Remembering Charles Allen

It is with great sadness that we write of the death of Charles Allen who died from cancer on the 16 August 2020. Charles, born in India in 1940 (one of the sixth generation of his family to be born there), was a good friend to the Royal Asiatic Society, a Fellow since 2001, keenly interested in its activities and contributing to them in many ways. He was a frequent visitor to the Reading Room when I had the pleasure of getting to know him a little. But others at the Society knew him far better and his enthusiasm, knowledge and wisdom were both respected and valued by us all. Dr Alison Ohta, Director of the Society, remembers:

His work brought many historians into the field and set out paths for them to follow. His books brought to life periods of Indian history which were often complicated and multifaceted and guided the reader through with safe hands.  Added to that he was a very kind and generous man and it was always a great pleasure to be in his company.

Charles Allen at the occasion of the book launch of “Coromandel: a personal history of South India”.

Charles was a prolific author, writing more than 20 books on the history of India. His 2017 publication, Coromandel: a personal history of South India, was launched at the Society in November of that year. On that occasion, Charles spoke to a very full lecture theatre, giving thanks to all those who had helped him with the book and then sharing some of his personal thoughts about his life travelling in India.

His 2015 publication, The Prisoner of Kathmandu: Brian Hodgson in Nepal, was also launched at the Society as part of the “Updating Hodgson” Special Study Day hosted by the Society in association with the Bagri Foundation in October 2015. But these are only two of his publications which date back to the 1970s. He interviewed the last generation of British administrators of India for the BBC radio series, Plain Tales from the Raj, in 1974 which led to his bestselling publication of the same name. Through the years, his research took him to many parts of Asia and to an understanding of the nuances of the difficulties in writing about its history. His visits to the Reading Room were often to research some detail for whatever he was working on.

Charles Allen at the Hodgson Study Day, 2015

In 2004 Charles was honoured by the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. He received their Sir Percy Sykes gold medal for services to South Asian history. Charles is survived by his wife, Liz, and their children, Poppy, George and Louise, and four grandchildren. We send them our condolences at this sad time. A full obituary can be found on the Guardian website.