Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian. Dave Allen. Copyright: Vera Productions
Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian

Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian

  • TV documentary
  • BBC Two
  • 2013
  • 1 episode

Celebration of the life and work of controversial sit-down stand-up comic, Dave Allen. Features Kevin Day, Maggie Smith, Steven Berkoff, Nobby Clark, Mark Thomas and more.

Press clippings

An evening celebrating the laconic Irish comic begins with this 2014 documentary, which includes fond testimony from family and friends including Steven Berkoff and Dame Maggie Smith. It's followed by last year's biopic Dave Allen at Peace and clip show The Immaculate Selection.

Gwilym Mumford, The Guardian, 30th March 2019

The mystery of Dave Allen's missing finger solved?

On April 29th at 9pm, BBC2 aired a documentary about well-known Irish comedian Dave Allen. The programme, entitled Dave Allen: God's own Comedian went through Allen's glittering career, showing clips of some of his more outrageous sketches and interviews with those who knew him best - his family, friends and coworkers. However, one question remains unanswered - how did he lose his finger?

The Longford Leader, 9th May 2013

In '73 Dave Allen was at the top of his game as TV's most controversial comedian. 
"He just sat there, beautifully Irish, and told the most outrageous jokes," said Steven Berkoff in Dave Allen: God's Own ­Comedian. My mother, who fancied him, would ­second that. From the gen­eration of comics inspired by him, Kevin Day said: "As a kid I didn't understand his jokes but I really enjoyed seeing my parents laugh at them." I'd second that; just Allen in his chair was exciting. Look, he's drinking whisky! Now he's brushing fag-ash from his sleeves as casually as he'd attack organised religion! But what hap­pened to the top half of that ­finger?...

This was a fine tribute to the master of the quiet, laid-back, furious monologue who died in 2005 and is rarely reshown, though this was his doing. 
I knew nothing of his early shows and their ridiculous stunts, so footage of Allen in 
a submerged car was almost 
as thrilling as him in his 

There was an amazing postscript to that one, with a Glasgow family regularly writing him their grateful thanks. An outing to Ayr almost ended in tragedy when their car slipped into the sea. The boy trapped inside calmly waited until it filled with water before opening the door, just like he'd seen Allen do.

Aidan Smith, The Scotsman, 5th May 2013

Radio Times review

I've watched Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian (Monday BBC2; iPlayer) twice now. I'll probably watch it another eight or nine times, in the hope that any of Allen's essence can somehow enter my soul. This was less a film about how to be a TV comedian, more a film about how to be.

Dave Allen had a spark, a glint. He had no fear. He knew he had his s**t straight. He trusted his mind. He was always looking for mischief. He was curious. He loved his family. He never stopped thinking. If it was funny, he'd say it.

You could see it as he bounded onto the stage to present his first big TV show, in Sydney in 1963. At 26, in his second foreign country - he'd left Ireland at 16 and left his friends The Beatles behind in England ten years later - he was brazenly flirting with the studio audience. He had it. Soon Australia had given Dave, unutterably sexy at that point with his black hair and charmed eyes, his own chat show, which from the clips in God's Own Comedian seemed to consist of him larking about aimlessly and assuredly with female co-hosts and, in one extended sequence, risking his life to demonstrate how to escape from a submerged car. Advised to stay in Australia and build on his success, Allen followed his first wife back to England and simply repeated it there.

This documentary about one of the best stand-up comedians in British TV history didn't actually contain very much of his stand-up, because what audiences were buying wasn't a series of jokes, but time with Dave Allen - a share of the drink that was normally in his hand, on and off stage. "They wanted him to like them," explained Mark Thomas, a writer for Allen's later shows. Allen's honest independence was alluring but it took him, quite naturally, to extremely controversial places.

The flint inside the laconic exterior was formed young. Allen's newspaper-editor dad, a major local celebrity, had died when his son was 12, leaving the family struggling. But before that, a Catholic education had woken Allen up. "They hit me. They pulled my hair. They punched me. They demeaned me. None of them were qualified teachers."

Allen's material about the Catholic church wasn't revenge, exactly. The Pope stripteasing, the "nuns farting next to lilies" and the rest came more from his fascination with humans at their hypocritical worst. He grinned widely when asked which of his routines about religion had offended the IRA: "Most of them!" If it was true, he'd say it. Allen was a mainstream household name but did sketches about Apartheid, because he wanted to. His popularity kept rising.

Craven celebs would have consolidated with safe options. Allen wandered off to present a series of proto-Theroux documentaries on eccentric and marginalised people, drawing on his equal fascination with humans at their best. He took a straight acting role as a man in mid-life crisis in an Alan Bennett TV play. Allen was "looking for the meaning of life", said one of his collaborators, and that didn't sound ridiculous.

About the only black note in this fantastic programme - which may have glossed over all sorts of monstrous flaws in Allen's character, although I suspect it didn't and don't much care - was his last full series for the BBC in 1990, which was dogged by green-inkers moaning about the swearing. We saw Allen eruditely explain in a Clive James interview that there are more important things in the world to worry about than "rude sounds", but the Beeb caved and Allen was wounded. It was an ironic, pathetic, trivial but illuminating example of what Allen stood against and why he mattered.

Not that he thought he mattered much, Dave Allen being one of the few things in which Dave Allen didn't take too much interest. He made the best show he could but then went home, exchanged his smart stage garb for scruffy linen, and got on with reading, painting, drawing, and hosting sprawling weekenders for his extended family and friends. The ghost stories he would petrify the kids with at the Allen house in Devon sounded like better gigs than any of the TV ones.

"He had these many many abilities but he held them quietly," observed his widow Karin. Allen knew it was just a ride and, as Cyril Connolly ambiguously said, you can't be too serious. Finally, God's Own Comedian dealt with the mystery of the missing forefinger on Allen's left hand, by refusing to answer it. He'd told everyone something different: as his associates related the tale they'd heard, they had his glint in their eye.

Jack Seale, Radio Times, 5th May 2013

Dave Allen was a genuinely funny man, not because his jokes were great - some missed and some hit - but because he had a combination of charm, timing and delivery that made you want to laugh anyway. God's Own Comedian was a respectful appreciation of the writer and performer who courted controversy in the 1970s with his mockery of religion, particularly of the Catholic variety.

It's hard to imagine a comedian being allowed to make fun of religious piety on the BBC now, partly because we've become more "respectful" (aka fearful) of religious sensibilities and partly because the BBC is institutionally terrified of giving offence. The other notable thing about that period in British television, going by the various contributors who knew Allen, is that it produced a generation untouched by dental vanity. I haven't seen such fabulously bad teeth on view since I interviewed Shane MacGowan.

Before he sat on a bar stool, signature fag in one hand and a glass of whisky (apparently ginger ale) in the other, Dave Allen hosted a chat show. Not long ago anyone who had any kind of success on or off TV - Jeremy Clarkson, Davina McCall, Richard Littlejohn - was rewarded with their own chatshow, with mostly disastrous results.

Andrew Anthony, The Observer, 4th May 2013

A genius of observational humour was celebrated in Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian, reminding us he was so much more than a stand-up comic. Allen, who had his own jokes-and-sketches show, Dave Allen At Large, on BBC2 in the Seventies and Eighties, was a one-man crusade against the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland (he labelled the nuns who taught him at school 'Gestapo in drag') and caused such offence that he used to get death threats.

It's incredible the BBC ever had the nerve to screen his papal striptease, with the Holy Father high-kicking on the steps of St Peter's. And it's a downright travesty that, because Allen didn't want to see his shows constantly repeated, they are never replayed at all.

Whatever some 40-year-old contract says, it has to be torn up. Dave Allen is too funny to be forgotten.

Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail, 30th April 2013

Dave Allen - God's Own Comedian, BBC2, review

The wonderful wit and creativity of comedian Dave Allen is remembered in a fine tribute programme.

Martin Chilton, The Telegraph, 30th April 2013

The biggest TV stand-up of the 1970s gets a proper appraisal in this very well put together documentary. His laconic, no-frills style is revisited and analysed but the meat of the programme is in telling the story of his life and the little stories behind his instantly recognisable, enormously popular performance tics. Great clips, many of them rarely seen, are bolstered by contributors from Allen's family and celebrities including Stephen Frears, Maggie Smith and Steven Berkoff.

Jack Seale, Radio Times, 30th April 2013

"Here lies Dave Allen, a comedy fool/Who drank and told gags as he sat on his stool ..." Allen's own epitaph for himself neatly encapsulates his received image as one of the great bar-room raconteurs, but the Vatican-baiting humorist (who received death threats from the IRA) also pushed more boundaries in his time than the so-called alternative comics who followed. Admirers and friends such as Mark Thomas and Dame Maggie Smith bear witness to his peculiar genius in this fond and very personal tribute.

Ali Catterall, The Guardian, 29th April 2013

Radio Times review

If you've ever wondered why the great Dave Allen's 1970s shows are rarely repeated, there may be an answer in this profile: he insisted on a clause in his contract allowing only one repeat. So it's good to be reminded of the suave comedian seated with cigarette in hand and whisky glass at his elbow, spinning a bar-room yarn or introducing a sketch that always seemed to involve at least one priest. One famously featured the Pope doing a striptease, though his wife tells us he was never anti-religion - hence his sign-off "Goodnight and may your god go with you."

The tributes and clips are wonderful and there's a nice coda on the one big mystery: how he lost that finger.

David Butcher, Radio Times, 29th April 2013

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