No-one ever said that making it to the top was easy. Dave Allen certainly never took his success for granted - and he had as tricky a ride as anybody.
The ex-Skegness Redcoat, newspaper dogsbody, toy salesman and strip show comedian drifted into showbusiness via a hit Australian series, found out sooner than most.
For years his talents were buried in the ‘flesh and flash’ shows that took him round the northern circuit as support act to stripper and singers, a nobody who barely managed to make himself heard above the din of audiences clamouring for anyone but him. But Allen, then known by his birth name of Dave O’Mahoney, persevered. His stint in Australia, where he had his own TV show, was a success and he repeated his performance on his return to the UK in 1964 where, at last, the critics sat up and took notice of the man whose only props were a stool, a glass of whiskey and a wry smile.
These days we’re used to warts-and-all interviews with our favourite stars, but the real Dave Allen remained a trade secret. He rarely spoke to the press and by and large refused to discuss his family circumstances. During his later years he became an avid painter, but was reluctant to exhibit or sell his works.
After all, as he repeatedly said to anyone who pushed the questioning a little too far: “I don’t want to know about the personal life of my doctor when I go to see him, or my butcher when I buy meat from him, so I don’t see why I should talk about my private life.” Nevertheless, 13 years after his death, some of Allen’s personal secrets are about to be exposed in a new drama from Stephen Russell, who has penned two of the BBC’s forays into fact-based drama with a comedic theme - the wonderful We’re Doomed: The Dad’s Army Story and Hattie, a biopic of Carry On star Hattie Jacques.
Peaky Blinders and Game of Thrones star Aidan Gillen takes the lead role, while Conleth Hill pops up as his brother John. Tommy Tiernan, Robert Bathurst, Pauline McLynn, Simon Day and Julian Rhind-Tutt are among the impressive supporting cast.
“Stephen Russell has written a wonderful script that is surprising, innovative and poignant, exploring the people and forces that went into making Dave Allen the comic genius he was,” says Patrick Holland, controller of BBC Two. “With Aidan Gillen leading a stellar cast, this promises to be a real treat.”
The Beeb’s head honcho of comedy, Shane Allen, adds: “Dave Allen defined and pushed at the boundaries of where television comedy were set and paved the way for modern stand-up to tackle controversial themes and taboos. This film explores what shaped his trail-blazing career.” The film explores how tragic events in Allen’s life shaped his showbusiness career, as well as how he managed to survive death threats from the IRA, a ban by Irish and Australian TV and decades of incurring the Catholic Church’s wrath.