Image from makeameme.org
No, your eyes are not deceiving you ……..it really is Ken Dodd (much later Sir Ken) in a Liverpool FC strip running out of the Anfield tunnel with Bill Shankly’s players in 1964 (Ian St John can just be glimpsed at the back).
Shankly liked nothing more than a bit of laughter to boost morale and when Ken dropped in to meet his football favourites he quickly donned a Liverpool strip and stepped out onto the hallowed turf once trod by one of his heroes, the great Billy Liddell.
During the 1960s the club’s rise to prominence was matched by Ken’s ascent to the showbiz heights as a stand up comedian par excellence, a TV and radio star and an operatically-trained vocalist whose record sales even rivalled those other Liverpudlians, The Beatles.
Over the years 18 of Ken’s recordings made the UK Top 40, including Happiness, Love Is Like A Violin, Eight By Ten and Tears For Souvenirs which was No 1 in the charts for five weeks in 1965.
There were many tears in March this year when the news broke that Sir Ken had left us at the age of 90, leaving behind an unsurpassed entertainment legacy spanning seven decades, containing a million laughs and thousands of evening theatre goers arriving home somewhat later than planned after yet another Doddy show had overrun !
“I like them to get home safely – when it’s light”, he would say. Nobody was complaining. The audience and theatre staff knew what to expect !
One of his favourite theatres is the one with a waterfront view across the River Mersey – New Brighton Floral Pavilion, where the curtain first rose in 1913. Doddy was the first act to perform at the wonderfully restored venue in 2008 with his Happiness show and a painting of him adorns the wall of the theatre’s green room.
My FreeStand Films colleague Gill Beattie and I have produced and presented several shows at the Floral Pavilion – including The Bill Shankly Story and Kendall’s Kings – and every time I’m there, seeing Ken’s portrait and using the same dressing room he used, has always been inspirational.
One of my great memories is when Doddy invited me to appear in his Happiness show at the Floral as part of a double act with impressionist Mark Langley in December 2012. Quite apart from the frisson of being in the show, to witness at first hand from a backstage and sidestage viewpoint the amount of hard work Ken and his long time partner and wife to be Anne – now Lady Anne – put into it was eye-opening.
I just feel privileged to have watched him, known him and worked with him. One of my biggest thrills came when I got a telephone call from Ken asking if he could be my guest on my Radio City Talk show Strictly John Keith. This legend of showbiz was asking me if he could come on the show ! I couldn’t get him on quick enough !
He entranced me and the listeners with his analysis of comedy. “There’s no such thing as a bad audience – only a bad comedian, “ he affirmed, adding :“An audience is an entity …….as a comic you have to mould it, cajole it , persuade it.”
He also waxed lyrical about what he called his “giggle map of Great Britain” and how you could tell a certain joke in Sheffield but not in Stevenage. You had to know, he stressed, what makes your particular audience laugh. It was a master class in the science of comedy.
And just to gild the lily Doddy came on my show a second time and continued his fascinating exposition on the serious business of making people laugh, much of the programme re-broadcast following his death.
One day in 1985, when Ken was at a gathering with several other performers, Phil Kernot, a comedian and Second World War army veteran, declared: “Why do we only meet on sad occasions like funerals ? Let’s get together three or four times a year for a meal and a chat to enjoy ourselves and have a good laugh.”
And so the Good Turns Society was born, with Doddy its president and driving force . “We’re non-sectarian, non-political, non-religious and non-subscription, “ he declared. “In fact, we’re non-anything really, apart from one rule – you’ve got to have a laugh.”
As a proud member I can vouch for the fact that with Doddy as MC the laughs down the years have come thick and fast from a host of comedians including Sir Norman Wisdom, Jimmy Tarbuck, Tom O’Connor, Frank Carson, Roy Walker, Eric Jones, Eddie Collinton, Al Dean, Johnny Mac and Mike Haydn.
But we’ve also been entertained by actors including Wendy Craig and Ricky Tomlinson , trumpeter Joan Hinde and singers Claire Sweeney, Joe Longthorne and Rick Astley, the latter drawing swooning attention from the ladies, prompting Doddy to announce amidst gales of laughter that he was going to auction the star’s underpants !
I have also had the pleasure of being on stage at the lunches interviewing football legends including Kevin Ratcliffe, Ian St John, Ian Callaghan and the late Howard Kendall, the latter two Good Turns members.
To celebrate Doddy’s 90th birthday in November 2017- also the year of his disgracefully delayed knighthood - the society decided to stage a special show in his honour at the Devonshire House Hotel, the latest in a series of Good Turns venues.
I had the great pleasure to be MC for the evening which was crowned by Doddy singing an emotional song titled Thank You. When the gremlins struck, rendering his musical backing unplayable, Sir Ken simply continued unaccompanied and brought the house down. Wonderful stuff.
Things will never be the same now Doddy has left us. He gives the lie to the old adage that nobody is irreplaceable. The public response to his death and his hugely moving funeral in the magnificence of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral proves that. His genius will live on in our memories.
One of his favourite songs, which he performed superbly, was the great standard The Very Thought Of You. Whenever my thoughts turn to Doddy I smile. And I guess that goes for everyone. That would make him very happy .
He loved laughter and no doubt somewhere in the heavens a tickling stick has been attached to one of the pearly gates. RIP, Sir Ken.
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