Posted: June 14th, 2021
ALLAN WHITE spent his entire career on The Sporting Life, principally in the paper’s engine room, the Form Room. The Form Room was a “factory” producing fresh data every day for horses racing in the UK, and sometimes abroad, for the following day’s form pages. Allan joined the paper in the days of Odhams Newspapers in Long Acre, where many of us cut our teeth, and in Allan’s day, form was produced manually in a room full of clattering typewriters and cigarette smoke.
Allan took ill-health early retirement in 1995, aged 50, and he died on May 16 , aged 81. His daughter Debbie said: “My father joined the Life aged 15 and worked there for 40 years. I know he loved his time there.” Allan’s great passion was his family, and he also had a keen interest in all things military. He leaves daughter Debbie, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Tributes from Allan’s colleagues on The Sporting Life…
Mick Malone: I first met Allan “Chalkie” White as a 15-year-old. On a December morning in 1963, I arrived at 93 Long Acre, with a family friend, and entered the marble hall with the bronze bust of Hannen Swaffer. And I met Albert Bright, who had arranged my interview, and took the lift, operated by little Freddie, to the second floor.
Bertie took me to the Editorial Manager’s office and introduced me to Len Sandys. I also shook hands with Allan who was then Len’s assistant. The written test I was about to sit was a two-paragraph account of a chap who’d had an accident on his bike and was taken to hospital. It had to be subbed down and spelling mistakes corrected.
Len Sandys then left the office and left me to it. Allan was still present and could see I was confused. My spelling ability was always good but, being a naive young boy, I didn’t have a clue what “subbed down” meant. Thank God Chalkie was still sitting there. He explained what was required and gave me the confidence to complete the test which led to my first job on the Life as a messenger/tea boy.
That episode summed Allan up, and through all the years I’ve known him, he was a mild-mannered bloke who would always help and assist anybody.
Allan later went in to the Form Room and worked under Alfie Richards for many years. When new technology and databases were introduced into newspapers, the production of form was totally changed. Allan decided to move into the copytaking department, working under my very close friend, the late Norman Gray. Allan was, I know, a much-valued member of that department and worked there until he took early retirement. I have very fond memories of working with Allan and enjoying many a beer with him and all the lads that made The Sporting Life what it was. RIP Allan “Chalkie” White.
Geoff Duffield: Such sad news, Allan and I were particularly close during the Form Room days and regularly went to lunch together with Stuart (“Yes, that’s right”) Oliver and others.
Allan originally started as Len Sandys’s office boy but, being a lover of overtime, asked to join the Form Room when the next vacancy occurred. He was a non-smoker and in the little room where the form was knocked out on typewriters, the six other members of staff were all smokers. It must have been hell for Allan. The only window had to be wedged open with a stick, and a cloud of smoke constantly floated in the room at about six feet high. But he was a great worker, coped superbly and could type faster than most.
Allan rarely lost his temper and was a most mild-mannered man, but when he did go off on one, his always-pale face used to go beetroot red as he prepared to explode. A very fair-minded man, he could always talk sense about other people’s problems, and with seven staff pounding away on typewriters for up to ten hours a day in the Form Room sweatshop, there was many a time the lads fell out. Allan was the peacemaker.
He had a great sense of humour, which you needed in the Form Room, and was an unforgettable character. Allan and I had a terrific working relationship, he was always there when you needed him, and it is such a pity he has passed. God bless you Allan.
Jim Murphy: So sad to hear about Allan White. We had many a laugh in the old Form Room with Allan. He would take us for a ride sometimes when he had to pick up editor Ossie Fletcher’s car, often going through the tunnel on Waterloo Bridge at what seemed like 100mph. Bow Street court was also a favourite lunchtime visit with Allan.
Chris Gundry: I worked in close association with Allan many moons ago. Allan was the secretary to the editor’s secretary and I worked as a youngster as the editor’s secretary’s secretary for a week. If you don’t understand that you would have been no good on The Sporting Life!
Lifers were given a good grounding – sampling work in all departments so that we would learn the many aspects of how the newspaper worked. My time with Allan and Len Sandys was fun. Our editor Ossie Fletcher had the most distinctive style of hand-writing – nobody could decipher it! One of my tasks was to type Ossie’s hand-written replies to readers, and if it hadn’t been for Allan, I would still be there now trying to understand what the hell he had written!
Thank you, Allan for putting an arm around this youngster in his hour of need! Can I say to Allan’s family they can be so proud of a nice and gentle man.
Paul Fry: Another sad loss to the Life teams of yesteryear. RIP, Allan.
Sharon Powell: Gutted to hear this about Allan. I worked under Norm [Norman Gray] and Allan as a copytaker when I made the jump across from News International and will never, ever forget how lovely and accommodating Allan always seemed. He was kind, a total gentleman but no mug. I had a lot of time for him and he looked after me (regular, steady shifts) he was just a lovely, genuine bloke. I’m so very sad to hear that he’s gone, but that’s gonna be one helluva party up there.
Jim Sollis: So sad, our Life family is being depleted so quickly. Unfortunately at our age we get more sad news than good, this will the fourth loss in about 12 months.
Terry McGovern: Allan was such a lovely, kind bloke, but had another side to his character as “The Demon Driver”. He had a role as editor Ossie Fletcher’s driver, and a regular trick was to somehow get the keys so a few of us could pile into the editor’s car and Allan would go blasting over Waterloo Bridge at high speed. (Obviously this was in the days before speed cameras!)
Paul Duffett: Another Life stalwart has left us. Allan was a kind and gentle bloke who could take a bit of stick in good spirit – like all of us – and gave it back, too. Though I never worked closely with him, he was always a good conversation and we were almost neighbours. In fact, the last time I saw him was on the 132 bus to Bexleyheath when we had a good catch-up. He’ll be missed.
Kevin Impey: I first met Allan when I joined The Sporting Life in 1966. When I took up full-time residency in the Form Room a year or so later, I worked at close hand with Allan on a day-to-day basis for nearly eight years and enjoyed good-hearted banter with him at all times.
Working at the coalface in the Form Room needed a good sense of humour and character – Allan had both in spades. In the often-stressful environment of the Form Room, one also needed to be composed, something that I (and others) would often fail to be, and would often be heard uttering various expletives. I do not recall Allan ever using any strong language and he was, of course, a diehard professional on the Life for 40 years.
When I moved to Sidcup in 1985, Allan and I would often meet on the train going to work. After he left the Life, I bumped into to him several times with my wife Pat, while shopping in Bexleyheath. We would chat until his bus was due – perhaps the one on which he met Hopper?
Above all, I found Allan to be kind-hearted, particularly so to our late friend Stuart Oliver – another lynchpin of the Form department. My sincere condolences to Debbie and all of Allan’s family and friends. RIP, Chalky
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