A Word In Your Ear - November 19, 2015

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I have reason to remember actor Warren Mitchell, particularly as outspoken EastEnder Alf Garnett, in BBC’s sitcom Till Death Do Us Part.

The one-time Shakespearean actor, who died at the weekend aged 89, was star of the hit sitcom through the 1960s and 70s.

His taunting catchphrases, like ‘Silly Moo’ for his wife, were repeated in pubs and gatherings amid much laughter.

In the early 70s I started as a reporter on my first newspaper, the Ilford Recorder in Essex, which also covered the East End. I was the only northerner in our office, but the mostly Cockney staff made me welcome (though with cracks like, “Trouble at mill!”).

Many, like Warren Mitchell, were Jewish. The small, bespectacled reporter who sat opposite me, with mop of black hair and cheeky style, was named Leon Symonds.

We got on well and he even invited me to his holy of holies. No, this wasn’t the synagogue where he lived in Forest Gate, but the Boleyn Ground, home of the nearby West Ham Football Club.

After work Saturday morning I drove hurriedly into the East End, but met heavy traffic. Kick-off time was approaching as I sought his terraced family home with my trusty A-Z.

Hopefully, my colleague would have waited, realising I’d probably got lost or delayed.

I finally knocked on the door and a familiar figure appeared.

No, not Leon, but a belligerent, bald man with a fiery glare – his father. He was a dead ringer for Alf Garnett in appearance, voice and manner.

“Leon!” he cried, when asked about his son. “Ee’s gorn, an’t he? Ye’r too bleedin’ late! Ee’s gorn, our Leon.”

So, if you ever thought that character too far-fetched, you’re wrong – because I met him.

In fact, we have all come across him in some form. That’s why we laughed at his loud-mouthed bigotry. It was the healthiest way of dealing with prejudice.

* For Roy’s books, visit www.royedmonds-blackpool.com.