Ken Dodd Remembered on ZANI

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Kenneth Arthur Dodd was born in 1927 in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, Lancashire He was the son of a coal merchant, Arthur Dodd, and his wife Sarah (née Gray), and the family lived in an old Farm House. Kenneth was the middle child with an older brother, William (1925–2011) and a younger sister, June. He was a lively daredevil even by the age of seven, at Knotty Ash School, he accepted a dared by his friends to ride his bike with his eyes shut.
Unfortunately for the young Ken he crashed and received facial injuries which resulted in his distinctive buck teeth. None of which stopped him from singing in his local church choir of St John's Church, Knotty Ash. His father and mother bought Ken his first 'Punch & Judy Show' when he was a child, and he used to put on shows in the back garden. June and Ken had dancing lessons and together and would give their parents impromptu shows. Kenneth left Holt High School when he was fourteen to work for his father. After Ken saw an advert to become a ventriloquist in a comic he sent off for the publication and practised well enough for his father to buy him a ventriloquist's dummy. Ken was soon entertaining others with Charlie Brown, his new dummy.

Ken worked hard as a door to door salesperson, or as they say in Liverpool "On the knocker", after he branched out on his own selling pots, pans, and brushes. By night he became a regular and very popular semi-professional performer on ' The Club's ' Circuit as " Professor Yaffle Chuckabutty. Operatic Tenor and Sausage-Knotter. His big break came in 1954 when he appeared in his professional show-business debut at the Nottingham Playhouse. Post War Britain was ready for a laugh and Ken Dodd certainly could entertain. Within four years he was topping the bill and guesting on innumerable radio and television shows, including Ken Dodd Live from the Opera House in Blackpool (BBC).Dodd’s stand-up comedy was fast and furious as he came master of the one-liner. He also interspaced the comedy with occasional songs, both serious and humorous Ken had a fine light baritone voice which would have allowed him to pursue a career as a professional singer, but at the time comedy was his focus. His influences included other Liverpool comedians like Arthur Askey, Robb Wilton, Tommy Handley and the "cheeky chappy" from Brighton, Max Miller.

Ken Dodd was quickly identified by his trademark unruly hair and protruding teeth and thrived in the music hall tradition. He was also encouraged to record some of his ballads and released his first single "Love Is Like a Violin" (1960). It sold well and reached number 8 in the UK singles charts. The funnyman was a serious student of humour and spent many hours, when not working for the boards, in libraries researching the psychology of humour. During the 1960s he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world's longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours (7.14 jokes per minute), undertaken at a Liverpool theatre, where audiences were observed to enter the show in shifts. At his live shows he often worked three scripts and depending on the audience reaction in the first few minutes would adjust the material to suit.

Once in Every Lifetime was released in 1961, and although it sold less well it did reach 28 in the singles charts. Ken later released Still (1963) and Eight by ten (1964) both singles enjoyed fringe Top Thirty success. By itself, this was no mean feat, at a time when beat groups, like the Beatles, were beginning to dominate the pop charts. In 1964, he released Happiness, then So Deep Is the Night, both singles reached #31 in the UK singles chart. Then in 1965, Ken had his biggest hit with Tears, which sold over 2 Million copies and became a #1 hit. At the time, Tears was the UK's biggest selling single by a solo artist and remains one of the UK's biggest selling singles of all time. Later that year he released The River (Le Colline Sono in Fiore), which reached number 3 in the charts.

By the mid-sixties, Ken was at the top of his game, for not only did he top the pop charts but also on London Palladium debut he topped the bill and broke all box office records by completing a forty-two weeks run. The Palladium was the premier theatre venue at that time. Ken Dodd’s fame in the UK now rivalled The Beatles as a household name. Television and radio work followed with. " The Ken Dodd Show " (BBC) and " Ken Dodd's Laughter Show " (ITV). In 1966, he released Promises in 1966 which sold well enough to reach #6 in the Top Ten UK.

One of his everlasting successes both in the live shows as well as radio and TV, was the Diddymen. These were the mythical little people who worked in the legendary Knotty Ash snuff quarries, black pudding plantations, the moggy ranch, treacle wells, jam butty mines, and broken-biscuit repair works. Characters like Dickie Mint, Mick The Marmaliser and The Hon Nigel Ponsonby Smallpiece became endeared to the British public. Cleverly Ken Dodd revived and embellished the characters from local Liverpool mythology. He used his remarkable comic genius to good effect allowing these wonderful characters to come to life at a time when the British public were desperate to identify with the Liverpool, thanks to the Mersey Sound phenomenon.The Diddymen were so popular they featured in a regular children’s comic and were regulars in Ken’s live and TV shows.

One other Doddy prop which was as popular as the Diddymen was his red, white and blue "tickling stick" and his famous, upbeat greeting of "How tickled I am!". Something I am sure the comedian must have discovered in his early days as a brush saleman. His last Top Twenty chart entry in the 60s, was Let Me Cry on Your Shoulder (1967). Ken continued with his comedy career throughout the 70s and was always a popular end of the pier draw card and pantomime favourite.

Keen to extend his repertoire he sometime appeared in drama including playing Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night on stage in Liverpool in 1971. He last ever Top Twenty single came in the same year with "When Love Comes Round Again (L'arca di Noe)" By the 80s public tastes in comedy were changing as variety became more passe. Ken’s radio and TV shows were dropped but he make a cameo appearance in Doctor Who (1987) as the Tollmaster. In 1989, Ken Dodd was charged with 11 counts of tax evasion. The subsequent trial which lasted five weeks produced several revelations. Ken rarely used his bank account and instead secretly stashed his undeclared money in his attic. More shocking to the public was the popular Diddy Men, played often by local children from stage schools, were never paid. Although he was finally Dodd acquitted another side to the popular entertainer was revealed that of a lonely unreliable eccentric who led a chaotic life. Despite the strain of the trial, Doddy immediately capitalised on his new-found notoriety with a successful season at the London Palladium (1990). For a while he introduced his act with the words, "Good evening, my name is Kenneth Arthur Dodd; singer, photographic playboy and failed accountant!"

He made his film debut in 1997 as the non-speaking court jester Yorick (in silent flashback) in Kenneth Branagh's 'Hamlet'. The cast included Sir John Gielgud, Sir John Mills, Robin Williams, Charlton Heston, Brian Blessed and Julie Christie. In 1996, his critically acclaimed 'An Audience With Ken Dodd' for ITV confirmed his status as Britain’s funniest comedian. It produced a five-minute standing ovation from its star-studded audience and has become one of the highest rating light entertainment shows of all time. Ken Dodd remains the only entertainer to be invited back to film Another Audience With Ken Dodd in 2002. The serious side to the fellow of infinite jest came out when he was invited to address the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, on Shakespeare and Humour. Ken regularly appeared in many Royal Variety Performance over the years including in 2006, where he entertained Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. In 2009, the most famous Liverpudlian was honoured with a statue of himself in Liverpool's Lime Street Station. Ken Dodd was knighted in the 2017 New Years Honours List.

Ken Dodd continued to entertain and tour the UK with The Ken Dodd Happiness Show until recent illness overtook him. Throughout his life, he stayed at his home in Knotty Ash, Liverpool and was married his long-term partner of 40 years, Anne Jones, 2 days before his death.

Further Reading
Dodd Ken (2009) Look At It My Way Look At It My Way Trinity Mirror NW2
Griffin S. (2005) Ken Dodd: The Biography Michael O'Mara

Used By Kind Permission

Read 3034 times Last modified on Monday, 12 March 2018 18:46
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