He was born William Ernest Chesney Allen in Battersea, London, England, married Aleta Cosette Turner in Leeds in 1926 and died in Midhurst, Sussex, England. He began his career in straight acting, making his debut in stock at the Wimbledon Theatre, London, in 1912. As music hall comedians, they would often feature a mixture of comedy and music in their act and this led to a successful recording career as a duo with Bud Flanagan from 1924 and roles in film and television. Flanagan and Allen were also members of the Crazy Gang and worked with that team for many years concurrently.
Flanagan and Allen’s songs featured the same, usually gentle humour for which the duo were known in their live performances, and during the war reflected the experiences of ordinary people during wartime. Songs like “We’re Going To Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line” mocked the German defences (Siegfried Line), while others like “Miss You” sang of missing one’s sweetheart during enforced absences. Other songs such as their best known “Underneath the Arches” (which Flanagan co-wrote with Reg Connelly) had universal themes such as friendship, which again, helped people relate to the subject matter. The music was usually melodic, following a binary verse–verse–chorus structure, with a small dance band or orchestra providing the backing. The vocals were distinctive because while Flanagan was at least a competent singer and sang the melody lines, Allen used an almost spoken delivery to provide the harmonies.
Flanagan and Allen stopped performing together with Chesney Allen’s retirement on health grounds in the late 1950s following the penultimate season of the Crazy Gang’s show at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London (His place for the final season was taken by ‘Monsewer’ Eddie Gray), although he continued working in theatrical management and returned to make occasional guest appearances. His last recording was for the album of the stage show Underneath the Arches in 1982. Chesney Hawkes is named after Chesney Allen.
- April, 05, 1893
- Battersea, London
- November, 13, 1982
- Midhurst, Sussex, England
- Chichester Crematorium and Garden of Remembrance
- West Sussex, England