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Allen, Dave (1936-2005)

Comedian, Presenter

Main image of Allen, Dave (1936-2005)

Dave Allen (born David Tynan O'Mahoney in Tallaght, Ireland on 6 July 1936) was one of the comedy mainstays of BBC schedules throughout the 1970s and '80s. Sitting cross-legged on a high stool, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Allen held forth on the absurdities of the human condition and the foibles of life for over twenty years. Although he received his big break and ended his television career with ITV, it is the BBC shows, with their combination of stand-up (while seated) and sketches, that remain etched in the collective memory.

The ex-journalist and would-be comic made his television debut on the talent show New Faces (BBC, 1959). It was Australia, however, which gave him his first taste of television fame. On tour in 1963, he was offered a television spot, the result being the chat show Tonight with Dave Allen (Channel 9, 1963-64). He returned to Australia several times over the ensuing years to appear in television comedy specials and series.

Returning to Britain in 1964, Allen gradually became familiar to British viewers through appearances on such programmes as ITV's The Blackpool Show (tx. 24/7/1964), Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ITV, 1955-67; 1973-74) on 10 January 1965, and a semi-regular spot between 1965 and 1967 on The Val Doonican Show (BBC, 1965-69). ITV presented Allen with his own comedy/chat series, Tonight with Dave Allen (ITV, 1967-69), for which he won the Variety Club's ITV Personality of the Year 1967.

Following The Dave Allen Show (BBC, 1969), a variety/comedy sketch series featuring guest stars and musical interludes, the soon-to-be popular format of Allen's solo stool routine interspersed with comedy sketches (either location filmed or studio shot) appeared with Dave Allen at Large (BBC, 1971-90), which became simply Dave Allen from 1981.

The targets of his self-penned humour, namely sex and religion (particularly Catholicism), would frequently bring both Allen and the BBC to the attention of society's moral guardians. His use of the f-word on one programme even led to questions in Parliament.

The final BBC Dave Allen series, in 1990, saw the sketches excised to concentrate on his solo routine, a format retained when he moved to ITV in 1993 for his final television series, Dave Allen (1993). Allen had left the BBC once before, signing for Thames in 1983, but walked out during production of his first show and was back at the BBC within months.

Allen has also presented documentaries, including Dave Allen in the Melting Pot (ITV, tx. 23/12/1969), looking at life in New York; Dave Allen in Search of the Great English Eccentric (ITV, tx. 8/10/1974), which was expanded into Dave Allen & Friends (ITV, 1977); and Dave Allen (ITV, 1978), a follow-up looking at eccentrics in America.

Allen made his well-received television straight acting debut in Alan Bennett's One Fine Day (ITV, tx. 17/2/1979), as an estate agent going through a professional and domestic mid-life crisis (Allen had made his stage debut at the Royal Court in a 1972 adaptation of Edna O'Brien's A Pagan Place).

In semi-retirement, he made the occasional chat show appearance, and presented the six-part The Unique Dave Allen (BBC, 1998), in which he talked about his career in between extracts from his past shows. He died in his sleep on 10 March 2005.

John Oliver

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Thumbnail image of One Fine Day (1979)One Fine Day (1979)

Comedian Dave Allen plays a troubled estate agent in this Alan Bennett play

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