Interview: Ken Dodd

Ken Dodd

Ken Dodd - Credit: Archant

The most famous resident of Knotty Ash is preparing to tickle Norfolk's funny bone during sold-out performances at Norwich Theatre Royal and King's Lynn Corn Exchange once again. WAYNE SAVAGE caught up with the legendary Ken Dodd.

Touring his Happiness Show around the UK, Dodd is celebrating nearly 60 years in the business. 'I'm what they call in showbusiness stage-struck I love it; it keeps your brain going, it keeps me fit and well. I keep whizzing round Britain; I tell people I've got a window cleaning round. I get great audiences in the south east, they love to laugh.'

Happiness, says Dodd, is well worth the staggering 100,000 miles he clocks up every year.

'I've got the best job in the world, I only see laughing, smiling, happy people - except when I'm singing a love song of course. Even then I don't mind,' says the chart-topper, who knocked his fellow Merseysiders The Beatles off the number one spot with Tears.

He wants everybody to have a lovely glass of tickle tonic. Going on previous experience, it'll be quite a night - and possibly early morning.

'Oh I don't do long shows, I just give good value. It's like a party and once you start you don't want to be a party pooper and go home early...'

Talking of ending the party, he must have thought about hanging up his famous tickling sticks and taking things easy for a change?

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'How dare you, missus!,' 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 57 years now and it's more like a hobby.

'They say a man retires when he's stopped doing what he doesn't want to do and starts doing what he does want to do. My happiness is slaving over a hot audience.

'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 paying me the privilege of coming to my shows and laughing their heads off, 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!'

Dodd never dreamt of doing anything else, being bitten by the showbusiness bug as a young boy after his parents took him to Shakespeare's Theatre of Varieties in Liverpool.

'I saw all the great old stars of variety there. I can remember as a little boy being taken into this dark place and these beautiful lights, sound and men and ladies would come on looking very healthy. I didn't realise it's greasepaint, but at the time it seemed to me a magical place, a heaven.

'This man came on and made everybody laugh and I thought 'that's it'. He was the engine driver, a comedian, so I said to my dad how do you 'comed'.

Steering clear of the easy road some modern comedians head down – 'Nudity is a common denominator, the laughs that occur... most of them get through talking about what's at the bottom of their trousers,' he says – Dodd keeps it clean and clever.

'A little bit of spice, like a seaside postcard. My job is to entertain people not embarrass them,' he adds, telling his fans to prepare to exercise their chuckle muscles. 'Get ready for a good old laugh, some lovely songs, a proper variety bill.'

'Laughter is the greatest music in the world, and people come to my shows wanting to be entertained and to escape the cares and worries of everyday life for a couple of hours (at least). 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,' Ken says.

He adds, '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.'

But, what about his own comedy heroes? Who are the comics that have made Ken laugh out loud over the years?

'I suppose you could say that I have been spoiled. I was fortunate to have grown up with comedy heroes like Arthur Askey, Ted Ray, Robb Wilton, Tommy Handley, Billy Bennett and the great comics of that era,' he says.

'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,' he adds.

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 is precious few places to learn that craft, and far too much emphasis is placed on tasteless material and sadly swearing is all too often being passed off as comedy.'

Ken has no plans to retire. '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,' he concludes.