Sunday, 24 November 2019

Happiness and Tears


I only saw Ken Dodd live on stage once. It was the early seventies on a family holiday in Scarborough. The Futurist Theatre was full of laughter that evening. I'm not sure that I'd ever seen my parents laugh so much before or since. Doddy was certainly building his much-famed bridge to his audience that night. Even at that tender age I still recall that certain frisson amongst the audience when they realised they were in for a long session. Would we be able to get back into our holiday apartment in Chatsworth Gardens before the front door was locked? The Yorkshire audience got value for money that night.

At the time for us kids in the audience Ken Dodd was best known for performing with his Diddymen and as a souvenir of the show and that holiday my sister Vanessa and were each treated to a model of a Diddyman. Could've been Dickie Mint, but I'm hazy on that detail. It remained on my bedroom window sill until one day he got knocked off and lost his foot. Even glued back together again his appeal soon faded and he was, more than likely, consigned to the loft.   

Live performances were the lifeblood of Ken Dodd. Though he made hundreds or radio and TV broadcasts from the mid-50s onwards it was his tours of the nation's theatres that kept him coming back year after year long after the regular broadcast work had all but dried up.

Ken got his first radio break, as so many did at that time, on Workers' Playtime. Touring the nation's workplaces every weekday meant the programme had a voracious appetite for seasoned and novice comedians, singers and musicians. That first show on 23 December 1954 came from the canteen of the now demolished Barton power station near Eccles with 'Cheerful' Charlie Chester, singer Carole Carr and the Jimmy Leach Organolian Quartet. He made over 20 appearances on the show as well as other guest spots on Blackpool Night and Midday Music Hall.

First starring vehicle on the North Home Service
on 16 April 1957
By 1957 Ken got his first starring show for the North Home Service in a Northern Variety Parade broadcast called What a Life. It was the start of a long association with the BBC in Manchester with producer James Casey, and later Mike Craig and Ron McDonnell. Over a dozen regular series were commissioned at intervals throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s under a variety of titles from It's Great to be Young to Doddy' Daft Half-Hour or just plain old The Ken Dodd Show.


Doddy's TV shows started in 1959 initially on the BBC and then on ABC with 'Diddy' David Hamilton as his straight man. A Sunday teatime run of Ken Dodd and the Diddymen (1969-70) is probably where I first saw him before that Scarborough show. Although regular series ended after 1977 he continued to guest star on chat shows, panel games, The Good Old Days as well as the oft-repeated An Audience with ... shows in 1994 and 2002.      

As an audio treat here's an edition of Doddy's Different Show, a 6-part Radio 2 series from 1981. Ken is back with his old producer James Casey. In the cast are Peter Wheeler, brother of Geoffrey who'd been the producer on that first Workers' Playtime show; ace impressionist Peter Goodwright who'd starred in Ken's first radio series in 1958; Welsh actor Talfryn Thomas ("Dodd's brother in denistry") a co-star in Ken's TV series for ATV and BBC1 in the early 70s and actress Marlene Sidaway who Casey had already used to work alongside Les Dawson (Our Les), Tony Brandon (The Family Brandon) and Roy Castle (Castle's on the Air). First heard on Sunday 8 November 1981 this is a recording of the Friday 13 November repeat. It's not been heard since.



Of an earlier vintage, and cropping up on Radio 4 Extra now and again, is this show from the Star Parade series. First broadcast in April 1963 it features BBC staff announcer Judith Chalmers as well as John Laurie, Cardew Robinson, Harold Berens and music from The Springfields and the BBC Revue Orchestra.     


In 2006 Doddy spoke to Ed Doolan about his life and career.



To read more about Ken Dodd I can thoroughly recommend the latest tome from Louis Barfe, a man with a deep passion and a great knowledge of 'light' entertainment. Louis's book Happiness and Tears: The Ken Dodd Story is available in hardback from all the usual outlets.            

Ken Dodd 1927-2018

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