✎ Sir Ken Dodd 1927-2018 

12 March 2018 tbs.pm/65327

Let one thing be understood. Ken Dodd was not an entertainer.

He was an avatar of avid amusement, a god of galloping goofiness, a personification of the purest pandemonium.

He was a force of nature.

Anyone who attended the theatre performances he was still giving with gusto (that’s like Bisto only it gives you wind) into his ninety-first year could attest to the sense of being possessed by a harmless form of hysteria as Ken Dodd reeled off joke after pun after rambunctious silliness after surreal flight of fancy for two, three, four hours or more (the length of his performances was legendary; he always said that, with his shows, at least you always went home in daylight).

And yet, for all that, there was no sense of tyranny in it; for what he wanted more than anything else was to carry the audience on his back as he soared into the empyrean of sheer, glorious lunacy. He wanted to take us to a state in which we could forget our quotidian troubles and be immersed in the experience of joyful laughter (perhaps the most divine of emotions). Unlike other consummate comedic technicians such as Bob Monkhouse (who had his defenders too, me amongst them), there was no feeling of calculation about Doddy.

There was a strong element of calculation, of course; like Monkhouse, Ken Dodd was a craftsman of humour, always noting which jokes went down well, where and when. But such was the sheer innocent exuberance of his performance that cynical thoughts never had a chance of entering the mind of the recipient. You just sat back and let him take you wherever he would, knowing that it would be a good place to be.

For all the attention focused on his goofiness (and with a physiognomy like his, only ‘goofy’ could ever be the mot juste), there was a cleverness, too. He was very well-read, and used the knowledge gained to sharpen and direct his craft, in addition to providing jokes which were surprisingly erudite for someone from a background in the last days of the music halls. For instance:

“I just read a book about Stockholm Syndrome – it started off badly but by the end I really liked it.”

Then there were the surreally inverted concepts and images he could conjure up, such as:

“If you bang two halves of a horse together, it doesn’t make the sound of a coconut.”

There was the playfulness with words and language, in which category can be included the first really jaw-dropping word-play joke I ever heard (although my father had softened me up for it over some years). I was no more than eight years old when, watching one of Dodd’s Saturday night shows on BBC 1, he described part of a shopping trip thus:

“So I went into one of our departmental stores, named after the man who invented them, Mr. Dee, who was part mental.”

But there was also the sheer silliness of the words which he himself invented, once stating that it was a reaction to – and rebellion against – the constraints of language which led him to create terms such as ‘tattifilarious’, ‘plumptiousness’ and ‘nicky-nacky-noo’.
And throughout all this, through a professional career which endured for over six decades, the humour was never coarse. It was often cheeky, especially when preceded by one of his formulaic set-up lines, such as, “How tickled I am…”, and “What a beautiful day for…”, viz.:

“How tickled I am under the circumstances. Have you ever been tickled under the circumstances, missus?”

And:

“What a beautiful day for shoving a cucumber through someone’s letter-box and shouting, “The Martians are coming!”.”

But of overt crudity there was none. Though the fashions of comedy – and what was deemed permissible within them – changed enormously during his career, he never felt the need to follow them, preferring instead to continue with his air of almost child-like innocence. Indeed, it may well have been that attribute which, when he was hauled before the courts accused of tax fraud in the late 1980s (the only whiff of scandal there ever was about Ken Dodd, certainly compared to some others of his showbiz generation), served to convince the jury that he was incapable of the degree of guile which the prosecution sought to attribute to him. It was certainly one of the very rare occasions where, faced with a celebrity in the dock, most of the country held its collective breath and prayed for an acquittal.

Curiously, the court case revived his career (although ‘revived’ is a relative term here; he never really went out of fashion), and he used it as a hook upon which to hang self-deprecating remarks such as describing himself as an “artist’s model and failed accountant”, and his final – and still, remember, very active – years were spent as that frequently-damning phenomenon, The National Treasure. For he was the very last of his kind, the last defiant remnant of the music-hall tradition.

And Liverpool, the city of his birth, the place he never left, the wellspring and inspiration for his zanyness, has lost one of its greatest sons. Let tickling-sticks be hung from the branches of the Knotty Ash in his memory.

Let us end with the most fitting song of the many he recorded with his able tenor voice (often with a note of the tearful, the only time he overtly approached Pagliacci territory). For happiness, and the giving of it to others, was his gift, his craft, his métier, and that is what truly counted.


Reprinted with thanks from Nigel’s !blog.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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5 responses to this article

Paul Mason 13 March 2018 at 7:52 pm

I used to pass his house weekly visiting relatives, and was born in the same hospital where Doddy spent his last few weeks.
Needless to say I never saw him there. Ken Dodd’s huge back garden was rented out to lorry drivers wishing to park, Dodds father used to make a few Bob on top of his coal merchants business. Eventually Ken Dodd wanted the land the trucks and the coal vanished. Tatty-bye Doddy!

Joanne Gray 14 March 2018 at 3:34 pm

Rest in peace and happiness where the Inland Revenue can’t get at you. And thanks for the laughter.

Paul Mason 15 March 2018 at 3:50 pm

Another death this week has been that of Jim Bowen, aged 80. He was born in Heswall but was adopted and moved to Lancashire. Seeing Ken Dodd inspired him to take up comedy part-time as teaching was his main job. He appeared in Granada’s “The Comedians”, and was the somewhat out of place token adult in the teen ITV series ” You Must Be Joking alongside the young Pauline Quirke and others. Then in the 80s came Bullseye, in which after two shaky initial seasons JB settled down to a popular long running Sunday teatime series.The first “awful” series was made by ATV, but the later ones by Central. They are currently being shown on Challenge (Freeview 46). They did show the ATV series of 1981/82 but these would be best forgotten. Otherwise Mr Bowen was great, super and smashing.

Pete Singleton 31 March 2018 at 10:52 pm

Once, at an after work drinks session (circa 1979) at the New Court Bar in Victoria Street, Liverpool (when one did that sort of thing), I saw Doddy sitting at the bar with a half pint glass of beer, quite alone, looking slightly forlorn, studying a small scrap of paper.

The place was almost empty, apart from myself and the couple of work colleagues I was with. It was my turn to buy ‘the round’ so I walked up to the bar a few yards away from him. He caught me looking at him and he nodded. I nodded back and ordered my drinks. I felt it would have been an intrusion to go up to him and ask for his autograph so I left him to his thoughts but to be honest, I wish I had. I should have shook him by the hand.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Bruce McCready 13 June 2018 at 10:13 am

Lovely tribute. Thanks!

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