and whatever. But Canning Town which when I was young was the real slum area of that area, it was the real down market part, East Ham was the posh part, it's all reverse now.
Canning Town is becoming the up market area because of all those people, so close to Lime House and East Ham is becoming the low end, and Leytonstone and places which were the posh end when I was young are now the low end of the market. That's where the poor are being driven into, like they herd sheep into them, and it's done by the market.

Alan Lawson: It will be an• too

entirely different electorate

Johnny Speight: That again now I found was worrying the council which had been a labour stronghold, they were worrying, they don't like them because they're going to vote Tory. And I was forced to the conclusion they would rather them all be poor in that area because they're solidly labour now. But if you improve, the tragedy with Labour if you improve their conditions and get them more money and better houses , they vote Tory, they're not natural socialists. The only natural socialists are
inte lectua ls, the working class are natural Tories. They only vote Labour because their father did or because the unions, and because they' re poor probably. But as soon as they get a few bob, they get a television and a car and a better house they become Tories because they naturally are Tories.

Alan Lawson: Mr Major

Johnny Speight: This is why the Tories keep on getting in because the working class vote for them too. Because they aren't natural socialists, they don't see socialism as a system of life which is better than capitalism, very few people do unfortunately. Because they're talking now about the Soviet, saying it doesn't work, socialism doesn't work, but it wasn't practised in Russia. And they never had communism, they never had democracy, they had bureaucracy which has always been the disease of socialism, you have to watch it like mad, because it does breeds bureaucracy, it breeds all these rent seekers like social workers who love to see people who need looking after because that's their job. If you, like people who are getting a living out of all disaster areas, where people are starving and that sort of thing, Oxfam, I watched a programme on televisio one evening, it was a programme about job opportunities, and career opportunities and Oxfam was one of them. And I couldn't believe that. They were saying that Oxfam offers good career opportunities. I thought Christ if they ever solve the world's problems and that sort of thing and everyone's well fed, Oxfarn will go bust. And this would be a disaster for them, so they have to keep some kind of area where they could either lie about it or make sure there were people there who were starving so they can keep their jobs, and try and get food to them.

Norman Swallow: What do you think on the position today, for example we know the Conservative government and Tories generally accuse the BBC of the usual left wing bias. Is there anything - in tha t

Johnny Speight: Not at all

Norman Swallow: I agree with you, I just wondered what your views were on so called bias in television

Johnny Speight: Not at all, I've never noticed it, I've never noticed any bias, when they accused the BBC of pornography, I've never seen a pornographer on there. I've searched all round the television channels, I can't find any pornography anywhere. And I cannot see where the BBC leans left at all. I mean but the point is, when Labour was in power, they accused it of being anti left because if you're the government you're the one who's being probed and they don't like being probed, they've been so used to the

Official Secret: Act. You know that both parties out of office have said they're going to abolish the Official Secrets Act. As soon as they get back into power they don't because it covers up all their mistakes. That' s the main reason. If we had the freedom of information that they have in American and Australia and places, all these mistakes would come out into the open and we would realise what a bun'ch of fools they are. We've seen an example, and the public will have seen it also, is the rabble which comprises most of the Tory party in the Commons. Leaving out if you believe Maggie Thatcher or whether she was doing damage to the country is immaterial, the reason why she was voted out by all that rabble in there, the marginal seats were frightened of losing their jobs. And she could have been the greatest prime minister the country's ever had, and she was unpopular because she was doing things that had to be done and some of the things she did, did have to be done, they got rid of her purely to look after their jobs because they wanted to be, they wanted to get their seat back. They don't care how the country's run so long as they get in parliament, and it's not a bad job. It is £35,000 a year, that way and a secretary thrown in, perks, all these junkets they go on all round the world, to look at the drainage in the Bahamas

Norman Swallow: A bit of journalism.

JohnnYi Spei ght: T hat's right, and on the boaFds of companies. Again quoting Shaw, he said that it's changed now, in the old days, for a Tory to be an MP, because remember back in the old days most of the Conservative Party were industrialists, they were men who ran big firms and that, and for them to become a member of Parliament was quite often a step down to do that job. But for the working class it was always a step up. Because being a member of Parliament is far better than working in a fucking factory. I mean being a shop steward was better than working in a factory. That's what corrupted the unions because a lot of rent seekers saw their way of improving themselves. Now I know this is true because I tried to do it. When I first joined, I didn't join the Communist Party, I was hanging around it with the Unity Theatre, and I thought of myself, I met some people there who were employed by the party and they asked if I would take out some Daily Workers round the factories, I was working in the factories then. I said how much will I get for it. They said, it started to enter my mind they thought I was pretty bright and they were trying

to get me to join the Party. I thought well if they offer me a job I think I'll take it because it seemed far better job than a factory, being a paid member of any party. In those days being devious and trying hard to get out of the slums I would have joined any party if they'd paid me. And this is what happens in unions. The brighter ones become shop stewards and then he gets on the payroll and now he is after higher job and become a union leader and whatever, and that's always been a way forward. But now of course with the modern Tory Party, the very big people don't come into it so much now. It's been handed over to this rabble that need the job, that loves the job, that couldn't do anything else but the job. A lot of them are failed barristers, that kind of thing.

Norman Swallow: Relating this to television, what do you think the effects on politics will be of televising Parliament, it's extraordinary the way, looking at it.

Johnny Speight: Yes, because you're seeing it now, people are beginning to see what they're like as well and beginning to realise that a lot of them can't marshal facts, a lot of them can't speak that well, they're loutish after lunch when they've had a few wines and the bars are open, you can tell they're drunk by the silly way they behave, which is hardly the way, you look at the American Senate on television and it's quite different. It's more
1 orderly at least and they seem to be sking more questions than ours do. Ours seems to be follow the leader, the leader goes along and they have somebody who stands up and doesn't criticise the leader but takes the leader's side and asks the question to stop the others asking the question.

Norman Swallow: Maybe television by exposing this will do it good in the long run

Johnny Speight: It may be, it may be. It may do. You will see now, I don't know, whether the public will eventually see through all of them, but they're all a shambles, I think. They aren' t the best people in the country sitting there, not by any means

Alan Lawson: The trouble is they're pinching a lot of material you could have used

Johnny Speight: That's right

Norman Swallow: Anything more to say about your career in television that we haven't talked of.

Johnny Speight: The other thing is the media, the media now is becoming the big thing to get into. We noticed that in Canning Town doing the documentary, all the kids we interviewed, the brighter ones, everyone wanted to be in the media. Not one of them said I want to be a doctor, not one of them said I want to be in industry, it was all media. Because for some reason they think it's a glamorous easy and it's becoming more and more in. And we are now inundated with what I call tele faces, who are loosely called celebrities, but unless you watch some of the silly games shows that go on, you don't know who they are at all. They will do anything for a laugh like silliness, any daft thing, you have be shown on television, and they're being pampered by the companies, and they're just purely tele faces. And they're interchangeable, you can sack one tomorrow and put another one in, they're clones.

Norman Swallow: And there are a lot of public relations in it. Television cjat shows have people just because they've published a book or star in a play today or tomorrow.

Johnny Speight: That's right. It's all making cheap time wasting stuff

Norman Swallow: Promotion

Johnny Speight: Yes, promotion stuff.

Norman Swallow: Again I didn't think it used to be like that

Johnny Speight: It wasn't like that. You only went on to early chat shows if they thought you had something to say that was of interest, now you go on there because, it's automatic if you have a book and because they don't have to pay any money. They don't pay any money you see

Norman Swallow: You have your royalties

Johnny Speight: That's right. All the wrong people seem to be in charge of it

Alan Lawson: The new franchise business, that's going to have an effect

Johnny Speight: I was against all this fragmentation of it, but I'm beginning to think now it might be its only chance. I mean in its way the ITA did a lot towards breaking the
power of the BBC and dragged it into the 20t h Century more.
I >
The Beeb was becoming very, very much a world of it's own
at one time as you know. Although there were some good broadcasts, there was a lot of rubbish, completely oblivious to the public quite often. And the ITA brought it into the 20th Century. And I can recall at one time when the working people looked on the ITA as their television and the BBC is the other side, it's too middle class. It's always been, it's still very middle class. I mean the BBC does many more middle class sit corns than they do working class ones. The ITA is more inclined to do working class things than the BBC is, whether that will change. The other thing is that the university intake that is coming into there, in the old days at the Beeb especially on television, not on radio so much, because that was very much elitism on radio, you had to go through a board and it was difficult to get into the BBC in those days. Television was a bit broader in that a producer I know for instance, Bill Stewart, he started as a call boy in television. Now you've got to be university. And that was labour that did that, Labour, with the best intentions I think, they were trying, an attack pn the elitism of Oxford and Cambridge, they tried to bring in the redbrick, they did, they brought in the red brick universities. All they did then was spread the privilege, that was all, so that now, it's getting better now because a lot of big firms are beginning to realise that this university intake is not much good, because they're coming from the wrong universities, where, like my school in Canning Town where they don't really teach them much about applied knowledge.

I came ac,oss an American professor from, I think he was from Stanford and he was up at Oxford talking to a student and he asked him what he was studying and he said what be was there for, he said mediaeval poetry. He said what I meant, he said, medieval poetry was fine but what I meant is what were you studying for when you leave. And he said medieval poetry. And the professor said I thought that was a nice hobby but. This is the difference. Berkeley University, Harvard, Stanford _ all have business schools, they're all into modern technology. They use the knowledge

to apply to the practical purposes of industry in the United States, which is why it has a very good economy.

Our universities back away from industry, as the upper classes back away from trade, you know trade was, we don't have them round for dinner, they come in perhaps occasionally after the coffee. Or we might acknowledge 'them, I mean in golf clubs trade was never allowed into
them, they were all people who did nothing, upper class. And they're always aped the upper classes the golf clubs and this is really one of the things which is really wrong with this country. It is worse, I don't think it is getting any better. In America there is no class system that we have, they don't go by the sound of your voice. They only really go by can you do the job. If you can do the job you get it, if you can't you get the boot. Here you can get by with an Eton kind of background, education, you can get by a long way in areas where you can be a complete half wit.

I mean people said before that the church takes the idiots of the upper classes, the real idiots go into the army. And we found some that to be true when that last war started.
In the end they had to uprank the civilians coming in because I was in signals. Our officers had come from Sandhurst and all those places, they couldn't dial a telephone, let alone lay a line and all that kind of thing. They were having to rely upon the guys in the GPO who had been called up and put in the signals and asking them how you do this. Oh yes, jolly ho, I see. Oh yes jolly good.
Well can you get me a phone then in my office. That sort of thing. So very soon they had to promote them into. First of all they were sergeants and then bump they 1 re up in to the corrunissioned ranks because they found that they needed them because they understood communications. Whereas the officers that we'd had in the first place understood nothing, not even war.

All they understood about was what drinks to drink in the mess. And we had one, I was in the cook house, and we had one and the men were complaining that, I worked in the officer's mess and the men's mess. The men's mess was the hardest to work in because they were much more critical of the food they were eating, the officers' mess would eat anything. The men's mess, I remember to this day, the duty officer came round and they were complaining about the rice being lumpy. He said lumpy rice, lumpy rice, can I try some, oh it's wonderful, because that's all he'd had at his

fucking boarding school. Lumpy rice, whereas all the ordinary privates had mothers cooking, she didn't make lumpy rice, they had good food, their mothers cooked it. But these poor sods who became the officer class, by the time they were 6 they were sent off away from home into these bloody private school orphanages and had to put up with boarding schoo l tack and all that rubbish and that was what they were used to. But the soldiers weren't, they were used to good food, mum's cooking, meat pudding and meat pies and all that and they'd complained if it wasn't right.

Norman Swallow: Yorkshire pudding

Johnny Speight: Yorkshire pudding and roast beef and all that kind of thing.

Alan Lawson: I want to come back, when you first started in television were you given any guidance on script writing.

Johnny Speight: No, no. Alan Lawson: None at all
Johnny Speight: There was no one to give any guidance. I was given guidance when I started to write at places like. I used to go to places like, I used to go to places like these Unity Theatre and things and they always told you about writing, no sentence should be more than, dialogue should be no more than two lines and that kind of thing.
And it should be short and brief, all dialogue should be, and all that, they're still saying it. And I'd read Shaw where a character would have a page of dialogue all to himself like. It was marvellous. Shaw, I'll do it one day, there are bits dotted all over Shaw which is great advice to directors, writers and actors, and has never been put into one volume where you could read it. You have to find, Shaw spread it out all over his work and you have to find it all over the work. But it should be put into, things about acting, about writing whatever, what style is, that sort of thing. Shaw's idea of style is to say as clearly as possible the truth, what is the truth, that is style. But the woffle around it all the time. But I'll do that one day, I must get that book together because it would be a very useful book for people who really want to find out about these things, cut through all the humbug about it.

Norman Swallow: There are a few learned books about how to write television drama.

Johnny Speight: They're terrible

Norman Swallow: I've never read any, I never will

Johnny Speight: They're useless. The only book I ever read that was any good was written St John Irvin¥and it was called How To Write a Play, and I thought, I'm not going to buy it, how can he. And I turned it over and the first sentence was the title is a catchpenny. I can't teach you how to write a play, nor can anyone else. All I can show you is how not to write a play. And I bought it and it was a very good book because he showed you what was wrong about, what wasn't a play and it showed you examples of what was a play. There it was, big speeches, fine if they're good speeches, that's it, they are. Shakespeare used big speeches. Hamlet, loads of long speeches. And also the other thing, in Shakespeare in Hamlet there is a marvellous piece about the theatre there, which he put in, don't saw the hand, in the air, and I'd have the town cryer speak it.

Alan Lawson: Surely coming back to the business of no more than two lines, probably that purely, does that apply only to comedy.
Johnny Speight: No that wasn't even talking about comedy, it was talking about playwriting, that you bore people.
People say now even, you read books and they say people who watch television are only capable of one minute's concentration. What's what they say and a lot of people go along by that, a lot of fools actually believe that. They underestimate the public completely because they never meet the public. They get into those buildings like the BBC Centre and that's all they see. All they meet is other producers, other people and then all they go by is they've got ratings and that sort of thing, they never meet the public.

I have a theory, I was working at Central Television, we were doing The 19th Hole and there was a computer fair at Birminghams NEC building, the exhibition centre. So I went up there and quite naively I was told that Nottingham is not far from Birmingham, it's not far from Birmingham, so what I thought is that I'll do is go up there on the train
*St John Greer Ervine

to Birmingham, go to the computer centre, I don't have to be at Nottingham until late afternoon and I'll get a cab from there into Nottingham. So I went to the computer fair and when I got fed up with that I cam out and went to the cab rank and said to the guy, got in, he said where to, and I said Nottingham. He said do you know how much it will be.
I said eh. He• said it will cost you about 70 quid, •I said
that, he said £70 to get there, shit, I don't fancy paying that. He said go by train, I'll take you to Birmingham Station and get a train there. So he took me to Birmingham Station, and I got on this train, what I didn't realise it was a cross country train to Nottingham and I'm telling you that train ride was like being in India, it was another world. I got on that train and there were people on it, it was stopping at stations, they were bringing on parcels, crates of things, one crate had a dog in it being delivered somewhere, and they couldn't' get it in the guards van so they put it in the aisles. I looked at these people, this fascinating trip. I looked round at them, and I thought all these people here watch television and they're not a bit interested I'm sure in all these intellectual bloody plays about AIDS and about homosexuality and lesbianism and women's feminism. All their problems are how to get a new pair of shoes for the kid, the bloody rent coming up, or getting father's food in, getting the shopping before he comes home from work, will he be in work next week. That was there problems. I thought every tv executive should have to ride on that train at least twice a month just to keep abreast of what is going on in the country. But it's true, you could see that their problems weren't about whether they were going to get AIDS, none of them were worrying about getting AIDS, food they wanted to get, not AIDS.

Norman Swallow: I always made it a principle, I live out in Greenwich, I make it a principle of going into my local pub once every day, and the people I talk to in that part of London are the average viewer, the kind of people you've seen on the train. I don't' mean television people. They're mainly people who used to work on the river, ordinary people, it's very important to keep in touch

Johnny Speight: When that salmonella thing was out. Our age at the moment is neurotic, it' s a completely neurotic age and getting worse and worse and worse. We' re terrified of life. All of us. I mean there are books out on the right diet to eat, slimming, running. What are you running for,

nobody's chasing you, what are you saving yourself for, Christ, you mustn't smoke because it causes this, that and the other. You do this and you do that. Life is dangerous, from the time you're born it's dangerous. But they're all neurotic and they're all terrified of living because of that. It's getting ridiculous. When we were kids living in the East End, if I had a piece of bread and butter and it fell in the gutter I icked it up. A little bit of dirt, you brushed it off, if I didn't someone else would. They'd scramble for it if I left it and you ate it. We played in the gutter, we used to piss into the gutter. We also used to piss into the road and it would run into the gutter.
There was horse shit on the road, we lived among germs and those that survived went onto great ages. The ones that didn't died early

Norman Swallow: Built up the anti-bodies. You reminded me of Bernard Shaw again, because talking earlier just now about these learned books about how to write scripts and dramas, they tend to be written by

Johnny Speight: People who can't do it

Norman Swallow: Academics who have never done it, which reminded me wasn't it Bernard Shaw who said

Johnny Speight: Those who can do and those who can't teach. Norman Swallow: Correct.
Johnny Speight: It's very true. He also said youth is wasted on the young which is also true. I can never understand the B3C or any big corporate firm, some of them are stopping it now, of pensioning people off at 60. It's ridiculous. I mean at 60 you should just be about nearing the peak in the arts, I mean really getting on top of the thing. Also knowing it what you want to do, you put it off for a while but now you know how to do what you want to do and nake good, and you're out. So in the end you end up with a building rid by kids. The great Billy Wilder was saying a little while ago he signed a new 3 year contract,
3 film contract, and he said after he signed it the head of the company wanted him to go up to his office, and he said he when he went in there it was a child with a beard sitting behind this big desk. And he said the child said Mr Wilder, very pleased to meet you, and a great admirer of your work and you signed this 3 film contract with us. Mr

Wilder, tell me, fill me in, your track record. And Billy Wilder said you first.

Norman swallow: It won't take so long. Well I think that's it. Thank you John. Terrific.

Original transcript by Linda Wood, checked and corrected with additions by David Sharp April 2019


Johnny Speight (2 June 1920 – 5 July 1998) was an English television scriptwriter of many classic British sitcoms.
He emerged in the mid-1950s. He wrote for radio comics Frankie Howerd, Vic Oliver, Arthur Askey, and Cyril Fletcher. For television he wrote for Morecambe & Wise, and Peter Sellers, as well as The Arthur Haynes Show. Later, he began to write Till Death Us Do Part, which included his most famous creation, the controversial bigot Alf Garnett. His shows often explored the themes of racism and sexism through satire.