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I don't go out of my way to be outrageous, I just go out of my way to look at things

Few comedians were better at such wry observations as the chain-smoking and urbane comedian and satirist Dave Allen.

Born David Tynan O'Mahony in Dublin, he came to London harbouring ambitions to become a journalist, but somehow missed the turn to Fleet Street and became a Butlin’s Redcoat instead.

First appearing on TV’s New Faces in 1959, he was to become on of the most familiar names in comedy for more than 40 years.

Perched on a high stool, sipping whiskey and working his way through a 60-a-day habit on primetime TV, he poked fun at institutional religion in comic anecdotes, sketches and wry one-liners on his eponymous TV shows.

“If it's sent by ship then it's a cargo, if it's sent by road then it's a shipment,” he observed.

Some of his skits had a surreal but interestingly informative twist. In one, he demonstrated how you could save yourself from drowning if your car went into the sea, by rolling down the windows.

He was only acting it out, but later observed: “People used to watch the programme to see if I would kill myself.”

Dave’s humour sometimes sailed pretty close to the wind: “We spend our lives on the run: we get up by the clock, eat and sleep by the clock, get up again, go to work - and then we retire. And what do they give us? A clock.”

The joke in full included the f-word, which prompted an affronted MP to raise the issue of “offensive language on the BBC” in Parliament.

Mystery surrounded how Dave had lost the top of his left forefinger, the circumstances of which he told many entertaining – and conflicting – stories about.

“Am I the Irish comedian with half a finger? No, I'm the Irish comedian with nine and a half fingers,” he said.

Famed for his wit and laid back delivery, Dave always signed off his show by raising his glass in a toast to his viewers.

“Goodnight,” he would say, “thank you, and may your God go with you.”