Today we said goodbye to a very special and inspirational guy – Ken Allen. It will still seem strange, after passing away at the age of 90 on Christmas Eve last year, to say that he was the son of the Black Country comedienne, Dolly Allen.
But Ken was a force in his own right. With an already recognised talent for singing and performing, he joined the army in 1945 and was posted to India. In 1946 he was posted to Lucknow where he joined the concert party and learned his craft, not only performing but also writing his own material.
His easy crooning voice, with very succinct jazzy tones, was always a joy, and many songs, such as “I Won’t Send Roses”, will ring in many people’s ears in his voice.
Back in the UK, he fronted his Mum who soon got a bit annoyed that his humour was creeping a little too much into the programme. “Yow doo the signin’, Ken,” she would say, “I’ll doo the jokes…!”
Ken had a ready but gentle wit, second only to Eric Morecombe as any read of his show synopses will tell you. My all-time favourite is the description of the leading lady in The Merry Widow and her “fan club”. His dry sense of humour could have the place in stitches. Singing a comic duet with the late Margaret Harper at one of our charity concerts at Springmeadow Social Club (back in the day when Jack Jones would equally have the house in stitches with his brilliant, rambling votes of thanks in his inimitable Black Country accent) Ken turned to Margaret and said completely out of the blue, “Have you been eating cheese and onion cobs again?”
He wrote prose – on many local topics and about his time in India – and poetry. A poem of his “Eyes” was read out today by one of his Granddaughters.
He did a lot of work with many local operatic societies, including three shows for CHAOS and 18 at Brierley Hill. (Both scoieties joined together to award him the NODA Commendation Medal.) But it was soon the concert shows, just like back in India, that he was most famous for with CHAOS. Melodies in Costume would have upwards of 100 songs, with dance routines to match. We wonder now how we ever did it! Christmas with CHAOS would mark the beginning of the festive season.
In cooperation with Doug Yardley, he wrote 4 full-blown musicals, including Them Thar’ Hills which CHAOS Youth performed in 1993. But it was his original songs and often fiendish arrangements that will always be remembered (as well as a wish simply to entertain). Many members of CHAOS, with apologies to the original writers, cannot sing “White Christmas” other than Ken’s way. We would performed it in a string of Christmas concerts over the years with guest brass bands as the finale. We knew we would swing once together with the band and then a second time so the audience could join in. No one told us for the first concert that a brass band’s orchestration for this song goes up a tone the second time around!
Then there was the time that a certain person goaded Ken on to write a sing about Boxing Day. Nobody that we knew had ever written a song about Boxing Day. Lo and behold, Ken spent the Summer sat in the garden, writing his arrangements (or banished to his shed amongst his record collection) and came up with “The Boxing Day Calypso”!
Black Country amateur operatics saw the end of an era today and said goodbye to a true gentleman and gentle man.
Ken, Thanks for the Melodies…