This week’s post is written by Geoff Carter. Geoff has also kindly loaned items belonging to Allen Rowley to the Breaking the News exhibition and donated some incredible 18th century newspapers to our permanent collection.
Allen Rowley was born at Thornhill, Dewsbury, and as a nephew of the village newsagent, started delivering the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post at the age of 9. At age 12, he surprised his mother by landing a piece in her favourite women’s magazine.
Allen was interested in aircraft since he was a small boy, an interest no doubt stimulated by a cousin of his who worked for various aircraft companies in the Midlands and South of England prior to World War Two. He became an art student but, thinking that there was little future in this line, in 1942, he left art school and became a trainee reporter on the Dewsbury District News.
After military service, spent mainly in the War Office in London, Allen returned to Yorkshire and moved to the Wakefield Express as a reporter and feature writer. At the age of 23 he took unpaid leave to set out on a working holiday which took him halfway across America. At that time British currency regulations meant that travellers were allowed to take only £10 out of the country, but he came back showing a profit earned from magazine contributions and local radio work. He worked on eight newspapers in all, beginning on the Dewsbury Reporter series, getting his first experience of a daily on the Yorkshire Evening News at Doncaster. He arrived there having spent some time in the United States where he had acquired rimless glasses, a Fedora hat and the hint of an American accent. He was soon dubbed “The Senator”.
Allen then moved on to Leeds where he worked as a reporter, feature writer and deputy features editor with the Yorkshire Evening News, then left to work in London on the Sunday People. Sheer ingenuity landed him the job on the Sunday people. He drew a caricature of himself with various features labelled – “nose for news”, “foot to stick in doors” and so on, and sent it to the editor. During this period Allen also did weekend subbing stints on the old News Chronicle.
He enjoyed working in Fleet Street but London life paled for Allen and he yearned for a job as aviation correspondent and when such a position came up back on the Yorkshire Evening News, he returned North to take up the position. He then proceeded to produce a set of aviation scoops which caused some fluttering in the corridors of power at the then Yorkshire Conservative Newspaper Company.
As early as the late 50s, with extensive contacts in the United States Air Force, he was able to fly in a Super Sabre at 1000mph, breaking the speed of sound and joining the famous ‘Mach Buster’s Club’, one of the few non-American civilians to exceed the speed of sound and one of the few civilians anywhere to make such a trip.
In 1955, he received an award from the American Strategic Air Command for his reporting from an all-night trip of airborne refuelling of B-47 bombers.
He took part in many inaugural flights and ‘one off’ operations, including the first transatlantic flights of 707 and DC8 aircraft of various airlines. He produced many informed features of the American missile programme and once spent three weeks touring the USAF missile bases in the personal aircraft of the late John Foster Dulles. He became the first journalist to reveal that American made long-range missiles were to be stationed on British RAF stations and saw the first of them tested by the RAF at Vandenburg, California, and revealed where the longest runway in Britain was to be built to accommodate USAF nuclear bombers, a story which created uproar in Parliament. At the invitation of the then president of Trans World Airlines, he conducted seminars on Press Relations at TWA’s world Managers’ Conference in Madrid. During his years as a full time aviation correspondent, Allen produced a number of highly detailed books on various British airports, plus the first comprehensive guide to them all.
Again in 1955 he was the first British journalist to be granted a visa to fly in the only aircraft of the western democracies permitted behind the Iron Curtain, carrying important passengers and top-secret documents for various embassies and consulates.
He flew to Khartoum for lunch in a prototype VC-10 and was home again for fish and chips that evening. In all, he flew in more than 70 different types of aircraft, including several prototypes. These kind of activities resulted in the then editor of the Evening Post, a former air correspondent himself, enquiring as to whether Allen would like to join them as he was heard to say he would like to have an air correspondent who actually enjoyed flying!
Though happy enough at the Yorkshire Evening News, he accepted an offer from the Yorkshire Evening Post and joined them as their aviation correspondent. He quickly persuaded them to let the Evening Post take over sponsorship of the SSAFA Air Display which the Yorkshire Evening News was proposing to drop following his departure. As a result, this Service’s charity show was saved. Allen’s association with SSAFA began in 1954, and he was chief organiser and commentator at the Yorkshire Air Pageant, held at Leeds Bradford Airport, from 1958 to 1962. His association with Leeds Bradford Airport continued into retirement. When the pageant was discontinued at LBA due to costs, it moved to RAF Church Fenton, where he continued to be principal organiser and on the day itself, an inspired, knowledgeable and witty commentator until 1989. By then his work in this area was recognised and in October 1989, at a presentation at Kensington Palace, Allen became only the sixth person to receive the Prince Michael of Kent Award for his work, mainly through air displays which raised well over £1,000,000 thanks to his foresight in saving the show.
During this period the then editor of the Evening Post did a great deal to help Polish ex-airmen who had been unable to return to their home country after World War Two, and in recognition of the work Allen and he did for them, in 1969 they were both presented with the Polish Gold Cross of Merit by Group Captain R Beill representing General Anders, one of Poland’s senior wartime generals.
Allen had a break from the Evening Post in 1965 when he accepted the position of Air Correspondent with The Edmonton Journal in Canada. He was responsible for aviation matters from the American border up to the Arctic Circle and travelled widely in the job.
Subsequently, he decided to return to Britain and on January 1st 1967 was appointed Promotions and Publicity Manager of Yorkshire Post Newspapers. Allen, always fizzing with enthusiasm, took up his new role with zest and under his leadership, bright ideas were flung out like sparks flying from a Catherine wheel. What was more, he had the organisational ability to ensure that his notions were put into practice. A major task was the formation of the Yorkshire Post Readers’ Holidays organisation and Allen’s contacts in the airline and travel world played a major part in that success. He also continued to write on aviation matters and has produced many special editions and features for the Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Evening Post and other publications. He inherited various company institutions like the Yorkshire Post Literary Lunches and the annual Yorkshire Evening Post Ballroom Dancing Competition at the Spa, Bridlington. These he nurtured, and he was soon adding others of his own, including the immensely popular Pick the Spot competition, and Readers’ Holidays grew to become the Yorkshire Evening Post Women’s Circle. Once or twice, he somehow enthused the editor to promote a bonny baby competition.
A catalogue of his enterprises seems endless, almost daunting. He had diesel locomotives named after the two newspapers, he took up a campaign to retain Tetley’s dray horses on the streets of Leeds, and when they were reprieved, he led them in stately triumph to the newspapers’ building in ‘Wellington Street. Later he had one of the Shire horses named after him – ‘Rowley’.
Indulging his interest in aviation, he was instrumental in getting Concorde to land at Leeds Bradford International Airport, and was also the first person to step off a Boeing 747 jumbo jet there, the “Spirit of Yorkshire”, which he organised in 1984 as the result of a long time bet with the then Managing Director, Gordon Dennison. Later that day over 800 Evening Post and Yorkshire Post readers were carried on two trips on the British Airways jumbo.
Allen was also a fan of North American railroads since being a small boy and there is hardly an American state or Canadian province that he hasn’t crossed, chasing trains with his cameras. In April 1983 he and his wife Joyce, were entertained to dinner by the Vice President of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, aboard the special observation car which Harry S.Truman crossed the USA on his presidential campaign trail. Kansas City Southern marked the occasion by presenting Allen with an engraved desk ornament acknowledging his contribution as a writer on American railroads.
Allen retired as Promotions and Publicity Manager in 1992 but was immediately requested to continue writing on aviation matters and is other love – railways; and more especially those in North America. In retirement at his home in Cookridge, Leeds, Allen continued writing, producing a succession of books on aviation, steam railways, and old Leeds, as well as quarterly publications for rail and aviation enthusiasts.
He was made an Honorary Life Member of the Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Air Forces Memorial in 2002, a very fitting and well deserved accolade. To quote Allen on Yorkshire – “the county which has given me so much pleasure and pride”.
Allen sadly passed away in November 2006, aged 79.
In a fitting tribute to Allen, the new housing estate which has been built on what was the Officers’ Mess at Church Fenton (opposite the main gate) has been named Rowley Fields.
You can view some of the Allen Rowley Collection at Leeds Central Library’s exhibition Breaking the News until the 7 April. Many of his books are also available to borrow, please have a look on our catalogue.