His career as a professional comic now spans over fifty fun-filled years, and his enthusiasm for all that he does remains as strong as ever. “By jove!” he says in one of his rare interviews,“there is nothing to compare to the thrill of going on stage and slaving over a hot audience!"
“Laughter is the greatest music in the world and audiences come to my shows wanting to be entertained and to escape the cares and worries of everyday life. “They certainly don’t want to be embarrassed or insulted with below the belt humour. They want to laugh and have a good night out – and so do I, which is probably why it works!
“Did you know that a laugh is something that comes out of a hole in your face? Anywhere else and you’re in dead trouble!!”
Joking apart, if that’s possible when talking to Ken, what changes has he seen in comedy during his wonderful career as an entertainer?
“I have always been spoiled”, he explains with a trademark grin spreading across his face. “I was fortunate to have grown up with comedy heroes like Arthur Askey, Ted Ray, Rob Wilton, Tommy Handley, Billy Bennett and the great comics of that era.
“They were followed by the likes of Tommy Cooper and Morecambe & Wise. All were legendary funnymen with natural ability and lots of warmth. Comedy should never be over-analysed. It is either funny or it isn’t. There is a subtle difference between those who say funny things and those who say things funny.”
So, how does he think the comedy of today differs from that of yesterday?
“There was more ‘art’ to comedy years ago,” he explains. “Comics were masters of their craft. Today there are precious few places to learn that craft, and far too much emphasis is placed on vulgar material. Sadly swearing is being passed off as comedy.
“It has always been my belief that audiences expect to be entertained and relieved of the cares and worries of everyday life for a couple of hours (at least!) not insulted or embarrassed when they come out for a night at the theatre”.
Ken’s famous ‘Giggle Map’ tells him what makes people laugh in different parts of the country.
“Did you know that I can tell a gag in Wolverhapton and get a huge laugh, but it won’t raise a titter in Northampton? They can’t hear it!
But what of his life away from his almost non-stop touring (he reputedly clocks up 100,000 miles a year) with his famous ‘Happiness Show’?
Ken still lives in the very house in which he was born - a rambling 17th century Georgian farmhouse - in the Liverpool suburb of Knotty Ash, and it is filled with happy memories.
“I couldn’t live anywhere else”, he adds. “I was lucky to have had an idyllic upbringing filled with love and happiness. As a family we went to the theatre regularly, and I was one of those lads who was always digging holes and falling into them, or climbing trees and falling out of them! Me, my brother Billy and sister June loved going to the theatre with mum and dad. The variety shows were our favourites – especially the annual pantomimes.
“That’s when I became stage-struck, or struck by the stage! I’ll never forget the year when mum and dad bought me my own ventriloquist’s doll. It was magical! I christened him ‘Charlie Brown’, learned how to throw my voice, and started doing impromptu shows for all my pals.
“Later I had my own Punch & Judy Show and would entertain at charity shows or garden fetes. Is it any wonder that I eventually entered show business?”
Despite this grounding, Ken was a comparative late starter in entertainment. He and brother Billy helped his father (Arthur) in the family coal business. Then Ken worked semi-professional to supplement his earnings as a door-to-door salesman ‘on the knocker’ in Merseyside.
He had his own van and sold household goods around the local housing estates, but he also entertained on a semi-professional basis and his reputation as a comedian was growing all the time. Eventually he turned professional in 1954 and made his stage debut at the old Nottingham Empire. In those days he loved ‘daft’ billing like: ‘Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty – Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter.
Just a little over 10 years later, and without the back-up of TV exposure, he made his debut at the famous London Palladium – where he enjoyed an unprecedented record breaking 42 week sell-out season!
In 1965 he knocked fellow Liverpudlians The Beatles from No.1 spot in the record charts with ‘Tears’ and stayed there for several weeks. Today it occupies 10th place in the Top 20 best-selling records of all time. His string of hits include ‘Love Is Like A Violin’ and his signature tune ‘Happiness’.
Today, singing still plays a prominent and important part in his stage act. His amazing vocal range takes in everything from the classics to pop music and even grand opera!
But it is his undoubted genius as a comedian that stamps out Ken Dodd as a showbiz legend.
Indeed, away from his hectic touring schedule, he became the first recipient of the prestigious ‘Living Legend’ award from The British Comedy Society. He has also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the British Comedy Awards and has been voted ‘The Greatest Merseysider’ of all time –once again beating Lennon & McCartney!.
He’s been a bill-topper throughout most of his career and has starred in numerous Royal Variety Shows and in sell-out record-breaking seasons at theatres like the London Palladium and Blackpool Opera House.
On television and radio he’s enjoyed countless series, been honoured in a special one-hour ‘This Is Your Life’ tribute, and his hugely successful ’An Audience With Ken Dodd’ TV special, was followed with the equally successful ‘Another Audience With Ken Dodd’. Both have become best-selling and award-winning videos.
His diversity of talent is such that he’s played Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Yorrick in Kenneth Branagh’s epic film version of ‘Hamlet ‘ and ‘Mr.Mouse’ in the Hollywood film of ‘Alice In Wonderland’.
Creator of the legendary Diddymen, Ken was awarded the OBE for his services to show business and charity. And, in addition to being a Freeman of the City Of Liverpool, he is also an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.
He has achieved practically everything he set out to do in show business and life, but surely after all his constant touring he must occasionally think about hanging up his famous tickling stick and taking things easy for a change?
It’s not a question that sits easily with one of the most legendary comedians that this country has ever produced. In fact, he’s quite nonplussed at the very thought of it!
“How dare you!” he says in mock indignation. “I’ve never even thought about retirement!! Why should I when I love every second of doing my job? Anyway, it’s not really a job. I’ve been doing it for over 50 years now and it’s more like a hobby, because I love it so much. I’m very lucky to be doing what I want to do – and being paid for it at the same time!”
So, how does he relax and unwind? Well, he loves television, but is rarely home in ‘normal’ hours”. Indeed, most of Ken’s viewing is done in the early hours, and he loves the satellite and cable networks – especially those that show America comedy shows, and specialist channels like ‘Discovery’ and the History Channel.
He also loves holidays at home and abroad and likes reading and simply relaxing. “I’m like everyone else”, he adds. “I love my home, my favourite armchair, a good book and a bit of peace and quiet when I can grab it!
“To be honest, my favourite place is the theatre. After more than 50 gloriously happy years, I still enjoy the ‘buzz’ of the live venue and a packed audience laughing their heads off and forgetting all their cares and worries for a couple of hours (at least!).
“I’m lucky because I never get tired of entertaining and making people laugh. Well, I do sometimes, but it doesn’t last for long! I think I’ve only had one day off in my entire career – and that was for suspected pneumonia. I was back on stage the next night with a mustard patch on my chest. The doctor insisted that I wore it, but all the stage hands kept rubbing their ham sandwiches on it, so it had to go!!
“As long as people keep coming to my shows and laughing their heads off and enjoying themselves, then I will continue touring this great country of ours. It’s my love. It’s my life and I enjoy every single minute of it. And, by jove, they can’t touch you for it!”