Dave Allen

Master of risqué stand-up comedy

Saturday 12 March 2005 01:00

David Edward Tynan O'Mahony (Dave Allen), comedian: born Tallaght, Co Dublin 6 July 1936; twice married (three children); died London 10 March 2005.

Taking swigs from a glass of whiskey and puffing a Gauloise cigarette as he sat on a tall stool, Dave Allen delivered rambling comic monologues about sex, politics and religion that many considered risqué when he was at his height, in the 1970s.

The Irishman's jokes about the Pope and tales from the confessional, in particular, drew criticism from Catholic priests, but it was this ability to confront conformity and even offend establishment figures and institutions that made him one of British television's most popular comedians.

The stand-up (sitting-down) comedy, delivered in a relaxed style, was interspersed with filmed sketches, most memorably in his BBC series Dave Allen at Large (1971-73, 1975-76). The slow build-up, ending with a twist in the punchline, was part of his style, as in the one about a condemned Mexican, Pedro, disappearing into the trees after being granted his last request - a sexy señorita - and being gone for hours, then days, with noises of amorous activity, until the firing squad fall asleep leaning on their rifles and finally a figure appears: not Pedro but the young woman, who shouts: "Too late. He's dead!"

Allen wrote much of his own material, often the result of wandering about, observing life and putting a slightly lunatic slant on what he saw and heard. "Things strike you," he said:

For example, I'll walk into a park and I'll read the by-laws they have posted there - something you never do normally. If you really read the by-laws, you'd never go into the park, so many things are forbidden. For instance, you can't land a helicopter in the park or, if you can, you can land it on a certain spot. But who would want to land a helicopter in the park?

A nephew of the poet Katharine Tynan, he was born David Tynan O'Mahony in Tallaght, Co Dublin, in 1936. On leaving school at 16, he followed his grandmother, who was editor of the Dublin newspaper the Freeman's Journal, and his father, the managing editor of the Irish Times, into journalism to become a reporter on the Drogheda Argus, then the Irish Independent.

On moving to London to further his career after three years, he failed to find a job on a newspaper and landed work as a Redcoat at Butlin's holiday camp in Skegness. After several seasons there, and winter work as a toy salesman in Sheffield, he started performing on the club circuit - changing his name to Allen from Tynan O'Mahony, which people frequently mispronounced - and in 1961 he shared a bill with the pop singer Helen Shapiro and the then unknown Beatles.

While touring Australia two years later, he was offered his own one-man television show in Sydney. He presented 84 episodes of Tonight with Dave Allen (1963-64) in that country. Returning to Britain - where he had made his television début in the BBC talent show New Faces in 1959 - he appeared in The Blackpool Show (1964) and Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1965), before gaining a regular spot as resident comedian in three series of The Val Doonican Show (1965-67).

Then, he landed the first of his own British television shows, Tonight with Dave Allen (1967-69), which established the mixture of stand-up comedy and sketches for which he would become known and won him the Variety Club's ITV Personality of 1967 award.

After starring in two episodes of BBC2's Show of the Week (1968-69), Allen switched from ITV to BBC1 for The Dave Allen Show (1969), before his greatest success with Dave Allen at Large. Dave Allen specials (1981-86) were followed by a six-part series of the same title (1990), in which he ditched the sketches and featured more adult material than previously, leading to questions in the House of Commons about his "strong language" after he used the F-word in one programme.

This did not deter Allen from continuing in the same vein in a London stage show, An Evening with Dave Allen (Strand Theatre, 1991), and a further Dave Allen series (1993), recorded for ITV at the Mermaid Theatre, London, and notable for the lack of cigarettes - he had given up smoking. The star later talked about his career, in between clips from his old shows, in The Unique Dave Allen (1998), a six-part series for the BBC.

In several forays into straight acting, Allen appeared on stage at the Royal Court Theatre in Edna O'Brien's A Pagan Place (1972) and played an estate agent going through a mid-life crisis in Alan Bennett's television play One Fine Day (1979), as well as taking the roles of Mr Darling and Captain Hook, opposite Maggie Smith, in Peter Pan (London Coliseum, 1973).

He also presented several documentaries, looking at New York life in Dave Allen in the Melting Pot (1969), quirky individuals in Dave Allen in Search of the Great English Eccentric (1974) and American eccentrics in Dave Allen (1978).

Anthony Hayward

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