Allan McKeown began his career as a hairdresser before becoming one of Britain’s most successful TV producers
Allan McKeown and his wife Tracey Ullman Photo: REX
Allan McKeown , who has died aged 67, was one of the first independent television producers in Britain, and with his wife, the comedienne Tracey Ullman, won eight US Emmys with their comedy Tracey Takes On...
McKeown began his career in the 1960s as a hairdresser, and developed a star-studded roster of celebrity clients, including The Beatles, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Michael Caine. He created hairstyles for films such as If (1968) and Get Carter (1971), but while still in his twenties decided to go into television.
After working on commercials, he helped set up his own production company, Witzend, with the scriptwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, working initially from his back bedroom. Later he was executive producer on several hit television shows, including Auf Wiedersehen, Pet; Shine on Harvey Moon; Lovejoy; and Birds of a Feather.
One of his final television ventures was Mumbai Calling, a sitcom set in an Indian call centre inspired by visiting his daughter at Leeds University and failing to get her internet to work. Told by her provider to call back in an hour when "the Indians come on, they are much smarter than us", McKeown was struck by the fact that a man in Mumbai had fixed the problem where a Briton in Leeds had failed, and successfully pitched the idea to ITV.
Allan John McKeown was born in Ealing, west London, on May 21 1946, and brought up at Hainault in Essex, where his father was a builder’s clerk of works. He left Beal Grammar School, Ilford, to become a trainee hairdresser at Vidal Sassoon in Bond Street, opening his own salon in 1966.
In 1969 McKeown became a producer at James Garrett and Partners, then the largest producer of television commercials in Britain, eventually becoming managing director. He left to form Witzend with Clement and La Frenais, making commercials at first and following up with the feature film Porridge (1979).
Witzend soon diversified into making programmes for both British and American television networks, among them The Other 'Arf (1980-84), a sitcom vehicle for the actress Lorraine Chase; Shine On Harvey Moon (1982); Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983-86); and Girls On Top (1985-86).
Witzend expanded to become SelecTV, Britain’s first publicly listed production company, and in 1988 McKeown founded (with Maurice Gran and Lawrence Marks) Alomo Productions, which subsequently merged with Thames TV. In 1990 he became a founding member of the Meridian consortium, which won the ITV television franchise for the south-east of England, and ran the company’s comedy programming.
McKeown sold his stake in SelecTV to Pearson in 1996 for £51 million and moved to the United States with Tracey Ullman, producing her HBO comedy series Tracey Takes On..., which ran for five years and picked up eight Emmys. He also produced his wife’s quick-fire comedy sketch series Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union (2008–10).
McKeown launched his own independent American production company, Allan McKeown Presents..., in 2009.
He also became involved in live stage productions, including Jerry Springer the Opera at the National Theatre, which won the Olivier Award in 2004 for best new musical. In 2005, with Yoko Ono, he produced Lennon the Musical on Broadway.
Earlier this year McKeown and his wife ranked 28th on The Sunday Times Rich List of entertainers, with an estimated net worth of £75 million.
Allan McKeown, who had been suffering from cancer, is survived by his wife, whom he married in 1983, and by their two children. His 27-year-old daughter, Mabel McKeown, has been tipped to succeed the veteran MP Joan Walley to contest the Parliamentary seat of Stoke-on-Trent North for the Labour Party at the next general election.
Allan McKeown, born May 21 1946, died December 24 2013