Sir Kenneth Arthur Dodd OBE (8 November 1927 – 11 March 2018) was a British comedian and singer-songwriter, famous for his frizzy hair or “fluff dom” and buck teeth or “denchers”, his favourite cleaner, the feather duster (or “tickling stick”) and his greeting “How tickled I am!”, as well as his send-off “Lots and Lots of Happiness!”.
He worked mainly in the music hall tradition, although, in the past, occasionally appeared in drama, including as Malvolio in 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. In total, he sold more than 100 million records worldwide. In the 1960s his fame was such that he rivaled The Beatles as a household name.
Dodd’s stand-up comedy style was fast and relied on the rapid delivery of one-liner jokes. He had claimed that his comic influences included other Liverpool comedians like Arthur Askey, Robb Wilton, Tommy Handley, and Max Miller. He interspersed the comedy with occasional songs, both serious and humorous, in an incongruously fine light baritone voice.
Dodd had many recording hits, charting on nineteen occasions in the UK Top 40, including his first single “Love Is Like a Violin” (1960), produced on Decca Records by Alex Wharton, which charted at number 8 (UK), and his song “Tears” (Columbia), which topped the UK charts for five weeks in 1965, selling over a million copies. At the time it was the UK’s biggest selling single by a solo artist and remains one of the UK’s biggest selling singles of all time. Dodd was selected to perform the song on A Jubilee Of Music on BBC One on December 31, 1976, a celebration of the key pop successes of Queen Elizabeth II’s first twenty-five years as UK monarch.
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), undertaken at a Liverpool theatre, where audiences were observed to enter the show in shifts. More recently, Ken Dodd appeared at the Royal Variety Performance in 2006 in front of Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, where he reprised some of his famous jokes, including those about tax accountants as well as singing his famous song “Happiness”.
Early life…. Dodd was born on 8 November 1927 in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, the son of a coal merchant, Arthur Dodd and wife Sarah. He went to the Knotty Ash School, and sang in the local church choir of St Johns Church, Knotty Ash. At the age of seven, he was dared by his school friends to ride his bike with his eyes shut. He accepted the dare, crashed, and received facial injuries which resulted in his distinctive buck teeth.
He then attended Holt High School, a Grammar School in Childwall, but left at age fourteen to work for his father. 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.
He got his big break at age twenty-six when, in September 1954, he made his professional show-business debut at the now-demolished Nottingham Empire. A nervous young man, he sat in a local Milk Bar for most of the afternoon, going over and over his lines before going to the theatre. He later said, “Well at least they didn’t boo me off”. He continued to perform, eventually topping the bill at Blackpool in 1958.
Honours….. In December 2004, Dodd was in Nottingham to be presented with a framed playbill after a sell-out performance at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham to celebrate his fifty years in show business. Dodd’s first professional performance was on stage at the Empire Theatre, Nottingham in 1954.
In a 2005 poll of comedians and comedy insiders to find ‘The Comedian’s Comedian’, Dodd was voted amongst the ‘Top 50 Comedy Acts Ever’, ranked as number 36. He was made an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University in 1997. A statue depicting Dodd with his feather duster was unveiled in Lime Street Station, Liverpool on 11 June 2009.
Dodd was made an honorary fellow of The University of Chester on 4 November 2009, having been awarded Doctor of Letters at a graduation ceremony in Chester Cathedral. His doctorate was presented by Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster. He was awarded a Doctorate of Letters at Liverpool Hope University on 25 January 2010 during the University’s Foundation Day celebrations.
Personal life…. Dodd had two long-time fiancées but he never married. A stalker, Ruth Tagg, who harassed Dodd and his girlfriend Anne Jones (who was also a support act, named ‘Sybie’ Jones), sending threatening letters and a dead rat, attempted to burn down his house by pushing burning rags through the letterbox, in October 2001. Tagg pleaded guilty to harassment and arson at Preston Crown Court.
He underwent a hernia operation in late 2007, forcing him to cancel several performances, but was back on stage within a month. Dodd presented the History of Liverpool Comedians at St George’s Hall on 1 and 2 April 2008.
Dodd appeared in the Glasgow Pavilion in April 2009, playing to a sell-out crowd for over four hours. September 2010 saw Dodd perform at the Playhouse Theatre, Weston Super Mare (Somerset, UK), where he performed to a full house in a show that started at 7pm and finished well after midnight.
He also played at Southport Theatre and Convention Centre, on Saturday, November 20, 2010. Similar to the Glasgow Pavilion in April 2009, the show started at 7 pm and finished in the early hours of Sunday 21 November.
Dodd died on 11 March 2018 at his home in Knotty Ash, the same home in which he was born and raised, 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. Numerous stars paid tribute, including fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney. At his funeral on 28 March, which was led by the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, hundreds of fans joined the cortege which passed from his Knotty Ash home to Liverpool Cathedral. The service was attended by actors Ricky Tomlinson, Stephanie Cole and Miriam Margolyes, comedians Jimmy Tarbuck, Stan Boardman and Jimmy Cricket and television executive Michael Grade. After the service, Dodd was laid to rest, alongside his mother and father, during a private burial service at Allerton Cemetery in Liverpool. Tickling sticks were placed on various statues around Liverpool in commemoration. At Liverpool Town Hall, St George’s Hall, the Cunard Building and Liverpool Central Library, flags were lowered to pay respect.
Theatre critic Michael Coveney declared in his appreciation for The Stage: “Ken Dodd was the greatest live performer I ever saw on stage anywhere.”
In the December 2018 BBC TV retrospective, How Tickled We Were, the comic’s biographer Michael Billington ranked Dodd alongside Lord Olivier as one of “the two theatrical geniuses of the British stage” in the writer’s own lifetime. In the same broadcast, fellow Liverpudlian and comedian Jimmy Tarbuck declared Dodd “the greatest stage comic the country has ever seen”