DOLLY ALLEN is fondly remembered as the Queen of Black Country Comedy. It may be 17 years since she passed away, aged 84, but the laughter she brought to countless folk still echoes down the years.
If you're fortunate enough to own one of the recordings of her stage performances you'll appreciate the drollery of her typically Black Country humour and her timeless, deadpan delivery.
Now friends and former colleagues, led by the Black Country Night Out stalwart Ray Hingley, are planning a special tribute concert next year to coincide with the unveiling of a blue plaque in Dolly's honour at the Civic Hall in Brierley Hill.
Ray Hingley came to the Bugle offices to talk about the plans for Dolly's memorial. Ray said, "On 22nd June, 2008, I am hoping to stage a Black Country Night Out show and to unveil a blue plaque as a lasting memorial to the lady who brought joy and laughter to so many.
"The original Black Country Night Out show opened at the Citizens' Theatre, Brierley Hill in 1971 and ran for over twenty years. During that time we raised many thousands of pounds for various charitable causes. Dolly Allen never said no to the hundreds of charitable requests we received.
"The show is planned for Sunday, 22nd June, 2008, at the Civic Hall, Brierley Hill and will raise funds for the Mary Stevens Hospice, Stourbridge, and the St Anthony's Cheshire Home, Penn."
"I intend," continued Ray, "to open an account with Dudley Building Society, in the name of 'I Remember Dolly', and to this end I am appealing for sponsors and donations. I am trying to keep costs, hire of venue, advertising, and the plaque, as low as possible, enabling us to donate sizeable amounts to our chosen charities. Any help will be greatly appreciated."
Dolly Allen was born Doris Evelyn Baugh, at Wordsley Workhouse, on 9th April, 1906, and was orphaned just 10 days later. She was adopted by William and Elizabeth Parker, who renamed her Dorothy, and she grew up at 78 Stourbridge Road, Halesowen. Her first taste of the stage came during the First World War when she sang "England's in Need of Soldiers and Sailors" in a talent competition at the Drill Hall cinema in Halesowen. Dolly's first job was, aged 13, at James Grove's button factory, and after a year she went to work at Hackett Brothers' nut and bolt works in Victoria Street.
It was here that Dolly began to hone her natural wit and humour among her work colleagues and there she met her husband Leonard Allen. They were married in 1926 at Stourbridge Register Office.
During the Second World War Dolly started to do "turns" at works parties and in 1946 she appeared at Lye Church Hall as one of Harry Hatton's "Local Discoveries". From that she began to appear at clubs and chapel groups in the Halesowen area, performing her humorous monologues. Dolly first appeared on radio in 1956, on the Manchester-based show "When You're In" with Bill Maynard. Through the 1960s and early '70s she continued to appear at clubs and shows in the Black Country, and in 1968 she won the Black Country Dialect competition at the Dudley Festival of Music and Drama. By that time she had left Hackett's and was working as a cleaner.
It was at the age of 69, in 1975, that Ray Hingley invited Dolly to join the team of the Black Country Night Out. She was an instant hit and from that came records and appearances on television and radio. The Black Country Night Out went on tour to Spain and Canada, entertaining the ex-pat Black Country communities. In the 1980s Dolly appeared as an extra in 'Crossroads' and featured in schools' programmes on English dialects. By now Dolly was firmly established as the queen of Black Country comedy, with her trademark straw hat with its turkey feather and her catchphrase of "Hello, my luvvers!", and she made many appearances in charity fund raising shows across the region. She carried on performing right up to the end of her days and she died, after a short illness, at Sandwell Hospital on 25th June, 1990. Her funeral took place at Dixon's Green Methodist Church, Dudley, followed by a brief service at Gornal Wood Crematorium, where there is a commemorative plaque to her memory.
Donations and cheques to 'I Remember Dolly' can be sent to Ray Hingley at 2 Richmond Gardens, Amblecote, Stourbridge, DY8 4HG.