In British history, what is Harry Bernard Allen's gruesome claim to "fame"?
Harry Bernard Allen (1911-1992) was a Yorkshireman, although raised in Lancashire and educated at a Catholic school.
For a while, he plied the wholly innocuous trade of a bus driver, before becoming an assistant hangman in 1941. Unlike others who have held this sinister position, Allen seems to have been entirely untroubled by his conscience and to say that he came out with some insensitive remarks would be an understatement. On witnessing his first execution he "memorably" described it as "A good, clean job, and not as gruesome as I had expected". He combined his work at the gallows with running public houses!
He assisted at the execution of Derek Bentley, who was later found to be innocent, in the notorious "Let him have it" case and hanged despite having learning difficulties. Some reports have suggested his son assisted him, but this, as Brian Allen himself stated, was untrue. Brian trained as a psychiatric nurse, and devoted himself to saving life, not taking it.
To the end of his own life, Allen boasted that he never felt any remorse and slept peacefully on the nights before and after a hanging.
In a bizarre twist to the story; his granddaughter is the comedian Fiona Allen, who rose to fame in "Smack the Pony". She has referred, powerfully, to her haunted legacy and the awareness of her grandfather as both a sweet and funny man and one who was employed by the government to take lives.
The last executions in the UK took place in 1964.