The Times We Lived In: Who’s that up in the Gods?

Published: October 1st, 1979. Photograph by Kevin McMahon

The late comedian Dave Allen,  getting ready for The Dave Allen Show at the Gaiety Theatre to mark the opening of the 1979 Dublin Theatre Festival in conversation with Brendan Smith, director of the festival

The late comedian Dave Allen, getting ready for The Dave Allen Show at the Gaiety Theatre to mark the opening of the 1979 Dublin Theatre Festival in conversation with Brendan Smith, director of the festival

 

“Now that up there, young man, is heaven. Keep an eye on it – because that’s where the thunderbolt will come from, if you use the wrong sort of material around here.”

No prizes for recognising the chap on the right of today’s photo. It is, of course, David Tynan O’Mahony from Firhouse – better known as the comedian Dave Allen – shaping up to go on stage at the Gaiety Theatre.

The man with the apocalyptic finger is Brendan Smith, director of the Dublin Theatre Festival 1979, of which The Dave Allen Show was the opening gig. A brave – or risky – choice, given Allen’s reputation: the infamous sketch from his BBC television series a few years earlier, in which he portrayed the Pope doing a striptease on the steps of the Vatican, had resulted in him being persona non grata on the Irish airwaves.

The theatre festival, however, found Allen keeping some exalted showbusiness company. Also on the programme that year was Maeve Binchy’s play The Half Promised Land, set on a kibbutz in the Negev desert in Israel; Hugh Leonard’s A Life, which went on to create a stir on Broadway; and a rare live appearance by Princess Grace of Monaco, who joined the English actor John Westbrook on stage at Trinity College, Dublin, for Birds, Beasts and Flowers, a salubrious selection of prose and poetry from William Blake, Walt Whitman and James Stephens.

Speaking of flowers, how about that wallpaper in the background of our photo? It’s the wrong sort of material in anybody’s theatrical language, and its overblown-aspidistra blowsiness adds a delightfully daft note to the shot in a manner reminiscent of Allen’s own comic delivery.

The prominence of Mr Smith’s left forefinger also reminds the viewer that the comedian was, famously, missing the top of his – and enjoyed giving ever-more-outlandish on-stage explanations for the absent digit.

As to whether the pair are really talking about heaven, well, if there is a heaven, Dave Allen has been there since 2005, making God – and everyone else - smile.

Arminta Wallace

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.

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