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Alan George Heywood Melly was born in Liverpool on 17 August 1926. He was educated at Stowe School. He joined the Royal Navy during the Second World War, but did not see active combat, and was almost court-martialled for distributing anarchist literature. After the war he found work in a surrealist art gallery in London, and joined Mick Mulligan's Magnolia Jazz Band.

He wrote scripts for Wally Fawkes' comic strip Flook in the Daily Mirror from 1956 to 1970, taking over from Humphrey Lyttelton. He ghost the pseudo-autobiography I, Flook, published in 1962. In the 1960s he became a film critic for The Observer, and wrote the screenplay for the 1967 satirical film Smashing Time. In the 1970s he provided ideas for The Times's pocket cartoonist Mark Boxer.

He was a member of jazz band John Chilton's Feetwarmers from the early 1970s until 2003, and also sang with Digby Fairweather's band. He released three albums under his own name during the 1970s, and wrote a column in Punch about his musical tours. He sang in a style influenced by Bessie Smith, and enjoyed the bawdy, exhuberant side of jazz and blues performance. In 1978 he recorded "Old Codger" with The Stranglers.

He was an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, President of the British Humanist Association in 1972-74, an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Association, and a member of the Max Miller Appreciation Society. He was bisexual, having relationships with men in his youth and mainly with women from his thirties on. He was married twice and had a child from each marriage.

In his later years he was active in music and journalism, and lectured in modern art, despite health problems, including vascular dementia and environmental hearing loss. He died at home in London on 5 July 2007 of lung cancer and emphysema. For his funeral at the West London crematorium, the hearse was led by a jazz band including Kenny Ball on trumpet, playing a New Orleans funeral march.

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