Sir Ken Dodd: A life of love and laughter
In a career spanning six decades, Sir Ken Dodd was a showman apart.
He lived for the audience and the audience loved him for it. He always said he would never retire and he never did, as the list of forthcoming shows, now sadly never to take place, makes clear.
His gigs were legendary, their length staggering - managers were said to plead with him to wind up his performances so that they could let their staff go home.
In an interview with the Daily Post last August he showed he had lost none of his spirit. He fired away jokes and his reflections on life. At the end of the chat, he thanked her for not asking the usual questions... and then preceded to answer them.
Here our sister website the Liverpool Echo looks back on a life, well-lived.
Sir Ken Dodd, comedy legend, has died at the age of 90, his agent confirmed in the early hours of Monday morning.
Ken, who celebrated his 90th birthday in November, had recently spent more than six weeks in the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital battling a severe chest infection. He was allowed home nearly two weeks ago.
His agent Rober Holmes broke the news of the national treasure's death in a phone call to the ECHO on Monday morning at 1.20am, shortly after receiving a call from a distraught Lady Anne.
Doddy was showered with honours during his lifetime, finally being knighted â" after years of campaigning by his army of adoring admirers â" last March, when he was 89.
But The Squire of Knotty Ash received perhaps his most cherished accolade in 2003 after topping a prestigious poll of 100 greats organised by the ECHO and Radio Merseyside.
Doddy had been given an OBE in 1982 and the Freedom of the City of Liverpool in 2001, but said this Greatest Merseysider of All Time award (awarded to the Hillsborough families and campaigners in a later ECHO poll) wa s the best yet, explaining: âThatâs because it was voted for by my fellow citizens in a city that has always been, and always will be, my home. I am filled with happiness. I shall raise several glasses of tickle tonic to the greatest place in the world.â
And in 2014, when he was celebrating 60 years in show business, he reflected on his many awards and accolades and said: âI treasure them all â" and to be appreciated by your neighbours is probably the greatest gift of all.â
For his 90th birthday, Doddy was treated to an afternoon tea of jam butties and Diddy pies at Liverpool Town Hall. And he had a special message for the countless ECHO readers wishing him well. He said: âThis is a day of thanksgiving. Thank you, ECHO readers, for all the love, affection and support â" and advice, sometimes â" you have given me.â
On turning 90, he said: âThereâs nothing you can do about it. Itâs compulsory! And itâs no use living i n the past â" itâs cheaper but you canât live in the past.â
And when knighted in March 2017 , he told reporters at Buckingham Palace: âIâm delighted and highly tickled. One of the happiest things is the joy and pleasure it brings to your family and friends and then you say to yourself it is a great honour and I just hope Iâll be worthy of it.â
He explained that it is the fans who come to his shows that have kept him going: âItâs the audiences, you live off an audience. I tell people Iâve got the best job in the world, because I only see happy people. I only see them laughing and itâs a wonderful feeling, it comes over to you on the stage when you have an audience laughing their socks off.
âI wonât hang my tickling stick up until I have to.â
And asked by the ECHO to reflect upon his life, he said: âI feel Iâve been very, very blessed â" very blessed to have had such wonderful parents (Arthur and Sar ah), a wonderful brother (the late Bill) and wonderful sister (the late June).
âI have put a little bit of work in but Iâm very conscious of the fact Iâve been very blessed. And I like to think Iâve passed some of those blessings on.
âIn life, we all try to do the right things. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we donât get it quite right. But Iâd like to think Iâve done some good.â
Ken, who lived in Knotty Ash with his long-time partner, Anne Jones, made his professional debut on September 27, 1954 at the Nottingham Empire Theatre, although the local hero and national institution was always too modest to make a song and dance about it on big anniversaries.
But the ECHO, along with Doddyâs friends and fellow entertainers, were always happy to do so.
When his 50th anniversary came round, Ricky Tomlinson, who also had the honour of presenting Doddy with his Greatest Merseysider of All Time award, told us: âHe is the govern or and the king of comedy. To be able to make someone laugh for five minutes is a wonderful thing and a great achievement, but to make millions of people laugh for 50 years is absolutely incredible.
âI was so thrilled to be the one who gave him his Greatest Merseysider award, because I love and adore the man, and it was so well-deserved.â
And the late Mickey Finn said: âKen is the last of a dying breed. There really is no-one left to follow him. I remember being at a club in Middlesbrough and hearing about a new comedian who had arrived there for a show at 8.30pm, gone on stage at 9pm and left by 9.50pm. Ken played the same place around the same time and had still been in the lounge at 3.30am signing autographs.â
Ten years later, I was able to persuade Ken to be the subject of a two-part interview marking his 60th anniversary as an entertainer.
Judging by all the awards and accolades, he did plenty of good. Back in November 2 003, Ken received the British Comedy Societyâs first Living Legend Award â" its chairman, Gareth Hughes, saying: âThe term âgeniusâ is seriously overused but in the case of Ken Dodd it is deserved.â
The award was presented by a fellow Liverpudlian, the late Cilla Black, who said of the legend: âI love him. He is one of those very rare people who you only have to look at to feel happy.â
In June, 2004, Ken presented An Evening of Happiness at the Liverpool Playhouse, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief. And, in the programme, the King of the Diddymen explained his craft and how he was a graduate of the school of variety.
He wrote: âWe have all kinds of comedy. I am mainstream. Weâre not stand-up comedians. We can do it lying down, sitting up or we can walk about. We tell real jokes, we sing, we slave over a hot audience, we love them. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and youâre on Pop Idol.â
And he added: â The most wasted of all days is the day during which we have not laughed. Or, as W.C. Fields said: âSmile every morning â" get it over with.ââ
Kenâs life, like all lives, was touched by tears, but it was defined by his two favourite words: happiness and laughter.
He once said: âMy favourite sound is laughter. Itâs a beautiful sound; well worth working for. Iâm proud to be a member of the laughter-making profession. I equate laughter with good music â" it pleases me as much as Handelâs Messiah.â
The happiness and laughter began in the house in Knotty Ash which was Doddyâs home for all his life.
âI had the happiest childhood anyone could possibly have, and I think that really is the basis of being an entertainer. If you have a happy childhood, then you want to pass that happiness onto everyone else.â
It was Kenâs beloved dad, Arthur, who inspired his love of the absurd â" especially absurd names, which he later included in his act. For example, the imaginary medic Dr Chuckabutty went on to become Rufus Chuckabutty of Knotty Ash University, while Ken, in his early days, billed himself as Professor Yaffle Chuckabutty, Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter.
Ken explained: âIf one of us had tonsilitis or chicken pox, my dad would say as a joke: âOh weâll have to get Dr Chuckabutty to see you.â The name stuck in my memory.â
And it was his dad who helped nurture a love and appreciation of showbusiness: âHe used to take us to all the variety theatres â" the Shakespeare, the Royal Court, the Pavilion, the Empire, and sometimes to places further afield like Bootle â" anywhere where there was a show on.
âAs a boy, I used to read educationally erudite papers like The Wizard, Hotspur and the Rover. It was in the Wizard one day I read an advertisement that changed my life: âAmaze Your Friends! Fool Your Teachers! Send sixpence in stampsâ â" I did and duly received this booklet on how to become a ventriloquist and how to throw your voice.â
Although it wasnât until he was almost 27 that he made his professional stage debut in Nottingham, Doddy made his first public performance at the age of eight, for the boys at St Edwardâs Orphanage in Knotty Ash, on Christmas Day.
His famous buck teeth made their debut the previous year. After being dared by his school friends to ride his bike with his eyes shut, Ken hit the kerb and went flying open-mouthed onto the Tarmac.
Kenâs dad was known locally as a coal delivery man but, on Kenâs birth certificate, gave his occupation as musician-saxophonist (theatre orchestra). Mr Dodd Snr had played in the Knotty Ash village hall and was a professional musician for a while in the 1920s.
Ken left Holt High School in Childwall at 14 and joined the family business. He soon branched out by selling bleach, firelighters and home-made soap, tested by his mum, Sarah.
But Kenâs ambitions and talent lay in entertaining people and making them laugh. And by the end of the 1950s, he was making regular appearances on TV as well as in the countryâs biggest theatres.
Of that big break in Nottingham, Ken said: âTop of the bill was a singer called Tony Brent. Also appearing were singing group The Kordites, jazz trumpeter Kenny Baker, three strong men and one or two strong girls.
âIt was my first week as a âproâ â" a brand new stick of greasepaint, a few new gags, six clean shirts and a soul full of hope!â
Ken didnât do shows but marathons (no two of which were the same). Stay to the end of any of them and the chances were the last bus or train home would have long since left. No wonder people called him the patron saint of taxi drivers.
But although his comic achievements have always, understandably, been pushed to the fore, Doddy was also one of the most successf ul Merseyside chart acts of the 1960s. His debut single, Love Is Like A Violin, reached number eight in 1960, and many more hits followed, including Tears (number one in 1965), The River (number three in 1965) and Promises (number six in 1966).
Tears, which was at number one for five weeks, was the best-selling single of 1965 â" and, while The Beatles had four of the top five best-selling singles of the 1960s, our Kenâs Tears was the other one.
And despite its relatively lowly chart position â" it reached number 31 in 1964 â" it was Happiness which became Kenâs trademark song.
There have been other records, including the one Doddy broke on June 5, 1974, for non-stop joke-telling. Ken booked a place in the Guinness Book of Records after spending three hours and six minutes on stage at Liverpoolâs Royal Court Theatre, during which time he told more than 1,500 jokes.
A man of many talents, Ken occasionally appeared in dramatic roles, including Malvo lio in Shakespeareâs Twelfth Night at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1971; on television in the cameo role of The Tollmaster in the 1987 Doctor Who story Delta and the Bannermen; and as Yorick (in silent flashback) in Kenneth Branaghâs film version of Shakespeareâs Hamlet in 1996.Video Loading Click to play Tap to play The video will start in 8Cancel Play now
And there was plenty of drama off stage and off screen. In the summer of 1989, Ken stood trial at Liverpool Crown Court after being accused of tax fraud â" although there was a happy ending. The then 61-year-old was acquitted of all eight charges he faced. On leaving the court, he said: âWhat a beautiful day to say âThank God itâs all over.â"
He pledged that the whole of Merseyside would celebrate his acquittal with him when he put on an extravagant fund-raising show for local charities: âI just want to put it all behind me and get back to work,â he added.
Ken rarely spoke about the court case, although he did work into his act various references to accountants and tax officials!
During the trial, itself, Kenâs defence barrister, the late George Carman QC, observed: âSome accountants are comedians but comedians are never accountants.â
Armed with his famous tickling sticks and a sharp mind full of funny material, Ken Dodd metaphorically tickled millions of people into submission during a rich, varied and very long career.
We will almost certainly never see his like again.Source: Google News