Womaniser who lit up our lives
Tony Booth Actor and Cherie Blair’s father BORN OCTOBER 9, 1931 - DIED SEPTEMBER 25, 2017, AGED 85
CHERIE Blair’s long-suffering mother Gale once likened her ex-husband Tony Booth to the divisive savoury spread, Marmite. “He’s a great character,” she said but “you either like him or hate him.” Certainly he gave a couple of his wives and longstanding girlfriends enough ammunition to feel the latter and yet most of them were surprisingly flattering about him.
The same could not be said of his co-star Warren Mitchell in the BBC comedy Till Death Us Do Part. While the role of Alf Garnett’s “Scouse git” son-in-law proved to be Booth’s big television break, he and Mitchell had a famously fractious off-screen relationship, punctuated by rows during rehearsals.
But then the actor, who played roles in more than 20 films including The L-Shaped Room in 1962 and The Contender in 2000, had earlier confessed that he had spent most of his acting career “boozing, arguing and crumpeteering”.
The son of a Liverpool merchant seaman, Anthony George Booth initially wanted to become a history lecturer but after his father had an accident which left him in hospital it fell to the young Booth to become the main breadwinner.
Following jobs including butcher’s boy, finger printer and purser’s assistant on Cunard ship Britannia, he decided to take up acting on account of the “bloody fortune” that could be made in repertory theatre.
In 1951 he made his stage debut and spent the next decade working in theatre productions, appearing in minor roles on TV and in films.
His big break in Till Death Us Do Part came about in 1964 when Booth, who had joined the Labour Party at 15, was at a party rally heckling George Brown and caught the eye of scriptwriter Johnny Speight.
In what turned out to be a case of sublime casting Booth was offered the role of Mike Rawlins and played the part to perfection for the next decade. But his outspokenness was not reserved solely for the then deputy leader of the Labour Party.
During his son-in-law Tony Blair’s premiership he marched against the Iraq war and scornfully labelled the peers Blair sent to the House of Lords as “Tony’s cronies”, while also dismissing Gordon Brown as the “Scrooge of Downing Street”.
He further criticised the Blairs for choosing to send their eldest son to a selective and grant-maintained school. While Booth’s professional life went from strength to strength during the 1960s it was a different story for his personal life.
His first marriage to actress Gale Howard was over by the time he found small-screen fame and he had walked out on their two daughters Cherie and Lyndsey in 1962 after he had started an affair with US actress Julie Allan.
Although they never married, the relationship produced two more daughters, Jenia and Bronwen. With his third partner Ann Gannon he had a daughter Lucy, although her existence didn’t become public until 2002.
At the same time he was having an affair with Ann he was already embarking on a 14-year relationship with model Susie Riley which resulted in two more daughters, Lauren and Emma.
In 1986 he married Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix, three decades after they had first had a fling while performing in the 1955 production of A Girl Called Sadie.
She’d nursed him back to health following an accident in which he had drunkenly fallen into a lit drum of paraffin, suffering 42 per cent burns which required 26 operations.
At the time of their wedding she was dying of lung cancer and would pass away a week later.
In 1988 he married third wife Nancy Jaeger, with whom he had daughter Joanna, and a decade later married fourth wife Stephanie, who selflessly cared for him after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004.
Speaking in 2016, six years after he’d also had a stroke, Stephanie said of her husband: “‘He was a very ebullient character, he was out there and opinionated. Now we’re at the stage where he’s passive and that in itself is heartbreaking. The husband I had, I no longer have.”
She survives him as do his eight daughters.
FIGHTING TALK: Mike rows with Alf in sitcom. Below, with Cherie