Dave Allen (comedian)
David Tynan O'Mahony
6 July 1936
|Died||10 March 2005 (aged 68)|
(m. 1964; div. 1983)
Initially becoming known in Australia in 1963 and 1964, Allen made regular television appearances in the United Kingdom from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s. The BBC aired his Dave Allen Show from 1971 to 1986, which was also exported to several other European countries. He had a major resurgence during the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the height of his career, he was Ireland's most controversial comedian, regularly provoking indignation by highlighting political hypocrisy and showing disdain for religious authority. His television shows were broadcast in the United States, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Yugoslavia, Australia, and New Zealand.
David Tynan O'Mahony was born in the Firhouse suburb of Dublin on 6 July 1936, the son of an Irish father and English mother. His father, Gerard "Cully" Tynan O'Mahony, was the managing editor of The Irish Times and a nephew of writer Katharine Tynan, while his mother, Jean Archer, was a housewife. He, his brothers, and their mother spent around 18 months living in Keenagh after leaving Dublin in the wake of the 1941 North Strand bombings: following this, they moved back to Dublin and lived at Cherryfield, a house located between Firhouse and Templeogue Bridge. He was educated at Newbridge College, Terenure College, and the Catholic University School. His father died when Allen was 12 years old, and his mother subsequently moved the family to England when he was 14.
Allen initially followed his father into journalism, firstly joining the Drogheda Argus as a copy boy, but at the age of 19 went to Fleet Street, London. He drifted through a series of jobs before becoming a Butlins Redcoat at Skegness in a troupe that also included British jazz trumpeter and writer John Chilton. At the end of each summer season, he did stand-up at strip clubs; for the next four years, he appeared in various night clubs, theatres, and working men's clubs. When entertainment work was slow, he worked at a toy shop in Sheffield and as a door-to-door salesman of draught excluders. He changed his stage surname to "Allen" at the behest of his agent, who believed that few people in the UK could pronounce "O'Mahony" correctly. Allen agreed to the change because he hoped that a surname beginning with "A" would put him at the top of agents' lists.
Allen lost the top of his left index finger above the middle knuckle after catching it in a machine cog. However, he enjoyed inventing stories to explain the loss, which became a minor part of his act. One version was that his brother John had surprised him by snapping his jaw shut when they were children. A further explanation he gave on his programme, Dave Allen at Large, was that he often stuck his finger in his whiskey glass and it had been eaten away by strong drink. He also said it was worn away from repeatedly brushing the dust from his suit. One of his stand-up jokes was that, as a boy, he and his friends would go to see a cowboy movie at the local cinema, then come out ready to play Cowboys and Indians. Staring down at his truncated finger, he would mutter, "I had a sawn-off shotgun." On his show he told a long, elaborate ghost story, ending with "something evil" attacking him in a dark and haunted house. Allen grabbed and bit the attacker, the studio lights came back up, and it was his own left hand.
Allen's first television appearance was on the BBC talent show New Faces in 1959. He hosted pop music shows in the early 1960s, including tours by Adam Faith and Helen Shapiro, and in early 1963 was the compere of a tour of Britain, headlined by Shapiro, that also included The Beatles. In 1962 he toured South Africa with American vaudeville star Sophie Tucker, whom he described as "one of the most charming and delightful performers with whom I have ever worked". Tucker was impressed with him and suggested that he try his luck in Australia. Moving there, he worked with Digby Wolfe on Australian television, becoming Wolfe's resident comedian.
While on tour in Australia in 1963, he quickly proved successful and accepted an offer to headline a television talk show with Channel 9, Tonight with Dave Allen, which was also successful. However, only six months after his television début he was banned from the Australian airwaves when, during a live broadcast, he told his show's producer—who had been pressing him to go to a commercial break—to "go away and masturbate", so that he could continue an entertaining interview with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The ban was dropped quietly as Allen's popularity continued unabated.
Allen returned to the United Kingdom in 1964 and made a number of appearances on ITV, including The Blackpool Show and Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium, and on the BBC on The Val Doonican Show. In 1967, he hosted his own comedy/chat series, Tonight with Dave Allen, made by ATV, which earned him the Variety Club's ITV Personality of the Year Award.
He signed with the BBC in 1968 and appeared on The Dave Allen Show, a variety/comedy sketch series. This was followed from 1971–79 by Dave Allen at Large. The theme tune for The Dave Allen Show and Dave Allen at Large, written by Alan Hawkshaw, was titled "Blarney's Stoned" (originally recorded for KPM in 1969 under the title "Studio 69").
The shows introduced his solo joke-telling-while-sitting-on-a-stool-and-drinking routine. This stand-up routine by Allen led to sketches that continued the themes touched on in the preceding monologues. Meanwhile, he sought theatre roles. In 1972 he acted as a doctor in the Royal Court's production of Edna O'Brien's play A Pagan Place. With family friend Maggie Smith in the lead, he appeared in Peter Pan in a run during 1973 and 1974. Allen played the roles of Mr Darling and Captain Hook in the production at the London Coliseum. Allen made The Dave Allen Show in Australia (1975–1977) for his old employers, Channel 9.
Allen was also a social commentator, appearing in several television documentaries for ITV, beginning with Dave Allen in the Melting Pot (1969), looking at life in New York City and dealing with issues such as racism and drugs. Later programmes included Dave Allen in Search of the Great English Eccentric (1974) and Eccentrics at Play (1974), in which he looked at colourful characters with idiosyncratic passions.
Allen's satirising of religious ritual, especially Catholic ones, throughout each episode of Dave Allen at Large caused minor controversy, which – coupled with sometimes comparatively frank material – earned the show a risqué reputation. In 1977 the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ placed a de facto ban on Allen. Routines included sketches showing the pope (played by Allen) and his cardinals doing a striptease to music ("The Stripper") on the steps of St Peter's, aggressive priests beating their parishioners and each other, priests who spoke like Daleks through electronic confessionals, and an extremely excitable pope who spoke in a Chico Marx style accent as he ordered Allen to "getta your bum outta Roma!" In 1979 he played a troubled property man suffering a mid-life crisis in Alan Bennett's television play One Fine Day. New seasons of the comedy series, now titled Dave Allen, were broadcast from 1981 until 1990.
You wake to the clock, you go to work to the clock, you clock-in to the clock, you clock out to the clock, you come home to the clock, you eat to the clock, you drink to the clock, you go to bed to the clock, you get up to the clock, you go back to work to the clock... You do that for forty years of your life and you retire — what do they fucking give you? A clock![better source needed]
This prompted MP Robert Hayward to ask a parliamentary question about "offensive language" in broadcasting. In 1993 Allen returned to ITV, where he starred in the Dave Allen Show, which was his final regular television series.
By the late 1990s Allen was living quietly in semi-retirement at his family home in Holland Park, west London. A keen amateur artist, he continued to exhibit his paintings. He had given up cigarettes in the 1980s, having smoked regularly during earlier television appearances. A comedy skit in 1994 talked not only about quitting smoking but hating the smell of smoke. The 90s saw him make occasional chat show appearances and discuss his career in the six-part The Unique Dave Allen (BBC, 1998), in between clips from his past BBC series.
As he grew older, Allen brought a rueful awareness of aging to his material, with reflections on the antics of teenagers and the sagging skin and sprouting facial hair of age. He was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the British Comedy Awards in 1996.
Allen's act was typified by a relaxed, rueful, and intimate style. He sat on a high bar stool facing his audience, smoking and occasionally sipping from a glass of what he always allowed people to assume was whiskey but in fact was merely ginger ale with ice. He was a sober-minded man, and although he sometimes appeared crotchety and irritable on stage he always gave off an air of charm and serene melancholy, both in his act and in real life. Each day he pored over newspapers, scribbling notes and ideas for his routines. Along with his seated stand-up routines, his television shows were interspersed with filmed sketch comedy.
Allen was a religious sceptic. He once said he was "what you might call a practising atheist" and often joked, "I'm an atheist, thank God." His scepticism came as a result of his deeply held objections to the rigidity of his strict Catholic schooling. Consequently, religion became an important subject for his humour, especially the Catholic Church and the Church of England, generally mocking church customs and rituals rather than beliefs. In 1998 he explained:
The hierarchy of everything in my life has always bothered me. I'm bothered by power. People, whoever they might be, whether it's the government, or the policeman in the uniform, or the man on the door—they still irk me a bit. From school, from the first nun that belted me—people used to think of the nice sweet little ladies—they used to knock the fuck out of you, in the most cruel way that they could. They'd find bits of your body that were vulnerable to intense pain—grabbing you by the ear, or by the nose, and lift you, and say 'Don't cry!' It's very hard not to cry. I mean, not from emotion, but pain. The priests were the same. And I sit and watch politicians with great cynicism, total cynicism.
At the end of his act, Allen always signed off with the words "Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you."
Influence on others
Highly regarded in Britain, Allen's comic technique and style had a lasting influence on many young British comedians. His targets were often figures of authority, his style was observational rather than gag-driven, and his language frequently ripe; as such he was a progenitor for the "alternative" comedians of the 1980s. Stewart Lee has cited Allen as an influence.
In his native Ireland, he always remained somewhat controversial. His mocking of the Catholic Church made him unpopular amongst some Irish Catholics, while his mocking of the Ulster Protestant leader Ian Paisley made him unpopular amongst many Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Introduced by mutual acquaintance Maggie Smith, Allen married English actress Judith Stott in 1964. The couple had a daughter, Jane (born 1965), and a son, Edward James Tynan O'Mahony (born 1968), who later became a comedian under the name Ed Allen. He was also the step-father of Judith's son Jonathan. The marriage ended in divorce in 1983.
On 10 March 2005, at the age of 68, Allen died peacefully in his sleep as a result of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome at his home in the Kensington district of London. He was survived by his wife and children.
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This was quite an innovation, because up to this point there had been no tradition of observational comedy in British stand-up.
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- The mentioned DVD clearly supports at least Sweden and Finland
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