Lives Remembered: Allen Saddler

 

Allen Saddler, novelist, playwright, critic and lifelong campaigner, died in Totnes, Devon, on 2 December aged 88. Born in London as Ronald Richards, on 15 April 1923, he left school at 14 and educated himself at the public library and by watching plays and variety shows. He devoured the works of Shaw, later attending the left-wing Unity Theatre productions of Sean O'Casey and others, and acquiring a taste for progressive jazz.

He met his wife Doris while in the army. After the war he worked in the printing industry, but was determined to write. Adopting the name K Allen Saddler (later dropping the initial), he published his first novel, The Great Brain Robbery, in 1965, bringing the tone of the hard-boiled American thriller to the adventures of the decidedly un-heroic London private eye, Dave Stevens. Gilt Edge (1966) and Talking Turkey (1968) followed. Allen and Doris moved to Totnes in 1970, after visiting their son at Dartington College of Arts and falling in love with the town. Doris supported them by working as a ward sister in local hospitals while he gave himself a year to make it as a freelance.

In 1973 he became West Country theatre critic for The Guardian. It was the age of the great regional touring companies like Joint Stock and Footsbarn, and after the latter were driven abroad by Thatcherite cuts he kept us informed of their movements. He wrote for The Stage, and was the first journalist, in an article for The Sunday Times, to bring national attention to the Plymouth artist Beryl Cook. When The Guardian ceased using local reviewers, he moved for a while to The Independent.

Allen wrote over 30 stage and radio plays, many children's books and countless articles. It seemed his big break had finally come in 1986, when his 1970 novel Betty was to be shown as a six part TV series with Twiggy in the title role, but the project was dropped through contractual complications.

Undaunted, he wrote on, publishing his greatest work in his eighties, the "Blitz Trilogy", a masterly and completely unsentimental panorama of London life during the war: Bless 'Em All (2007), The Long and the Short (2008) and, a couple of months before his death, And the Tall (2011). He was thoroughly professional in his approach to writing, and always had a campaign or an issue of social justice to pursue.

Bob Mann

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