13 July, 2008

Warren Mitchell

Warren Mitchell is an English actor.

Mitchell was born Warren Misel in Stoke Newington, London. He is of Russian Jewish descent, but typically describes himself as an atheist in interviews. He was interested in acting from an early age, and attended the Gladys Gordon's Academy of Dramatic Arts in Walthamstow from the age of seven. He did well at school and read physical chemistry at University College, Oxford for six months. There he met his contemporary Richard Burton, and together they joined the RAF in 1944. He completed his navigator training in Canada just as the war ended.

Richard Burton's description of the acting profession had convinced him that it would be better than completing his physics degree and so Mitchell attended RADA for two years, performing in the evening with the Unity Theatre. After a short stint as a DJ on Radio Luxembourg, in 1951, Mitchell became a versatile professional actor with straight and comedy roles on stage, radio, film and television. His first broadcast was as a regular on the radio show Educating Archie, and this led to appearances on Hancock's Half Hour. By the late fifties, he regularly appeared on television: as Sean Connery's trainer in boxing drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1957), with Charlie Drake in the sitcom Drake's Progress (BBC, 1957) and a title role in Three 'Tough' Guys (ITV, 1957), in which he played a bungling criminal. He also appeared in many ITC drama series, for ITV: William Tell, The Four Just Men, Sir Francis Drake, The Avengers, Danger Man and as a recurrent guest in The Saint.

His cinema début came in 1956, when he played the part of a sailor aboard a British warship in Powell and Pressburger's The Battle of the River Plate, a role in which he is hard to spot and which went uncredited. He then appeared in 1957 in Guy Hamilton's Manuela, and he began a career of minor roles as sinister foreign agents, assisted by his premature baldness and facility with eastern European accents. He appeared in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (José Quintero, 1961), and Help! (Richard Lester, 1965) and played leads in All The Way Up (James MacTaggart, 1970), The Chain (Jack Gold, 1984), The Dunera Boys (Ben Lewin, 1985) and Foreign Body (Ronald Neame, 1986).

In 1965, he was cast as Alf Garnett in a play for the BBC Comedy Playhouse series, broadcast on 22 July 1965. This was the pilot edition of the long running series Till Death Us Do Part with Gretchen Franklin, Una Stubbs and Anthony Booth. The part of Mum played by Gretchen Franklin was taken by Dandy Nichols when the programme was commissioned as a series. Mitchell may be best known for his role as the bigoted cockney West Ham United F.C. supporter, Alf Garnett, but ironically, his real life persona is quite the opposite, being a left-winger, Jewish, and a staunch supporter of Tottenham Hotspur F.C.. The show ran from 1966 to 1975, in seven series, making a total of 53 30-minute episodes.

He has a long and distinguished career on stage and television. Other small screen roles include performances in The Sweeney (Thames Television for ITV, 1978), Lovejoy (BBC), Waking the Dead (BBC), Kavanagh QC (Carlton Television for ITV), The Merchant of Venice (BBC, 1980) and Gormenghast.

On stage he received extensive critical acclaim for his performances in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the National Theatre; and Pinter's The Homecoming and Miller's The Price in the West End, also appearing in Visiting Mr. Green in 2007 and 2008.

Warren was voted TV Actor of the Year in 1965, for his portrayal of Alf Garnett, in Til Death Do Us Part'. For his 2003 performance in The Price, he was awarded the 2004 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role, and also nominated for a London Evening Standard Award for Best Actor. In 1982, he received an Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, for the film, Norman Loves Rose.

Mitchell is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association.

For over twenty years, Mitchell has suffered pain from nerve damage, caused by a virus, and is a supporter of the Neuropathy Trust.

Mitchell died in Highgate, London, on November 14, 2015 after a long illness, two months before his 90th birthday.

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