Sir Ken Dodd at 90

Bernard Bale

Evergreen - - Contents - BERNARD BALE

Yes, there re­ally is such a place as Knotty Ash, a sub­urb of Liver­pool, but it was Doddy who put it on the map.

“I was born and grew up in Knotty Ash where I had a very happy child­hood,” he re­called. “I got on well with my mum and dad as well as my brother and sis­ter and we lived in an old farm­house — I still live there as it hap­pens. It is older than me! My dad was a coal mer­chant so we were never cold.

“When I was a boy I used to like dig­ging holes, light­ing fires and fall­ing out of trees. I also loved to read and espe­cially the Just Wil­liam books. I loved them, they were full of ad­ven­tures and naugh­ti­ness and made me laugh.

“My dad was my rock, al­ways en­cour­ag­ing and never too busy for us. He had a fun side and if we were ill he used to say that he would send for Doc­tor Chuck­abutty. I loved the name and used it later as a char­ac­ter.”

As well as Just Wil­liam books Ken was an avid reader of comics like Wizard, Rover and Hot­spur and was al­ways fas­ci­nated by the prac­ti­cal jokes that could be bought — ink blots, itch­ing pow­der and so on. Espe­cially he was cap­ti­vated by the ad­vert which said “Im­press your friends, fool your teach­ers — learn how to throw your voice”. He couldn’t re­sist it and sent away to be­come a ven­tril­o­quist.

“My dad was very en­cour­ag­ing,” said Doddy. “He loved mu­sic and show busi­ness in gen­eral. He reg­u­larly took us to all the main the­atres in Liver­pool to see the great va­ri­ety artistes of the day as well as to cir­cuses and fair­grounds where we used to visit all the sideshows. I loved it and espe­cially when we went to Black­pool and saw all the great sum­mer shows and at­trac­tions.”

When Ken got his vent’ info his dad bought him a doll which they called Char­lie Brown. He also wrote him a script and helped him to learn how to de­liver it, say­ing: “You must be orig­i­nal, you must have your own style.”

And so Ken­neth Arthur Dodd made his de­but at the age of eight at St. Ed­ward’s Or­phan­age. He was a big suc­cess and re­ceived half a crown for an act that in­cluded a song, some tap danc­ing and, of course, com­edy with Char­lie Brown.

By this time he looked like a smaller ver­sion of what we see now. At the age of seven his friends had dared him to ride his bike with his eyes closed. He did of course, fell over the han­dle­bars and now has the trade­mark teeth stuck out to re­mind him not to try it again.

Other in­vi­ta­tions started to come in and when he was 10 Ken ap­peared on stage at the Scala The­atre, Widnes. When he was 12 he ap­peared at the mighty Liver­pool Phil­har­monic Hall. Doddy was on his way but at this stage it was just a fun thing to do and when he was 14 he joined his dad and his brother Billy in de­liv­er­ing coal.

By this time Ken’s love of the­atre and show busi­ness was sealed. His idols were Arthur Askey, Tommy Han­d­ley, Nat Jack­ley, Ted Ray, Max Miller, Robb Wil­ton and film com­edy greats like Will Hay and Lau­rel and Hardy. He read­ily ad­mits that he was in­flu­enced by them from an early age and still loves to re­lax by watch­ing Will Hay and Lau­rel and Hardy films.

The coal busi­ness taught him a great deal about peo­ple and how

to talk to them. He got used to hump­ing coal sacks about and even drove the truck some­times. He also soon learned how to knock on a door and say: “Hello Mis­sus — fancy some nutty slack?”

He was still pe­form­ing at char­ity events and so on and when the Sec­ond World War broke out he was 15 and in­vited to join the Mersey Mites, a con­cert party run by a lady called Hilda Fal­lon who was like a favourite aunt to ev­ery­one. He re­ceived 1s 9d for ev­ery show and gained a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence.

At 19 Ken de­cided he needed an­other chal­lenge and started his own busi­ness, en­cour­aged again by his dad, be­com­ing a door- to- door sales­man of pots, pans and clean­ing items in­clud­ing, of course, feather dusters. So, Doddy would knock on a door and say: “Hello Mis­sus, what a lovely day for spring clean­ing. How would you like a feather duster to tickle the lamp­shades?”

Meanwhile he was still do­ing var­i­ous con­certs and char­ity shows. Sev­eral tal­ent scouts saw him and re­ported back that there was a young man worth look­ing at. He even had a let­ter from Bernard Del­font and an­other from Lew Grade of­fer­ing him dates in the south. Ken turned

them down as he felt he was not ready to go be­yond his own lo­cal au­di­ences.

Then he had a let­ter from David For­rester, an­other lead­ing agent and man­ager of the day who ar­ranged to meet Ken on his home ground — at the Adel­phi Hotel in Liver­pool. David For­rester or­dered tea and cream cakes which de­lighted Ken as he has al­ways had a weak­ness for cream cakes. It was not long be­fore they reached an ac­cord and he had agreed to be rep­re­sented by David For­rester — and to pay for the tea and cakes.

“That im­pressed me — I thought if he can take care of my money like he takes care of his own then this should be good.”

The re­sult was that on 27th Septem­ber 1954 Ken Dodd as Pro­fes­sor Yaf­fle Chuck­abutty, Op­er­atic Tenor and Sausage Knot­ter, made his full pro­fes­sional de­but on a va­ri­ety bill at Not­ting­ham’s Em­pire The­atre. He was low on the bill with singer Tony Brent and jazz trum­peter Kenny Baker the main stars.

“I was in such small print ev­ery­one thought I was the printer. I spent the af­ter­noon in a milk bar across the road go­ing through my act over and over again to make sure I got it right. It seemed to go all right and af­ter­wards I was just re­lieved that no­body had ac­tu­ally booed me off.”

What hap­pened next is one of the most amaz­ing show busi­ness sto­ries in Bri­tish his­tory. Ken’s act grew as did his fame. He added even more ec­cen­tric­ity in the form of jam butty mines, life- size cows fall­ing from the ceil­ing, gi­ant tick­ling sticks and gen­eral may­hem both vis­ual and spo­ken.

By 1958 he had topped his first sum­mer show, had his first tele­vi­sion show and was a reg­u­lar on Work­ers’ Play­time and other ra­dio shows in­clud­ing his own. It was not just his com­edy but also his singing voice. David For­rester en­cour­aged him to make some record­ings and in 1960 “Love Is Like A Vi­o­lin” was re­leased and made it to num­ber eight.

By 1962 Ken was earn­ing £ 1,000 a week and had made it as a star — but there was still more to come of course. The Did­dy­men had made their de­but by now. Char­lie Brown be­came Dickie Mint and still fea­tures in the show to­day.

At last Doddy felt that he was ready to face Lon­don and in 1965 he topped the bill in his own show at the Lon­don Pal­la­dium. It was called “Doddy’s Here” and it opened on Satur­day 17th April at 6pm.

“I was scared, there’s no other way I can de­scribe it,” he said. “The thought of try­ing to make all those Lon­don­ers laugh was fright­en­ing.”

As it hap­pened the first per­for­mance was filled by coachloads of Merseyside­rs who gave him an ovation when he stepped on stage. At around mid­night, ev­ery­one went home happy and the news­pa­pers raved about him. Later that year his record­ing of “Tears” earned him gold discs and broke count­less sales records.

From then un­til now, Ken Dodd has con­tin­ued to fill the­atres all over the coun­try. In 1982 he was awarded the OBE in the New Year’s Hon­ours list and, of course, more re­cently he has been knighted. Prince Wil­l­liam car­ried out the cer­e­mony but Her Majesty the Queen is re­port­edly word- per­fect at his sig­na­ture song, “Hap­pi­ness”. Will he ever re­tire? “Never,” he said with ab­so­lute de­ter­mi­na­tion. “I still have a lot more to do. A chuckle a day keeps the doc­tor away. Any­way, who wants to re­tire from Hap­pi­ness?”

House Full signs are still reg­u­larly seen out­side the­atres when Sir Ken Dodd is in town, one of the few en­ter­tain­ers who re­ally is a leg­end in his own life­time.


Liver­pool’s fa­mous water­front, the city to which Doddy re­mains in­tensely loyal.

Ken, flanked by Max By­graves, Spike Mil­li­gan and Dud­ley Moore, talks to the Queen after the 1965 Royal Va­ri­ety per­for­mance at the Lon­don Pal­la­dium.


The statue of the en­ter­tainer at Liver­pool’s Lime Street Sta­tion.

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