Jim Allen was born in Miles Platting, Manchester in 1926. He left school aged 13 and after a series of jobs was called up into the army in 1944 and joined the Seaforth Highlanders. He then joined the Merchant Navy and travelled the world. On coming back to England he joined the Socialist Labour League and became a convinced Marxist for the rest of his life. In 1962 the Labour Party declared the Socialist Labour League - a 'proscribed organization' - and expelled Jim from the Labour Party. He left the Socialist Labour League shortly after this.
In the 1950s Jim had a variety of jobs. He worked in the mines and edited a rank and file newspaper - The Miner. Whilst working on building sites he began writing and eventually his TV career began with scripts for Coronation Street. His first full length TV drama was The Lump produced by Tony Garnett and set in the world of the building workers that he knew intimately.
Allen first worked with Ken Loach on The Big Flame, a story of union militancy set in the Liverpool docks and produced by Tony Garnett. Later collaborations with Loach included The Rank and File and Days of Hope, a major political drama series covering the years 1916-1926. With the onset of the Thatcher government television executives started to play safe and Allen's work was no longer commissioned. He then wrote three films, Hidden Agenda (1988) – about a murder of an American civil rights activist in Belfast, Raining Stones (1993) – a tragicomedy set in Middleton, Greater Manchester and Land and Freedom (1995) – about the Spanish Civil War- all directed by Ken Loach.
Jim Allen's most controversial work was the play Perdition (1987), which was directed by Ken Loach. The play was about collaborations between Hungarian Zionists and the Nazis during the Holocaust. It was to have been performed at Royal Court London, but the management cancelled it after huge public controversy. It was given a one off performance at Edinburgh Festival in August 1987. Jim Allen was involved in libel action relating to the play for several years after this. Perdition was eventually performed in 1999 at the Gate Theatre.
Jim Allen died of cancer in the summer of 1999, his funeral being attended by family and many friends from all walks of life. In October 2000 a commemorative event was held at Cornerhouse, Manchester, organised by family and friends.