Tony Booth, actor, Cherie’s father and Alzheimer’s sufferer, dies

Booth featured in the ‘Irish Times’ Married to Alzheimer’s column, by his wife Steph

 

The actor and political campaigner Tony Booth, who starred in Till Death Us Do Part, has died aged 85.

Booth was a well known English actor who found new fame when his daughter Cherie Blair’s husband Tony became British prime minister.

To television viewers in the 1960s he was “Scouse git” Mike, the long-haired left-wing son-in-law of right-wing Cockney Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part. Later in life, the actor became better known for his real-life role as father-in-law of Tony Blair.

For the past four years, he has featured in an Irish Times column titled “Married to Alzheimer’s”, written by his wife, Steph Booth, with her husband’s agreement. Tony Booth was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004, while living in Ireland.

Steph Booth’s column chronicled her husband’s disease and the challenges of being a carer for a person with the illness. The couple lived in Co Cavan for two years, returning to Britain in 2005.

In her first column on the subject she wrote: “For quite a time I assumed that some of the increasing strangeness of Tony’s behaviour, such as leaving things in peculiar places or forgetting what I had just told him, was simply normal, if exaggerated, male behaviour. By the middle of 2004 I was concerned.”

Tony and Steph Booth near the house they renovated in Co Cavan. Photograph: Frank Miller
Tony and Steph Booth near the house they renovated in Co Cavan. Photograph: Frank Miller

As the disease developed she reflected on his decline and changing personality: “I do not like Tony very much any more. He is not my Tony, and there is no reason why I would like this replacement. He shows no kindness or thoughtfulness.”

In her most recent article, she wrote: “Tony can no longer articulate. Whatever it is he is trying to say is obviously clear in his own head, but comes out of his mouth in a mostly unintelligible mess. He does not understand why I cannot make out what he is saying. Where he once would have been roaring with frustration he now simply flaps his hand at me to go away. He just wants to go back to sleep.”

Actor Tony Booth, August 1968. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images
Actor Tony Booth, August 1968. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

A father of nine daughters — including one born after a brief liaison with a radio sales girl — Tony Booth was married four times.

His third marriage was to actress Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street, and died from cancer a week after their wedding in 1986.

She was said to have become the love of his life after he met her as a young man. He went out with her again in his 50s and nursed her through her illness.

He married his fourth wife Stephanie Buckley – now Steph Booth – in 1998.

Cherie Booth with her parents Gale and Tony Booth after receiving an honorary fellowship from John Moore’s University. in 1997. Photograph: Peter Wilcock/PA Wire
Cherie Booth with her parents Gale and Tony Booth after receiving an honorary fellowship from John Moore’s University. in 1997. Photograph: Peter Wilcock/PA Wire

Cherie Booth was born in Bury, Lancashire, in 1954, during his marriage to Gale Booth. But by the time she was five Tony had left his young family. She went on to become a highly successful lawyer, taking silk and later becoming a judge.

But it was her marriage to fellow lawyer Tony Blair — and Blair’s rise up the political ladder — that brought her father back into the public eye.

Booth, who joined the Labour party at the age of 15, did not hold back from criticising the Government after Blair entered Downing Street in 1997.

In 1999 he railed against “androids” at Labour’s Millbank HQ and a year later said his daughter’s husband had stuffed the House of Lords with “Tony’s Cronies”.

He also risked the wrath of the Blairs in 2002 when he lifted the lid on life in Downing Street in his autobiography, What’s Left?

At the same time he criticised them for choosing to send their eldest son to the selective and grant-maintained London Oratory School.

The gripes did not stop there, with Tony Booth accusing the Government of “ruthlessly” squashing the pay demands of striking firefighters and being “prepared to throw away billions” on the Iraq war rather than spending the money on pensioners.

Chancellor Gordon Brown, meanwhile, was “the scrooge of Downing Street”.

If the Prime Minister bristled at the outbursts, he tried not to show it. On one occasion, when facing calls by Mr Booth to raise the state pension, his son-in-law said: “I don’t think it would be the very first time I had a little bit of grief from Tony along the way.”

He gave a glimpse into their relationship at the Labour Party conference in 2002, when he told how he was once given a V-sign by an elderly man with grey hair who was “respectable enough” to have been his father-in-law.

Left to right: Dandy Nichols, Warren Mitchell, Tony Booth and Una Stubbs on the set of the BBC comedy Till Death Us Do Part. Photograph. PA Wire
Left to right: Dandy Nichols, Warren Mitchell, Tony Booth and Una Stubbs on the set of the BBC comedy Till Death Us Do Part. Photograph. PA Wire

Anthony Booth was born in Liverpool on October 9th 1931. During his National Service he discovered a talent for acting, entertaining his fellow conscripts in amateur productions.

He married Royal Academy of Dramatic Art graduate Gale Smith in 1952 and had daughters Lynsey and Cherie with her, before leaving her to move in with producer Julie Allen, who bore two girls with Booth.

He had two more daughters during his second marriage to model Pamela Smith.

In 1979, Tony Booth almost burned himself to death in a fire at his flat, remaining hospitalised for months.

He played Malcolm Wilkinson in Coronation Street from 1960-1961 and had a host of other film and TV roles during the decade.

In the 1990s he enjoyed a revival in his television career, with roles in the likes of Holby City, The Bill and Mersey Beat.

In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, Booth suffered from heart problems.

Read Steph Booth’s columns on Living With Alzeimers here

Coronation Street barmaid Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) getting a kiss from television groom Alec Gilroy (actor Roy Barraclough), and best man Charles Halliday (actor Tony Booth), after the TV wedding at the Holy Trinity Church in Bolton, Lancashire. Photograph. PA Wire
Coronation Street barmaid Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear) getting a kiss from television groom Alec Gilroy (actor Roy Barraclough), and best man Charles Halliday (actor Tony Booth), after the TV wedding at the Holy Trinity Church in Bolton, Lancashire. Photograph. PA Wire