Elkan Allan

Journalist/television producer who invented 'listings' at 'The Independent' and 'The Sunday Times'
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The Independent Online

Elkan Allan was an extraordinary mixture of journalist, television producer, entrepreneur and innovator. In a career that continued for over 60 years he made his name and his reputation by constantly looking ahead and sideways, not just at what was being done at any given time, but at what could be done next.

He was born in 1922, in Cricklewood, north-west London, the son of Rose and Allan Cohen (the Cohens changed their name to Allan in the 1930s), and educated at the Quinton School. Exempted on medical grounds from National Service in the Second World War (he suffered from petit mal in youth), he started his career at the age of 18 as assistant editor of The Outfitter.

As an avid, but impecunious theatre-goer, he somehow persuaded the trade magazine to start a regular theatre review. For two years he saw the best West End shows from the best seats but concentrated his reviews on the clothes actors wore ­ and he called the column "The Dress Circle".

By 1942 he had become a reporter on the Daily Express. Unannounced, he used the back entrance to dodge the commissionaires, and found his way to the newsroom, where he introduced himself to the news editor. On the basis of this ingenuity, he was given a job on the spot.

In 1945, he took that ingenuity and disregard for conventional procedures to Picture Post, where, as a junior writer during the 1945 general election, he was assigned to cover the expected losers. He was alongside Clement Attlee at the moment the unexpected news arrived that he was to be the new Prime Minister. Also in 1945, Allan was starting his career in broadcasting, creating and writing the questions for BBC Radio's first quiz shows, Quiz Time and Quiz Team. With his sideways eye for further opportunity, he also wrote the books that accompanied the series.

He then had spells as features editor of John Bull Magazine, and assistant editor of Illustrated, before moving into television as a presenter for the BBC's Armchair Traveller in 1953.

When ITV got under way, Allan's ingenuity and eye for the new was perfect. At Rediffusion, where he was first a reporter, then editor of the current affairs programme This Week, he is said to have given David Frost his first job in television.

In 1960 Allan became writer and producer of award-winning documentaries, including Freedom Road, which won all three prizes at the Berlin Television Festival in 1961. The following year he became Rediffusion's Head of Entertainment. There he saw the opportunity to bring live pop music to television for the first time by creating and producing Ready, Steady, Go! It was this seminal pop show, with its catchphrase "The weekend starts here", which caught the buzz of Sixties Britain and became an icon of its time while the BBC was still relying on Juke Box Jury.

Although the show was based on performances by all the Sixties stars ­ the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, the Moody Blues, the Kinks, The Who and many many more ­ an undeniable part of the show's success was Allan's choice of the unknown, untried Cathy McGowan as one of its presenters. The 19-year-old typist from Streatham came to represent the new possibilities for all teenagers and her appointment was typical of Elkan Allan's imagination and ability to see beyond the norm.

After Rediffusion, Allan tried cinema production with the documentary Love in Our Time (1968) before returning to journalism with another revolutionary new idea. Until 1971, newspapers critically reviewed television retrospectively but did not attempt to offer readers any more than the television companies' own descriptions of their programmes in advance. Allan persuaded first Harold Evans, the Editor of The Sunday Times, then ­ with more difficulty ­ the television companies, to facilitate critical previewing. The Sunday Times devoted its back page to Elkan Allan's look at the week ahead, and within weeks the TV preview had become a major selling point for the paper, and within months all the other papers were attempting to emulate it.

Allan's experience as a journalist and as a successful producer of both serious programming and entertainment allowed him to judge the programmes while understanding what the producers were trying to achieve, and it was this balance that gave the Sunday Times TV preview enormous credibility.

In 1973, with his second wife, Angela, he published The Sunday Times Guide to Movies on Television, revised in 1980, and in 1985 he followed it up with A Guide to World Cinema: covering 7,200 films of 1950-84 including capsule reviews and stills from the programmes of the National Film Theatre, London.

During the Seventies and Eighties, Allan became the guru of television previewing and he was one of Andreas Whittam Smith's first senior appointments at the birth of The Independent in 1986. As listings editor, he created a compendious daily listings section, the first of its kind, extending well beyond film and television, and led a team that was to include Jim White (his deputy), Tristan Davies (events listing editor), Alex Renton, Sheila Johnston, Sabine Durrant, Giles Smith, Georgina Brown, Saskia Baron, Louise Levene and Robert Hanks. Under what Davies calls Allan's " erratically watchful eye", all of these were to go on to greater things, Davies himself to become Editor of The Independent on Sunday.

At a time when most think of retiring, Allan continued writing, winning a British Press Award for his travel articles in The Independent, then spending four years in Los Angeles as a freelance Hollywood correspondent writing regularly for Variety and also scriptwriting for A&E's series American Justice.

On his return, he saw more new opportunities. The son of a gambling man, he went to his first race meeting at the age of five, played poker and bridge throughout his life, and used this expertise to take advantage of the onset of online gambling. He wrote extensively about it for a number of on- and off-line publications, and, with his lifetime ability to spot ancillary potential, also acted as consultant to a number of frontline bookmakers ­ continuing with both until taken ill last month.

Roy Addison