I first saw this film, when it was originally released in 1969 at the ABC Edgware (now, a block of flats and a gym, very much in line with the film's partial theme of community break-up), but was somewhat disappointed because it didn't contain the original music nor - until three-quarters into the film, the original format - Alf, Else, their daughter Una Stubbs and Tony Booth as her husband the "scouse git". Now, 37 years on, I think differently. Although somewhat episodic, it beautifully captures a bygone era, with excellent footage of London during WW2, a good feel of the old East End, plus old-fashioned pub culture without the plastic fittings and lager and the traditional family all eating around the table. There is the quaint working class Tory ethos embodied by Alf, not quite, the not for the likes of us of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, rather the loyal, home-owning, small-minded bigotry of someone who perceives himself as a self-made man, who has not made quite as much as he thinks he deserves.
There are some lovely home-truths and vignettes within this setting: the £1,500 paid for the house (not a bad price in this day and age!), the mortgage from the Council and the scrimping and saving to pay it off. Dandy Nicholls as the "silly old moo" housewife ultimately wears the trousers and guides the household through. There is also pathos from Alf's 5 shilling contribution to the Church in the hope his two up, two down will not be demolished to make way for flats and ultimately bathos, as the family is forced to move to a high rise block in Essex, where community and the sense of community hardly exist.
No more, the chat with the neighbour while carrying out ablutions through the wall of the outside "bog", the sheets of newspaper, which, during the war-scenes, enabled Alf to wipe his posterior with Hitler's picture, long since gone. It is far closer to reality than the fluffy adverts with the dog and the loo-roll of the present day.
Hopefully, the old-fashioned racism depicted by Johnny Speight with his sharp ear for dialogue and knowledge of the area, dissipated throughout the '70's and '80's as even Alf-like characters got to admire national role models such as Trevor MacDonald and Lenny Henry.The World Cup footage, presumably from Goal, interspersed with Alf and son-in-law in the Wembley crowd, were more evocative than most of the four-yearly diatribes we get as the England team seek to emulate their predecessors, with higher expectations than the results could possibly justify.
It is very much Warren Mitchell's film, his performance stands in comparison with any of those in more critically acclaimed '60's films such as This Sporting Life or the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Norman Cohen, the director, deserves credit for this too.
All in all, a worthy and atmospheric social drama with, yes, a little comedy, which being what it is, contributes to a period piece, which has stood the test of time well.