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Burners We Once Knew: Rod Allen

By Mrs. Lucky

You must be brief when you write for the Beacon. Each inch of broadsheet is allocated. Rod Allen could plug in your thumb drive, click on a story, and with a few adroit taps remove 40 surplus words.

“Why those?” I asked him once.

“They didn’t advance the story.”

Rod Allen and Nod Miller
Rod Allen and Nod Miller

I had been struggling alone in my steamy trailer. Writing tight is tough when your friends are leaving to dance. These days every phrase I diddle too long gets marched up Rod’s editorial scaffold.

I met Rod Allen and his partner Nod Miller at their first Burning Man in 2007 when he volunteered at the Black Rock Beacon. He was a big, white-bearded British guy in a loud shirt and failing health, holding a stuffed panda. Nod had a sharp wit, flashy glasses, and tendrils of magenta braids framing a friendly, forthright face.

Being around Rod and Nod was part “Mother Goose” and part “Clockwork Orange.”

“It’s time to shoot up, love,” she’d say to remind him to take his insulin.

They cruised the Playa in a black London hack and took a Basil-Fawlty-like glee in teasing silly Americans. But when it came time to prepare a story for publication, it was quite apparent he was a pro.

Rod Allen was born with a digital mind in an analog world. He had a gift for arriving at the threshold of media changes. In the early 1970s he was a British ad man in New York City. When the 1980s dawned, he returned to the U.K. bent on a career in journalism. He championed satellite transmission as an executive producer of London Television, an early non-BBC network.  He chaired the Edinburgh TV Festival and edited and published Broadcast Magazine. In the 1990s, he headed Harper Collins’ effort to take the dictionary from paper to pixels.

For all his professional accomplishments he was soppy creature. A stuffed bear collector who once called Nod from an overseas conference in tears, his beloved Panda-Panda had been left beneath the hotel bed. A special flight home was arranged.

Rod and Nod met on an academic panel, later collaborating on scholarly work including a 1993 paper that anticipated the rise of reality television. Their domestic relationship developed over time. They cared for Nod’s aging mother at home until her death last year. They delighted in finding the name of Rod’s son, a sound technician, in the closing credits of “The West Wing” and went to back to Burning Man together.

Being edited, like being kissed, is not always a good thing. It is an intimate act. Your work awakens in the hands of a fine editor. The best editors, like the best lovers, leave you better the next time. They pipe advice in your ear long after the encounter.

Rod died on Christmas morning. His son Nicholas Allen survives him, as do three grandsons, a pair of curly-coated Cornish cats, and Panda-Panda. Nod Miller has lost the love of her life. Were it possible to “shoot up love,” we at the Black Rock Beacon would pass her a powerful dose.

Now that Rod won’t be coming back to Burning Man, with his deft edits and crazy shirts, a bit of magic is gone. I’ll remember his advice when I’m desperate to finish up so I can get out to dance. The story must advance. Beacon writing need be terse.