Saturday, 4 April 2015

Comedy Spotlights - Dave Allen

Dave Allen (Real name David Tynan O'Mahony) was an Irish comedian who enjoyed much career success throughout the 1960s and 1970s, before seeing a re-emergence during the early 1990s.

I first encountered Dave Allen during his careers second wind in the early 90s, when ITV aired a show named simply "The Dave Allen Show".
Immediately his comedy style struck a chord with me, as opposed to the alternative comedians of the time whose comedy mostly seemed to revolve around juvenile fart gags, slapstick and explaining how bad they were at relationships, Dave would sit and tell clever and engaging anecdotes about everyday occurances, all while calmly smoking a cigarette and sipping from a glass of what everyone assumed was whisky (most of the time, it was actually ginger ale).

In many ways his style was similar to another favourite of mine, Bob Monkhouse, insofar as that his stories were witty and were not prone to flights of fantasy or absurdity,  but at the same time they, like the comedy stylings of Monkhouse and Billy Connolly, were based on ordinary, every day observations.

It was only in later years, starting with the BBCs airing of "The Unique Dave Allen", that I learned something of this mans career, which stretched back to well before I was born, and was still as funny now as it had been back in the days when Dave was the BBCs number 1 comedy draw, and, somewhat different to the stuff I was used to from 1990s BBC comedy, which centred mainly on quick sketch style comedy such as "The Fast show" and "Harry Enfield & Chums".

Allen began his television career with an appearance on "New Faces" in 1959, which quickly saw him being snapped up to host pop music programs, due to his good looks, quick wit and his sense of dress. Prior to this, Dave had been a regular on the club scene and for a time worked at Butlins where he fleshed out his own style.
His big break did not come courtesy of the BBC however, instead, his first exposure to full time TV comedy came courtesy of Australian television, where while on tour there in 1963 he accepted a request to be the front man for a live American style chat show, his exposure and popularity soared as the show, titled "Tonight with Dave Allen" proved to be a big hit.
6 months into the gig however, he earned a ban from Australian TV when during an interview with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, he repeatedly ignored the producers signal to wind up the chat for a commercial break, eventually shouting at the producer to "go off and masturbate somewhere".
This of course wasnt well received by TV executives and the show was pulled form the schedules, however after a few weeks, the ban was quietly repealed as Daves popularity amongst viewers showed that they weren't really bothered about him swearing on television.

He returned to the UK in 1964, and after working almost continuously on the stage and making occasional TV appearances, he eventually secured a place on the Val Doonican show, which led to him getting his own show, which had a similar format to his Australian TV outing, in 1967.

The BBC came calling in 1968 and saw Dave begin the first major and continuously successful part of his career in Britain in the form of "The Dave Allen Show". In a change to his usual routine, the program saw him begin the format which would remain virtually unchanged for the rest of his career, as the Dave Allen show was a mix of sketch comedy sandwiched in with his familiar story telling, here the sketches would always relate to the monologue bits in some fashion.

For this portion of his career, his monologues would usually comprise of material relating to his life and upbringing as a catholic in Ireland, more often than not poking fun at the rituals and dogma of the catholic church, but also on its bizarre effects on peoples lives. Dave, who identified as an Atheist for most of his life, attracted much anger from christian viewers, who regarded his material to be offensive and blasphemous, doubly so during the sketch comedy elements where he would often dress as various religious figures such as priests and even on occasion as the pope himself, and would perform ridiculous and farcical routines mocking the church and all its trappings.
Much of Allens material from the late 60s through to the late 70s was based around religion in some form, not always Catholicism either, he also mocked Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Protestants mercilessly, prompting round after round of complaints to the BBC, who staunchly defended him, mainly because they received very high viewing figures off the back of his shows.
Religion was not his only source material though, he would also point out the absurdities of politics, including many jabs at controversial subjects such as apartheid, he would comment on the battle of the sexes, the concept of marriage and having children, on peoples working lives and sexual problems, he would comment on social inequality, social taboos and idiosyncrasies relating to stereotypes.
As many have pointed out, and many comedians that emerged during the 1980s have admitted, Dave Allen inspired many of the 1980s "Alternative" comedians insofar as he, unlike many of the popular "Club circuit" comedians of the time, such as Bernard Manning etc, eschewed racist, sexist and just downright offensive material.

During the 1980s, Dave began to fade from the spotlight, being seen as somewhat of a relic of a bygone age when people such as Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, Lenny Henry etc were all beginning to be popular amongst the youth audience, however Dave still continued to work for the BBC on a semi regular basis, producing comedy shows such as a series simply titled "Dave Allen", but also he began to act in more serious roles, namely in the works of playwright Alan Bennett.
Dave finally fell out with the BBC when in 1990, the 10pm airing of one of his shows on BBC 1 attracted a hitherto unheard of number of complaints from viewers about the amount of offensive language featured in the show, mostly his liberal use of the word "fuck". Dave laughed the complaints off, however the BBC, who had stood with him throughout the myriad complaints about his material over the years, had changed somewhat during the late 1980s, becoming far more politically correct and concerned about not causing offence in any way to any of their viewers (this policy has led to the BBC making some of the most bizarre choices over the years). Thus, they chastised the man who had brought in many viewers and been behind a lot of the most successful comedy shows the BBC had produced up to that point. The incident was even brought up in parliament and MPs debated over the use of swear words on television and whether there should be tighter censorship rulings.
Dave left the BBC in disgust later that year, going into semi-retirement, returning to screens briefly in 1993 to front a series for ITV which was similar to his usual monologue/sketch comedy, however after this his appearances on television become sporadic, however it did mark a change in his material, which became more observational based comedy, concentrating on social commentary about how the world was changing and how he was finding things becoming increasingly difficult as he got older.
He eventually returned to the BBC in 1996 for a 6 episode series titled "The Unique Dave Allen" in which he spoke about his life and career in comedy whilst linking to sketches and routines from his earlier work with the BBC, although he ruled out a full time return to TV as by this time, he was in his 60s and had had enough of the atmosphere in TV land.
He made various one off appearances in TV specials and on chat shows throughout the remainder of the 1990s and in the early noughties, as well as making a few live stage appearances, but by this time, many people had never heard of him and, mainly due to Daves dislike of "repeats", had never seen any of his earlier material, so he was seen as something of a strange curiosity in the comedy world.

Dave Allen died peacefully in his sleep in 2005, leaving behind his wife of 18 months, 3 children from his first marriage, and, 3 months after his death, his wife gave birth to his third child.

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