Dave Allen: Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good (Ghost) Story

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Guest writer STEVIE MILLER takes us back to the days when the late, great, Irish comedian Dave Allen had the country hooked, and spooked, with his hilarious ghostly tales. 

Dave Allen tells a ghost story
Dave Allen tells a ghost story…

First thing is first. I was never much fussed about the paranormal, I truly wasn’t. That came with time. But one person who I loved hearing spooky, yet hilarious stories from was “God’s own comedian” himself, Mr Dave Allen. 

Most will remember Allen for his deep distrust of religion, in particular the Catholic Church into which he was raised. Yet, there is another section of fans who will most fondly remember Allen for the few chilling yet wildly comical ghost stories he would tell.

Who was Dave Allen?

Born in 1936, David Tynan O’Mahony, or Dave Allen as he would later become known, was brought up in an Irish village where folklore and storytelling was the thing to do on dark nights around a lit fire. He was heavily influenced by two people – one being his father, a journalist with The Irish Times; a man who was told spooky stories by his own father, which were passed down over the years. The young Allen’s nightly ritual would consist of listening to all manner of ghostly stories while safely tucked in his bed.

Another person who influenced a young Dave Allen was a man known as old Malachi Horn – an eccentric gentleman who lived in the village, believed by Allen to be a hundred years old. With his flowing white hair and beard, Allen said he “would skip school to visit him, riding around in his pony and trap, being told stories of wild banshees and headless coachmen“. 

One may be correct in saying that Dave Allen was quite probably destined to become a storyteller, such was his upbringing.

As alluded to in the title, the raconteur Dave Allen was indeed never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story (probably one of his most famous quotes), and his outlandishly comical ghost telling was no different. 

On his sketch show “Dave Allen at Large”, which ran from 1971-79, Allen in his own unique style – sitting on a stool, glass of whisky on the table next to him, cigarette in hand – describes one ghoulish account of how he lost his finger:

“Many years ago I was rather foolish. We were in the west coast of Ireland and we were in a barn and we’d had a couple of drinks and somebody started to talk about the unknown and the spirit world.

“And the conversation came up about the gravedigger’s house and the locals started to tell us about it. This gravedigger was found in his bed, dead, with terrible marks on his neck and his eyes wide open. The doctor said the marks had nothing to do with his death but that the man had died of fright.

“And…I scoffed, foolishly.

“And it came about with a few more drinks that I accepted a dare or a bet that I would stay the night in the cottage beside the graveyard. I went there and we agreed that the door would be locked and I would stay in there until first light and I was locked in.”

“I don’t know really what happens but I think a great deal of fear is in one’s mind. It was dank. It was cold. The effects of the booze began to wear off and I began to think, ‘What in the name of God are you doing here?’ And I felt… I don’t know what it was. It was an instinct. It was something stronger than me pulled me towards this bed where this man had died. And I was drawn…

I fought against it but I was drawn nearer and nearer to this bed. And I was told somehow or other to sit on that bed. I didn’t want to… and I did. An unnatural drowsiness came over me and I became very sleepy… and I lay down knowing full well that I shouldn’t… and I went to sleep. A limbo sleep.

“I awoke. What time I have no idea. The candle had burnt down. It was black. It was cold and I felt a presence. I was completely sober by then and utterly terrified. The hackles on the back of my neck had begun to rise. I was paralysed by a presence of fear. I felt something on my chest begin to move. It crept slowly up my chest… and I couldn’t move. It came closer and closer to my throat. I gathered all my willpower… as this thing came closer… and nearer… and I grabbed it! And it was wet and cold and I bit it! Aaaaaagh!!! I screamed in pain!

“And that is how I lost my finger.”

(Other accounts of how Dave’s digit disappeared include him leaving it in his glass of gin for too long at which point it fell off, and he also once claimed his father accidentally cut it off with an axe in a prank gone wrong. The truth is, we do not truly know how he lost his finger – even his own children were not privy to the genuine account). 

Dave Allen no fear of the church – or the supernatural!

Perhaps surprisingly, Dave Allen was not a paranormal believer as such. It was not so much a fear of the supernatural he felt, but the fear of the tricks his own mind might play. This was evident in a tale he once told of himself as a teenager travelling home on foot one night through a dimly lit graveyard close to his village.

While walking, an eerie noise stoked his imagination. The noise would cease each time he stopped walking, only to restart when he picked up pace again. The hair stood up on the back of his neck and he quickly made for the exit and towards the lights of the village. On reaching what he thought was relative safety he stopped, looked down, and there clinging to his trouser leg…

…was a long twig. 

Dave Allen was also not afraid to take aim at the Catholic Church, and in one particular sketch he took on the old Irish tradition that two people cannot be buried at the same time on the same day because whoever was buried second would have to wait an extra day to get into heaven. 

Only Dave Allen could make this into an out-and-out race between two burial parties meeting on the way to the church: fast paced like a silent film coupled with feverish music, there is much pushing and shoving, coffins being dropped and various foul play tactics being had; both funeral parties eventually reach the churchyard to find someone already in the process of being buried. 

The only thing left to do in that situation was to sit on the coffins and all have a cigarette. 

You can watch the sketch below:

Dave Allen always proudly poked fun at Irish customs, including the good old wake:

A very important part of the Irish way of life is death. See if anybody else anywhere else in the world dies that’s the end of it. They’re dead. But in Ireland when somebody dies we lay them out and watch them for a couple of days.”

“It’s called a wake. And it’s great. It’s a party, a sendoff. The fella is laid out on the table and there [is] drinking and dancing and all the food you can eat and all of your friends come from all over the place and they all stand around the wake table looking at you with a glass in their hands looking at you and they say, “Here’s to your health.’”

“The terrible thing about dying over in Ireland is you miss your own wake. It’s the best day of your life. You’ve paid for everything and you can’t join in. Mind you, if you did you’d be drinking on your own.” 

For perhaps his most famous end-of-show story, Dave Allen tells the tale of a woman who married a rich man and was taken to his huge mansion, complete with servants, endless corridors, and a strange mysterious locked room…

For a while his wife gets to know the servants, then spends endless hours trying to get the lay of the house, and one day she comes across a large corridor she has never before encountered, complete with a locked room.

He describes in his soft Irish lilt, how the woman tries the door but it was locked, so she presses her ear against the door and hears the soft crying voice of a child. (Time and time again, I have found myself starting to hunch over, closer, waiting for his next line.) 

Later at dinner that night, she asks her husband about the door being locked and how no key will open it. Dave Allen describes the look of horror and then anger on her husband’s face: he tells her NEVER to mention the corridor or door again. 

A few months go by, but the curiosity of the woman holds firm, and one day while searching her dresser she comes across a secret panel. Allen takes time to explain her finding a small wooden lever that springs open a compartment, his attention to every detail investing the listener further still.

The studio lights dim lower on him and just watching his face on screen, I cannot help but believe that Allen is regressing back to his childhood, sitting by the fire with his brothers, the crackle of burning logs, the glow lighting their faces before bedtime, being told a story by his father. 

He continues by explaining that in the compartment, the woman finds a dusty key, which she takes. One day when her husband is out of town, she grabs her chance; tension and hush descends over the audience with Allen describing the flickering lamp she is holding as she makes her way down the dark corridor. She reaches for the door, she places the key in the lock – a click is heard, the door slowly creaks open. 

Dave Allen pauses and makes a pronounced creaking sound as the door opens, which produces wild, if somewhat nervous laughter from his studio audience. 

He goes on, describing the “inky blackness” that envelopes the dark room.

She walks into the middle of the musty room, and as she stretches the lamp above her head, the flame flickers and dies. She shrieks in total horror at what she witnesses in the room, and promptly the door slowly creaks shut behind her. She is now completely alone and fully aware that she has no escape: she has only her blood-curdling screams and desperate sobs for company. 

Dave Allen asks what supernatural force, what utter evil did she witness in the room, and what ungodly being shut the door on the woman? 

He looks up, and with a mischievous twinkle in his eye says: “I have no idea, but if I ever find out, I’ll let you know”. 

This isn’t just a ghost story, this is terrifying paranormal hilarity at its top game. 

So, how can we sum up Dave Allen’s ghostly wit? 

I think this is something you will have to decide for yourself, but for me, as a man of a certain age – I’ve watched him as a young teenager, and I still watch him now, years later – no one does enduring ghost stories quite like Dave Allen.

Guest Writer STEVIE MILLER hasn’t always been interested in the paranormal – in fact, the whole thing terrified him! London born and bred, but now living in the West of Scotland, Stevie spends his spare time, when he can, travelling to various haunted locations throughout Britain and Ireland with his long-suffering missus, hoping to experience something ghostly. His other hobbies include military aviation, football, and beer.

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