Doddy Finally Leaves The Stage
Ken Dodd was undoubtedly a comedian’s comedian. A true master of his art. A life dedicated to making people laugh. What a legacy of comedy he has left us. At his best few comics could live with him on stage. Dodd used all forms of humour to get his laughs, visual, one liners, musical routines and his own form of language known as Doddisms including ‘tattifalarious’ and ‘discomknockerating’. He was knighted in 2017 for services to entertainment & charity, he received the O.B.E. in 1981 saying he was ‘delighted and full of plumptiousness’.
He always emphasised how important facial features were in a comic. His own hair looked like a loo brush with teeth shaped as a garden rake, each served him well over the years, giving such a visual comic appeal alongside his famous ‘tickling sticks’, of feather duster(s) he waved around on stage, holding them for part of his act, then laying them by his side as he moved into his comic stride. ‘How are you diddling?’ was his greeting, ‘Tatty Bye’ his farewell. His comic material was sharp, fast beautifully paced ‘What a lovely day for going to Trafalgar Square, throwing a bucket of whitewash over the pigeons and saying ‘See how you like it’… ‘Ladies if you want your husband to stop eating between meals – hide his false teeth’.
Ken appealed to nearly everyone, the great British eccentric, coming up with many comic creations including the Diddy men with the jam butty trees, black pudding plantations, treacle wells and broken biscuit repair works.
Although he appeared on television a number of times with his own show in the sixties and seventies, it was a live audience he adored most. The experience of playing a packed theatre meant he often didn’t know when to stop. He believed in giving his audience ‘value for money’, renowned for being on stage for sometimes five hours, leaving theatre managers angry and at times limiting his performance time by legal contract. Comedian Gary Delaney amusingly re-marked in his tribute to Dodd ‘The funeral will be held on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday’
He was born in 1927 in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, he left school at 14 going into his father’s coal business, he went on to sell hardware door to door and started giving shows in local schools and churches, having seen an advert in a boy’s comic on how to be a ventriloquist. He sent off six pence and began practising the art at home. His script written by his father who he said was ‘the funniest man I know’. He turned professional in 1954, making his debut at The London Palladium in 1965, nervous that a southern audience wouldn’t fully accept him. After, a run of 42 weeks and box office records broken he probably knew they had. His ambition was to play every theatre in the country. A massive under taking but typical Doddy he didn’t care the size of his audience as long as there was one.
Dodd was also a scholar of comedy keeping records of jokes and how well they had fared with audiences in different locations, as well as being able to discuss Freud, Plato, Kant and Schopenhauer in support of his theories of comedy – coming out with his line ‘The trouble with Freud was that he never played Friday night at the Glasgow Empire’. Comedian Russ Abbot described Sir Ken as “an icon, a one-off and a true professor of comedy.
He said that his comic influences included other Liverpool comedians like Arthur Askey (1900-1982), Robb Wilton (1881-1957), Ted Ray (1905-1977), Tommy Handley (1892-1949) and the “cheeky chappy” from Brighton, Max Miller (1894-1963). He interspersed the comedy with occasional songs, both serious and humorous, in an incongruously fine light baritone voice. As a singer he had hit records in the 1960’s which included ‘Love is like a violin’ ‘Tears’ and ‘Happiness’ his signature song before finally leaving the stage.
Ken was a private man, never writing an autobiography and never endorsing biographies that were written on him. He had two long engagements without marrying before meeting his long-term partner Anne who he lived with and married only two days ago. He did have one or two close friends that were privileged to share a cup of tea with him in his kitchen, but very few were invited. In 1989 Doddy was charged with tax evasion and his private world collapsed as several revelations were made public in court, including inside his house where it was alleged he hid thousands of pounds in pillar cases and suitcases, not having put much money in his bank account. He was found not guilty, but the experience nearly destroyed him with some entertainers promising support in court but not doing so, apart from Eric Sykes and Roy Hudd. However, the public never lost their love for this master of comedy. In many ways the court case relaunched him, going back to the London Palladium in 1990 for another long run (Easter to Christmas) and in 1994 giving an outstanding performance on ITV’s ‘An Audience with Ken Dodd’. Described by fellow Liverpudlian comedian Jimmy Tarbuck as the ‘ultimate’.
Being fortunate to have written for ken Dodd in the late eighties and to work with him again only six months ago on a BBC Radio 4 documentary presented by Garry Richardson who said of Dodd ‘Quite simply, Sir Ken Dodd loved to make people laugh, and – in my opinion – he did it better than anyone else’. The experience was logged in the blog post Ken Dodd: A comedy masterclass
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.