Certainly the physical setting of the university was grim.
Its late Victorian gothic buildings, black with soot from the first industrial revolution, faced across the tram-tracks of Oxford Road on to the Temperance Society and expanses of slumland, whose holes and shored-up corners marked where the bombers had got through.
Alan also commented on the low standard of male physique, not surprising in a city still recovering from the Depression.
But the industrial landscape had some pleasures too: when Malcolm MacPhail from Princeton days visited in 1950, he was taken to see where the Duke of Bridgwater's canal crossed the Manchester Ship Canal, having first been challenged to work out how this was achieved.
Like Princeton it was a place of exile, but without the compensations of American largesse.
Manchester University also resembled the American milieu in that it represented a bastion of respectability, its Nonconformist northern middle class being less accommodating to human diversity than was (in private) the more privileged Cambridge establishment.
But Manchester had a spark of generosity in its city life, rather than the parochial attitudes of the small town.
It had the liberal Manchester Guardian which, along with The Observer, was Alan's newspaper.
And perhaps he found something satisfying about working in ordinary industrial England, without the affectations and traditional rituals that went with cambridge life.