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Redcoats Who Made The Big Time Back

Dave Allen

Written by Rocky Mason

I am delighted to be able to present these facts for anyone on this site, who is a fan, a follower, or simply an admirer of this remarkable Irish born super star and former Butlin Redcoat.

Dave Allen was born Dave Tynan O'Mahoney, on 6th July 1936, in Dublin. Dave was a member of a rather intellectual Irish family, his grandmother Nora O'Mahoney, was the editor of Freeman's Journal, a well known and highly respected publication. His cousin Eoin was a much learned scholar and a respected practising barrister. The family had a noticeable leaning towards journalism and his father Gerard, was the Assistant Manager of the Irish Times. His mother Jean, who I spoke with often on the telephone, was an educated and well spoken English woman. On the death of Dave's father his mother took up dress designing to earn enough to put her three sons through college. Dave had two brothers Peter, the eldest, and John who was a couple of years older than Dave. Eventually Peter worked as a reporter in Drogheda, and John joined Independent Newspapers but on the admin' side. David, sometime later, also joined Independent News.

Over the years a number of people have reflected on their memories of former Redcoat Dave Allen. Some of their anecdotes and reminiscences have been accurate, whilst, and I am sure quite unintentional, others have been grossly incorrect. In example, as Redcoats Dave and Al Page, did not, as has been widely stated, perform a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis act!! Dean was never in the picture as they both did a Jerry Lewis impersonation!! Indeed, that was the novelty and very essence of the act. Both Dave and Al sported a Jerry Lewis crew cut, they did an excellent impression of the then Hollywood superstar and it would be difficult to say who gave the better impersonation.

Of course Dave had to do the many other things that a Butlin Redcoat had to do, such as swanning in the dining rooms after greeting the campers in. Organizing competitions and contests and working out the byes, in fact, like all the other Red's, Dave had to live by the Redcoats Bible - the proverbial "Do's And Don'ts".

John moved to England to become a Butlin Redcoat and, shortly after, Dave followed him. In 1955 John became a Redcoat at Filey, and, as there were no more vacancies, Dave joined at Skegness. Dave very soon formed a double act with fellow Redcoat Al Page, both of them doing Jerry Lewis impersonations. The act was popular and went down well with the campers. At the end of their third season Dave and Al left to take the act around the Northern clubs. Dave quickly realised the English had difficulty pronouncing his name O'Mahoney (Which should be pronounced O'Marney!) He chose the name Allen and found himself an agent. It was around this time that the act split up with both Dave and Al going solo. He started doing 'warm ups' and became an opening act for Helen Shapiro, and got a gig as compere for their first theatre performance in 1962, of an up and coming Liverpudlian act called the Beatles!!

Audiences took to the newly named Dave Allen and he began to work his way up the bills. He accompanied the veteran Sophie Tucker on a tour of South Africa, and, at her personal request he joined her on a two month engagement in Australia, and all the while Dave's material was improving. As part of the tour he was booked onto ATV's Melbourne tonight where he was an instant success. Further exposure cemented his triumph and Dave became a huge name on Australian TV and hosted a number of his own shows. Dave wasn't interested in interviewing 'would be' celebrities or whoever had a new book to plug. Instead he went for life's eccentrics, such as the man who electrocuted his fruit trees to make them grow faster, or a reformed alcoholic who wanted to be the next Pope.

I recall seeing Dave on one show perform what I could only describe as an absolutely terrifying stunt. We had the opportunity to discuss it some years later and Dave told me that his production team, and stunt coordinator's, had convinced him the stunt would work - providing he stayed calm and didn't panic. The deed involved him sitting alone in a motor car that had been placed in an enormous tank, which was slowly filled with water. When the car was totally submerged and the water line was some three feet above the roof of the car, the camera showed that Dave was breathing in a narrow air lock that had been created inside the car. We saw Dave take a deep breath before plunging under the water to open the door of the car. The water pressure inside and outside the car had equalised to enable him to do that!!

Dave told me that he had seen me fighting in a boxing ring on a number of occasions and spoke of some regard for my 'courage'. I had to be honest and admit to Dave that I would have been too terrified to even attempt that stunt, and I found it too horrific to even contemplate. I said to Dave "I couldn't have done that Dave if someone had paid me a couple of thousand pounds!!!" Dave just smiled at me and said "Rocky, they did!!!"

Dave went on to appear on Sunday Night at the London Palladium, the Val Doonican show, and his warmth, talent and professionalism led to his own shows - 'Dave Allen at Large', and the 'Dave Allen Show' to name but a couple. Dave was also awarded ITV Personality Of The Year. In 1990 he made a re-run of 'Dave Allen In Australia', which was enormously successful, also in the 90's he became a big name in America as a result of the many Dave Allen show re-runs. Dave's act was typified by his relaxed intimate style; he would sit on a high stool, a cigarette in one hand and a glass in the other - and always finishing with "Goodnight, thank you and may your God go with you!" It has been suggested by many writers that his glass contained champagne or ginger beer and I have no wish to refute this. It may well be that when they worked with Dave his glass did indeed contain that content, but be assured, on the many occasions that I worked with Dave, his glass always contained J&B, a quality whiskey very popular in the states.

When my wife and I were buying High Lodge, a former Butlin director's house, near the Brighton, Ocean hotel. Like most young couples we were struggling to pay the mortgage and Dave kindly offered me a number of well paid gigs, working 'The Dave Allen Show' at the Top Rank cabaret suites along the south coast. That delightful episode is well documented in my Butlin book, "Gumshield to Greasepaint".

Sadly Dave, who always described himself as 'A practising atheist' passed away on 10th March 2005, Rest in peace Dave, and may my God go with you!!

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