Alan Benson MBE - 1969 - 2023by Robin Ince & Trent Burton
On December 17 2023 Alan Benson MBE passed away. Here are some words from Cosmic Shambles co-founders Robin Ince & Trent Burton.
“Today was the funeral of Alan Benson – sadly, I could not go as I have a heavy cold and was worried about passing it on. I am told that funeral was packed and the speeches were wonderful and moving.
If you don’t know about Alan, he was a bright, sharp, kind and curious human and a relentless and passionate campaigner for disability rights, in particular fighting to ensure transport access. He would often go across London on the tube, checking station to station.
I was hoping to accompany him on one of his trips this year, sadly, it was not to be.
He frequently educated me. Our last proper communication was him correcting some of the terminology in this blog post about ableist jokes.
As usual, he wrote to me kindly and with understanding. So often, in the “you can’t say anything nowadays” diatribes, people correcting language is seen as something oppressive when it is merely someone trying to give you a broader understanding. They are not screaming, “YOU ARE WRONG AND BAD!”, they are asking you to see more angles and increase your understanding. Alan increased my understanding of the world and broadened my horizons.
I remember him arriving for a Compendium of Reason at the Albert Hall and being stuck with a flat tyre in the cafe. The technicians could not have been more helpful and eventually he was re-inflated and in the audience.
Alan fought against anything getting in the way of him living as he wanted to and he fought to make sure disabled people could live the lives they wanted to.
He was a great supporter of all the Cosmic Shambles things that we make.
I last saw him at the Saturday show of Nine Lessons at Kings Place on 16th December.
I gave him a wave but didn’t have time to talk. He was planning on returning the next night as he was a great fan of Grace Petrie. Sadly, that was not to be.
The world is definitely a better place for many people because of Alan”.
“I was honoured to be able to attend this morning’s funeral for our dear pal Alan Benson and, at times, it didn’t feel unlike one of our Nine Lessons’ shows that Alan was at almost every year since they began. Grace Petrie music played as the coffin was brought in, the speeches began by referencing the second law of thermodynamics, there were quotes from Robin Ince, Terry Pratchett and the like. When Grace’s song Black Tie was played at the end of the service, as it was one of Alan’s favourite songs, the crematorium had chosen to play the ‘radio friendly’ version. I quietly, but still out loud, made sure to sing the offending words of the excellent rhyme in the chorus because it’s exactly what Alan would’ve demanded be done.
But above all, in both the speeches, and the chat of the many people gathered, there was kindness and righteousness. Alan never stopped fighting for what was right in many arenas of social justice, particularly around transport for disabled people. He was not afraid to be loud in all the right ways. As his best friend said in his speech today, Alan had said his MBE stood for ‘My Bloody Effort’.
Speaking personally, I had spoke to Alan on email just a few days before Nine Lessons last December. He told me he was coming to the show on Saturday night but had just seen Grace was now going to be playing on the Sunday but it seemed there was no accessible spaces left at the theatre for that show. I’ll sort it Alan, don’t worry, I told him.
I saw him and his wife Yvonne (they were never apart) on Saturday night, quickly said hello and that I’d catch them properly tomorrow. On Sunday afternoon I saw some facilities people at the theatre removing some bolted in chairs to make space for an extra wheelchair user because the venue had juggled some seats about to make room for Alan. I had wondered how I had missed in the audience or after the show, but it’s always so hectic I didn’t think too much of it until we heard that Alan had died last night.
There is something heartwarming, and heartbreaking, to know that the last thing Alan got the chance to do was come to one of our shows. I hope it was a good one for you Alan.
The truth is that Shambles shows have become more accessible because of my conversations with Alan and the advice he gave me. Simple things that can be done to make it easier. Like was said by many at the funeral today, the world is a better place because Alan existed, and speaking for myself, I am definitely a better producer, and a better person, because of Alan.
Shambles shows won’t ever feel quite the same without Alan in the audience. He and Yvonne were always there in the front row for as long as I can remember. Except for the They’ve Made Us recordings at the RI last year when he voluntarily sat at the back because he was concerned the height of his motorised chair would block the sight line of the cameras. I then joked with him that his new breathing apparatus was too loud for the microphones anyway so I wanted him up the back with me so I keep an eye on him being noisy.
Alan, we will miss you, but in so many ways, you’ve left us with so much that it’s frankly impossible that you’re not still here with us”.
Much love to Yvonne and all Alan’s friends and family from everyone at Shambles.
You can find out more about Transport for All for whom Alan did so much incredible work here.