English Comedian and entertainer Ken Dodd was born on 8 November 1927 in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, Lancashire, in an old farmhouse. He went to the Knotty Ash School, and sang in the local church choir of St John’s Church, Knotty Ash. He was to live in Knotty Ash all his life, and often referred to it in his act.
He attended Holt High School in Childwall, but left at the age of 14 to work for his father, a coal merchant. Around this time he became interested in show business after seeing an advert in a comic: “Fool your teachers, amaze your friends—send 6d in stamps and become a ventriloquist! and sending off for the book. Not long after, his father bought him a ventriloquist’s dummy and Ken called it Charlie Brown. He started entertaining at the local orphanage, then at various other local community functions. His distinctive bucked teeth were the result of a cycling accident after a group of schoolfriends dared him to ride a bicycle with his eyes closed.
Ken Dodd got his big break in 1954 at age 26 When he made his professional show-business debut as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter at the Nottingham Empire. Then in 1955 he appeared at Blackpool, in “Let’s Have Fun”. His performance at the Central Pier was part of a comedy revue with Jimmy James and Company. Also on the same bill were Jimmy Clitheroe and Roy Castle. Dodd gained top billing at Blackpool in 1958. He has guested on a number of television and radio shows and made several appearances on BBC TV’s music hall revival show, The Good Old Days.
Dodd had been described as “the last great music hall entertainer”. His stand-up comedy style was fast and relied on the rapid delivery of one-liner jokes. He said that his comic influences included other Liverpool comedians like Arthur Askey, Robb Wilton, Tommy Handley and the “cheeky chappy” from Brighton, Max Miller. He interspersed the comedy with occasional songs, both serious and humorous, and, ventriloquism. Part of his stage act featured the Diddy Men (“diddy” being local slang for “small”).
Dodd worked mainly as a solo comedian, although he occasionally appeared in dramatic roles, including Malvolio in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on stage in Liverpool in 1971; on television in the cameo role of ‘The Tollmaster’ in the 1987 Doctor Who story Delta and the Bannermen; and as Yorick (in silent flashback) in Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1996. Dodd was renowned for the length of his performances, and during the 1960s he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours (7.14 jokes per minute). Ken Dodd also appeared on many Royal Variety Performances. The last was in 2006, in front of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, at the London Coliseum. In 1987, Dodd officially opened the Arndale shopping centre in Accrington.
Dodd continually toured throughout his professional career, performing lengthy shows that frequently did not finish until after midnight. In 2012 at the age of 84, he played the Princes Theatre in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex on 7 July. Starting at 7.15 pm he continued until just before 9.00 pm when Sybie Jones took to the stage. Returning at 9.30 pm he continued until 10.00 pm. The second support act performed until Dodd’s return just before 11.00 pm when he continued until 00.25 am. During 2017 Dodd continued to tour the UK extensively, with his comedy, music and variety show. Dodd also released eighteen hit records, Including “Love Is Like a Violin,”Happiness”, “Tears”,”The River (Le Collene Sono In Fioro)”, and “Promises”, plus numreous comedy novelty records, including the 1965 EP Doddy and the Diddy Men, featuring the song “Where’s Me Shirt?” which Dodd co-wrote.
In 1989 Dodd was charged with tax evasion. The subsequent trial, with the prosecution case led by Brian Leveson QC, produced several revelations. The Diddy Men, who had appeared in his stage act, were often played by local children from stage schools, and were revealed never to have been paid. Dodd was also revealed to have very little money in his bank account, having £336,000 in cash stashed in suitcases in his attic. When asked by the judge, “What does a hundred thousand pounds in a suitcase feel like?”, Dodd made his now famous reply, “The notes are very light, M’Lord. Dodd was represented by George Carman QC, who in court famously quipped, “Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants”. Dodd was eventually acquitted. Despite the strain of the trial, Dodd immediately capitalised on his new-found notoriety with a successful season running from Easter to Christmas 1990 at the London Palladium. It was there he had previously broken the house record for the longest comedy season at the theatre, in 1965, with a residency lasting 42 weeks. Some of his subsequent material mocked the trial and tax in general. For a while he introduced his act with the words, “Good evening, my name is Kenneth Arthur Dodd; singer, photographic playboy and failed accountant!
Ken Dodd was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1982 New Year Honours for services to show business and charity and was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to entertainment and charity. The award was formally conferred by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 2 March 2017. In 2002, Dodd appeared in the TV special An Audience with Ken Dodd. Dodd was voted 36 amongst the ‘Top 50 Comedy Acts Ever’ In a 2005 poll of comedians and comedy insiders to find the ‘Comedians’ Comedian’ and was made an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University in 1997. A statue depicting Dodd with his trademark “Tickling Stick” was unveiled in Liverpool Lime Street railway station in June 2009. Dodd was inducted into the exclusive show business fraternity, the Grand Order of Water Rats. Dodd was made an honorary fellow of the University of Chester in 2009, having been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at a graduation ceremony in Chester Cathedral. He was awarded a Doctorate of Letters at Liverpool Hope University in 2010 during the university’s Foundation Day celebrations. In 2016, Dodd was awarded the Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend Award, in honour of his lifetime’s contribution to the world of comedy. He received the award as part of the Slapstick Festival in Bristol.
Dodd sadly died at his home in Knotty Ash on 11 March 2018 aged 90 after recently being hospitalised for six weeks with a chest infection. He had been touring with his stand-up stage show until 2017. Two days before his death he had married his partner of 40 years, Anne Jones. Numerous stars paid tribute, including fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney.