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Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Whatoff Allen

Wrapping up our little series on Operator 1384, we need to take a brief look at A. Whatoff Allen, who was one of a number of authors who ghosted work for David Harvey John Jones, later Barrington, aka John Henry Harvey, aka Ex-Legionnaire 1384.

Little is known about the curiously named A. Whatoff Allen. A Google search will result in a few hits, almost wholly based around two mentions: a review of his novel Exit an Admiral by Steve Lewis posted on Mystery*File on 15 May 2007 and a Find A Grave reference to David Whatoff Allen, who died in New Zealand on 22 May 1998. Even this date is disputed ... the Oxford University Gazette for 17 July 1997 – note the year – notes that he attended St Edmund Hall as a commoner in 1936-37 and died on 22 May 1997, aged 79.

David Whatoff Allen was the son of Alfred Whatoff Allen. Alfred was born on 8 March 1888 and baptized at St. John's, Kentish Town, on 20 May 1888. He was the son of Alfred Allen (1855-1940) and his wife Mary Ann (nee Adcock) of 11 Dartmouth Park Road and the baptizm was performed by Alfred, who was a clerk in Holy Orders.

Alfred was one of four children, his siblings including Ronald Castledine Allen (b. 22 January 1885, although he claimed to have been born a year earlier in 1884), who later emigrated to America and became a naturalized citizen in 1911, Norman Martin Allen (b. 4 August 1894), who died in 1897, aged only 2, and Wilfred Castledine Allen (b. 4 June 1891; d. 1956).

At the time of the 1891 census, the family were living in St. Pancras; in 1901 Alfred and his youngest son Wilfred were living at Christ Church Vicarage, Eastbourne. In 1905, Alfred Allen was married to Mary Longcroft Rich and had two further children, Muriel Longcroft Allen (b. 1906) and Charles Herbert Allen (b. 1908). Alfred later lived at 8 Redcliffe Road, Nottingham, and died at the General Hospital, Nottingham, on 20 November 1940, leaving effects of just over £4,000 to his son Alfred and daughter Muriel Longcroft Allen.

I haven't managed to track down Alfred Whatoff Allen in the 1901 census when his father was living in Eastbourne. Alfred may have been elsewhere as a scholar at school. In 1911, he was a boarder in 43 Rylett Road, Fulham, and worked as an insurance clerk. On 15 August 1914 he married Marjorie Christian Thompson (the daughter of military tailor Thomas Alexander Thompson) at St. George's, Tufnell Park, Islington. At that time he was living at 36 Parkhurst Road and his occupation given as Insurance Inspector. Their son, David Whatoff Allen, was born on 26 May 1917.

In the early 1920s, the Allens were living at Norbury Cottage and, later, Ivylands Cottage, in Epping, around which time Alfred became an active writer, contributing to The Sketch, Brief Stories and Windsor Magazine. His known output is very patchy, which may indicate that he wrote only in his spare time. He seems to have been a capable writer: chosen to ghost a novel for a popular figure – Operator 1384 – in 1935 (the book was published in January 1936), and author of a novel which reviewer Steve Lewis describes thus:
As a detective novel, Exit an Admiral leaves a certain amount to be desired, but it is also crammed full of clues, derring-do, more clues (a house full of them), mistaken identities, false trails, even more evidence and other clues, and I tell you up front, this was an extreme pleasure to read...
Lewis ends his review saying "One is ... left with the hope of another detective thriller from the pen or typewriter of A. Whatoff Allen, but for whatever reason, alas, such a one was not to be."

What  happened to Allen's burgeoning career as a novelist? According to the Electorial Register, in 1939 Allen was living at  26 Vereker Road, Fulham, with no sign of his wife. And that is the last trace of him, other than a pair of post-War plays, until his death, which was registered in Paddington, London, in 1970.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels
Exit an Admiral. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1938.

Books as Operator 1384 (ghosted)
The Catacombs of Death. London, Hutchinson & Co., Jan 1936.

Plays
One Little Kiss, with Edward Dyer (produced Adelphi Theatre, London, July 1929)
The Case of Barry Arden. A play in three acts (produced(?), © 16 March 1949)
Only Mugs Carry Guns (produced Theatre Royal, Chatham, 14 Feb 1955)

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