Ken Dodd: His writer of 30 years speaks out (part 2)
Barry Reeves was Ken Dodd’s comedy writer for over 30 years, here he continues talking of their working relationship and close friendship to the very end. You can read Part 1 here.
His audience, shows & nerves
A lot of people stated they were friends of Doddy. That’s because everybody he spoke to, he made them feel as if he was their friend. Just imagine how I felt when he introduced me to people as ‘His friend’. He was a very caring person. When my wife, Kay, came out of hospital after a major operation he arranged for a large bouquet of flowers to be delivered to her.
I think any artiste, though they wouldn’t admit it, is a little bit nervous before going on stage. I only experienced Ken admitting to being anxious once and that’s before he did ‘Celebrity Mastermind’. He thought he was out of his comfort zone and didn’t want to make a fool of himself. Weeks before the show was to be filmed he had me bombarding him with trivia questions to help him prepare. He said to me “What do I know ….. I’m just a red-nosed comedian from Liverpool”. I told him not to underestimate himself. He was knowledgeable on many subjects. “Take history for example… you know a lot about History… you should do… You’ve lived through most of it”… I’m not repeating what his reply was!!!
I never tired of standing in the wings watching him. He always had this little ritual before going on stage. He’d have a cup of tea in his hand. Take a swig… Hand the cup to Anne (his life-long partner) who would give him a good luck kiss… then bound on stage. He would never let an audience down even if he wasn’t very well… he wouldn’t cancel a show. He did a show at Cannock in 2017. When he arrived at the theatre he looked very ill. We helped him from the car to the dressing room where he got ready to go on stage. Both myself and my wife looked at each other and thought to ourselves “He’s not going to be able to do this”… But… Soon as his opening music started up he bounded out on stage as though someone had attached jump leads to him and given him a charge of electricity.
Though he toured all over the country, I think, he was happiest at home and that’s why, if he could he’d always drive back to Liverpool, after a show. He did a gig at the Barn Social Club in my home town of Birmingham. After the show we stayed behind for a chat with the club’s committee members. At about 2.30am as we were leaving Anne asked me if I could give her directions to the M6 motorway. As I was heading in that direction I told her she could follow me, in my car. The Barn had a very large car park, and when I arrived it was packed so I was parked a distance away from the club itself. It was a bit of a trek across (a now empty) car park. As I reached my car I heard a car toot it’s horn. I turned to see a vehicle driving past Doddy’s car. Anne who was driving began following them. I quickly scrambled into my car and rushed after them only to see as they reached the exit to the main road them turning right when they should turn left. When I reached the exit, would you believe it, at 2.30 in the morning two car were coming down the road. By the time I managed to get on the main road to chase after them they were out of sight and I lost them.
Anne phoned me the next night and said they hadn’t realised they were following the wrong car when they turned into a Cul de Sac, one of the committee members got out the vehicle and said “I think you’ve been following me, Mr Dodd?” They’d ended up in a suburb of Birmingham 4 miles away from the club.
Friendship & Hobbies
One of the reasons we got on so well was that we both loved books and loved to read. Both of us, much to my wife’s and Anne’s consternation, could never have enough books. When I started volunteering in a local charity bookshop in my home town of Coleshill he’d ask me to sort out any books, especially detective or historical fiction that I thought might appeal to him. I would duly turn up to a show with a bag of about a dozen books. You couldn’t say that Anne was happy with this. She did threaten me with severe GBH on a number of occasions (LOL).
Ken would always say the same thing when I turned up with the books. “Hide them behind the chair in the dressing room so Anne doesn’t see them”. Which was laughable really, as it was Anne who loaded the van up at the end of the evening!! Many of the books we shared were on the history of entertainment, especially comedy. When he found out about my involvement with Laurel and Hardy he straight away asked if he could be a member of our Laughing Gravy tent. Often when I got home from our ‘tent’ meetings he’d phone to ask what went on and what films we had watched. Ken readily agreed to unveil the ‘Laurel and Hardy statue’ in Ulverston. A marvelous day, where hundreds turned up.
Doddy knew I was into all kinds of music big time and he’d ask me to find various songs he wanted to try out on stage. A lot is made of his comedy genius, and rightly so, but we mustn’t forget about the singing side to his act. He made some brilliant records. The music and singing aspect of the show was something else he was always striving to improve. He was thinking about adding new songs to the stage show and he had me ferreting out recordings and sheet music he particularly liked.
Near The End
How much Ken was loved and respected was evident at his funeral service. By the time Kay and I arrived to take our seats there were nearly 3000 people in Liverpool Cathedral with many more outside. Thank goodness we had reserved seats. It had its funny moments too. All the statues in Liverpool were decked out with tickling sticks.
A few days before he left us, Kay and I visited him whilst he was in hospital. We only intended to stay for 30 minutes to an hour but ended up staying for over 3 hours. True to form, once Doddy had an audience he wouldn’t let them go.
Even when he wasn’t very well he was still planning for the future. We talked about how we could reconstruct the stage show to make it easier for him to perform. He even got me to do some jokes for the Liverpool Echo regarding his stay in hospital.
People have been so kind… I received this big card which said ‘Hurry up and leave hospital’… from the nurses.
When I arrived, a man in a white coat came in to see me… I said ‘What can you do for me”? He said, “I can do you a couple of undercoats and a nice gloss finish… I’m not a doctor… I’m a painter and decorator”.
The doctor said to me, “I just want to look over your X-rays”… I said, “‘Doc… That isn’t an X-ray… That’s a road map”… He said, “I wondered why your kidneys were located just outside of Bootle”.
In hospital we discussed further how he was going to revamp the show when he was back working again. He was jokingly going to talk about his life with the aid of a mock scrapbook. He was also going to talk about and pay homage to HIS heroes. Liverpudlians, Arthur Askey, Robb Wilton, Ted Ray and the great American clowns Danny Kaye and Lucille Ball. As we were leaving his hospital room Ken stuck both his thumbs up to us and said “I WILL BE BACK”… Sadly that wasn’t to be. That was the last time I saw him.
It’s very strange. I still expect the phone to ring at 11.20. I miss our chats. I should say “I miss my listens”. When he’d got an idea, he was in full flow and I could never get a word in edge ways. I’m sure I almost developed a stutter because I would just start to say something and he’d be off again.
See other articles on Ken Dodd by clicking the links below:
After enjoying moderate local success as a singer with pop groups (as they were then termed), Barry Reeves decided to call time on the ‘popping’ and as a hobby take up the scribbling lark, penning children’s stories and humorous fillers for magazines. He had his first success on radio in 1980 when, two of his children’s stories were broadcast on BBC Radio 2’s children’s programme ‘The Listening Corner’. After completing Brad Ashton’s comedy course, and discovering a natural comedy bent, all thoughts of becoming a children’s writer were cast aside. Barry was soon providing material for comedians such as Adrian Walsh, Jimmy Cricket and Roy Walker; as well as quickies and sketches for the numerous TV comedy shows that were prevalent at that time. He proved himself, ahead of his time, when for three years he provided ‘FAKE NEWS’ items (what the papers didn’t say) for BBC Radio One’s Adrian Juste’s weekly show.
After attending the Golden Rose Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, where he made several friends and contacts on the continent, he then began to sell material to TV companies in Sweden, Germany and Belgium.
Children’s stories never went fully away and in the late 1980s provided story boards for the Danish company who produced the Scandinavian Mickey Mouse comics, ‘Anders And’
Ken Dodd contacted him in 1986, asking for help on a radio show that was being produced. From that day onwards, finding a mutual love of the history of comedy and entertainment, that developed from a working relationship into a genuine friendship.