The Early Years
Al Dean was born Alan Robinson in January 1941 in Liverpool. The son of band pianist George Robinson, he grew up surrounded by the show business lifestyle, supplemented by frequent trips to the theatre with his parents, while he was growing up in the Wavertree area of the city.
After leaving Sefton Park Secondary Modern school at the age of 15 he started working on a Shropshire farm but soon switched jobs and worked as a butcher at the Co-Op.
Red and Blue Coats
An impromptu monologue in a talent contest at Butlin’s in Pwllheli led to him being invited to return just one year later, in 1961, as a Redcoat. He initially worked at Butlin’s Brighton Hotel, where he originally worked with Jimmy Tarbuck and in 1962 with another future New Faces contestant, Harry Dickman. He later moved to the Butlin’s site at Bognor Regis and in 1965 he swapped his red coat for a blue one when became entertainment manager at Pontin’s in Paignton, where he stayed for two years.
Cabaret Around The World
He eventually ended his years of entertaining holidaymakers to become a cabaret artist in Jersey. From 1967 onward he toured clubs all over the country as well as overseas in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Malta, South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
After ten years on the cabaret circuit he got his big chance on television. After telling New Faces producer, Les Cocks, some of his jokes over the telephone he was invited to appear on the show where he would get three minutes to impress the judges and the nation.
New Faces Appearances
In 1975 Al appeared on three shows in series three of New Faces, winning two and narrowly missing out in the Grand Final;
- 1 March 1975 – winner of heat 24
- 8 March 1975 – winner of the third All Winners Show (heat 25)
- 27 July 1975 – runner-up to series Grand Final winner Marti Caine
In the series three final Al was the last but one act to perform, the audience loved his three minute routine and his marks were the highest of the show so far with just one act to come. The final act, Marti Caine, scored just one point more, leaving Al a whisker away from a prize Las Vegas show.
Mr Showbiz himself, Sir Lew Grade, told Al at a special VIP party after the final that he should have won. Even series winner, Marti Caine, said; “Al is a better comedian than I’ll ever be.”
On 27 March 1976 Al appeared on New Faces again, as a guest on an All Winners Show in series four, won by comedian Jim Davidson. His guest appearance on the night was double the time that the other acts were allowed, but it was clear that he was ad-libbing and was getting numerous prompts from the production team to wrap up the act, which seemed to make light of and ignore.
In July 1978 Al married long-time girlfriend Susan Leigh, in a ceremony at St. Saviour’s Church, Oxton, Birkenhead. Susan was a laboratory technician but had been able to join Al on his tours of Malta and South Africa. The couple met eight years earlier and had been engaged for the previous three years. Their daughter Faye was born a few years later.
In 1979 Granada Television’s announced the return of The New Comedians once again produced by Johnny Hamp. The new series started in July and featured Al Dean and a number of comics from Merseyside, including Mick Miller, Stan Boardman, Micky Finn, Vince Earl and another former New Faces act Bobby Kaye.
Summer Seasons of Fun
In the summer of 1979 Al joined the cast of the Startime ’79 show at Margate’s Winter Gardens. Al provided the comedy element, which included a Mick Jagger impression, alongside the madcap Rod Hull and Emu. Singers Lulu and New Faces series four viewers winner Frank Leyton provided the musical entertainment.
As the decade changed and the eighties arrived Al continued to perform his own unique style of comedy on the club circuit and had many more summer seasons performing alongside some great cabaret line-ups, including some other New Faces contestants;
Showtime ’80 – Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth
with Les Dennis, The Krankies and The Black Abbots
Holiday Laughter Show ’81 – Royal Opera House, Scarborough
with The New Black Abbots, Stan Boardman, The McLean Sisters and Ward Allen and Friends
Showtime ’82 – North Pier, Blackpool
with The Krankies, The Black Abbots, Peter Price and Danielle Carson
Showtime ’83 – Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth
with The Krankies, The Black Abbots and Peter Price
Showtime ’84 – Pavilion, Bournemouth
with The Krankies, Roqer de Courcey, Duncan Norvelle and Jamie Michael Stewart
The Melody and Laughter Show ’86
with Dana, Black Onyx and Melody and Laughter Dancers
In April 1984 Al was a guest on BBC One’s The Laughter Show with comedy impressionists Les Dennis and Dustin Gee along with comedian Roy Jay and pop star Nik Kershaw.
Taken Far Too Soon
In the summer of 1994 Al appeared in the touring show We’ll Meet Again with Linda Nolan. During the show he complained of back pain, but carried on making the audience laugh. It was after the show he collapsed and was diagnosed with bone cancer . Six weeks later he died in the Marie Curie hospice in Liverpool. The comedian’s funeral took place at the United Reformed Church in Allerton a few days later.
Paying tribute to his friend, fellow comic John Martin said: “There are two types of great comedian. Those who tell good jokes and rely on their material and those who are natural clowns, like Tommy Cooper. Al was a natural clown.”
“He was among that rare breed, a great comedian who was also genuinely funny and, more importantly, a nice man. Liverpool will be a sadder place without him. I shall miss him.” said friend, Les Dennis.
Ken Dodd said: “He was a fabulous funnyman with a true humorist’s creative eye for what made great comedy.”