Celebrating Shirley: Rib-tickling fun with the comic king Ken Dodd
So let’s start my memory stroll in the best way of all…with a smile.
And who better to turn a smile into an all-out laugh than everybody’s favourite and my long-time pal, Ken Dodd, 90 this year and newly knighted. There is no one else quite like him!
And I look back down a good many years of seeing Doddy on stage, of often hilarious and sometimes thought provoking interviews, of zany phone calls, of catching up with him in Liverpool, the place where his heart lies. And the best tribute I can pay him is to be unable even in my long experience, to find anyone else to compare with Sir Ken, king of Knotty Ash and legendary winner of hearts.
Memorable chats include him in Berlin and me in a Shawbury car park with just one iphone between us but miles and a slight delay on the line made not a jot of difference.
The time we met up for a memorable afternoon in Liverpool, with every other person stopping to talk to him, over tea, in the street, just to say thank you and they all called him Mr Dodd.
He was so gracious, courteous to each, gave them time as well as the odd joke he simply can’t help delivering and another fan went away happy, feeling that meeting the famous Daddy of the Diddy Men was the bonus of their day. All of which has helped make Ken a national treasure.
And there have been many more tatifilarious moments. I’ve known Ken Dodd for years and have a huge soft spot for Doddy.
Apart from being an all-time great comic and entertainer and achingly funny, he is one of the most genuine, decent and thoroughly likeable people I’ve ever met. A sentiment shared by those who faithfully follow him year by year
Long ago, I had (an early hours) supper with him after one show when we talked for ages about the ways of the world.
Some time later Ken’s people got in touch to ask whether I would consider doing a bit of ghost writing for him. What a privilege, of course, I said yes. And spent time with him at his Knotty Ash home talking about various, serious issues. On one occasion my mum – a great fan – was with me after a visit to friends elsewhere in Liverpool. Not only did she get the charm treatment but she also got a mini Diddy Man from Ken himself, which from then on had pride of place in her china cabinet!
His shows which can easily last two-and-a-half hours with the star on stage for nearly all of it are like a mini weekend break with everybody having a wonderful time.
On one occasion with that famous toothy grin he told me during a show interval: “The next time I see you, a glass of Tickle Tonic will be waiting.”
And the King of Comedy still rules. Ken Dodd’s ability to engage with his audience is still absolutely brilliant.
His memory may slip a bit but he even makes a virtue of that by encouraging communal singing of the nostalgic ballads of his ‘second’ career.
Doddy, can look back to life as a youngster with his ventriloquist doll, Charlie Brown and the Punch and Judy he took round local fetes.
This is a good moment to pay a special tribute week because I spent time with him when he took his Happiness Show around the country, celebrating his own 60 years in the business! And a career which has seen for instance, a 42-week unprecedented sell-out season at the London Palladium and a thousand other great dates.
His noisy entrance on stage has often heralded The Big Drum of Knotty Ash, a scene-setter for a fast moving series of uniquely Doddy jokes and one-liners, how he ever kept it up, I do not know. Nor how he has dealt for years with such lengthy shows, sometimes destined to finish the next day.
But whenever anyone leaves, he sends them home still smiling, which has always been his aim and why he reckons he has the best job in the world – making people smile and seeing them having fun.
Happiness was Doddy’s first big time singing success, he first sang it on stage in Shropshire, at what was then Shrewsbury’s Granada Theatre. He has absolutely no idea how many times he has performed the blockbuster hit since, yet in so many ways it sums up his life.
A life which has been dedicated to sending them out with a smile.
He once told me: “People don’t want to be embarrassed or insulted by below the belt humour. They want to laugh and have a good night out – which is probably why it all works.”
And why so many of us love Doddy.