In the early 1960s, Allan studied teacher training in Sunderland, where he also met Janet, his future wife. He had tackled a wide variety of jobs, ranging from postman to plumber’s mate before working as a primary teacher for ten years. Janet, however, discovering that she ‘couldn’t do the policing job’, went on to study graphic design, which led her to her vocation as an illustrator.
Several years later, bored with her then current job, and desperate for a creative opening, Janet asked Allan to write a children’s book for her to illustrate. Allan, having always wanted to write but being unable to find his niche, suddenly felt ‘as though [he] was a clockwork toy and she had turned the key’. So began the career which would later lead them to become one of Britain’s most successful author/illustrator teams, producing ingenious books of the highest quality.
Influenced by comics and cartoons, their perfect partnership went on to produce masterpieces including PEEPO!, which reflected Allan’s childhood (‘I am the Peepo! baby.’), EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM and THE BABY’S CATALOGUE. These books have all become children’s classics, with their ‘rhythmic prose, their mix of dottiness and sentiment appealing both to young children and to the parents who read them aloud’ (Louette Harding, The Daily Mail).
Working together, they saw their books as more than simply the combination of words and pictures – rather, a whole package which worked as a unity: ‘the tale is not in the typescript or in the pictures but in a way the two go together, a marriage of words and pictures’. Striving for perfection, their main aim was ‘to produce William Morris books at Penguin prices.’
Allan’s writing took less time than Janet’s illustration, so he also collaborated with other illustrators, such as Fritz Wegner, Andre Amstutz, Colin McNaughton, Faith Jaques, Joe Wright and Emma Chichester Clarke, thus creating the bestselling Happy Families series, which have been called ‘miniature masterpieces’. The series has sold in excess of 2.6 million copies since its launch in 1980.
1980 also saw the birth of their daughter, Jessica who was a great inspiration to their work.
Allan also went on to write a range of fiction titles for older children, including WOOF!, THE BEAR NOBODY WANTED, THE GIANT BABY and THE BETTER BROWN STORIES. He is also much loved by teachers throughout the country for his two phenomenally successful poetry collections, HEARD IT IN THE PLAYGROUND and PLEASE, MRS BUTLER, which look at the funny side of life at school.
Since Janet’s sadly premature death in 1994, Allan has continued to work, recently producing his beautiful tribute to her, JANET’S LAST BOOK, and continues to create wonderful books for children of all ages.
In April 1998, Allan moved to London.