Jim Allen (1926-1999)

JIM Allen, well known as a writer for television, stage and cinema, died of cancer last summer. All of his work was nourished by his roots in the Manchester working class. His life-experience — his ‘universities’ — as a conscript soldier, in prison (after a fight outside a chip-shop), as a building labourer, as a docker and as a miner, turned up in his plays and film scripts. His life-long political outlook was formed in the 1950s, as a member of the Trotskyist group led by Gerry Healy. At a time when the Lancashire National Union of Mineworkers was under right-wing domination, he was the major influence in a militant newspaper, The Miner, produced from his NUM branch.

In the 1960s, he became a full-time writer, first at Granada on Coronation Street, and then for the BBC’s pioneering drama series The Wednesday Play. Although by then Jim was no longer an active member of the Trotskyist movement, it’s fair to say he was instrumental in bringing many writers, directors, producers and actors to Trotskyist politics, both by example in his work and in his connections with the Socialist Labour League. After the May-June events of 1968 in France, regular open meetings were set up by Gerry Healy which attracted many television and media people, actors and writers into or around the movement. This contact was made possible largely through Jim Allen, and these meetings continued every Friday well into the 1970s.

Jim Allen brought the working class in struggle onto the screen. His most memorable television works are probably The Big Flame, a story of a workers’ occupation of the Liverpool Docks, and Days of Hope, a sequence of four films which told the story of the lives of three workers from the Great War to the General Strike. His later maturer work of the 1990s was in film, notably Hidden Agenda, Raining Stones and the Spanish Civil War film Land and Freedom. He found a perfect collaborator in director Ken Loach, who was able to get the best out of him. Jim Allen’s writing was raw, tough, colourful and passionate. He never lost his Socialist convictions or forgot his working-class roots. He hated from his guts all betrayers of the working class, Social Democratic and Stalinist alike. In some ways, it was an unquestioning conviction — ‘We have the map and the compass’, as he would say — with all the strength and weaknesses of that position. He represented a stage in the history of the struggle. And of his generation there were few writers who had his depth of commitment and passion.

Cyril Smith and Roger Smith